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Venezuela's Chavez Seeks Out U.S. Adversaries


The falling price of oil means that Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, has a little less oil money, but that is not stopping him from buying billions in Russian weaponry. In fact, for the first time since the Cold War, the Russian military is deploying in Latin America. They're invited by Chavez for military maneuvers. Chavez has aligned himself with several countries at odds with Washington, and this could cause headaches for the president-elect, Barack Obama. NPR's Juan Forero reports from Caracas.

JUAN FORERO: Now, Chavez is inking deals with yet another rival of the Americans, Russia. Tom Shannon is the State Department's top official for Latin America.


M: Venezuela is looking for an outside player to reaffirm its importance, and it has reached out to the Russians in this regard.

FORERO: But there are others who see other motives. Francisco Uson(ph) is a retired Venezuelan general who once worked closely with Chavez. He now opposes the government. He fears that Venezuela could funnel Russian arms to the FARC guerrilla group in neighboring Colombia, an ally of the Bush administration.

M: Any country in the Caribbean has to be very concerned with the president of Russia in Venezuelan soil.

FORERO: The Venezuelans say the arrival of Russia is nothing more than a friendly exchange. Publicly, American officials have downplayed the arrival of the Russians and noted that for Russia, selling arms to Venezuela simply makes good business sense. Chavez, though, is often looking for alliances to counter American influence, to create what he calls a multipolar world, one not dominated by the United States. That's led to close links with Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador. Peter Deshazo is an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

M: Chavez is very much interested in courting the Russians and other countries that he sees as adversaries or rivals of the United States. It's part of his overall policy.


FORERO: Deshazo and other American analysts said they believe that Obama will likely pursue many of the same interests of the Bush administration. That means Washington may very well criticize Chavez about press freedoms or Democratic governance. Still, the Bush administration strategy of late has been to strengthen ties with other Latin-American countries and stay largely quiet about Venezuela. Again, Shannon, the State Department official.

M: We've focused on countries that want to work with us, and especially on large countries - the ones that we'd call the modernizers who are really involved in transforming the Americas.

FORERO: Shannon, though, believes that Chavez is clearly considering his options when it comes to Obama. Juan Forero, NPR News, Caracas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.