March 17 06:28 2005 Print This Article

By Andy Webb-Vidal

Senior US administration officials are working on a policy to “contain”
President Hugo Chávez and what they allege is his drive to “subvert” Latin
America’s least stable states, writes Andy Webb-Vidal.

A strategy aimed at fencing in the Chávez government is being prepared at
the behest of President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary
of state, senior US officials say. Roger Pardo-Maurer, deputy assistant
secretary for western hemisphere affairs at the Department of Defense, said
the policy was being developed because Mr Chavez was employing a “hyena
strategy” in the region.

“Chavez is a problem because he is clearly using his oil money and influence
to introduce his conflictive style into the politics of other countries,” Mr
Pardo-Maurer said in an interview with the Financial Times. “He’s picking on
the countries whose social fabric is the weakest. In some cases it’s
downright subversion.”

Mr Chavez, whose government has enjoyed bumper export revenues during his
six years in office thanks to high oil prices, has denied that he is aiding
insurgent groups in countries such as Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. But a
tougher stance from the US already appears to be in the offing, a move
likely to strain relations further. The policy shift in Washington, which a
US military officer said was at an early stage, could also have implications
for the world oil market. Mr Chávez has threatened to suspend oil shipments
to the US if it attempts to oust him.

Recently, he and his ally, President Fidel Castro of Cuba, have alleged,
without offering proof, that the Bush administration was plotting to
assassinate the Venezuelan leader, an allegation that US officials have
dismissed as “wild”. Suggestions that Mr Chavez backs subversive groups
surface frequently, although thus far also with scant evidence. Colombian
officials close to President Alvaro Uribe say that Venezuela is giving
sanctuary to Colombian guerrillas, deemed “terrorists” by both the US and

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