Chavez, Venezuela and the New Cold War

Caracas , Venezuela -- After the rumble of tanks died down and the last soldier high- stepped past the pavilion, President Hugo Chavez told the thousands of people attending Venezuela's Independence Day parade July 5 that no invading army could match the fighting force that had just marched by, "armed to the teeth." The hypothetical invasion he invoked was patently clear: Two days before, Chavez had announced the discovery of evidence that the United States had drawn up blueprints to invade Venezuela, a plan he said was code-named "Operation Balboa." American officials dismissed the claim as fiction, just as they have denied Chavez's repeated assertions that the CIA is trying to assassinate him, or that the Bush administration was behind a military coup that briefly toppled his government in April 2002. There is little doubt, however, that relations between Venezuela and the United States, strained for years, are plunging to new lows. Chavez has always been outspoken in condemning what he calls "U.S. imperialism," mocking President Bush as "Mr. Danger" and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as "Mr. War." Nevertheless, Venezuelan officials insist his recent threats to sever ties with Washington -- thereby suspending the export of 1.5 million barrels of oil per day -- are more than the rhetoric of a populist rallying domestic support.