The Hugo bomb

Peter Brooks:

RUSSIA'S alliance with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez just keeps getting tighter - and worse for America. Now, Moscow could be putting "El Loco" on the road to getting the bomb.

Russia has already sold billions worth of arms to Chavez, and recently flew two strategic bombers to Venezuela in a show of solidarity and force. A Russian flotilla will soon arrive in Caribbean waters for joint naval exercises.

But the latest deviltry came at a Moscow summit late last month, when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered Chavez assistance in building a nuclear reactor.

During the Russian visit, Chavez said: "Russia is ready to support Venezuela in the development of nuclear energy with peaceful purposes, and we already have a commission working on it."

Peaceful purposes - right. Venezuela, one of the world's top energy producers, has about as much need for nuclear power as, well, Iran does.

This could be the start of the first new nuclear-weapons program in this hemisphere in decades. Rivals Argentina and Brazil gave up their dream of joining the once-exclusive nuclear club in the early 1990s; though each has nuclear power, neither has been willing to cooperate with Venezuela on atomic affairs.

It should come as no surprise that Chavez might be interested in nuclear know-how beyond power generation. He's clearly bent on building one of the region's most powerful militaries to advance his socialist revolution, intimidate his neighbors and project power - and keep Washington at bay. He's already bought more than $4 billion in Russian arms - including advanced fighters, combat helicopters and 100,000 assault rifles.

Another $1 billion or so in advanced Russian air-defense systems, main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and diesel submarines may still be in the pipeline to Caracas.

And the Russian press reports that weapons sales to Venezuela over the next 10 years could top another $5 billion. Plus, Chavez has offered Moscow access to his nation's airfields and bases.

...

With the decline in the price of oil, you have to question the benefit of this deal to either Venezuela or Russia. I suspect that barring a coup, Chavez will not be reelected unless he contrives a way to steal the election.

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