One of the least recognized neighbours of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. At little over 20 kilometres off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba and the Dutch Antillean islands of Curaçao and Bonaire lie a short boat-ride from the Venezuelan mainland. Its leader Hugo Chávez has been a source of concern among Western commentators for some time. Citing a combination of military build-ups, tensions with neighbouring Colombia over relations with the FARC, anti-Western rhetoric and authoritarian leadership, Chávez is seen as a risk to regional stability. As Javier Corrales writes:
“Might Venezuela provoke a war against neighboring Colombia, spread weapons among insurgents abroad, disrupt oil sales to the United States, provide financial support to Hezbollah, Al Qaeda or other fundamentalist movement, offer safe havens for drug dealers, invite Russia to open a military base on its territory, or even acquire nuclear weapons?”
Not only Venezuelan foreign policy, domestic developments likewise raise eyebrows abroad. These include constitutional amendments to solidify Chávez’ hold on power, militarization of domestic politics and lashing out against the freedom of the press.
Simultaneously, developments in the broader Latin American region are creating an intensification of the security dynamic. Political change and economic revival associated with mineral, oil and gas resources lead Latin American leaders to claim the international limelight.
In 2010 the islands of Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius will become extraordinary administrative units of the Netherlands while St. Maarten and Curaçao, like Aruba before them, become independent countries within the Kingdom. The Hague however, remains responsible for thesecurity and defence of the islands. Within the domestic, regional and international context, this strategy brief addresses the question:
Are the policies of Hugo Chávez a source of regional instability and do they pose a challenge to Dutch interests?