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Hugo Chavez's Uranium

By Rafael Guarín

Originally posted 8 September 2006 | Camilo Ospina, on the day he was sworn in as Colombia’s new ambassador to the Organization of American States, stated in a speech titled “Geopolitics in Latin America” that Venezuela had two clandestine uranium mines and warned of the risk presented by this fact.

It is entirely possible that the trust bestowed upon him by the absence of any news media and the presence of an academic audience conspired to lead the diplomat into stating with total self confidence that “if I were asked about a risk, something that would make me very nervous, I would say that I get very nervous about the two factories, the two uranium mines that are present at this moment in Venezuela.”

He stated further that “if you were to go straight in the direction of Arauca, arrive at the border and penetrate about 400 kilometers beyond, you will find two factories, one is a bicycle factory and the other a motorcycle factory. These two factories are a façade for a uranium excavation.”

And he concluded: “Venezuela has no means of enriching uranium, but Iran does. If that came about, we would have a real problem.”

This is not the first time that there is talk of supposed uranium mines, nor of their relation to Iran. Earlier reports link Venezuelans, Cubans and Iranians to secret mining activities in the state of Amazonas, but the lack of proof kept the topic on a speculative plane and in the realm of conspiracy theories.

The transcribed statements indicate that the mines do exist and could very well be one of the reasons for the close ties between Hugo Chávez and Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the fundamentalist president of Iran. Furthermore, they would explain Venezuela and Cuba’s opposition to the decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency to submit the case of Iran to the Security Council and the announcement by Chávez himself, in May of 2005, concerning his interest in having that country furnish him with nuclear technology.

The issue is whether one should believe Ospina. One is almost forced to do so. We must not forget that he was still Minister of Defense two weeks prior and that he is one of the persons held in highest trust by President Álvaro Uribe. As Minister he had access to privileged military information, not only from the Colombian armed forces, but also from United States security agencies. Ospina's one of the best-informed officials, among other things, because among the war games plans under his responsibility the first priority has to do with Venezuela.

On the other hand, his statements transcend in a moment in which the crisis with Iran is escalating due to the opening of a heavy water plant meant to refrigerate a nuclear reactor under construction coupled with the disregard for the decision by the Security Council, which compelled that country to suspend the enrichment of uranium as of August 31st.

Within this context, the revelations link Venezuela to this international conflict and place it as a potential threat to the continent, confirming fears stemming from Chávez’s dark relations with enemies of the United States.

Someone might conceivably qualify as schizophrenic the thought that Chávez might be interested in alliances having to do with weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, it has been demonstrated that his government believes only in national power as the basis for international relations and not in the idealism preached by many of his followers. Even though this scenario seems improbable, the nuclear alliance between Venezuela and Iran alone constitutes a threat to hemispheric security and affects the balance of power in the region.

I believe as Julien Freund does (Sociology of Conflict) that the fundamental premise of politics is “knowing how to prevent the worst and having the capability of keeping it from happening”. If the Colombian government is aware of the secretive suspicious activities of the Chávez government, what is it doing in view of this threat? Was the topic discussed last week at a meeting between the defense ministers from both countries? Will it be Ospina’s task to act upon it within the OAS itself? What will be the position of the Bush administration?

Or will it turn out that the denunciations made by the official are pure fantasy or irresponsible verbiage?

The seriousness of what was said is obvious and demands from both countries transparency before the international community. The Uribe government ought to present proof in support of the accusations by its ambassador and Venezuela’s government ought to dispel the doubts that again are emerging concerning the issue.

Professor of the Faculty of Political Science and Government
Universidad del Rosario, Bogotá, Colombia.

Source The Miami Herald

Translation by W.K.

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