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Having it both Ways:
U.S. Protests Spanish Arms Sale to Venezuela while it Arms Latin America
and the WorldBy Larry Birns and Sarah Schaffer.04/02/05 "COHA"
- - On March 29, Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez announced
that a $1.7 billion (€1.3 billion) sale of vessels and airplanes is currently being negotiated. This deal, which will
involve coast guard boats, frigates and aircraft, had officials in Washington muttering under their breath. For months, the
U.S. has been voicing concerns over Chávez’s successful efforts to acquire weapons from various sources abroad. Zapatero’s
decision only has intensified Washington’s apprehension over Caracas’ possible long-term intentions. What particularly
frustrates the Bush administration is that it cannot designate any of the countries which are either already providing or
negotiating weapon deliveries to Venezuela as either terrorist or “rogue” nations.
When Venezuela revealed
plans to buy 100,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 22 helicopters from Russia in February, the State Department accused Caracas
of embarking on a unilateral arms race, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisting that Chávez’s actions threatened
the stability of other Latin American nations. Yet she failed to convincingly cite a single regional country which was so
menaced. However, both Venezuela and Spain insist that the transaction at hand was not an arms sale at all, with officials
maintaining that the aircraft are strictly for transportation and not for combat, and even the Spanish daily El País claimed
that the frigates would be unarmed.
While visiting Caracas during his 48-hour-trip to South America, Zapatero defended
his country’s pending arrangement with Venezuela and asked that the U.S. “respect the government of Spain and
Spain as a country.” For his part, Chávez has attempted to mitigate the tense situation with Washington by voicing a
willingness to survey cooperative alternatives with Colombia, Washington’s principal drug war ally in the region. Moreover,
he went so far as to proclaim that assisting in the fight against narco-trafficking and transnational organized crime—pertaining
mainly to Colombia—will account for a major use for the materials being purchased.Double Standard: Colombia,
Yet Washington—always outspoken in its denouncements of Chávez and his Bolivarian
revolution as well as his confrontational attitude—remains hostile to the sale, complaining that the weapons could end
up in criminal hands. Meanwhile, the Bush administration does not have such concerns regarding Colombia, which has benefited
from several billion dollars worth of modern weapons free of charge from the U.S. arsenal. Perhaps it is because unlike Venezuela,
Columbia is not negotiating oil sales to China that could pose a threat to Washington’s supply chain, opposing the FTAA,
nor helping to form a regional oil cartel with other left-leaning South American countries.
By chance, in February
2004, Spain agreed to sell 46 refitted tanks to Colombia for $6 million but that deal was later called off after fears emerged
that the sale could spark an arms race between Colombia and neighboring Venezuela. Colombia maintained that it wanted the
tanks for use in its fight against drug traffickers and guerrillas, but critics felt that the 36-ton AMX-30 tanks were practical
only for external wars, and in fact could not function in most of the country because of their size.
At the time, the
Pentagon had nothing to say on the issue, which suggests that the promotion of arms races is strictly a one-sided matter.
With an army of only 32,000, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speculated during his Latin American tour last week what Venezuela
will do with 100,000 AK-47 automatic weapons—rifles that were first designed in 1947 and came on the market more than
a half-century ago—or for that matter the 24 Super Tucano light attack aircraft that it may purchase from Brazil. The
answer is that Washington does not demand clearance from Caracas when it comes to the billions of dollars in weapons sales
that the U.S. annually makes all over the world.There are Arms Races & Then There are Arms Races
Washington purportedly is distressed that Caracas may be triggering a new arms race in the region, on March 25 the Bush administration
granted Pakistan permission to purchase U.S.-built F-16 warplanes. As the largest global vendor of arms, with contracts and
sales totaling $66 billion in 2002, according to a State Department official, Washington obviously does not automatically
occupy the moral high ground on this issue and is ill-positioned to censure the Spanish sale of unarmed aircraft and vessels
to Venezuela. This is particularly the case as the U.S. provides sophisticated weaponry, as we just have seen in Pakistan,
to scores of other nations around the world, some of which are of far greater threat to their immediate neighbors than Venezuela
is to Colombia, a country with which it actually has almost warm commercial ties. For FY2005, U.S. military aid to Latin America
will approach $860 million, only slightly less than U.S. economic aid of $921 million to the region, according to a study
by the Center for International Policy and several other think-tanks. The U.S. is arming Latin America with one hand but reprimanding
those chosen for selective indignities for purchasing such weapons with the other.
In addition to recent negotiations
with Pakistan, in 2002 the U.S. finalized the $500 million sale of ten F-16 warplanes to Chile, a move that has troubled its
neighbors and traditional rivals, Peru and Argentina. Ironically, the chief Lockheed lobbyist for the sale of F-16s to Chile
was Otto Reich, who later became one of Venezuela’s most bitter, if not most controversial, critics. After he joined
the Bush administration as its assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs and later as a White House advisor,
Reich became privy to a planned 2002 coup to overthrow the Chávez government and then enormously embarrassed the Bush administration
by being one of the first hemispheric governments to recognize the coup regime for the 48 hours that it was in power.
any country can be accused of igniting local arms races, surely Washington is a prime candidate for such a distinction.This
analysis was prepared by COHA Director Larry Birns and COHA Research Associate Sarah Schaffer.
provided by COHA Research Associate Tal Bendor and COHA Research Fellow David R. Kolker.The Council on Hemispheric
Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It
has been described on the Senate floor as being “one of the nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policy
makers.” For more information, please see our web page at www.coha.org; or contact our Washington offices by phone (202)
223-4975, fax (202) 223-4979, or email email@example.com.
Information Clearing House
Venezuela Weapons Purchases Alarm U.S.
On Latin America trip, Rumsfeld criticizes an order by Chavez for 100,000 assault rifles.
By John Hendren
Times Staff Writer
March 24, 2005
BRASILIA, Brazil — The Bush administration
has grown increasingly alarmed at a series of weapons purchases by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that senior U.S. defense
officials described as a "one-man arms race" that could destabilize South America for decades.
Venezuela has confirmed
that it is buying 100,000 AK-47 assault rifles from Russia next month. But Pentagon officials said the number of weapons could
reach 300,000 — for a nation whose national guard and army total 62,000.
U.S. intelligence reports conclude that
the government of Chavez is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar effort to buy new warships and as many as 50 Russian attack
helicopters, senior defense officials told reporters, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Chavez is discussing the purchase
of 30 MIG-29 fighter jets, an official said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was traveling in South America
on Wednesday, urged Chavez to reconsider the purchases.
"I can't imagine why Venezuela needs 100,000 AK-47s, and I
just personally hope that it doesn't happen," Rumsfeld told reporters here in an appearance with Brazilian Vice President
Jose Alencar. "And I can't imagine that if it did happen that it would be good for the hemisphere."
the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, defended the arms acquisitions.
In a telephone interview, he said Venezuela
was buying the weapons to replace basic equipment used to outfit the Venezuelan armed forces. He said the long-planned program
was a "sovereign decision," adding that U.S. officials had not sought an explanation from his government.
to want to create confusion or suspicions about what we are doing," he said.
Bush administration officials speculated
that Venezuela had undisclosed military ambitions in the region or that it planned to "leak" weapons to leftist guerrillas,
including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.
by Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon officials marked the latest salvo in a low-intensity diplomatic rivalry with Chavez.
week, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak dismissed the U.S. concerns, saying the weapons sales were for the Venezuelan
military. But senior American defense officials rejected that explanation, saying the sales vastly outnumber the troops in
the Venezuelan military, whom they described as well-equipped.
Regardless of Chavez's intentions, the officials said,
the arms purchases could put weapons in the hands of narcotics terrorists and other groups seeking to destabilize Latin American
"They will be the curse of Latin America for 40 years if they get out," a senior defense official said,
on condition of anonymity.
According to U.S. intelligence accounts, Chavez plans to open a factory to produce ammunition
suitable for AK-47s but used largely by nongovernmental militias in the region, an official said.
"That is not what
the good guys in Latin America use. That is what the bad guys use. That is the ammunition of choice for drug smugglers," he
Alencar declined to criticize Venezuela.
"Brazil has always defended and will continue defending the self-determination
of the different peoples and nonintervention in the affairs of other countries," he said.
Times staff writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.
Sources:Los Angeles TimesChicago Tribune
The US was not concerned when 100,000 Israeli sub-machine guns were off loaded in Nicaragua for the Samoza Regime,
but old Tacho was a graduate of West Point in the same class of '46 with a few other infamous characters........