|Colombian Foreign minister Carolina Barco (2nd from left) and the foreign ministers of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina meeting in Brazil.|
Caracas, Venezuela, May 10, 2005—According to Colombian Foreign Relations Minister Carolina Barco, Venezuela's arms purchases are a "closed issue," The Colombian government "has responded that we understand that this is part of the policies of the [Venezuelan] government and part of the necessity that they have to replenish" their arms, Barco affirmed today in Brazil while attending the Arab-South American Summit. "There is a lot of speculation, [however], we as a government have closed this issue." she reiterated.
Over the course of the past few months, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez placed an order for 100,000 Ak-47 assault rifles to replace the 30-year old Belgian light automatic rifles the Venezuelan military currently uses. Chávez has also bought eight patrol boats and ten transport aircraft from Spain and twenty-four Brazilian Super Tucano planes as a means to secure the porous 1,400-mile long Venezuelan-Colombian border.
The sale of arms to a nation that has criticized the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, that maintains close ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro, rejects neoliberalism, and espouses a vision of Latin American integration has raised "concerns" in Washington. According to US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Venezuela's policies are "not a winning strategy."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was a bit less ambiguous in explaining Washington's apprehension over the purchases. According to Rice, Chávez's actions are "very deeply troubling," and said she could not find “something positive" about it. Rice has time and again voiced her concern about the "unhelpful and unconstructive trends going on in Venezuelan policies," and posed a wide array of hypothetic situations with respect to the arms purchase. Included in her speculations are: an arms race with Colombia, an arms race with other neighboring countries, and funneling these weapons to leftist guerrilla groups in Colombia.
Latin American countries remain unconvinced of these arguments as Washington has been unable to muster support to isolate the oil-rich nation or to sponsor an OAS resolution condemning it. With Barco's classifications of Colombian-Venezuelan relations as "completely cordial and based on "close cooperation," it appears that Colombia, one of Washington's staunchest allies in the region, is also unwilling to buy into the Bush administration’s line of reasoning.
Shortly before a meeting with her Venezuelan counterpart, Alí Rodríguez Araque, Barco stated that Colombia and Venezuela “are going along, strengthening cooperation between the two countries in order to deal with the border situation." "Our border has many incidents and it is important and necessary to maintain this dialogue and this exchange of constant information," she asserted, noting that this would be the focus point of the meeting with Rodríguez.
Barco explained that now the two countries are trying to advance in the bilateral agenda and in important joint projects, for example the gas pipeline to transport Venezuelan natural gas to the Chocó region on the Pacific coast of Colombia.
Barco's position opposes recent statements by the Colombian Minister of Defense, Jorge Alberto Uribe, who on April 26th sent a communiqué to the Colombian Congress that read, "in these moments a clear justification for the acquisition of certain types of arms does not exist in a region that has led the limitation in military expenses for external conflicts."
Barco was quick to contradict these Uribe, affirming the following day that Venezuela's arms purchases are "a sovereign decision" and that "Venezuela has the authority to make these decisions."
The Colombian Foreign Relations Minister made a similar statement during a meeting with Condoleezza Rice on April 29th, noting that this is a purchase for Venezuela's "legitimate defense, for its internal needs" and is necessary, "in order to provide a more stable situation along the border that we share, and also to combat drugs."Barco went on to add that "we feel that it is very important to continue to advance in Venezuela in terms of cooperating and in combating drugs and also to address the conflicts around these violent groups. In that sense, we feel that what's critical here is to continue with our cooperation, to continue with our commitment and with our joint work."