Caracas, Venezuela, November 4, 2005—Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday that he might have U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets sent to Cuba or China, if the U.S. continues to refuse to honor its contract for servicing the jets. To replace the F-16s, Chavez said Venezuela could buy new ones from either China or Russia, because, “Venezuelans do not need the ones from imperialism,” said Chavez.
Venezuela has been complaining for a while now that the U.S. refuses to service or provide spare parts for the 22 aging F-16 fighter jets that it bought from the U.S. in 1982. Venezuela has long been the only country in Latin America to have sophisticated U.S. fighter jets. Recently, Venezuela asked Israel if it could repair the jets and at first the Israeli government agreed, but then withdrew its offer when the U.S. intervened and told Israel not to undertake the repairs.
“When someone does not comply with a contract then the other party is authorized to no longer recognize the contract. So we can do with these planes as we please,” said Chavez during a ceremony in which Venezuela agreed to purchase a Chinese satellite. “Perhaps we will send some ten planes to Cuba or to China, so that they might look and study the technology of these planes,” he added. Chinese officials present at the speech applauded the suggestion.
The U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, contradicted Chavez, though, saying that Venezuela must consult with the U.S. if it intends to give the planes to another country. “Every government in the world has the right to decide its own defense policy and, as well, every government, the north American or Venezuelan have the absolute obligation to respect the conditions of the contract,” said Brownfield. In this sense, Venezuela, “has the obligation to consult before transferring these planes to any other country in the world.”
Venezuela’s Vice-President José Vicente Rangel weighed-in on the matter yesterday, saying that the U.S. was exercising “unacceptable pressure” and, “The violation, as such, is on the part of the North American government, not the Venezuelan government,” for refusing to sell spare parts to Venezuela.