U.S. Claims It Fulfilled Venezuela’s F16 Maintenance Contract

According to the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, the U.S. government has complied with its obligations to service Venezuela's F16 fighter aircraft. A Venezuelan government spokesperson, though, said that this maintenance was limited and did not cover weapons systems.

Caracas, Venezuela, November 18, 2005 –U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, said to journalists on November 15 that the U.S. had always honored its defense contracts with Venezuela and sent replacement parts to Venezuela for its F16 fighter planes on November 4. Brownfield said there had been, “questions of confusion over this subject. We are ready to discuss and where possible clarify any confusion.”

According to Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s F16s have not been able to operate because the U.S. would not send replacement parts. Last Tuesday Brownfield said, “The United States has for more than 20 years sold parts for F-16 planes, we continue to sell parts.” A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy said that replacement parts were flown to Venezuela by the US Air Force on November 4 and were accepted by the Venezuelans. The same spokesperson said that the embassy had not clarified the status of the parts because, “up until now no one had asked.”

A Venezuelan government spokesperson speaking on November 18 said the US had sent some replacement parts to allow the planes to fly, but no parts to let their weapons work. The spokesperson said the US had delivered, “landing gears and ejector seats.” According to the spokesperson, the U.S. has not sent, “the parts to allow for the F16s to function as fighter planes. These planes cannot defend the country.”

According to the U.S. embassy in Venezuela, the F16 contract from 1982 allows for Venezuela to buy replacement parts using a fund based in the U.S. The U.S. embassy spokesperson said as long as the current Venezuelan fund lasts they will be able to purchase more parts. The spokesperson also said that it was unlikely that the Venezuelans would be able to renew the fund in the future, as the US Congress has placed, “People Trafficking of Persons sanctions,” on the country.

Chavez has said since early this year that the U.S. was refusing to send the parts and was violating the contract. On October 19, it was revealed that Israel cancelled a contract to repair and upgrade the Venezuelan F16s because of U.S. pressure. On November 1, Chavez said if the U.S. did not honor the contract, he would give the planes to Cuba or China. Cuba, though, said it was not interested in them.

Brownfield, when speaking on November 15, said that buying or selling weapons was for the U.S. or Venezuela to decide, but he also said, “the obligation to comply with the terms of a contract is not a matter of sovereignty, it is an obligation.” According to the original sales contract, Venezuela must have U.S. approval if it wants to sell the planes to another country. Venezuela, argued, though, that the U.S. already broke the contract by not servicing the planes.

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