Venezuela and Spain Proceed with Military Deal, Despite US protest

The Spanish and Venezuelan Defense Ministers signed a deal for the sale of Spanish military equipment to Venezuela earlier today. The agreement comes after U.S. objections, which Chávez labeled “interference…by the imperialist government of the United States.”

Caracas, Venezuela, November 28, 2005—In what Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías has declared a victory for sovereignty, Spain proceeded with its sale of 12 aircraft and 8 patrol boats to the South American nation. Venezuela’s Defense Minister Admiral Orlando Maniglia and Spanish Defense Minister José Bono signed the deal at a ceremony earlier today.

“I want to thank King Juan Carlos… the prime minister of Spain, our good friend José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, defense minister José `Pepe` Bono, and all of Spain, for resisting the interference and the lack of respect by the imperialist government of the United States,” said President Chávez yesterday on his weekly television program “Aló Presidente.”

Venezuelan military equipment acquisition has been a touchy subject for Washington which, despite its admonishments that the country is not doing enough to fight drug trafficking, has firmly objected to the sale of systems Venezuela says will be used to fight drug trafficking.

Washington`s most recent objection to the Spanish military sale came last Wednesday from the US ambassador to Spain, Eduardo Aguirre. “We have not decided yet whether or not to grant our permission for obtaining that technology,” said Aguirre, “We hope in the end that the transaction will not be carried out.”

The weapons’ sale, for 10 military transport planes, 2 maritime patrolling aircraft and 8 patrol boats, requires a U.S. export license because the equipment contains U.S. components. However, according to Venezuela’s ambassador to Spain, Arévalo Méndez Romero, because of available European technology, a U.S. veto “is of no concern.”

Washington has raised objections to Spanish sale of military equipment to Venezuela since last April, citing its concern that it could contribute to regional instability, and lead to an Andean arms race.

“It`s a lie to say we´re selling arms,” said Bono. “It´s defensive equipment whose use is essentially civil.”

Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has also made public statements saying that the transportation aircraft and patrol boats are “peaceful” military equipment, which will be used to fight illegal drug trafficking and bring greater stability to the region. Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez Frías echoed Zapatero’s comments, saying that the boats will be used to improve Venezuela’s ability to prevent drug trafficking along its coasts.

The U.S. has repeatedly criticized the Chávez administration for not doing enough to fight drug trafficking in Venezuela, and has decertified the country for lack of cooperation in the fight against drugs.

Despite U.S. concerns of an increase in weapons in the region, the country continues to provide it with military aid. According to the Center for International Policy, in FY2005, US military aid to Latin America will be almost $860 million, compared to $921 million in economic aid.

Bono`s presence in Venezuela for the signing was a diplomatic victory for Chávez, who had said Venezuela´s signing of the deal was contingent upon the attendance of the Spanish defense minister.