Venezuela May Buy Elsewhere if Spain Cannot Overcome US Pressure

President Chavez said that Venezuela might buy military equipment from Russia or China if the US manages to prevent Spain from fulfilling an already signed contract for the purchase of patrol boats and planes.

Caracas, Venezuela, 02 February 2006 – The Spanish Government is insisting it will complete a deal to sell military boats and planes to Venezuela despite US efforts to stop them. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said if Spain cannot confirm the deal soon Venezuela will, “have to go to Moscow or Peking to buy them.”

Last November Spain signed a deal to sell Venezuela 12 unarmed military aircraft and 4 boats to help with coastguard and patrol duties. The US said it could not allow the sale to take place as the planes used some US technology. This allows them a veto on the sale.

The US veto only applies to the planes being made by CASA, the Spanish part of EADS, a European Defense Consortium. Spain has confirmed the boats include no US technology and that sale is going ahead as normal.

On January 31, Spanish Deputy Primer Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said, “I am sure that we are going to live up to our word as always.” De la Vega also said Spain is trying to find, “mechanisms of substitution,” for the planes to get round the US Veto and comply with the contract.

Venezuelan Minister for Defense, Orlando Maniglia said yesterday that Venezuela wants the sale to go forward with Spain. Maniglia said, “We are going to listen to the plan of CASA to see if they can or cannot solve the situation by using other equipment and pieces.”

The sale is estimated to be worth $1.7 billion. De la Vega said it is, “very important,” for the Spanish Defense industry. Workers in the Defense Industry, “above all have suffered the consequences of some bad relations between other countries,” said the Deputy Primer Minister.

Speaking to a meeting of business people in Venezuela on January 31 Chavez said, “We wanted to help Spain because Zapatero told me one day he had problems with the shipyards.” The Venezuelan President blamed the US for interfering.

Chavez said the US President, “goes around the world blackmailing and pressuring so that no one will sell us what we need for the defense of our territory.” Regardless of US pressure, “Venezuela will have these things, you can be sure of that,” Chavez said.

The US says it is blocking the sale because it feels Venezuela is a, “destabilizing force in the region.” A US government spokesperson also said the sale would, “complicate matters.” The US has been accused of hypocrisy as it sends $182 billion of military aid to Latin America last year.

Chavez accuses the US of sponsoring the 2002 coup against him as well as other efforts to destabilize his government. The Venezuelan President routinely attacks the US in his speeches.

Spain has not been on good terms with the US since the Zapatero government withdrew troops from Iraq. Zapatero recently defended Chavez by saying, “Hugo Chavez, has to be respected because he was elected.”

Problems with Venezuelan democracy came more from the opposition parties attitude rather than the President, Zapatero said. The Spanish Prime Minister referred to the opposition boycott of the December 2005 elections as, “not good news.”