Venezuela Considers U.S. Weapons Ban Sale Prelude to Further Aggression

The Bush administration's announcement that Venezuela is now on a list of countries that are "not cooperating fully" in the war on terrorism means that the US will not sell arms to Venezuela. the Venezuelan government largely dismissed the announcement as old news and said it is part of its effort to isolate Venezuela.

Caracas, Venezuela, May 16, 2006—Reacting to yesterday’s announcement that the U.S. would no longer sell weapons to Venezuela because Venezuela is “not cooperating fully” in the “war on terrorism,” numerous Venezuelan government officials, starting with President Chavez, reacted to the announcement with indifference and derision. “If it’s true that the empire is taking sanctions against us, firstly it’s a confirmation of imperial abuse, of imperial desperation (and) secondly we will take no notice. It is an impotent empire,” said Chavez to the BBC while in London yesterday.

Venezuela is the only country on the list of countries that is not cooperating fully, but that is not on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The consequence of being only on this list, according to the State Department, “U.S. sales and licenses for the export of defense articles and services to Venezuela, including the re-transfer of defense articles, will not be permitted.”

The U.S. has made several efforts to block arms sales of military equipment to Venezuela by third countries, such as Spain and Brazil. According to the U.S., the Brazilian planes and Spanish patrol boats that Venezuela wants include U.S.-made parts, which gives the U.S. the right to veto the sales. In effect, the recent decision would appear to make official the existing policy of preventing arms sales to Venezuela.

The reason for the move, according to State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack, is that the Bush administration is concerned about the, “relationship they’ve built up [with] states like Iran and Cuba, state sponsors of terror, the intelligence-sharing relationship, which has made it very difficult for the United States to work on anti-terrorism efforts with them.”

Several Venezuelan officials, though, dismissed the move. Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez said that placing Venezuela on this list was “cynical,” considering that the U.S. has not cooperated at all with Venezuela’s extradition request for Luis Posada Carriles, who Venezuela considers to be a terrorist because he is accused of a 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people.

An official Foreign Relations Ministry communiqué stated that the U.S. State Department’s “despicable” accusations, “are based on a futile campaign to discredit and isolate Venezuela, to destabilize its democratic government and prepare the political conditions for an attack.”

The communiqué speculated about the reasons for the Bush administration’s move, saying that if Venezuela was being punished for not supporting U.S. “genocide” in Iraq or for opposing U.S. efforts to block Iran’s development of peaceful nuclear technology, then Venezuela is proud that it will never, “give itself … to demands of this nature.”

The statement went on to say that the real reason the U.S. does not want to sell arms to Venezuela is that it wants to prevent Venezuela from being able to defend itself.

According to the AP, State Department statistics show that in 2005 Venezuela spent $34 million on arms purchases in the U.S., of which $30 million were for spare parts for C-130 cargo planes.

Venezuela has repeatedly complained that the U.S. has violated its sales agreement for the F-16 fighter planes it has, which the Bush administration has refused to service. Chavez suggested a year ago that perhaps Venezuela would sell the F-16s to China or Cuba. These, though, declined having an interest in them. Yesterday, in an interview with AP, General Alberto Müller Rojas, who is a close military advisor to Chavez, suggested that perhaps the planes could be sold to Iran.

Over half of Venezuela’s aircraft and almost all of its navy ships are U.S. made. Stopping the sales of military equipment to Venezuela would almost certainly also mean a gradual lack of spare parts for these.

Despite this, Venezuela’s Vice-President, José Vicente Rangel, dismissed the ban, saying, “Venezuela is not interested in buying military equipment from the United States. If [Venezuela] wants to, it will sovereignly buy them from any other country.”

Also, Rangel pointed out that the same day that the U.S. said Venezuela was not cooperating fully in the war on terrorism because of its supposed support for Colombian leftist rebel groups, among other things, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe praised the good relations with Venezuela.

The director of the Washington, DC based Center for Economic and Policy Research, Mark Weisbrot, told Venezuela’s state news agency ABN is a new stage in a long standing strategy to discredit the Chavez government. Also, according to Weisbrot, the measure is hypocritical because the U.S. has not collaborated with Venezuela in any of its emblematic cases.

Venezuela’s Minister of Defense, Orlando Maniglia, also responded to Washington’s announcement, saying that the Bush administration is being “incoherent,” banning the sales of military equipment that is precisely designed for the fight against terrorism, such as for the patrol of its borders. Venezuela has repeatedly stated that the purchase of Brazilian planes and the Spanish patrol boats that the U.S. has blocked are needed to improve Venezuela’s ability to control its boarder.

Maniglia went on to say that he was tired of asking for parts for Venezuela’s aging F-16 fighter planes and that he would start looking elsewhere to purchase the parts. Maniglia reiterated that the U.S. has a contractual obligation to sell Venezuela the replacement parts.