October 4, 2006—Venezuelan Defense Minister Gen. Raul Isaias Baduel Monday rejected the “concerns” of his U.S. counterpart Donald Rumsfeld regarding Venezuela’s recent military hardware purchases. Baduel said that Venezuela has a purely “peaceful vocation” and does not intend to be a threat to other nations.
Rumsfeld made his remarks while speaking at a meeting of Defense Ministers from 32 countries in the western hemisphere that was held Managua, Nicaragua on Sunday. He said that there was, “concern that some of the things arriving in that country could conceivably end up in the hands of terrorist groups, the [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC] or other groups.”
He went on to say that he also understood Venezuela’s “neighbors being concerned” and alluded to the possibility of a regional arms race as other countries may follow suit. He did not refer to any neighbor by name, however.
Speaking at the same gathering General Baduel responded by saying that, “We, in the heart of our country, subscribe to the biblical precept that we hope the day will come when swords will turn into plows,” but, he continued, until that day Venezuela had the right to defend itself from any threat, internal or external.
The Venezuelan government recently signed a 3 billion dollar deal with Russia to purchase the hardware that included 24 fighter planes, 53 helicopters and 100,000 Kalshnikov rifles. This is expected to increase, given that Baduel admitted recently that another deal was currently being negotiated that would bring still more equipment from Russia.
The U.S. government has reacted to what they say is a military “build up,” by banning sales to Venezuela from their own shores and by pressuring other nations to do likewise. They also closed the Venezuelan military’s arms acquisition office in Miami as a consequence of the ban.
However, one military expert said that Venezuela is merely replacing old equipment rather than than increasing its stocks. Anna Gilmour of the well known defense magazine, Jane’s, said, “ Venezuela has increased indeed its military purchases over the last three years. But it is replacing obsolete weapons and military equipment, instead of just buying new equipment or new weapons.” She also hinted that Rumsfeld may have “political” reasons for making the comments about Venezuela.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has also inserted himself into the row. He called Rumsfeld a “war dog” and said that the U.S. is threatening Venezuela, something Rumsfeld denies, “ The dog says in a cynical way that he knows no one who is threatening Venezuela, so he does not know himself. We should give the little dog a mirror so that he can see his face,” said Chávez.
Chávez also made a polite request to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe that he make a comment on Rumsfeld’s remarks. Colombia borders Venezuela and, although relations between Uribe and Chávez are good, the border area is renowned for military and paramilitary activity on both sides. Chávez wants Uribe to say whether he is one of those “neighbors” with “concerns.”
According to the news agency EFE, Uribe was asked today in a radio interview how he would respond to Chavez and merely stated that Colombia has “very good relations” with the countries of South America, among these Venezuela, and with the United States.