Mérida, July 24, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)-- In response to widely circulated international news reports that Venezuela plans to spend $30 billion on Russian weapons and host Russian military bases on its soil, President Hugo Chávez said Wednesday that the reports are false and denounced the international media’s consistent efforts to slander the Venezuelan government.
“They repeat it so much that people believe it. I call on the media to fulfill their role. In this sense, we have the obligation to prove this type of information false and clarify things,” Chávez said in a press conference in response to the reports, which were originally issued by the Interfax press agency.
The reports were circulated on Tuesday and Wednesday following Chávez’s meeting with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev, during which the two presidents improved bilateral relations and signed military and economic accords.
Chávez has repeatedly declared his intention to upgrade Venezuela's national defense system with Russian support, which he says is mainly to defend against repeated U.S. threats to Venezuelan sovereignty.
After meeting with Medvedev Tuesday, Chávez said that Russia will “continue delivering arms to Venezuela.” He specified that Venezuela is “closing off” its purchases of Russian Sukhoi war planes, and will now focus on its anti-aircraft defense systems.
The president explained that the United States denied Venezuela the replacement parts necessary to maintain the war planes that Venezuela bought from the U.S. nearly two decades ago, so Venezuela looked elsewhere.
“Thanks to Russia, thanks to [former President Vladimir] Putin and now Medvedev, the process of strengthening the defense capacity of the Venezuelan nation has begun,” Chávez declared.
However, there is no basis for the Interfax reports about allowing Russian military bases in Venezuela or a drastic increase in military spending, Chávez said Wednesday, adding, “I don’t know where they got these figures.”
According to the reports, Venezuela plans to spend $30 billion on Russian military equipment over four years. If this were true, it would bring Venezuela’s military budget to be less than half of one percent of the U.S. military budget, and approximately half that of Latin America’s largest military spender, Brazil, according to the Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Chávez also made comments in a joint press conference with President Medvedev Tuesday about the potential presence of Russian military ships in Caribbean waters. The comments appear to have been taken out of context and used for reports that Venezuela offered to host Russian military bases on its soil.
“Russia has sufficient capacity to mobilize boats and aircraft carriers... if they were to appear in Venezuela, it would not be a strange thing, that they go and visit the oceans of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. If they come to Venezuela, they will be welcomed because we are not talking here about the [U.S. Southern Command] Fourth Fleet. That is a threat,” said Chávez Tuesday.
He continued, “If someday a Russian fleet were to arrive in the Caribbean, we would hoist flags, play drums, play the national anthems of Venezuela and Russia, because it would be the arrival of a friend who is here to extend a hand, it would be the arrival of our ally.”
Legislator Rafael Gil, who heads up the Security and Defense Commission of the Venezuelan National Assembly, said on Thursday that the Venezuelan Constitution, which was approved by popular vote in 1999, prohibits foreign military bases in Venezuelan territory.
“That is why President Chávez himself came out to immediately refute such information,” said Gil. The legislator added that the false reports were part of an international media campaign to sabotage Venezuela's integration with other countries in Latin America and the rest of the world.
During Tuesday's visit in Moscow, Venezuela and Russia concretized plans to exploit oil and gas in Venezuela's recently nationalized Orinoco River Belt, launch a bi-national bank to finance joint development projects, and continue Venezuelan arms purchases from Russia.