Mérida, September 16th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - In response to the United States's criticisms of Venezuela's recent arms purchases from Russia, Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Nicolás Maduro said the purchases were a sovereign decision and that the U.S.'s criticisms "have no political or moral weight."
"Any government of the United States that does not plan to dismantle its industrial, military, and technological apparatus has no moral standing from which to express an opinion about any government of the entire world," said Maduro. "Today, Venezuela is a free and sovereign country."
"The United States sustains simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq and in addition to this it has investments in the development of weapons of mass destruction," Maduro continued.
Venezuela recently accepted Russia's offer of a credit of approximately $2.2 billion for arms purchases. This comes in addition to a $1 billion credit that Russia granted Venezuela in June, and $4.4 billion in purchases of military planes, helicopters, tanks, and rifles from Russia since 2005.
Venezuela has long held that it is purchasing arms from Russia to obtain necessary upgrades and replacement parts that the U.S., a former supplier to Venezuela, now denies the Venezuelan government.
Maduro also sustained that Venezuela's military strategy is "eminently defensive" and oriented toward the defense of its territory and its natural resources against potential aggression from the U.S.
The U.S., which increased its military spending by 66% over the past decade and is far and away the world's largest military producer and spender, re-activated its navy in South American waters last year and recently signed a deal with Colombia to expand the U.S. military presence on seven Colombian bases.
"Do you know what it means to have seven U.S. bases pointing at a country that has the biggest [oil] reserves in the world, that has the fifth largest reserve of gas, the most important reserves of aluminum, and that shares the biodiversity of the Amazon?" Maduro asked rhetorically.
Maduro's comments came in response to criticisms by the United States. On Monday, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ian Kelly called the purchases an "arms buildup, which we think poses a serious challenge to stability in the Western Hemisphere."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also expressed her "concern" about arms purchases in a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Clinton said the purchases "raise the question as to whether there is going to be an arms race in the region," and added, "We hope that we can see a change in behavior and attitude on the part of the Venezuelan Government."
The reporter who questioned Clinton had also mentioned Brazil's recent purchase of $12 billion worth of nuclear-powered submarines, fighter helicopters and planes from France, but Clinton mentioned only Venezuela in her response.
"We urge Venezuela to be transparent in its purchases, clear about its purposes. They should be putting in place procedures and practices to ensure that the weapons that they buy are not diverted to insurgent groups or illegal organizations," said Clinton.
In July, the Colombian military said that five hand-held grenade launchers it had allegedly seized from guerrilla insurgents were originally sold to Venezuela by a Swedish firm in the 1980s. In response, Venezuela presented evidence that the insurgents had stolen the weapons during a raid on a Venezuelan border post in 1995, several years before the current administration came to power.
Clinton's call for transparency followed the U.S.'s and Colombia's refusal to disclose the details of their recent military agreements, despite direct requests by Venezuela and several other countries on the continent.
Colombia, the U.S.'s chief South American ally, is the second largest arms spender in South America and has increased its military expenditures by more than 140% over the past ten years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Brazil, the largest military spender and the only major arms producer in Latin America, accounts for 48% of South American military spending, and is the only Latin American country to rank among the top 15 countries in military spending worldwide. In 2008, Brazil spent $23.3 billion on the military, increasing its worldwide rank from 14th to 12th, according to SIPRI.
The amount Venezuela has spent on arms purchases from Russia is approximately the same as the amount of mostly military aid the U.S. granted to Colombia between the years 2000 and 2008. Also, Venezuela's military budget is less than one percent of that of the U.S., which tops $600 billion per year and accounts for half of all global military spending.
In 2008, the U.S. increased its share of the global arms business to nearly 70%, and U.S.-based Boeing, and Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin have long topped the lists of the world's largest arms producers.