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02 Jan 06. FT.com published the text of report by Elizabeth Nunez: “Venezuela spent over 4 trillion bolivars on military equipment in 2005”, published by Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional website on 2 January; subheadings as published. The latest item on Venezuela’s military shopping list was the 2-bn dollar purchase of 10 transport planes from Spanish firm EADS-CASA and eight patrol boats from the Spanish shipyard Navantia.

In 2005 alone Venezuela spent approximately 2.174bn dollars – almost 4.67 trillion bolivars at the official exchange rate – to purchase weapons systems, mainly from Russia and Spain, for the navy, air force and army.

The United States has criticized the purchases, but negative remarks by Washington’s spokespersons did nothing but prompt President Hugo Chavez to reassert his position towards the USA and move forward with decisions that the president considers sovereign. As a result, Spanish Defence Minister Jose Bono attended the signing of the purchase contract at Fort Tiuna on 28 November, along with

President Chavez, ignoring pressure from the United States and its still-lingering threat to remove US-manufactured equipment from the airplanes that were sold.

The refusal is the latest in a string of public disagreements that have put Venezuela and the United States at odds over military issues.

One of the most sensitive issues has been Washington’s refusal to sell spare parts and upgrade the fleet of F-16 jets purchased in 1983. Neither has Venezuela been able to carry out the operation through companies in Israel – Washington’s close ally – because, according to Defence Minister Orlando Maniglia, they have indicated that they do not have the pertinent authorization. The case of the F-16 aircraft and the pressure exerted on Spain over the sale of the planes is not an isolated occurrence. In June of last year intelligence reports that were conveyed to the Bosnian government prevented the sale of 48 million rounds of ammunition to Venezuela for the nation’s armed forces because of fears that the materiel would end up in the hands of irregular forces. While spokespersons for George W. Bush’s administration preach that Chavez is a factor of instability in the region, Venezuela signs purchase contracts to acquire military equipment. Without delay, steps are under way to mobilize the resources needed to pay for the purchases from Spain, whose total amount exceeds the annual budgets for that country’s Agriculture Ministry and Health Ministry.

On 7 December 2005 the National Assembly’s Finance Committee approved a loan of 235.9bn bolivars to pay for the ships. Funding will come from additional revenues obtained by the trust fund established by the National Treasury Office, which is headed by Navy Capt Carmen Teresa de Maniglia.

The purchase agreement signed with Russia from March to May 2005 stipulates that the first shipments of 100,000 AK-103 rifles and 10 helicopters will be delivered in the first quarter of 2006.State policy

This matter concerns more than just the purchase of weapons systems from other countries since the new contracts stipulate the transfer of technology so that Venezuela can perform equipment maintenance, repairs, and upgrades. According to Army Div-Gen Ali Uzcategui Duque, the secretary-general of the National Defence Council [Codena], the latest purchases reflect the need to bolster the nation’s independence in guaranteeing its security and territorial defence. “Of course, we cannot have all the latest generation of technology because that requires major scientific support, but technology is transferred as the new systems are acquired. This will ensure that we will have such means available in the event of any contingency and that we will not have to depend on third parties to defend the fatherland.”

The general explained that Venezuela’s current state policy is that each purchase m

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