Thursday, March 31, 2005

One Leftist Supports Another

In a further effort to spit in Washington's eye, Spain's socialist government has concluded an agreement to sell weapons to Venezuela, currently run by extreme leftist Hugo Chavez.

In Spain's biggest arms deal for many years, its arms factories will supply 10 C-295 transport planes, four coastal patrol corvettes and four smaller coastguard patrol boats to Mr Chavez's army. Mr Zapatero [Spain's socialist Prime Minister] said the vehicles would be used to monitor coastlines, combat terrorism and drug traffickers, and mount rescue operations during natural disasters. The deal was announced by the Spanish Prime Minister during a visit to Venezuela yesterday when he also met fellow left-wing leaders from Colombia and Brazil.

Spain's opposition leader, Mariano Rajoy, whose conservative Popular Party criticised the deal, said: "This is something the Spanish government should never have done. It has provoked criticism throughout the Venezuelan opposition. I think what Zapatero has done is absolutely irresponsible."

But Mr Zapatero insisted the equipment was solely for peaceful use. "None of this equipment has any offensive capability whatsoever," he said. In a veiled response to reservations expressed by the United States at recent Venezuelan arms purchases, he added that nobody should feel offended or have any objection to the proposed collaboration between Spain and Venezuela "that will benefit the people".

The Spanish arms deal comes as Mr. Chavez continues to consolidate his hold on power (see previous post) and provoke confrontations with neighboring countries.

Washington has become deeply anxious about President Chavez's arms build-up. The Venezuelan leader recently bought weapons and equipment from Russia and Brazil. The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said he could not imagine why Venezuela, with an army of 34,000, wanted 100,000 AK-103 assault rifles, reportedly bought from Russia. "I am worried. I personally hope [that deal] doesn't happen. If it does, it won't be good for the hemisphere," Mr Rumsfeld said.

More worrying still for the US - and for South America in general - Chavez has recently been cozying up to China, hoping to forge a partnership to counter US interests in South America (see previous post). Not surprisingly, Chavez has also sought improved relations with Cuba, Iran and Russia - all bastions of progressive democracy. The Spanish arms sales come on the heels of a similar deal between Venezuela and Russia. Chavez's arms build up is raising speculation in Washington as to his intentions in the region. While Washington remains focused on its $250+ billion experiment in Islamic democracy, American security is increasingly threatened in America's own backyard.


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