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Arms exports to Venezuela: “Completely irresponsible“

By Leo Wieland, Madrid | FAZ

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 30 March 2005 | [Spanish] Prime Minister Zapatero signed the largest Spanish arms deal in history with President Chávez in Venezuela on Wednesday. The deal covers the sale of ships and airplanes worth at least 1.3 billion Euro.

Speaking after a four-way summit with the presidents of Brazil and Colombia, Lula and Uribe, Zapatero asserted that the deal served purely “defensive” purposes.

The U.S. government, however, voiced its “concern”, and Spanish opposition leader Rajoy spoke of a new “monstrous” mistake committed by Zapatero in international politics. Zapatero rejected the accusation, saying that the eight patrol boats and corvettes as well as the ten transport planes would only serve “regional stabilization”.

They were aimed at helping in the war against terror and the narcotics trade and therefore supported “noble goals”. A speaker of the ruling Socialist Party said in Madrid that the order would also benefit the state-owned shipbuilding industry in Spain, which is currently experiencing grave difficulties.

The exports supplement Venezuela’s arms buildup. In addition to this, his latest order, Chávez has already ordered twelve fighter-bombers from Brazil as well as a hundred thousand AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles from Russia – for an army numbering around thirty thousand soldiers.

The United States in particular fear that these weapons could either be used to arm new Venezuelan “people’s militias” or that they could find their way into the hands of Chávez-supported regional guerilla organizations from Colombia over Bolivia to Peru.

“Symmetrical” deliveries to Colombia

The Spanish ambassador in Washington, Westendorp, said that the government of President Bush had been provided with some “declarations” about the arms deal between his country and Chávez, and that the Spanish government was further intending to supply “symmetrical” shipments to Colombia.

In addition, Spanish oil company Repsol on Wednesday signed an agreement with Venezuela’s state-owned oil company permitting it to increase its daily production by sixty percent from one hundred thousand to one hundred and sixty thousand barrels.

Indignation on the part of the opposition

Meantime, the oppositional People’s Party expressed its outrage in Madrid and positioned itself at the side of the United States. Party chairman Rajoy spoke of “completely irresponsible” actions by Zapatero, who was again moving on slippery ground with allies such as Chávez and the Cuban leader, Castro, because of his “unreasonableness” in foreign policy.

Rajoy said Zapatero was the only leader in the European Union “unable to talk to the President of the United States” while at the same time making deals with “extremely questionable regimes” in Latin America.

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