[Marxism] Venezuela Spending on Arms Soars to World’s Top Ranks (NYT)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Feb 25 05:05:08 MST 2007

Washington continues to have diplomatic and economic relations with
Venezuela, despite this. All the more reason for Washington now to
normalized relations with Cuba today. Also, it's probably continuing 
to shock to some on the left of a dogmatic mindset to daily observe
the patriotic and nationalistic generals who are an active part of
the Bolivarian revolutionary process. Despite the fact that for now
Bolivarian Venezuela remains a capitalist country in terms of the
system of private property which prevails outside of PDVSA, Chavez 
and the rest of the Bolivarian leadership team are clearly orienting 
the country away from the vulturistic capitalist system toward a new 
form which today is named "Socialism of the 21st Century". 

To really understand the process and the framework within which these
developments are occurring, I highly recommend the book by D.L. Raby
called DEMOCRACY AND REVOLUTION; Latin America and Socialism Today
published by Pluto Press. There are some points in the book with which 
I don't agree - She's very critical of China, Vietnam, Lula and the DPRK, 
so that may evoke some interest in Raby's ideas among the readers of this
list - but the discussion of the Bolivarian process, and the importance of
its use of the electoral process are the heart and soul of the book, and are
among the best discussions I've seen recently of Venezuela and Cuba 
from a broad, historical and theoretical point of view. The attack on
Chavez by the Brazilian Jose Sarney quoted here is precisely what Raby
takes up in her wonderful, thought-provoking and important book, which
I like greatly and want to encourage everyone to read.

Walter Lippmann
Havana, Cuba

February 25, 2007
Venezuela Spending on Arms Soars to World’s Top Ranks

CARACAS, Venezuela, Feb. 24 — Venezuela’s arms spending has climbed
to more than $4 billion in the past two years, transforming the
nation into Latin America’s largest weapons buyer and placing it
ahead of other major purchasers in international arms markets like
Pakistan and Iran.

Venezuelan military and government officials here say the arms
acquisitions, which include dozens of fighter jets and attack
helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, are needed to
circumvent a ban by the United States on sales of American weapons to
the country.

They also argue that Venezuela must strengthen its defenses to
counter potential military aggression from the United States.

“The United States has tried to paralyze our air power,” Gen. Alberto
Muller Rojas, a member of President Hugo Chávez’s general staff, said
in an interview, citing a recent effort by the Bush administration to
prevent Venezuela from acquiring replacement parts for American F-16s
bought in the 1980s. “We are feeling threatened and like any
sovereign nation we are taking steps to strengthen our territorial
defense,” he said.

This retooling of Venezuela’s military strategy, which includes
creation of a large civilian reserve force and military assistance to
regional allies like Bolivia, has been part of a steadily
deteriorating political relationship with the United States.

The Bush administration has repeatedly denied that it has any plans
to attack Venezuela, one of the largest sources of oil for the United
States. But distrust of such statements persists here after the
administration tacitly supported a coup that briefly removed Mr.
Chávez from office in 2002.

Venezuela’s escalation of arms spending, up 12.5 percent in 2006, has
brought harsh criticism from the Bush administration, which says the
buildup is a potentially destabilizing problem in South America and
is far more than what would be needed for domestic defense alone.

The spending has also touched off a fierce debate domestically about
whether the country needs to be spending billions of dollars on
imported weapons when poverty and a surging homicide rate remain
glaring problems. Meanwhile, concern has increased among Venezuela’s
neighbors that its arms purchases could upend regional power balances
or lead to a new illicit trade in arms across Venezuela’s porous

José Sarney, the former Brazilian president and a leading senator,
caused a stir this week when he was quoted in the newspaper O Globo
as describing Venezuela’s form of government as “military populism”
and “a return to the 1950s,” when Venezuela was governed by the army
strongman Marcos Pérez Jiménez.

“Venezuela is buying arms that are not a threat to the United States
but which unbalance forces within the continent,” Mr. Sarney said.
“We cannot let Venezuela become a military power.”

Still, officials in the administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula
da Silva of Brazil have been hesitant to publicly criticize
Venezuela’s arms purchases.

The issue remains delicate after the Brazilian company Embraer lost a
deal to sell military aircraft to Venezuela because the planes
included American technology.

After turning unsuccessfully to Brazil and Spain for military
aircraft, Venezuela has become one of the largest customers of
Russia’s arms industry.

Since 2005, Venezuela has signed contracts with Russia for 24 Sukhoi
fighter jets, 50 transport and attack helicopters, and 100,000
assault rifles. Venezuela also has plans to open Latin America’s
first Kalashnikov factory, to produce the Russian-designed rifles in
the city of Maracay.

A report in January by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency
pegged Venezuela’s arms purchases in the past two years at $4.3
billion, ahead of Pakistan’s $3 billion and Iran’s $1.7 billion in
that period.

In a statement before the House Intelligence Committee, Lt. Gen.
Michael D. Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency,
called attention to Mr. Chávez’s “agenda to neutralize U.S. influence
throughout the hemisphere,” contrasting Mr. Chávez with the
“reformist left” exemplified by President Michelle Bachelet of Chile.

Beyond Russia, Venezuela is also considering a venture with Iran, its
closest ally outside Latin America, to build a remotely piloted
patrol aircraft. Gen. Raúl Isaías Baduel, the Venezuelan defense
minister, recently told reporters that the project to build 20 of the
aircraft could be used to bolster border surveillance and combat
environmental destruction in Venezuela. Venezuela is also
strengthening military ties with Cuba, sending officers and soldiers
there for training.

Supporters of the arms buildup contend that under Mr. Chávez, who has
been in power for eight years, Venezuela has spent proportionately
less on its military in relation to the size of its economy than the
United States or than other South American countries like Chile and

In 2004, the last year for which comparative data were immediately
available and before Venezuela’s arms buildup intensified, overall
defense spending by Venezuela, including arms contracts, was about
$1.3 billion and accounted for about 1.4 percent of gross domestic
product, compared with 4 percent in the United States and 3.8 percent
in Colombia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research
Institute, which tracks military spending.

Doubts persist as to how powerful Venezuela’s armed forces have
become in a regional context, even as they acquire new weapons.
Military experts here say pilots in the air force still need training
to start flying their new Russian fighters. And in terms of troop
strength, Venezuela’s 34,000-soldier active-duty army still lags
behind the armies of Argentina and Brazil, with about 41,400 and
200,000 members respectively, according to GlobalSecurity.org, a Web
site that compiles data on military topics.

Pro-Chávez analysts also say the president is less adventurous in
relation to military policy outside Venezuela than predecessors like
Luis Herrera Campíns, who supported Argentina in the Falklands War in
1982 to detract attention from a decline in oil revenue and climbing

But critics of the arms purchases say they are being made with little
participation from or discussion with the National Assembly, which
recently allowed Mr. Chávez to govern by decree for 18 months.

Ricardo Sucre, a political scientist at the Central University of
Venezuela, said that the lack of transparency of the weapons
contracts had heightened concern that Mr. Chávez could be arming
parts of the army, the new civilian reserve and partisans like the
Frente Francisco de Miranda, a pro-Chávez political group, that would
be loyal to him in the event of fractures within the armed forces.

General Muller Rojas, the president’s military adviser, said concern
about the arms purchases was overblown, pointing to reports that
Venezuela was considering an acquisition of nine diesel-powered
submarines from Russia for about $3 billion.

He said the navy had “aspirations” for more submarines, but that no
“concrete plan” for such a large contract had been developed.

“We simply have an interest in maintaining peace and stability,”
General Muller Rojas said, describing the Caribbean as a crucial to
its military influence. “We have no intent of using the Venezuelan
armed forces to repress human rights.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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