News and opinions on the situation in Venezuela
Spanish Arms Sale to Chávez: Venezuelan F-16s Bad; Chilean F-16s Good
Council On Hemispheric Affairs
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
This fall has been a trying time for the Bush administration, both at home and around the world, but in no arena is its reputation more compromised or the contempt with which it is held is greater than throughout Latin America. In the midst of the most vulnerable period for the Bush Administration to date, a fire-tongued South American leader has dared to step up and publicly and repeatedly blast Washington. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías capitalized on November’s Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina to bash President Bush and his shortsighted policies for the Western Hemisphere, and has continued his criticism of Bush’s domestic and international policies, particularly when it comes to Washington’s arrogance of power and the White House’s one-sided trade policy for the region.
Chávez also has been an indefatigable booster of the expansion of Mercosur, and the strong possibility that in the future Latin America will have its principal trade ties with the EU rather than the U.S. While the sour relations between Chávez and Bush are nothing new, what has gone largely unexamined during the latest spat between the White House and Venezuela’s radical president is the underlying significance of the caustic relations between the U.S. and one of its largest foreign oil suppliers, and perhaps even more importantly, is conflict between them inevitable?
Furthermore, is the Spanish sale of equipment which, Caracas insists, will be utilized in the war against drugs, any more menacing than the $500 million sale of U.S. F-16s to Chile, which demonstrably has the potential to trigger an arms race with Peru and Argentina? Ironically, the chief Lockheed lobbyist for the sale of F-16s to Chile was Otto Reich, who later became one of Venezuela’s most bitter, if not most controversial, critics. After he joined the Bush administration as its assistant secretary of state for western hemispheric affairs and later as a White House advisor, Reich became privy to a planned 2002 coup to overthrow the Chávez government and then enormously embarrassed the Bush administration by allowing it to be one of the first hemispheric governments to recognize the coup regime for the 48 hours that it was in power. It is clear that the U.S.’ protestations are not based on any fact, but rather the blind odium that guides the Bush administration when dealing with the Caribbean.
Two Strikes Against Chávez
The Nature of the Initiative
From the White House’s perspective, Chávez’s deeply suspect infamous relationship with Fidel Castro, which includes Venezuela essentially giving oil to Cuba on a subsidized barter arrangement, only heightens State Department paranoia fueled by right-wing Miami exiles since Chávez is providing Castro a means to survive the U.S. administration’s policy of economic asphyxiation. U.S. policymakers have reacted to Venezuela’s rancorous initiatives with anything but a steady hand, but with undisciplined fulminations before Congressional sub-committees and the press, covert funding of opposition groups in the country and the CIA’s undoubted complicity in the failed 2002 coup that managed to depose Chávez for a matter of hours until he was returned to power by a group of loyal palace guards and the wrath emerging from the popular barrios.
A Daring Initiative
Levels of concern in Washington have now surpassed all bounds, as an apoplectic White House turns its rhetorical howitzer on the $1.56bn (€1.3bn) arms deal that Venezuela and Spain are on the verge of completing that would send planes and patrol boats to Caracas, that Chávez insists will be used in his country’s anti-drug war. Earlier this month, the U.S. blocked an Israeli attempt to update Venezuela’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets because parts that the Israeli suppliers would be providing included American components and would require U.S. authorization for such a sale. The Bush administration is currently examining whether or not it has comparable grounds to block the Spain-Venezuela deal, which already has de facto EU permission, after the EU Parliament refused to honor the request of one of its members that the body investigate the deal to ensure it complies with all European arms export codes.
Where’s the Beef
This analysis was prepared by COHA Director Larry Birns and Research Associate Julian Armington, along with COHA’s research group
November 29, 2005
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COHA Opinion 05.28