Leadership: Soldiers Of The Deal In Venezuela

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December 19, 2013: In the last twelve years Venezuela has bought $11 billion worth of Russian weapons.  Despite energetic government efforts to control the Venezuelan media, more is being heard about how most of these weapons don’t work so well and that a lot of bribes and corruption were involved in the purchases.

Why all the weapons? Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who ran Venezuela from 1999 until his death in March, 2013,  achieved a measure of popularity with the voters by convincing them that the United States was about to invade. This threat, and Chavez's poll numbers, became less believable as time went on. Venezuela is running out of money, but many Chavez supporters takes comfort in new weapons, especially those being used to arm a new pro-Chavez militia. Weapons may not be needed to stop yankee invaders, but they will also work against disloyal Venezuelans.

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has sold weapons on a cash basis. No more generous terms. But that is changing, and in 2009 Russia offered Venezuela $2.2 billion in credit for the purchase of more weapons. The Venezuelan spending spree has brought in dozens of Su-30 jet fighters, hundreds of armored vehicles (including T-90 tanks) and scores of artillery systems (mainly multiple rocket launchers.) There's also small arms (including a factory for making assault rifles), radios and other equipment. There are support aircraft, including transports and helicopter gunships. Negotiations are still under way to purchase new warships, including submarines. The problem is that many of the weapons were overpriced (so Venezuelan officials could take a profit for themselves) and under maintained. That means most of the aircraft and many of the armored vehicles are out of service most of the time. Even the locally built Russian assault rifles are considered less reliable than Western stuff.

Then there are the quality problems among military personnel. With unemployment rising, there's no shortage of people trying to join the military. Those willing to profess undying loyalty to the Chavez party have an edge, and the senior ranks have already been purged of those who did not agree with the radical reforms Chavez tried to impose on the military. These reforms were heavy on politics and theory, and short on training and experience. So all those new weapons are faced with a problematic future, in the hands of inept, but politically motivated, users. Now with the country very much broke and unable to borrow any more, Venezuelans are trying to figure out where it all went wrong. The $11 billion worth of overpriced and dysfunctional weapons are a convenient and accurate scapegoat and the government is working hard to keep the details secret. 

 


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