Procurement: Venezuela's Secret Plan


February 5, 2006: In Venezuela, leftist president Hugo Chavez apparently plans to spend several billion dollars on rearmament. Details have been slipping out over the last year, as an increasing number of sales teams (mostly Russian), travel to Venezuela, and return boasting of splendid results. Chavez has apparently decided to get three dozen Russian helicopter, two Russian subs, and some Russian high tech jet fighters.

One reason for getting mostly Russian gear, is because much Western stuff off limits if the United States says so. That's because many Western weapons systems contain American technology, which cannot be sold on the international market unless the U.S. government approves. The U.S. government does not approve of Venezuela building up its armed forces. Despite this opposition, Spain is selling some patrol boats to Venezuela, and throwing in some second-hand helicopters for free, just to sweeten the deal.

With all that Russian equipment, Chavez has also arranged for thousands of Cuban technicians to come and help maintain it. Cuba has been using Russian equipment for over four decades. Chavez also likes to have Cubans around to help with his personal security. Venezuela is also buying some surplus Russian military equipment from Cuba, stuff that the Cubans can't afford to operate any more.

Spending all this money on weapons is not popular inside Venezuela. Chavez came to power largely because of his promises to alleviate poverty. Sending billions to Russia, and importing Cubans to take jobs Venezuelans could use, does not appear to help poor Venezuelans much at all. But Chavez has his own agenda. The problem is, no one is sure what it is. And some fear that Chavez is flying blind as well.


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