Bloomberg News, August 6th:
Russia will start building two plants in October to make Kalashnikov assault rifles in Venezuela, the first country to win a production license for the guns since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Chavez is continuing an arms buildup that has cost more than $4.3 billion since 2005. Russia is the South American nation’s main weapons supplier. Chavez has said he needs the arms to defend against what he calls a threat of U.S. invasion.
Venezuela has spent more than $3 billion on Russian weapons since 2005, signing contracts to buy 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 50 military helicopters and 24 Su-30 jet fighters. The country is also seeking to buy eight Russian diesel-powered submarines, and Chavez visited Russia’s neighbor Belarus in June for talks with President Alexander Lukashenko on buying a short-range air defense system.
International Herald Tribune, August 15th:
Venezuela is negotiating a contract with Rosoboronexport, the Kremlin-controlled arms export agency, to purchase about 5,000 modernized Dragunov rifles.
…Diplomats and military officers and analysts said a purchase of several thousand Dragunovs would not seem to have a conventional military use for Venezuela’s armed forces…
“Obviously, what he has in mind is some sort of urban, guerrilla war against an invading force, and the model for that is Iraq,”said [Mark] Joyce, [the Americas editor for Jane’s Country Risk, part of Jane’s Information Group].
Joyce noted that Venezuela has long been accused of providing weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a large and heavily equipped Marxist group that the State Department classifies as a foreign terrorist organization.
Reuters, August 23rd:
Colombia is Washington’s strongest ally in a region where left-wing leaders such as Chavez have gained ground. President Alvaro Uribe has received billions of dollars in U.S. aid to fight left-wing rebels and cocaine trafficking that helps fuel the country’s four-decade-old war.
“Venezuela’s regional neighbors should be ready to respond to a potential threat from President Hugo Chavez’s arms build-up, which could be used to intimidate rather than for self-defense,” a senior U.S. defense official said on Thursday…”Democracies in the region need to be able to respond to this in a way that will help reduce this kind of threat,” he said.