Venezuela threatens US with giving F-16s to Cuba or China

President Hugo Chavez has warned the US he could give some of his country's F-16 fighter jets to Cuba or China. Mr Chavez accused the US of breaking a contract to supply spare parts for the jets it sold to Venezuela in the 1980s. He suggested that Washington would be less than pleased if military rivals gained access to the advanced planes. The F-16s were sold to previous governments that had better relations with the White House. The US sees Mr Chavez as an unfriendly head of state. The Venezuelan president's latest provocative announcement came during a nationally televised address, dominated by appeals to Latin Americans to end the dominance of the US.

Speaking of the fighter planes, he said he was "only thinking out loud".

"Maybe we will just send them back to them, or perhaps we will send 10 planes to Cuba, or to China, so they can have a look at the technology of these aircraft." The Venezuelan president not only accused the Bush administration of breaking a contract to supply spare parts for about 20 F-16s.

He also said it was trying to interfere in negotiations between Venezuela and third countries on the upkeep of military equipment and the purchase of new weapons.

Mr Chavez was referring to reports that the US has put pressure on Israel not to help Venezuela maintain the F-16 aircrafts. US officials have not responded to the Venezuelan president's comments, who is highly critical of US foreign policy. If he carries out the threat, it would break Venezuela's obligation to protect F-16 technology.

The BBC's Simon Watts says there is real substance to Mr Chavez's overtures to both China and Cuba. He recently signed an agreement with Beijing to launch a Venezuelan satellite, and is considering buying fighter aircraft from the Chinese, reports BBC news. I.L.

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