Venezuela, Spain to start sale of military patrol boats

Spain will start building eight military patrol boats for Venezuela under a long-awaited deal that was signed Friday and has angered the United States. The vessels are part of a 1.7 billion (2 billion) military hardware package that also includes 10 transport planes.

The building of the boats, first agreed on in November, got the final go-ahead in a signing ceremony that brought together the commander of Venezuela's navy, Armando Laguna, and the president of Spanish state-owned military shipyard Navantia, Juan Pedro Gomez Jaen.

The ships will be built in the southern port city of Puerto Real and delivery is scheduled to be completed in late 2011, officials said. Four are ocean patrol boats and the others are for coast guard duties, Venezuelan officials say. The deal was paralyzed earlier this year after the United States denied EADS-Casa, the Spanish branch of a European aviation consortium, permission to sell Venezuela the 10 transport planes because they contain American technology.

The U.S. government calls Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez a "destabilizing" force in the region and said it feared the sale could affect the military balance in South America. EADS-Casa is now working to replace the American parts with European technology. A delegation from the company will travel to Venezuela to give the government a status report on the overhaul, Europa Press reported Thursday, citing Venezuelan Ambassador Arevalo Mendez.

Chavez has called the U.S. stance an example of "horrific imperialism" meant to dictate which countries should be permitted to supply their militaries. Spain's government, led by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has friendly ties with Chavez and had said all along that it would go through with the deal, reports the AP.

N.U.