Spain plans building military patrol boats for Venezuela

The vessels are part of a Ђ1.7 billion (Ђ2 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.

All but one of the boats 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 to fight drug trafficking and smuggling and protect Venezuelan fishing grounds, Venezuelan officials say.

Laguna said one of the boats will be built in Venezuela, at the DIANCA shipyard in the city of Puerto Cabello, "which means a transfer of knowledge and state-of-the-art technology from Navantia."

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 AP reports.

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.

A delegation from the company will travel to Venezuela to give the government a status report on the overhaul, Venezuelan Ambassador Arevalo Mendez was quoted as saying Thursday in an interview with the Europa Press news agency.

He said the boat sale was not good news for the United States, which he described as "more interested in controlling" drug trafficking than in fighting it. Mendez said American companies sell Latin American drug cartels equipment and chemicals for setting up labs to produce cocaine.

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.