The decision could boost the shipments of Russian weapons to the South American nation.
In an attempt to punish president Hugo Chavez for his ties with Cuba and Iran, the Bush administration banned all US arms sales to Venezuela on Monday, a decision that could force Caracas to explore for alternative suppliers in the EU and Russia. The sanctions against Venezuela, a major U.S. oil supplier, come after years of antagonism between the leftist leader and the White House on issues ranging from trade to oil prices that have dragged ties to their worst state in decades.
The US decision does not affects the regular trade of weapons between Caracas and Moscow, by which Venezuela has ordered 100,000 AK-47 rifles, helicopters, and negotiates the sale of battle aircrafts.
US President George W. Bush believes that Caracas is uncooperative in the war against terrorism, despite Venezuela’s repeated assertions it works against the common enemy. After stating that Iran does not seek for nuclear weaponry, President Hugo Chavez departed to Tripoli to visit Libya’s leader Moammar Gadhafi, who once bore the brunt of US disapproval.
According to observers, Washington is not concerned on a possible Venezuelan aid to Iran, but believes that Caracas is inactive against Colombian rebels operating in the border of the two South American nations. Washington has included both groups in the list of terrorist organizations and supports Colombian conservative leader Alvaro Uribe in his attempt to become reelected this year. Chavez and Uribe are in permanent dispute over the border issue.
While the move is not as severe as adding a country to the U.S. blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, which includes Iran and Cuba, it does trigger sanctions and is likely to provoke an angry response from Chavez. The sanctions extend the Bush administration's practice in recent years of stopping country-to-country sales involving American arms and technology to Venezuela.
Maripili Hernandez, Venezuelan Vice Minister of Foreign Relations for North America and Multilateral Affairs, dismissed the U.S. move. "From a diplomatic point of view those classifications that the United States makes are absolutely irrelevant. We don't take them into account," she said as quoted by press agencies in Caracas.