Venezuela increase arms purchases from Russia whilst expanding the militarisation of society

Rafael Uzcategui

On his most recent visit to Venezuela, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin revealed that the value of arms bought by the government in Caracas amounted to over five billion US dollars.

According to statistics provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), in the past ten years, 77.6% of total arms imports to Latin American countries were from Russia. Amongst these acquisitions, Mi-17 and Mi-35 Sukhoi fighter planes , Kalashnikov assault rifles, and an agreement to install a factory which produces rifles and munitions, S-300 tanks, and anti-aircraft missiles.

Contracts carried out by the Russian Federation are justified with the excuse of “anti-imperialism”. Despite Venezuela exporting 70% of its oil to the United States, Venezuelan government spokesmen have indicated that a military intervention carried out by the US is “imminent”. On her part, the pro-government journalist Eleazar Díaz Rángel, editor in chief of the newspaper Últimas Noticias, denies that there is an arms race on the part of thr Bolivarian government in Venezuela. That the purchases were legitimate as there is a US embargo where the US not only refuses to sell any type of arms, but furthermore, in violation of undersigned contracts, does not provide spare parts or maintenance equipment for US supplied F16 planes; this block also prevented Brazil and Spain from selling air and naval equipment in order to modernise or renew the armed forces.

According to SIPRI, Venezuela ranked 8th in 2008 on the list of major arms importers. One year later it went down to 32nd place. However, the recent announcements by the Russian Prime Minister will cause an increase in their ranking. The peculiar thing is that this new acquisition of arms is happening in a year when Venezuela is suffering the consequences of the global economic crisis, which has drastically reduced the price of their main export, oil. A statement made by the human rights organisation Provea warned that these purchases have been carried out “at the cost of worsening possible benefits for the most vulnerable sectors of the country”. In this vein they carried out calculations relating to the amount of housing – a sector in which the President Chavez’s government has been particularly ineffective – which could have been built with the amount of money spent on Russian arms. The final figure was 143,333 houses, almost half of all the houses built by the Bolivarian government in the past ten years.

Provea, along with other social organisations in the country, have also warned that the arms purchasing is being carried out within a context of progressive militarisation of Venezuelan society. After a law established that a civil force, named “reserve”, will form the fifth largest part of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, on 11 April 35,000 militia members were recruited, whose official objective will be the “defence of sovereignty”. However, some high-level government spokesmen, such as the minister Diosdado Cabello, confirmed that their job would also encompass coming up against sectors who are critical of the government. It is expected that a total of 200,000 civil combatants will be recruited by the end of 2010.