January 13, 2006

Chavez attacks US halt on Spanish arms deal

By Patrick Markey

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez on Friday blasted a United States block on a Spanish
military deal with his government as "horrific imperialism" and
an attack against his socialist revolution.

Washington said on Thursday it had refused an export
license for Spain to sell 12 transport and maritime
surveillance planes containing U.S. technology to Venezuela.

Chavez, who often accuses Washington of working to oust or
kill him, has antagonized the U.S. government with his alliance
with Cuba and his aggressive campaign to counter U.S. political
and trade proposals in the region.

"What is this if not proof of the horrific imperialism
Washington's government wants to impose on the world," Chavez
told the National Assembly in his state of the nation speech.

"A new attack against Venezuela is only just beginning, a
new offensive against Venezuela, but Mr. Danger, you will smash
against the forces of the truth and morality," he said in his
usual reference to U.S. President George W. Bush.

Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, last year
negotiated deals to buy weapons and military equipment from
Spain, Russia and Brazil in an effort to overhaul its armed
forces and beef up border defenses.

"We're concerned that this proposed sale of military
equipment and components to Venezuela could contribute to
destabilization in Latin America," U.S. State Department
spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

McCormack said that view had been made clear to Spain and
to other governments in Latin America.

Spain said on Friday it planned to go ahead with the sale
of planes to Venezuela, using substitute technology, after the
United States blocked the deal for the EADS-CASA aircraft with
U.S. components.

The aircraft are part of a $2 billion Spanish deal, signed
in November, to supply Caracas with ships and planes. Venezuela
has also purchased Russian military attack and transport
helicopters and 100,000 rifles and wants to buy Brazilian
military training planes.

The United States must authorize military transactions
involving the transfer of U.S.-made hardware to third parties.

Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said on Wednesday
his country saw signs the United States was trying to block the
sale of the Brazilian-made military aircraft to Venezuela.

Since his 1998 election, Chavez has weakened Venezuela's
traditional alliance with Washington. He has cut U.S. military
cooperation and strengthened ties with South American neighbors
and countries such as Iran, India and China.

(Additional reporting by Saul Hudson in Washington)