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U.S. officials raise alarm about new Venezuelan missiles

Discussion in 'Political Zone' started by JBond, Jun 1, 2009.

  1. JBond

    JBond Well-Known Member

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    U.S. officials raise alarm about new Venezuelan missiles

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/world/story/69148.html

    BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
    jtamayo@MiamiHerald.com

    Venezuela's recent purchase of the most lethal shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles in the Russian arsenal is sharpening U.S. concerns that parts of President Hugo Chávez's massive weapons buildup could wind up in the hands of terrorists or guerrillas in neighboring Colombia.

    Washington's unease is well-founded, U.S. government officials say, because of credible evidence that three top Venezuelan officials offered Colombia's FARC rebels weapons, money and contacts to buy anti-aircraft missiles in 2007.

    Such missiles in the hands of the FARC would mark a steep escalation of the 45-year-old conflict in Colombia, where government forces in recent years have deployed a fleet of slow-moving ground-attack warplanes and U.S.-built helicopters to deal devastating blows to rebel jungle camps.

    ''We are concerned about Venezuelan arms purchases that exceed its needs and are therefore potentially destabilizing,'' State Department spokeswoman Sara Mangiaracina said. ``The Man-Portable Air Defense Systems Venezuela have purchased from Russia are sophisticated weapons systems. It is important that these weapons systems be appropriately controlled to avoid the possibility of diversion.''

    Financed by high oil prices, Chávez has been on a weapons-buying binge since 2006, purchasing more than $4 billion worth of Russian Sukhoi jets, Mi helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles for what he says is the professionalization of his 62,000-member armed forces and the defense of his ''socialist revolution'' from U.S. aggression.

    U.S. officials have long voiced concerns about the weapons buildup. ''I can't imagine what's going to happen to those 100,000 [Kalashnikovs] and I can't imagine that if it did happen, that it would be good for the hemisphere,'' then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in 2005.

    But the purchase of the SA-24 man-portable missiles -- the most sophisticated version manufactured in Russia -- spiked U.S. anxiety.

    The missile and launcher weigh just 42 pounds, can hit targets flying at up to 19,500 feet, employ a ''fire and forget'' system that is highly resistant to countermeasures, has night-vision capability and is easy to maintain, U.S. military experts said. Previously, Venezuela only had pedestal-mounted Swedish RBS-70 and French Mistral surface-to-air missiles.

    Chávez's press office did not respond to faxed requests for comments.

    Until last month, Venezuela's purchase of the SA-24s had been mentioned in public only once and briefly, in a November Russian defense industry report noting ''plans'' for a sale. One former Bush administration official, who requested anonymity to speak about the sensitive issue, said he recalled reports of missiles in Venezuela, but no confirmation.

    But on April 19, during the Venezuelan armed forces' annual parade in Caracas, Chávez made a point of halting the march from the reviewing stand to address a unit of about 50 soldiers carrying missiles on their shoulders.

    ''We have decided to make this brief halt in the parade to highlight the importance that this new unit has for the sovereignty and defense of the country,'' he declared, identifying the weapons as SA-24s and boasting about their speed and weight. ``We are a peaceful country. The revolution is peaceful . . . We do not want war but we are required to be capable of defending ourselves.''

    Addressing Chávez, the captain who commanded the unit described it as ''part of the process of strengthening and transforming our revolutionary, anti-imperialist and socialist'' armed forces.

    U.S. military officials were careful in describing their concerns. ''It's been our position that we don't consider Venezuela a military threat,'' said Col. Bill Costello, spokesman for the Pentagon's Miami-based Southern Command.

    But, Costello added, ``weapons proliferation in the region poses a long-term threat to security, and any potential illegal transfer of such weapons to terrorist groups such as the FARC in Colombia remains a concern.''

    That concern was highlighted in September, when the U.S. Treasury Department accused three top Chávez government officials of helping the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, with weapons, finances and drug-trafficking.

    Former Interior Minister Ramon Rodríguez Chacín was accused of helping the FARC obtain weapons, and was described as the Chávez government's ''main weapons contact for the FARC.'' Treasury also alleged he tried to facilitate a $250 million loan from the Venezuelan government to the FARC in late 2007.

    Gen. Hugo Carvajal, head of Venezuela's military intelligence, and Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, head of the secret police, were accused of protecting FARC-linked drug shipments out of Colombia. The accusation was part of a move to freeze any assets the men had in the United States. It was not known whether any assets were seized.

    Treasury's allegations were based on information gleaned from FARC computers and digital memory devices captured March 1, 2008, when Colombian forces raided a rebel camp in neighboring Ecuador and killed the FARC's No. 2 commander, Luis Edgar Devia, better known as Raul Reyes. Many of the digital documents were later published in the Colombian media. Chávez has insisted they were fraudulent and denied their content. Interpol examined the files and declared they had not been tampered with.

    One e-mail between rebel commanders dated Jan. 4, 2007 reported that Venezuelan military and FARC officials had met and discussed ''taking advantage of the Venezuelan arms purchases from Russia to include some containers'' for the rebels. Another said Rodríguez Chacín had ''suggested a mechanism for meeting with the Australians.'' Another, dated Sept. 6, 2007 says FARC officials had met with two Australian arms dealers who offered ''the missiles'' and other weapons ``at very favorable prices.''

    Yet another reported that Carvajal had offered to deliver 20 ''bazookas'' to the FARC. Several more referred to Rodríguez Chacín and the $250 million loan.

    One e-mail between rebel commanders showed they desperately wanted the man-portable missiles to counter the Colombian armed forces' control of the air. ''The anti-aircraft weapons are already for us an urgent necessity,'' it said.

    Washington has similar concerns about Nicaragua, which has a stockpile of about 600 Russian-made man-portable anti-aircraft missiles -- of the older and less lethal SA-7 model -- left over from the 1980s, when the ruling Sandinista Front was allied with Cuba and the Soviet Union.

    About 20 SA-7s, hundreds of AK-47s and other weapons were discovered in 1993 in a secret warehouse under a Managua car repair shop after an apparently accidental explosion of stored munitions. Nicaraguan investigators concluded the stash belonged to leftist Salvadoran guerrillas.

    Nicaragua voluntarily destroyed about 1,400 SA-7s since the early 1990s, after the end of the conflict with U.S.-backed ''contra'' guerrillas.

    U.S. officials are still pushing for the destruction of the remaining 600 -- and offering some enticements.

    ''There is an offer that is still valid,'' the U.S. ambassador in Managua, Robert J. Callahan, said in a statement. ``In return for the destruction of 600 or so missiles, we are still very willing to give $5 million for the rehabilitation of the Children's Hospital La Mascota in Managua.''
  2. DIAF

    DIAF DivaLover159

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    hahaha, what do they mean "CAN" end up in the hands of rebels in Colombia...you mean "WILL".
  3. JBond

    JBond Well-Known Member

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    See, we are not that far apart on many issues. On international issues I am finding we agree most of the time. I may loose my Crazy Conservative Club Card for agreeing with you too often, so I will just PM you from now on when we agree.:)
  4. DIAF

    DIAF DivaLover159

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    Well to be fair, not even most liberals are fans of Chavez, so i wouldnt expect us moderates to be either.
  5. arglebargle

    arglebargle Well-Known Member

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    Watching Chavez go at it makes me think of what Huey Long might have been like as president.
  6. jrumann59

    jrumann59 Well-Known Member

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    Makes you wish for the days of the Battleships where they could use Venezuela as a test range for there big guns. Bring Back the Missouri.
  7. DIAF

    DIAF DivaLover159

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    yeah, let's make the people of Venezuela suffer!

    ugh.
  8. Sam I Am

    Sam I Am Unfriendly and Aloof!

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    Iraq is getting boring. Venezuela should be the new party. Lets kill some there... ;)
  9. jrumann59

    jrumann59 Well-Known Member

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    Yeah they weren't complicit in his re-election. Either way the big guns are accurate enough to hit military installations. They are no less accurate then "smart" bombs.
  10. DIAF

    DIAF DivaLover159

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    You realize there are a lot, lot of venezuelans that DON'T worship at the altar of Hugo, right? Public opinion polls (based on a quick google) taken in 2008 place that support at anywhere from 40-60%. Pretty much any venezuelan that isn't dirt poor is not a chavez supporter.

    Those weapons probably aren't as accurate as you think. Heck, even smart bombs hit the wrong targets. Anyways, Chavez hasn't really done anything worthy of wholesale US military action (yet), no matter how much he thinks he is the bane of America's existence.
  11. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

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    should have popped his cork years ago. We used to be pretty good at that at one time. Of course there is that whole circus with Castro and the poisoned cigars....
  12. jrumann59

    jrumann59 Well-Known Member

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    Following your logic we should have never nuked Japan besides the war thing. While collateral damage is a horrible thing it isn't like this guy is Saddam Hussein who moved things around to avoid detection, this guy is brazen and I will go as far to say he would put a neon Bullseye around the buildings that are housing these weapons and dare the USA to do something.
  13. DIAF

    DIAF DivaLover159

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    Hey guess what, genius. We were at WAR with Japan. Last time I checked, we weren't at war with crazy Hugo. What exactly do you want to go to war with Venezuela for?
  14. masomenos

    masomenos Less is more

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    To quote Christopher Hedges, "The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug... It is peddled by myth makers -historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists and the state-all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess: excitement, exoticism, power, chances to rise above our small stations in life, and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has a grotesque and dark beauty."

    Or, to steal the title of one of his books, war is a force that gives us meaning.

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