Chávez: We're buying Russian tanks

Venezuela's president announced he would seek dozens of the vehicles in response to the 'threat' posed by a pending US-Colombia military deal.

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced Wednesday that his country would seek to purchase "several battalions" of Russian tanks in apparent response to a pending US-Colombia deal that would give the US military broader access to bases Colombia, which Mr. Chávez called part of a US "policy of aggression."

Agence France-Presse reports that Chávez hopes to finalize the arms sale and several other trade pacts with Russia on mining, oil, and agriculture in September, when he is set to visit Moscow.

The Agence France-Presse adds that Chávez called the US-Colombia military base plan a "threat" to Venezuela, and criticized US President Barack Obama, saying "The [US] policy of aggression against Latin America is the same... It's as if no change had occurred from (former president George W.) Bush to Obama. It's all the same."

The Christian Science Monitor reported last week that the US-Colombia deal would allow the US to run surveillance from three different air bases in the central Andes for both counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations. It would not raise the number of US troops and contractors in Colombia beyond the current 1,400 cap. The US currently has a semi-permanent military presence at five Colombian facilities.

CNN reports that Chávez also criticized Colombia's recent accusation that Venezuela had supplied weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC. The Colombian government announced last week that it had traced antitank weapons that the Colombian military found in a FARC camp back to Venezuela. Chávez "froze" relations with Colombia, calling the charge "blackmail" and "a dirty move," and implied that the weapons may have been stolen during a 1995 FARC attack on a Venezuelan naval post. The BBC adds that in response to the claims, Chávez announced that Venezuela would halt the import of 10,000 Colombian cars and bar the Colombian company Ecopetrol from an auction to develop Venezuelan crude oil.

But in a commentary for El Universal, a Venezuelan newspaper, Sadio Garavini Di Turno dismissed Chávez's criticisms as typical posturing, writing that he has "lost count of how many times [Chávez] has 'frozen' Venezuela-Colombia relations." He also slammed Chávez's claim that the US-Colombia base plan is a military threat to Venezuela.

Blogging for Americas Quarterly, Brian Wanko of the Council of the Americas, a US business organization, describes Chávez's comments as part of a "shell game" to divert attention away from Venezuela's relationship with the FARC rebels.

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