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Last week, the U.S. announced weapons sanctions on Venezuela for lack of cooperation in the war against terrorism. The Chavez government and some analysts criticized the move as political, rather than because of uncooperative actions on Venezuela’s part. The policy, however, seemed redundant, as the US had already put “Foreign Military Sales” sanctions on Venezuela in September of last year because of failure to fight trafficking in persons.

“We can’t maintain [our F16s] anymore. Why? Because the parts are American," said Chavez at a press conference in Miraflores. "Now what am I going to do? Buy some Antonovs from Russia modern transport planes." Venezuela earlier also expressed interested in Russia’s Su-30 fighter jets. Russia confirmed that it would be willing to sell the planes to Venezuela. “There are no legal restrictions on arms exports to Venezuela. I mean of course conventional weapons," Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists in St. Petersburg. "Venezuela is not on any sanctions or restricted regime list and has the right to buy any unrestricted weaponry in any country."

However, U.S. State Department spokesperson Scott McCormack said that F16 maintence parts would not be affected by the sanctions. “Previously authorized licenses for spare parts, maintenance, that sort of thing are not affected by Venezuela having been put on this list,” he said, noting the contracts were normally good for four years, and Venezuela’s had been signed in 2005. However, in recent months, Venezuela has said it has been unable to buy replacement parts for its F16s. According to Venezuelan official last November, while the country had been able to obtain replacement parts for the F16s flight systems, the US had not sent the country parts for the weapons systems. At the time, U.S. officials said they were sending the parts according to their contract with Venezuela.

The U.S., which is able to veto all sales of military equipment containing U.S. parts, also recently blocked a Spanish sale of 12 unarmed military aircraft and 4 patrol boats as well as a Brazilian sale of boats to the South American country. Today, Venezuela and Spain finalized the agreement on the boats, apparently replacing the U.S. components with European technology. The plane portion of the deal is still pending, and the Brazilian agreement appears to have died. The Russian sale appears to be different, in that the primary use of the weapons is not transport or surveillance.

U.S. officials had justified the vetos calling Venezuela a “destabilizing force in the region” and warning that it could start a local arms race. Venezuelan officials have countered that inability to buy surveillance equipment will hinder the country in its efforts to combat drugs, and now terrorism. Also, Venezuela’s military expenditures are about half that of its neighbor Colombia, both in absolute numbers and relative to the size of its economy.