Bolstered by booming oil profits, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been on a military spending spree, raising fears that one of Washington’s fiercest foes in Latin America is threatening the region’s military balance.
Those concerns are expected to be debated this week when defence ministers from across the Americas meet at the seventh Western Hemisphere’s Defence Ministers Summit, which kicks off tomorrow. Some Latin American leaders are calling for limiting arms and working together to combat shared problems of drug trafficking and street crime.
Nicaragua’s Defence Ministry said US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to attend, but the US government declined to comment.
Washington is closely watching Venezuela. Chavez recently closed deals with Russia worth roughly $3bn (€2.4bn) for 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 24 Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets and 53 military helicopters.