Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday called for transparency on
the part of Venezuela in an arms buildup by the Hugo Chavez government
that U.S. officials believe threatens regional stability. Clinton spoke
at a meeting with Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez, who said Latin
American governments should combat poverty rather than acquire weapons.
Clinton's comments at a joint press event with the Uruguayan leader
were the highest-level expression of U.S. concern thus far about a
Venezuelan arms buildup that gained momentum with an announcement this
week that the South American state will buy Russian battle tanks and
Venezuelan President Chavez said in
Moscow Sunday he had obtained a $2.2-billion line of
credit from Russia for 90 T-72 tanks and an advanced long-range air
U.S.-Venezuelan relations since the populist Mr.
Chavez was first elected in 1998 have been increasingly difficult, and
he said in Moscow the new arms are to counter a U.S.-Colombian
agreement last month under which U.S. forces will have access to
several Colombian military bases.
Clinton said Venezuela's arms
acquisitions outpace those of all other South American countries and
raise questions about a possible regional arms race.
urge Venezuela to be transparent [in] its purchases, clear about its
purposes. They should be putting in place procedures to insure that the
weapons that they buy are not diverted to insurgent groups or illegal
organizations, like drug trafficking gangs and other criminal cartels.
So there is concern that we have expressed, and we'll continue to raise
with other countries in the region. And we hope that we can see a
change in behavior and attitude on the part of the Venezuelan
government," Clinton said.
his part, President Vazquez - who has headed Uruguay's center-left
government since 2004 - refrained from any direct mention of
Venezuela's arms purchases.
But the Uruguayan leader, a doctor
by training, lamented that Latin American governments are devoting
growing resources to armaments rather than dealing with pressing social
needs including health and education. He spoke through an
only is our country worried, but we have already expressed time and
again our position against an arms race. We believe it is quite
inconvenient for the region to devote such significant economic
resources to purchasing arms. But it's a fact and we can't deny it that
the countries are buying weapons. To make things worse, our region is
the region that has the worst distribution of wealth. Under those
conditions it is worse still to be devoting those resources to weapons," Mr. Vazquez said.
questioning, Clinton said the United States is ready to work with
whatever candidate wins Uruguay's presidential election in October.
said the good relationship the United States has had with Mr. Vazquez'
left-leaning government underscores the Obama administration's
commitment to deal productively with Latin American leaders from across
the political spectrum.