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American Forces Press Service

Rumsfeld: AK-47 Sales to Venezuela Wouldn't Be Good for Region

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

MANAUS, Brazil, March 23, 2005 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today it would not bode well for the Western Hemisphere if Venezuela were to receive 100,000 AK-47 rifles from Russia.

“I can’t imagine why Venezuela needs 100,000 AK-47s,” Rumsfeld told reporters in Brasilia during a joint news conference after meeting with Brazilian Vice President and Minister of Defense Jose Alencar Gomes da Silva. He delivered his comments before traveling to Manaus, a city in the Amazon area, to get a briefing on Brazil’s radar monitoring system.

Rumsfeld said he hopes the arms transfer doesn’t occur. If it does happen, he said, then he “couldn’t imagine that it would be good for the (Western) Hemisphere.” Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, casts himself as a Castro-style leader who’s unafraid to contest American influence in Latin America.

Venezuela has announced it’s seeking acquisition of the rifles -- and helicopters. Senior U.S. defense officials question why Chavez would embark upon an arms buildup when Venezuela’s military is already well-supplied.

Rumsfeld also characterized as “inaccurate” Argentine newspaper reports that say the United States wants to create a Brazilian-style radar system to monitor Argentina’s skies.

Rumsfeld and the Brazilian defense minister said they had good discussions and pledged to continue to work together. The U.S. defense secretary said the United States and Brazil are longstanding friends, and he praised Brazil’s leadership role in the U.N. peacekeeping and humanitarian mission in Haiti.

After the news conference at the defense ministry, Rumsfeld motored to the presidential palace to meet with Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, no relation to the defense minister.

Afterward, the defense secretary took a two-and-a-half hour flight from Brasilia to get briefed on Brazil’s Amazon surveillance system, known by the acronym SIVAM.

The $2 billion radar network was established in 2003 to monitor Brazil’s Amazon region. SIVAM is used to monitor deforestation and forest fires, as well as for territorial, climate/meteorological, and electromagnetic surveillance.

The Amazon forest region is the world’s last vast unexplored frontier, with jungles so dense in some areas the sun can’t penetrate to the ground. Carved out of the jungle, Manaus was formally created in 1833 and evolved from a Portuguese fort.

After his SIVAM tour, Rumsfeld departed Manaus to fly to Guatemala City, Guatemala. He’s scheduled to visit March 24 with Guatemalan President Oscar Jose Rafael Berger Perdomo and Minister of Defense Carlo Humberto Aldana Villanueva.

Rumsfeld arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 21 to kick off a four-day Latin American trip. He is slated to return to Washington March 24.

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