Chavez buys weapons, venezuelans go hungry
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has the following statistics about Venezuela, updated to March 2006.
1. Undernourishment has grown from 15% in 1997 to 18% in 2003.
2. In 1997 3.4 million Venezuelans were undernourished. In 2003 this figure had increased to 4.5 million.
3. Dietary consumption in kilocalories per person per day was 2380 in 1997, decreasing to 2350 in 2003.
4. Food exports in 1997 were 138 as compared to the base of 100 in 1990. In 2003 exports of food had fallen to 63 on the same basis, while imports had greatly increased.
In other words availability of food for the Venezuelan population has decreased significantly, in spite of a government program called Mercal, which provides subsidized or even free food to certain segments of the population and which has become a tragic source of corruption, as food companies engaged in the supply and distribution of such foods have been bought by government bureaucrats through intermediaries. Today most food is imported due to the collapse of domestic agricultural production. This collapse, in turn, has been caused by unrealistic, state imposed prices and by the invasion of productive lands by squatters acting under the protection and encouragement of the government. In the last weeks there has been an almost total absence of meat, sugar and other basic foods in the country.
This deterioration in food security contrasts significantly with the dramatic increase in the acquisition of weapons during the last four years or so. Venezuela has already spent or committed close to $6 billion in weapons, mostly from Russia but also from China and Spain, including assault rifles, satellites, jet fighter planes, helicopters, transport planes, frigates, and tanks. Recently planned for, or actual acquisitions of weapons have accelerated to include three batteries of Russian Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missiles at some $100 million each.
In addition, significant efforts are being made to acquire modern submarines. For the last two years the Hugo Chavez government has been shopping around for submarines with air independent propulsion, AIP. This type of submarine can stay submerged for much longer periods of time, up to two to three weeks, and is equipped with more effective weaponry. The search by Chavez for this type of submarine in France, Germany and Italy has been unsuccessful, due to the reluctance of these countries to contribute to the arming of the verbally aggressive Chavez regime. Russia, again, has emerged as the most likely source of supply.
The AIP submarine has been evolving for many years, since World War II. During this war both Germany and the Soviet Union had prototypes built, the German working with hydrogen peroxide, the Soviet with a mixture of liquid oxygen and diesel. Both proved to be highly dangerous. In the 1950’s the U.S. developed the X-1, a midget submarine of this type, working with hydrogen peroxide. After an explosion in 1957 it was sent to the Navy Museum in Groton, Connecticut. A British version, the HMS Explorer, became better known as the HMS Exploder. The first submarine of this type in regular service is the Gotland class submarine, built by Sweden. The U.S. has leased one of these submarines, based in the San Diego, California area. It is being used to develop military strategies and tools to neutralize this type of vessels. However, in all military exercises made so far this submarine has been able to “destroy” the most sophisticated U.S. nuclear submarines and, even, the U.S. largest aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Reagan. According to the captain of the submarine, Navy CMDR. Frederick Linden, there is no place in the coast of the U.S. where this submarine cannot go. Obviously the U.S. will have to develop, rather urgently, capabilities against this type of potential threat.
What Chavez is currently trying to obtain is the Russian version of the AIP submarine, called the AMUR-1650, intended by the Russians for export. This submarine, as far as I have been able to find out, is not yet being built. There is a military version for the use of the Russian navy called the “Saint Petersburg” but there are not yet AMUR-1650’s.
The Morskaya Tekhnika industrial group is promoting the AMUR-1650. It would come armed with six 533-mm.-torpedo tubes. It is conceived by their designers as an underwater sea hunter, capable of destroying any target by using torpedoes, missiles or mines. They would cost an estimated $330 million each. Although an improved version of this submarine is being developed by Russia together with Italy’s Fincantieri group, this improved version would not be available to Chavez due to political considerations. A $3.5 billion order for six of these improved vessels has already been placed by India.
The Chavez government is reported to be interested in nine submarines type AMUR1650, at a cost of some $3 billion. Even if the order were placed today the first submarine of this type would not be in the hands of Chavez before 2012.
Would Chavez still be around? An expert known to us reminds us that this delay is very significant and that, when dealing with the acquisition of weapons, what is vital is not so much the equipment but the operators. This became evident during the Desert War between Israel and Egypt. Although Egypt had more and better equipment Israel had, by far, better operators and strategists.
The fundamental question remains: if food security and poverty are the main enemies of Venezuela, why is Chavez spending or committing close to $10 billion to buy weapons, in order to protect Venezuela from a military enemy that does not exist? If, as he claims, the U.S. were to invade Venezuela the military outcome would not be in doubt. The weapons acquired or ordered by Chavez would not do him much good, mostly because the army is in great disarray and demoralized and because the Venezuelan people will not fight for a dictator. 40% of the Venezuelan population firmly opposed him at the polls and 85% of the population firmly opposes his attempt at establishing another Cuba in our country. Venezuelans would not like to see a U.S. invasion but would not fight for Chavez. Why should we defend a man who spends $10 billion in weapons, in itself a source of enormous corruption, but is clearly incapable of promoting true progress and quality of life among the people?
Gustavo Coronel is a 28 years oil industry veteran, a member of the first board of directors (1975-1979) of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), author of several books. At the present Coronel is Petroleumworld associate editor and advisor on the opinion and editorial content of Petroleumworld. Petroleumworld not necessarily share these views.
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