Venezuela agreed to buy 100,000 Russian rifles for $39 million, proceeding with arms purchases that the U.S. has said pose a threat to stability in the Western Hemisphere.
Venezuela signed a contract to buy the AK-103 rifles for $386 each, Defense Minister Jorge Garcia said. Venezuela will receive 28,000 rifles in October and other shipments in December and March, he said.
``U.S. relations with Venezuela haven't been friendly lately and it seems there's not much the U.S. can do,'' said Benito Berber, an analyst with HSBC Securities Plc in New York. ``Each country needs the other.''
The rifles are part of a package of planned arms purchases from Russia that also includes a $120 million contract for military helicopters and aircraft, as Venezuela seeks to beef up security along its border with Colombia. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised ``issues of stability'' in criticizing the plan in Moscow last month.
Chavez, 50, has accused the U.S. of backing plots to overthrow him, without offering any proof. At the same time, Venezuela, the world's fifth biggest oil exporter, is seeking to reduce its dependence on the U.S., which buys two-thirds of its crude output.
``We have made it very clear to the Russian government our concerns about certain arms sales in Latin America and Venezuela,'' Rice said on April 20.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in March said Venezuela wasn't giving an adequate explanation of the purpose for the weapons.
``I can't imagine what's going to happen to 100,000 AK- 47s,'' Rumsfeld said March 23 in Brasilia. ``I can't imagine why Venezuela needs 100,000 AK-47s. I personally hope it doesn't happen and I can't imagine that if it did happen this would be good for the hemisphere.''
The arms are intended to improve security along the Colombian border where kidnappings and armed incursions by Colombian irregulars are common, Venezuela's Communications and Information Ministry said last month.
``We're breaking paradigms,'' Garcia said in a televised speech today. ``This was done with transparency and honesty.''
Venezuela's armed forces have about 80,000 soldiers, not including a reserve force, which President Hugo Chavez said last month he plans to expand to 200,000 soldiers during the next few years.