Monday, June 05, 2006

Chavez is buying guns ... Oh my!

Check out this complete non-story by the Associated Press:

Venezuela spending billions on defense

Venezuela is buying helicopters, boats and military transport planes in defense deals worth about $2.7 billion, modernizing its military as tensions grow between leftist President Hugo Chavez and the United States.

Flush with oil profits but blocked from buying U.S. arms, Chavez is increasingly looking to countries like Russia and Spain as suppliers.

A cargo ship carrying 30,000 Russian-made Kalashnikov assault rifles is headed to Venezuela with the first shipment of an order totaling 100,000 guns to arrive by year's end. The military is looking to buy more submarines, and Chavez is planning an even bigger deal for Russian fighter jets.

Venezuela's defense budget is up 31 percent this year, to $2 billion, and that doesn't include roughly $2.2 billion it plans to spend for 10 transport planes and eight patrol boats on what will be Spain's largest-ever defense deal.

Got that? Venezuela is spending billions -- not millions, not hundreds of thousands -- on its military, newsworthy according to the AP.

For perspective, let's forget the U.S. and its half trillion-dollar "defense" budget, and just look around the neighborhood, shall we?

Brazil: $9.4 billion

Mexico: $6.1 billion

Argentina: $4.3 billion

Venezuela: $4.2 billion

Chile: $3.9 billion

Colombia: $3.3 billion

What have we learned? That all the big countries of Latin America are "spending billions on defense." But I guess a headline like, "Venezuela spending half as much as its neighbors on defense" just doesn't advance the preferred storyline.

Later, the story quotes Mark Stoker of the International Institute for Strategic Studies saying: "My interpretation is that Venezuela had a certain amount of aging military equipment and needed to replace some of that." That alone should have tipped off an editor to the fact that this isn't a story at all.

Some AP readers are going to come away from the story with the disquieting feeling that Venezuela's going through a major military build-up, and I guess that's the point.

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.