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Military Spending in Venezuela

Rafael Uzcátegui

According to statistics provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Venezuela spent 2.929 billion dollars on importing arms between 2000 and 2010. Of this amount, 72.5% came from Russia, including over 100,000 Kalashnikof assault rifles, Sukhoi fighter planes, T-72M1 tanks and Igla-S/SA-24 anti-aircraft missiles. Venezuela has justified purchasing these arms in two ways: 1) The renewal of its military and 2) the possibility of a conflict with the United States or one of its allied countries in that region, such as Colombia. Large-scale public announcements have, on several occasions, legitimised the importing of arms from the Russian Federation simply on the grounds that they are not from the USA. This commercial exchange, negotiated through Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, is an “anti-imperialist” and “sovereignty-based” acquisition, it is been suggested.

According to SIPRI reports, Venezuela ranked 8th in the world for armament purchases in 2008. A year later, it was ranked 32nd. According to the press release of these researchers about their 2010 report, despite Venezuela not being ranked amongst the top ten countries which spend the most on arms, the Latin American region, as a whole, has increased spending on arms by 5.8% while the rest of the world kept a stable average spending rate. According to Carmen Solmirano, expert on Latin America for the Military Spending Project of SIPRI, “the continued increase in South America is unexpected given the lack of military threats posed to the majority of these states, as well as the existence of more urgent social needs being present”.

The decrease of Venezuelan spending can be explained by, amongst other things, the general decrease of its budget expenditure, due to the oscillating price of oil on the international market. As recorded in the Venezuelan Programme of Action-Education in Human Rights (Provea), a non-governmental organisation which has been producing reports on the human rights situation in the country since 1989, in recent years the amount of money invested in different government departments has remained stable or has decreased since the economic boom in Venezuela from 2006 and 2009. when the price of a barrel of oil - the main source of income - tripled the money available for the budget. In this economic context, the price of oil decreased from 160 dollars per barrel to 60 dollars. This particularly affected the social programmes for health, employment, food and housing, amongst other areas, which had been implemented by Hugo Chavez’s government. Provea, who had welcomed the emergence of these programmes for the most vulnerable sectors of society, warned about the unsustainability of these projects in the absence of the extraordinary income from oil profits. Since 2009, the Venezuelan government has reduced its spending and contributions in almost all sectors, including that of arms purchases.

A clearer idea of the high status of the Venezuelan Armed Forces can be seen when comparing the money spent on the military budget and the amount of money earmarked for social policies. According to official data from the Budget Law of 2011, the inclusion of a new ministry caused the Ministry of Defence to rank eighth, as opposed to seventh, in order of receipt of money this year, out of a total of 37 government institutions.
For 2011, the budget earmarked for the local armed forces will amount to over 10,200 million Bolivars, which is approximately 2.4 billion US dollars, according to the current exchange rate. The institutions which will receive more money than the military are the same as the previous year, apart from the new and extra-constitutional Government Federal Council. There are only 4 other official government departments responsible for social policies whose budget will be higher than the military institution: Education, Health, Social Security, and Higher Education. The rest of the institutions which co-ordinate services for the general population will receive less revenue than the military institution. If we take a step back and look at this situation, it gives us a lot of food for thought. The Ministry of Defence will receive 3.2 times the budget allocated for the Food Ministry, 4 times more than the Land Ministry, 4.9 times than that of the Housing Ministry and 5.4 times more than the Environment Ministry. These scandalous inequalities do not stop here. The Venezuelan military will receive 10.7 times the budget for the Ministry of Culture, 33.2 times that of the Ministry for Women and 70 times the budget of the Ministry for Indigenous Peoples.

In Venezuela, the current foreign policy relating to Russia is unknown, and from the information disseminated by the government, the everyday citizen could well believe that Vladimir Putin’s government is a direct successor of the days of Lenin and Stalin’s rule. The dissemination of information regarding the consequences of Russia’s current armament policy and its role in different war crimes, such as those of Chechnya, is a line of work which we, as Venezuelan anti-militarists, must address. We must spread the idea amongst our peers that there are no good of bad war profiteers and we need to get to the heart of the problem: the global flow of capital, without borders and obstacles, for those who get rich at the cost of death and human suffering.