l HAVING recently told Spanish businessmen that they cannot enter the United States if they have trade connections with Cuba, Washington is now trying to tell Spain that it cannot sell military ships and aircraft to Venezuela. At stake is a record-breaking arms deal worth 1.3 billion euros for four coastal patrol ships, four corvettes, 19 transport planes and two maritime surveillance ships. The US objection may be that some of the ships and aircraft may include American technology made available to Spain, but many people will think it more likely that the reason for the intervention is President Bush's anger with President Chavez of Venezuela for pursuing a political line critical of the United States. This likelihood was borne out by a Washington briefing that the sale, due to signed next Monday, would “destabilise” the region. The recent Argentina summit meeting of Central and South American leaders with Mr Bush showed that, even in matters of trade agreements, the writ of the United States does not run freely throughout the continent and that countries which once accepted America's hegemony no longer do so automatically. When the United States was able to intervene in Latin American affairs at its own whim, its policies were far from beneficial and some were so loaded towards Washington's own interests that they were disastrous for the countries concerned. It is true that President Chavez of Venezuela is something of a loose cannon but he is properly elected and the United States has no right to tell him what he can and cannot do with another nation. The equipment involved in the Spanish-Venezuelan contract does not appear to be of the kind likely to destablise the region by military means, even if that were President Chavez's purpose; when Prime Minister Zapatero approved the deal earlier this year he referred to it as being relevant to Venezuela's fight against drug-trafficking. No doubt he also had in mind the benefit it would bring to Spain's ailing shipyard industry. Where would Washington prefer that Venezuela should buy this equipment?


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