Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez repeated yesterday his intention to jumpstart a nuclear energy program and announced the creation of an atomic energy commission between Venezuela and Russia. Chávez attempted to dismiss concerns over the possible future militarization of the proposed program: “We’re not going to make an atomic bomb, so don’t bother us like with Iran.”
The pronouncement follows news of a $2.2 billion loan from Russia that Venezuela will use to finance arms purchases, including 92 Soviet-era T-72 tanks, short-range missiles and anti-aircraft weapons systems. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the issue saying Venezuelan arms purchases “outpace all other countries in South America and certainly raise the question as to whether there is going to be an arms race in the region.” Venezuela has already bought more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms since 2005.
Earlier this month, President Chávez met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to discuss a possible nuclear partnership. Talk of nuclear energy development, coupled with news of major conventional arms purchases has fueled fears in the United States that Chávez’ actions pose “a serious challenge to stability in the Western Hemisphere,” according to State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.