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State Dept: Venezuela Planning Military 'Buying Spree'

Venezuela is planning a "buying spree" for military equipment that goes beyond the country's legitimate needs, the State Department said Friday.

In recent days, the United States has sought to block proposed sales of military planes and other equipment to Venezuela by Spain and Brazil.

The transactions are part of what "we would consider an outsized military buildup in Venezuela," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

He also noted that the government of President Hugo Chavez has decided to activate its reserves and to create a million-person militia.

On Thursday in Brasilia, Chavez called the U.S. objections to the Brazil deal absurd and said Brazil will try to persuade the United States to allow it. At stake are 20 planes costing $200 million. The deal was worked out with Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica SA, or Embraer.

The United States has the authority to block the sale because some of the planes' technology is American-made. Embraer President Mauricio Botelho said Friday the company is working on changes that could make the sale acceptable to Washington.

Botelho said the plane would be used to combat drugs and arms trafficking and not "for acts of war."

Last week, Chavez blasted a U.S. attempt to block Spain from selling Venezuela 12 military planes with American parts, calling it proof of Washington's "imperialism."

In response, McCormack said at the time the United States is concerned that the proposed sale "could contribute to destabilization in Latin America."

The United States has made that view clear to the Spanish, Venezuelan and other governments in Latin America," McCormack said.

The proposed Spanish transaction involves armed maritime patrol seacraft and some airplanes.