CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez called U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld a "dog of war" on Tuesday, saying the defense chief has no business suggesting neighboring countries are concerned about Venezuela's arms purchases.
Chavez said it's disingenuous for Rumsfeld to say he knows of no country that is threatening Venezuela, and he insisted that the U.S. is a threat.
The Venezuelan leader called on Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to clarify whether he shares Rumsfeld's worries about Venezuela's recent military acquisitions, including helicopters, fighter jets and assault rifles.
"If this man is saying that my neighbors are worried because the weapons that Venezuela is acquiring could go to the leftist guerrillas, I need to know, President Uribe, if you have some type of worry regarding this," Chavez said. "It should be you who says it, not the dog of war."
In his televised speech, Chavez also chuckled as he called Rumsfeld "little dog" and "Mr. Dog."
Rumsfeld, attending a meeting of Western hemisphere military leaders in Nicaragua this week, told reporters on Monday that he understood why Venezuela's neighbors would be concerned by the buildup.
Venezuela recently closed deals with Russia worth roughly US$3 billion (euro2.4 billion) for 24 Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets, 53 military helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles. Venezuela is also obtaining a license for the first Kalashnikov rifle factory in Latin America.
Chavez also said Venezuela will soon install Chinese-made radar and an advanced air-defense system equipped with anti-aircraft missiles capable of shooting down approaching enemy warplanes.
"We are going to install a system for rockets and missiles, which are defensive weapons," said Chavez, speaking to students during the inauguration of a state-run university campus in central Venezuela. "Venezuela is a country that needs defensive capacity."
Chavez, who has called U.S. President George W. Bush "the devil," said the new military hardware is purely for defense. He claims the United States plans to invade this South American nation to seize control of its immense oil reserves — an allegation that U.S. officials deny.
Relations between Caracas and Washington have been particularly tense since Sept. 23, when Venezuela's top diplomat was temporarily detained by officials at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
U.S. officials have apologized for the incident and expressed hope that relations between the two countries can be improved.