Brazilian President Defends Weapons Purchases

Major military weapons purchases by Brazil and Venezuela won't spur an arms race in South America and are necessary to protect borders and natural resources, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Friday.

Silva also downplayed concerns raised this week from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that purchases planned by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez could destabilize the region.

"Venezuela is a country with huge amounts of oil and natural gas, and Chavez was the victim of a coup, so it's normal that he is getting prepared," Silva said in an interview with Brazil's Radio Guaiba. Chavez was briefly ousted from power in a 2002 coup.

Brazil is on the verge of signing a multi-billion-dollar deal to buy 36 new fighter jets and has already signed a contract with France to purchase submarines and helicopters. Latin America's largest nation also is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a program to develop a nuclear submarine.

Chavez said this week that Russia agreed to lend Venezuela more than $2 billion to buy weapons including surface-to-air missiles, 92 Russian-made T-72 tanks and Smerch anti-aircraft missile launching systems.

Silva said in the interview that Brazil must beef up its military to protect its vast land and sea borders, and to make sure no unnamed foreign powers target the country's newly discovered offshore oil reserves or the Amazon's natural riches.

"Everyone knows Brazil is a peaceful nation, but we need to be able to show our teeth if anyone wants to mess with us," Silva said.

Chavez has said his purchases are needed because Venezuela is threatened by Colombia's decision to give U.S. troops greater access to its military bases.

Venezuela has already bought more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms since 2005, including 24 Sukhoi fighter jets, dozens of attack helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.