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Venezuela bond deals point to arms buying

  |   Nov. 8, 2011 at 4:21 PM
CARACAS, Venezuela, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Bond deals by Venezuela point to defense purchases made in Moscow to circumvent a U.S. arms embargo and other difficulties faced by Caracas in its quest for military suppliers for its armed forces.

The bond deals worth $3.6 billion come at a time of growing political uncertainty in Venezuela over the health of President Hugo Chavez, who is receiving treatment for cancer in Cuba.

Chavez has cloaked news of diagnosis and treatment of his illness in strict secrecy and reacted strongly to any suggestion that his condition is getting worse.

Chavez denounced a former member of his medical team after the doctor's comment that the populist leader has only two years to live because of advancing cancer.

Salvador Navarrete, a doctor who treated Chavez and his mother, said he went to the media with the news of the president's health at the bidding of his family, who want Chavez to step down and spend more time with his family.

Chavez says he has beaten cancer and will seek a new six-year term at next year's presidential election.

Amid intense speculation in Caracas over Chavez's well-being, news of the bond sales confirmed estimates that Venezuelan financial deals with Russia run into billions of dollars and are a substitute for ties with the West, either abandoned or made complicated by the U.S. embargo.

Washington has blocked Venezuelan government institutions' financial activities abroad in response to assessment of the country's growing links with Iran and reports of nuclear research and political cooperation between Caracas and Tehran.

Chavez began building closer military ties with Russia after the 2006 U.S. arms embargo. New financial deals between the two sides involved the Evrofinance Mosnarbank S.A., a Russian bank in which Venezuela has a 49 percent stake.

Caracas used the bank to raise funds for populist development projects in agriculture, housing and industry, geared to guarantee electoral support for Chavez in next year's election.

Internationally, Venezuela's deals with Evrofinance Mosnarbank S.A. fall within the context of Chavez's aim of realizing his Bolivarian revolution at home and abroad by forging alternative alliances with Russia, China and Asian countries already distanced from the Western sphere, including Iran.

Evrofinance Mosnarbank S.A. operates from offices in Caracas, Moscow and Beijing.

Evrofinance will extend loans for planned Russian joint ventures in Venezuela, including the development of heavy crude blocks in the Orinoco Belt, one of the world's largest oil deposits. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin cited the financing plans when he visited Caracas in October and met with Chavez.

The Evrofinance presence in Caracas gives Russia a foothold in Latin America's financial markets. Russia has outlined plans to expand its defense products customer base in Latin America and has entered into talks with Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, in addition to existing links with Cuba.

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