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After Washington vetoed a deal for Israel to upgrade his F-16 warplanes, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez angrily threatened to transfer the US-made fighters to Cuba or China.
Chavez, who has rattled Washington by strengthening his ties with anti-US states, also said he would replace the sophisticated fighter jets with Chinese or Russian aircraft.
The vocal critic of the Bush administration had reached a deal with Israel to upgrade its older F-16 A and B models. But the United States refused to give Israel permission required since the F-16 is an American-made platform.
In his first public reaction to the affair, Chavez told reporters Wednesday he would give the aircraft away.
"If they don't comply with the contractâ€¦ we can do whatever we want with these aircraft, whatever the hell we want. Maybe we'll give 10 planes to Cuba or to China so they can study the technology," Chavez said.
"We could give them away and buy aircraft form China or from Russia... We don't need any US imperialism," said Chavez, who has been promoting his self-described socialist revolution as a counterweight to US regional influence.
Chavez, a former army officer, made his statement during a ceremony to sign a contract with China to build a Venezuelan communications satellite and train Venezuelan specialists in China to manage the technology.
Venezuela had turned to Israel to upgrade some of its 30 aged F-16s, manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp. and powered by engines made by General Electric Co. or Pratt and Whitney.
Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter and a key supplier to the US market, was a traditional military ally to the United States. But relations deteriorated steadily after Chavez was elected in 1998.
Washington sold Venezuela 24 F-16A and six F-16B fighters in the 1980s when Caracas was seen as an ally against communist Cuba. It was unclear how many of the jets are operational now.
Venezuela recently announced the purchase of automatic rifles and attack helicopters from Russia, naval vessels from Spain and military aircraft from Brazil in an effort to revamp its armed forces. Washington has not tried to block these deals.
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