WASHINGTON - The United States on Monday questioned Venezuela's need to buy billions of dollars in weapons from Russia and voiced concern that the arms may wind up elsewhere in Latin America.
President Hugo Chavez last week inked new deals with Russia's visiting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who said later that the total military sales by Venezuela may top five billion dollars.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said that while the two countries had the right to pursue relations, "We're hard-pressed to see what legitimate defense needs Venezuela has for the equipment."
"We can probably think of better things that could be invested on behalf of the Venezuelan people," he said.
"But our primary concern is that if Venezuela's going to increase its military hardware, we certainly don't want to see this hardware migrate into other parts of the hemisphere," he said.
"We would simply remind Venezuela that it, through a number of accords, has a responsibility for transparency in its acquisitions," he said.
The State Department has accused Chavez of assisting guerrillas in rival neighbor Colombia with drug trafficking.
A Spanish judge has recently alleged that Venezuela helped support plans by Colombia's FARC rebels and the Basque separatist group ETA to kill Colombian politicians in Spain, including President Alvaro Uribe.
The United States last year also questioned Chavez's pursuit of cooperation with Russia on space, noting that Venezuela faced major electricity shortages despite being a major oil producer.