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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

America Chides Venezuela for Russian Weapons Deal

bloombergVenezuela's President Hugo Chavez
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela defended its purchase of new Russian weapons after a top U.S. official said Washington was concerned the arms could fall into the hands of illegal groups operating in the region.

Venezuela's Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel rejected U.S. criticism of the deal to buy Russian military helicopters and 100,000 rifles, which he said were part of a policy to strengthen the nation's frontier defense.

Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, is a top fuel supplier to the United States. But relations between Caracas and Washington have soured since left-wing President Hugo Chavez came to power six years ago.

"Venezuela is supplying its armed forces for the priority of national defense," Rangel said in a statement. "This policy is a concern only for the Venezuelan people and the nation's institutions. The destination of these weapons is guaranteed."

His statement was in response to comments by Roger Noriega, U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, who told CNN's Spanish-language service that Washington worried the arms may end up with groups such as Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels.

Close ties between Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro have rattled Washington, which criticizes the Venezuelan president's populist policies.

Former army officer Chavez, in return, accuses the U.S. of backing attempts to topple him, including a 2002 coup, and presents himself as an alternative to U.S. regional influence.

A fierce critic of U.S. President George W. Bush, Chavez often rejects charges from Bogota and Washington that his government has allowed Marxist Colombian rebels to take shelter in Venezuela.

But relations between Venezuela and the U.S. tumbled to a low last year, when Chavez accused Washington of masterminding the kidnapping of a Colombian rebel leader.

Venezuela says Rodrigo Granda was snatched in Caracas by Venezuelan soldiers paid by Bogota.

Chavez has demanded an apology from Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, a U.S. ally, but Colombia says the capture was a legitimate arrest of a terrorist.