731.5 MSP/5–1153

The Ambassador in Venezuela ( Warren ) to the Department of State

top secret
No. 2032


  • Resumption of Military Staff Talks With Venezuela; Venezuelan purchases of United States Military Equipment

The Embassy is of the opinion that this would be an appropriate time to propose the resumption of the military staff talks with Venezuela, which were initiated in March 1951, but never concluded. The Department will recall that the March 1951 talks at Panama resulted in a memorandum which was drawn up ad referendum, and that arrangements were made to renew the conversations on November 5, 1951. At the last moment, however, the Venezuelan Chief of Staff, Col. Félix Moreno, indicated that before the conversations could be resumed more favorable terms of payment for military equipment must be granted by the United States. It became evident that failure to receive military equipment promptly and to the extent requested by the Venezuelan Armed Forces was an even more important factor influencing the thinking of the Minister of Defense, Col. Marcos Pérez Jiménez, and his Chief of Staff. The United States proposal to continue the talks either in December 1951 or January 1952 did not meet with the approval of the Venezuelan Government.

Despite Col. Pérez Jiménez’ statement about that time to Ambassador Warren that he hoped to give him an early answer as to when the conversations could be resumed, the Venezuelan Government did not bring up the subject again, and during the past year there has been no progress toward renewal of the talks.

The difficulties of the Venezuelan Government in obtaining military equipment and supplies in the United States, especially modern ships and aircraft, have not only constituted the major deterrent to the resumption of the military staff talks, but also may have far-reaching, long range effects equally serious for the United States. Venezuela has the money and the determination to expand her army, navy and air force, and experience has demonstrated that if she is unable to obtain the necessary equipment and supplies in the United States, she will obtain them from other countries. This Embassy has no doubt that continued purchases of military equipment and supplies from nations other than the United States will seriously jeopardize the positions of the United States Army, Navy and Air Missions to Venezuela, and, to some extent, have already done so.

In this connection, the Venezuelan Air Force has recently acquired six Canberra jet light bombardment aircraft from Great Britain. These six aircraft, added to the 21 British Vampire jet aircraft the [Page 1644] Venezuelan Air Force already had in operation, increase the proportion of British aircraft operated by the Venezuelan Air Force to 20 percent of total aircraft strength. Moreover, it is understood that six additional Canberras are being purchased by the Venezuelan Air Force from Great Britain for delivery later this year. Because of the large capital expenditures necessary to establish a stock of replacement parts and to train personnel in the operation and maintenance of advanced jet aircraft, the Embassy believes it unlikely that Venezuela will purchase any aircraft from the United States after its air force has become largely equipped with British Canberras and Vampires.

All except three of the United States aircraft now in use by the Venezuelan Air Force are more than seven years old, while none of the British aircraft are more than two years old. It appears inevitable that the older U.S.-manufactured aircraft will be replaced by modern British aircraft over the next two years unless Venezuela is able to obtain new aircraft from the United States. The prestige and influence of the United States Air Mission to Venezuela is being reduced in direct proportion to the percentage of British aircraft acquired by the Venezuelan Air Force. The recent acquisition of the six Canberra jet aircraft has already had the following results:

The Chief of Staff of the Venezuelan Air Force has informally discussed with the British Air Attaché the assignment of a British Air Mission to Venezuela.
Venezuelan officers and airmen who would normally be attending United States Air Force schools and factory training courses in the United States are being sent to similar facilities in the United Kingdom.
Additional British technicians are being sent to Venezuela to assist in the maintenance and operation of British aircraft.

For the convenience of the Department of Defense, the Embassy lists the following intelligence reports1 from the Air Attaché relating to the acquisition of non-United States aircraft by the Venezuelan Government:

  • IR–59–49
  • IR–11–49
  • IR–32–50
  • IR–174–51
  • IR–144–51
  • IR–193–52
  • IR–172–52
  • IR–171–52
  • IR–169–52
  • IR–112–52
  • IR–21–52
  • IR–54–53
  • IR–44–53
  • IR–24–53
  • IR–23–53

[Page 1645]

The same kind of situation is evident with regard to Venezuela’s recent purchases of naval equipment and supplies. The Venezuelan Navy has planned a five-year expansion program to build a modern naval force, entailing the purchase of three destroyers, six light destroyers, three submarines, two minesweepers, one troop transport, one light cruiser, and various light patrol boats, tugs and cutters. Although it was originally planned to obtain all of these ships from the United States, the Venezuelan Government has negotiated with other countries for purchases because of difficulties in obtaining the approval of the United States Government, and delay in reaching a satisfactory agreement as to prices. While Venezuelan naval officers admit that there are definite advantages to owning United States ships and equipment, they doubt that these advantages justify the delay involved while the United States decides whether or not to make the material available.

In the naval program outlined in the preceding paragraph, the Venezuelan Government contracted for the purchase of the three larger destroyers in England, and they are now under construction. Contracts for the construction of three of the six light destroyers have been concluded with an Italian shipbuilding firm.

If the Venezuelan Navy is unable to obtain the types of equipment it wants to purchase from the United States, there is no doubt that it will obtain this equipment from other nations. Venezuelan naval officers have very definite ideas of the type of equipment they want, and they will resent any attempts by the United States to try to force other types of equipment upon them, especially since Venezuela is prepared to pay for the best. Venezuela is building a new navy; it wants new equipment, the most modern and efficient available. If the United States is able or willing only to supply obsolete equipment, Venezuela will obtain its requirements elsewhere.

The Embassy considers it important to emphasize that Venezuelan naval officers not only believe that nations other than the United States are more responsive to Venezuela’s needs, but in many cases feel that they are not accorded the type of treatment their positions require on procurement and other missions to the United States. The Chief of the Naval Staff has evinced a certain amount of resentment against the United States because Venezuelan naval officers consider that their colleagues have not been courteously treated on recent visits to the United States. The probable reason for this treatment is that Venezuelan naval officers have relatively low ranks even though many occupy important positions; the top naval officer in Venezuela, for example, has the rank of Commander. When dealing with these officers it is important to remember that despite their low ranks as compared with United States Navy ranks, they have the same power and authority [Page 1646] that is normally exercised by the highest-ranking United States naval officers. Admittedly it will take a great deal of time and effort to prove to Venezuela that the United States does have a genuine interest in her navy and will actually assist in procuring the equipment and teaching them how to employ it effectively—but we must do just that in order to safeguard our position in this important area.

Although the Venezuelan Army has been obtaining military equipment from the United States, there is dissatisfaction in the method of payment, in the length of time required from the initial request for equipment until actual delivery is made, and in other administrative difficulties. While the Ministry of Defense understands that some types of military equipment cannot be made available immediately, it believes that the time taken to process requests for equipment in the United States is unnecessarily prolonged. The Embassy is pleased to note, however, that improved terms of payment for military equipment purchased in the United States were offered to the Venezuelan Government on February 8, 1952, and that somewhat higher priority, as well as more prompt administrative handling of Venezuelan requests for military equipment, was granted by the Department of Defense. The Venezuelan feeling in respect to military equipment only becomes truly important because of the situations in the naval and air force fields.

In suggesting that the time is opportune for again proposing resumption of the military staff talks with Venezuela, the Embassy has taken into consideration the following:

The Chief of Staff of the Venezuelan Navy has informed the Embassy Naval Attaché that the navy would favor the resumption of the conversations at an early date. He declared that his Government is disposed to resume the staff talks with the attitude that the policy of the United States has changed and that there are now good prospects for attaining agreement.
On April 19, 1953, Col. Marcos Pérez Jiménez was named President for the next five years, and a constitutional form of government replaced the provisional administration that had ruled Venezuela since military leaders assumed control of the country on November 24, 1948. The transition to a constitutional administration was accomplished in an atmosphere of calm and order, and today the indications are that President Pérez Jiménez will continue to exercise complete control over the country, barring a serious (and at present unlikely) split in the Army. While the nation has not yet achieved and does not claim to have achieved complete democracy, such democratic institutions as a liberal Constitution and national, state and municipal legislatures have been reinstated for the first time since 1948. Moreover, the present Government is strongly anti-Communist and has outlawed the Communist Party. It has broken diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia and Czechoslovakia, and embarked upon the closest supervision of the activities of Communist front groups.
The new President has demonstrated on many occasions his friendly attitude toward the United States and his desire to work more closely with the Government of the United States. This attitude has been made clear to our military attachés, to our military and diplomatic missions. All officials of these missions believe in the sincerity of the President’s attitude.
Embassy Caracas considers that, with Venezuela turning more and more to European sources for military equipment, there is the greatest danger that European military missions will replace our own and make ineffective our declared objective of standardizing equipment and techniques in the other American republics.
This Embassy is convinced that the course which Venezuela follows with respect to our military missions and the standardization of equipment and techniques will influence every other country south of the Rio Grande. Once the United States starts losing ground in Venezuela our prestige will be affected pari passu in all the other American republics.
Most Venezuelans realize that this country is an important link in the defense of the hemisphere. They also know that, in addition to her strategic position on the Caribbean at the northern extremity of South America, Venezuela has vital supplies of petroleum and iron ore. Today, in contrast to many other Latin American nations, she has no foreign debt and no shortage of dollar exchange. She prefers, she wants American military supplies and equipment.

This Embassy is of the opinion that the time has now come to propose to Venezuela that the military staff conversations be resumed as soon as possible. It stresses that for the conversations to be a success, the United States must be able to assist Venezuela fully in the aeronautical, military and naval fields. This means a careful review of our policy and a decision in keeping with the best over-all interest of the United States.

Fletcher Warren
  1. None printed.