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Spain modernizing Venezuelan tanks despite EU-wide arms embargo

The license to export parts was granted when the sanctions – approved given the deteriorating situation in the Latin American country – were already in place

Venezuelan AMX-30 tanks during maneuvers.
Venezuelan AMX-30 tanks during maneuvers. AFP/Getty Images

Spain is taking part in the modernization of the Venezuelan army’s tanks despite a European Union-imposed embargo on arms sales to that country. The cross-ministry board that controls Spanish military exports approved the sale of €20 million of tank parts to the government of President Nicolás Maduro in the first quarter of 2018.

The authorization was granted after November 14, 2017, which was when the EU regulation banning the supply of such material to Caracas was put in place. Government sources claim that the contract was prior to the embargo, although its political approval came later.

The EU took the measure given the deterioration of the political and humanitarian situation in Venezuela

The EU took the measure given the deterioration of the political and humanitarian situation in Venezuela, and it was applied to material that could be used for repression and to breach human rights. The assets of a list of high-ranking officials were also frozen.

The embargo on Venezuela only allows for two exceptions: the supply of material for humanitarian means, and for operations involving the United Nations and regional organization; and the “execution of contracts signed before November 13, 2017 and auxiliary contracts necessary for the execution of the same.”

In the first quarter of this year, according to Statistics on Defense Exports from the Secretary of State for Trade, Spain sold military vehicle parts to Venezuela for €6,216. Much more important, however, was the approval – under the then Popular Party (PP) government – of a license to export tank components for €20 million. This figure is nearly 10 times greater than all Spanish arms sales to Venezuela in the year 2017 (€3.5 million) or 2016 (€2.6 million).

According to sources consulted for this story, the license corresponds to the modernization program of 86 AMX-30 combat tanks that were originally manufactured in France. The Venezuelan army is spending €70 million on the vehicles, which were first acquired in 1970 and have already been modernized once by Venezuelan companies, but this process ended in disaster and was surrounded by suspicions of corruption.

The tanks will now be updated with the incorporation of IT and electronic equipment, supplied in large part by an Israeli company

The tanks will now be updated with the incorporation of IT and electronic equipment, supplied in large part by an Israeli company, while the integration will be carried out by the Spanish firm Star Defence Logistic Engineering SL (SDLE).

Asked as to why this operation was authorized despite the arms embargo, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State for Trade indicated that “the safeguard clause included in the EU sanctions allows for the authorization of export licenses based on those contracts,” in reference to the agreements that were already in place when the embargo was approved.

That said, no contract comes into force until the inter-ministerial board approves the corresponding license – i.e. no one can export military material without counting on the authorization of the government.

The denial of licenses is a regular occurrence. In the first quarter of 2018, the sale of material for parachutes to Iran was blocked, while in 2017 an arms sale to Israel was denied.

A spokesperson for SDLE explained that the company counts on a temporary license to maintain the Venezuelan AMX-30 tanks. “Until now, we have not received any notification to cut off this service,” they explained. “If we receive one, we will comply with it. In the meantime, we must meet with our commitments.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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