In a move that many analysts see as potentially destabilizing for the region, Venezuela will begin to manufacture Kalashnikov rifles with the assistance of Russian arms company Rosoboronexport, beginning next May.
According to Colombian daily El Espectador, the plan is ahead of schedule. “We now plan to finish building the factories and start production in May 2011,” said Igor Sevastianov, deputy director of the Russian company. “We want to produce the first test series that month.” The construction of factories to produce Kalashnikov assault rifles and ammunition began in early 2009 following a contract signed between Moscow and Caracas.
According to the Geneva-based Small Arms Institute, the world has produced an estimated 100 million Kalashnikov assault rifles since the end of the second World War. Today, it is the weapon of choice for insurgencies and criminal gangs across the globe because of its relatively low cost, durability and ease of use. Venezuela is a regular transit point for these weapons, and leftist insurgencies, right-wing paramilitaries and drug traffickers in neighboring Colombia regularly obtain small arms on the black market.
Because of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s alleged support for Colombia’s insurgent groups, the deal now has many analysts worried that the president may now attempt to provide them with arms manufactured in his country. According to a 2003 study published by the RAND Corporation, “although there is no definitive evidence at this point that links the administration of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to a deliberate policy of arming Colombia’s guerrillas, it is possible that sympathetic individual members of the Venezuelan military have supplied both weapons and ammunition [to the guerrillas].”