U. S. stepped up its pressure against Venezuela's weapons procurement programme warning that it threatened to destabilize the region. Secretary of Defence D. Rumsfeld's comments during a visit to Brazil, were the strongest indicator yet of growing concern in Washington about the planned acquisition of large quantities of firearms from Russia by President Hugo Chávez's populist government in Venezuela.
"I can't imagine why Venezuela needs 100,000 AK-47s, I can't imagine what is going to happen to 100,000 AK-47s" Mr Rumsfeld said before meeting Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. "I personally hope the [delivery] doesn't happen...if it did, it wouldn't be good for the hemisphere."
Earlier this month, US officials said they feared the weapons could end up in the hands of leftwing guerrillas such as the FARC in Colombia. Some Mr. Chávez critics even speculated they could end up with leftwing groups in Bolivia and elsewhere in the region.
The tension threatens to put strain on the already fragile relationship between Washington and one of its top oil suppliers. The United States is the biggest consumer of oil from Venezuela, the world's fifth largest oil exporter.
Increasingly frustrated with Mr Chávez fiery anti-US rhetoric and suspecting contacts with "destabilising forces" in the region, Washington is turning to Brazil as a moderator. "We wish Mr. Chávez would listen more to President Lula," said a top-level aide accompanying Mr Rumsfeld on the South America tour. "Our two countries are looking at ways to work together more closely to confront the anti-social threats from organised crime, gangs, drug-traffickers hostage-takers, and terrorists" added Mr Rumsfeld.
Defence Secretary Rumsfeld also praised Brazil's leadership in building the coalition of Latin American troops which form the core of a United Nations peacekeeping force in violence-wracked Haiti.
"Brazil can be proud of the leadership it is exercising in the region and several parts of the world," he said. "It is a welcome contribution to stability in our hemisphere."
Mr Lula da Silva, who has a cordial relationship with Mr Chávez, is to participate in a summit between the Colombian and Venezuelan heads of state and José Luiz Zapatero, Spain's prime minister, in Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela.
Mr Rumsfeld's trip to Brazil, which included a visit to the satellite-based Amazon surveillance system in Manaus, is part of growing perception in Washington that the left leaning Lula da Silva admistration is an ally in tackling of instability in the region. Previous US concerns, such as Brazil's uranium enrichment programme, appear to have put to one side.
"Brazil's role in the region is well seen in Washington. Dealing with Venezuela and pursuing regional leadership is in our and their interest," said Rubens Barbosa, a former Brazilian ambassador to the US.
Before leaving for Guatemala his next stop, Mr. Rumsfeld was flown to Manaus to visit the offices of SIVAM, the US-supported radar- and satellite-based system of surveillance for the Amazon basin region. Aside from environmental protection, the system is useful in monitoring aircraft flights that could be involved in drug trafficking.
"I call it probably the most ambitious technological undertaking in South America," said a senior Pentagon official who to remain anonymous. "It'll help Brazil assert effective sovereignty over its entire territory, airspace and so on," the official said.
"One of the chief concerns we have is the problem of dealing with flights by illegal actors: terrorists, drug traffickers, arm smugglers, you name it," the official said, adding that five years ago "nobody knew what was going above" the enormous Amazon basin region.