Texas Congresswoman urges Bush
to reconsider Venezuela arms ban

 Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela -- A U.S. congresswoman called on the Bush administration Wednesday to reconsider its ban on selling parts for U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to Venezuela, urging improved ties between the two nations.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, told reporters that she was making the first U.S. congressional visit to Venezuela since President Hugo Chavez's December re-election with the message: "I want an immediate repairing of the relations between the United States and Venezuela."

Jackson Lee described Venezuela as a friendly nation that the U.S. should cooperate with and said that the F-16 jets, which are built in Texas, was an issue of concern to her constituents in Houston.

Pledging to "personally go back and raise" the issue, she called for the U.S. Congress "to reconsider sanctions on the F-16s."

The U.S. State Department has banned arms sales to Venezuela, including parts necessary to maintain its fleet of F-16s, citing a lack of support by Chavez's government for counterterrorism efforts and its close relations with Iran and Cuba.

Venezuela has since begun receiving the first of 24 Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets as part of approximately $3 billion in military deals that Chavez has signed with Moscow.

She said her fact-finding mission to Venezuela was part of an effort by a new Democrat-controlled Congress to show that "Venezuela has many friends in this new Congress."

"We're here to re-establish friendship," she said.