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U.S. blocks Spain warplane sale

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

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Hugo Chavez
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- The U.S. government has blocked a planned sale of 12 military aircraft from Spain to Venezuela on the grounds that the planes contain U.S. military technology, and cannot be transferred without approval from Washington, a U.S. Embassy spokesman told CNN.

The move was made amid concerns the United States has about Venezuela's government, considered authoritarian by the Bush administration.

Spain reacted by pledging to substitute the U.S. technology on the planes with other technology so that the deal could go through. Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said at a news conference after the weekly Cabinet meeting that the sale of the 12 military airplanes "should be carried out."

The U.S. officially informed Spain of the decision on Thursday. Spain has argued that the planes were not for offensive military purposes, but were part of a military equipment package that also includes patrol boats. The boats were unaffected by the U.S. block.

Depending on how the planes were configured, they could possibly have contained a significant amount of U.S. military technology.

Relations between the Bush administration and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have soured in recent years, and the discord has grown since Bush began his second term.

U.S. officials have expressed concern over Chavez's policies, his friendship with Cuban President Fidel Castro and his crackdown on the news media, whose owners have largely opposed his rule.

In notifying Spain of the decision on Thursday, the U.S. government repeated a previous Bush administration claim -- that Chavez, while democratically elected, uses his country's democratic institutions to impose authoritarian rule.

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