On the edge of anarchy, Venezuela has 5,000 shoulder-mounted missiles
By Brian Seay
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez inspects a Russian-made MANPAD in Caracas in 2015. (Photo: Juan Barreto/Getty Images)
Venezuela, a country increasingly on the precipice of anarchy, has a cache of 5,000 Russian-made surface to air missiles — a fact that has U.S. officials concerned.
The South American country acquired most of the stockpile of SA-24 Man-Portable Air-Defense System (MANPADS) missiles during the reign of late President Hugo Chavez, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.
The missiles are fired from shoulder-mounted launchers by one person, and can be used to shoot down commercial and military aircraft. More than 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by MANPADS since the 1970’s, according to the Small Arms Survey, leading to at least 28 crashes and 800 deaths.
The weapons are popular with insurgent groups because of their portability, effectiveness, and ease of operation. More than 84 non-state groups are believed to have the missiles, or similar light-weight systems.
Experts fear continued unrest throughout the country could lead to Venezuela’s hefty stockpile ending up in the wrong hands.
“This risk is incredibly real and serious … to South America and Central America in addition to just in Venezuela,” said CIA Director Mike Pompeo at a Senate hearing earlier this month.