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An Arms Race in Latin America?

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Many thought that with the majority election of progressive governments in Latin America (which claimed to be anti-war) the region would see a period of relaxation in tensions. But the reality of the situation indicates that Latin America is submerged in uncountable conflicts that directly parallel Defense spending.

 

(From Montevideo) EVERYONE THOUGHT that with the majority election of progressive governments in Latin America (which claimed to be anti-war) the region would see a period of relaxation in tensions.

However, the reality of the situation indicates that Latina America is submerged in uncountable conflicts that directly parallel the rising arms spending.

The countries in the region –with enough cash, and with macroeconomic growth caused by the spike in the price of petroleum, soy, copper, and other exported raw materials– are spending considerably on the military.

CONFLICTS FOR EVERYONE

Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru and Chile have embarked on an arms race to modernize their armed forces. This, in turn, coincides with a resurgence of numerous border conflicts and national tensions, like those Colombia faces with Venezuela and Nicaragua, and the clash in La Haya between Chile and Peru or Argentina and Uruguay, caused by the destruction of bi-national bridges and the construction of a pulp mill in Uruguayan territory.

“The Colombian Army, with 219,75 men, is the largest in South America, including Brazil

To these problems and others in Latin America we should add the internal conflict in Bolivia between the central government in La Paz and the autonomists of the rich department of Santa Cruz, who rallied behind a referendum.

The most recent regional conflict involved Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, and has yet to be resolved. It was the most serious clash in the last decade, sparked by a Colombian incursion in Ecuadorian territory to kill the second-in-command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who had set up his military camp in the neighboring country.

“By the end of 2007, Venezuela occupied the principal position as an importer of arms in Latin America, and it ranked ninth in the world” The Colombian military, with 219,175 men, is the largest in South America, even greater than that of Brazil, although as a whole the Colombian Armed Forces (including, in addition, the military marine corps and the Air Force) amounts to 258,227 members.

Venezuela has 129,150 combatants and Ecuador 56,500, of whom 47,000 belong to the ground forces. But the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian armies control tanks, while Colombia possesses not a single one, although it compensates for this lack with a greater number of helicopters.

VENEZUELA’S SUPPLY

The increasing number of warmongering speeches and the growth in war expenditure are worrying. “South American military expenditure for the year 2006 was $34.02 billion” A report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which carefully observes the actions of Hugo Chávez’s government on the battlefield, judged that by the end of 2007 this country had become the greatest importer of arms in Latin America, and that it ranked ninth in the world, with $887 million thrown into the arms race.

According to a balance completed by the SIPRI, Venezuela occupied the sixteenth position worldwide, but upon adding $477 million to its defense budget it continues climbing.

According to the Comparative Atlas of Defense for the year 2007, disclosed by the Latin American Network of Security and Defense (RESDAL [1]), Venezuela ranked sixth in Latin America in terms of the amount of economic resources spent on the military, which surpassed the two billion dollars invested in 2006 in areas related to the country’s defense.

“Colombia has purchased 24 Israeli Kfir fighter planes, Brazil is planning the construction of its first nuclear submarine, and Ecuador has increased its military spending by 19 percent” South American military spending for the year 2006 amounted to $34.02 billion, according to the figures recorded in the SIPRI Yearbook 2007: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security [2]. This quantity represents a growth in the region’s military spending during the last 10 years from 30.54 percent, and 25.4 percent since the year 2004. Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay are the only countries which demonstrated a decrease in defense budgets at the end of the decade.

Following Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s arms purchases of military planes and assault rifles from Russia, the countries in the region continued reinforcing their arsenals: Colombia, with the purchase of 24 Israeli Kfir combat planes; Brazil, planning the construction of its first nuclear submarine; and Ecuador, increasing defense spending by 19 percent.

In general, regional arms spending increased by 55 percent in four years, reaching $38, 400 million in 2007, according to the reports of the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS [3]), whose head office is in London.

CHÁVEZ, AT THE HELM

“Chávez headed the region’s regression to the arms market with his proposition to make Venezuela invulnerable to attack” This escalation has its risks. The possibility of a minor incident becoming major increases, a possibility ever more real. There has been an important military escalation. The accumulation of arms and attack gear permits leaders to be much more aggressive than they otherwise would be, pointed out Christopher Sabatini, policy director of the Council of the Americas in New York.

Chávez headed the region’s regression to the arms market with his proposition to make Venezuela invulnerable to attack. Arms purchases completed by this country, reaching $4,400 million from 2003 to 2006, put it in sixth place among developing countries within the said period with regards to acquisition of war supplies, according to a report by the United States Congressional Research Service.

“In 2006 Chávez signed agreements for $3,100 million to acquire advanced weaponry”

The expenditures made by Venezuela, which has the greatest reserves of petroleum and natural gas in Latin America, have risen, as shown by the rise in petroleum prices, easily passing $100.00 in comparison to $12.30 when Chávez took power on February 2nd, 1999.

Its greatest purchases were made in 2006. In this year alone, Chávez signed agreements for $3,100 million in order to acquire advanced weaponry, including 24 Sukhi

“Chávez, with his anti-United States policies, intends to construct an axis to unite his partners, that is to say, whoever opposes Washington

Su-30 fighter planes made in Russia and 38 combat and transport helicopters produced by Russia’s Rostvertol Plc. The Su-30, with a range of 4,800 kilometers (some 3,000 miles), is an offensive weapon which could transport explosives and air-to-ground missiles. Recently, the Russian news service Interfax said that Venezuela could buy three more Russian diesel submarines. In 2006 its acquisitions included the first lot (30,000 of 100,000) in an order of 54 million dollars in AK-103 Kalashnikov assault rifles; 15 Russian Mi-17/-26/-35 helicopters, equivalent to $201 million; three Russian Mi-172 SAR helicopters to be used in the service of the coast guard, valued at $26 million; and three Chinese 3JYL-1 defense radars, estimated at $150 million.

THE ANTI-AMERICAN MILITARY AXIS

In an interview, United States Admiral James Stavridis, who analyzes Latin American military affairs, said that the sudden purchase of arms and advanced weaponry systems in Venezuela brings with it a question: What is the emerging military threat? “Chávez drives one rearmament that is conventional as well as another to support his theory of systematic war”

The Venezuelan president, with his anti-United States policies taking priority, intends to construct an axis to unite his partners in Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and leftist guerrillas, including Iran, Belarus, North Korea, Syria, in short, anyone in opposition to Washington. Chávez sees this alliance in effect within the military plane as well.

Chávez drives one rearmament that is conventional as well as another to support his theory of systematic war. “The military exchange between Caracas and La Paz also is also an instance of cooperation. Both countries signed a bilateral military agreement” In September of 2005, Chávez signed a defense law that converted the preservation of the República Bolivariana into a military mission, and created a Military Reserve as well as a Territorial Guard in which nearly 2.8 million Venezuelans will be armed for resistance operations against any internal and/or external aggression.

In addition, Chávez proposed the creation of a joint defense strategy in order to articulate the Armed Forces, the Air Force, the Marine, the National Guard, and forces of cooperation, intelligence corps in the countries that belong to ALBA, because the enemy is a shared one… To touch Venezuela is to ignite the region, and no one is going to stay quiet, because to touch this country is to touch Latin America and the Caribbean, he declared.

BOLIVIA AND THE COLOMBIAN EXCEPTION

The military exchange between Caracas and La Paz is also an instance of this sort of cooperation. Both countries signed a bilateral military agreement. Among other measures, two assault helicopters and their crews where transferred to Bolivia, and reports exist that the AK-103 rifles are being handed over from Caracas to the Bolivian Armed Forces.

Any analyst could say with confidence that Venezuela does not need 100,000 AK-103s, considering that it already has many; inasmuch, there is a risk that they are being passed on to Bolivia, maintained Christopher Langton, the chief of the IISS Department of Defense Analysis.

The Bolivian government announced that among its plans is the creation of a special fund dedicated to the assignment of royalties from hydrocarbons with the goal of increasing the Bolivian military’s budget. “Brazil considers the strengthening of its army to be a means of advancing its plans to play a more important role on the global stage” This measure responds president Evo Morales’s need to create a favorable critical mass of military men to support his political project, as well as to sufficiently strengthen the military apparatus in order to confront any hostile attempt from an internal sect or any movement advocating the fragmentation of national territorial unity, a latent threat that the country faces.

Colombia, in turn, has received more than $5 billion in military aid from the United States in its fight against drug trafficking since 2000, including 47 Black Hawk helicopters manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., in order to combat the FARC. The Kfir combat planes which it is buying have a range of 3,200 kilometers and can transport bombs or missiles.

BRAZIL DISPUTES LEADERSHIP WITH VENEZUELA

Brazil, whose economy of $1.3 billion is the largest in Latin America, has less to fear from hegemonic intentions than does Chávez, but it considers the strengthening of its army to be a means of advancing its plans to play a more important role on the global stage. For example, it has ambitions to obtain a place on the National Security Council, or to be the leader of a Board of South American Defense, as a way also of controlling Chávez’s expansion and diminishing inequalities with the United States at the negotiating table.

In order to have more weight on the global stage, there are a few instruments of foreign as well as economic policy, says the retired United States general Jay Cope, a senior researcher for the National Defense University [4] in Washington. One of these instruments is without doubt the Armed Forces.

Brazil continues on its way towards converting itself into a military power, as it asserted following the summit between the presidents of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and France, Nicolás Sarkozy. France will transfer military technology to Brazil for the manufacture of a submarine, helicopters and a fighter plane, confirmed Sarkozy. “The Brazilian Defense Minister defends the thesis that Brazil needs to be prepared for the eventuality of having to rescue those Brazilians who live in Bolivia and Paraguay” The French president said that France was willing to transfer the technology necessary for the manufacture of a submarine and fighter planes in Brazil, but with regards to nuclear material the declaration only observes an existing potential for cooperation.

Lula’s government is creating a Strategic National Defense Plan, tied to national development and the defense of strategic natural resources, which allows for the development of a defense industry as well as a military and technological field, with an independent national production of technology. The projection for 2008 planned a growth of 53 percent for Defense, which goes from 6,500 million reales in 2007 to 10,000 million reales in 2008 (some $5,714 million). From there, up to 2,800 million reales could be destined to investment in equipment.

The Brazilian Defense Minister defends the thesis that Brazil needs to be prepared for the eventuality of having to rescue those Brazilians living in Bolivia and Paraguay, as the socio-political stability in those countries is already considered precarious. There are 10 million Brazilian families living in Bolivia, primarily in the area of Santa Cruz, and 200 thousand Brazilians who live in Paraguay, the so-called Brasiguayos.

TROOPS IN TH ECUADOR-COLOMBIA BORDER

Ecuador’s defense budget has risen 190 percent since 2000, according to SIPRI. President Rafael Correa backed this year’s 19 percent increase of $920 million, in order to raise salaries and transfer forces to the country’s northern border.

Ecuador participated in the region’s last war, in 1995, when a border dispute with Peru left up to 500 victims.

In 10 years Ecuador has spent more than $6 billion on its military, of which nearly 60 percent has been spent in the last five years. These resources have been concentrated in the reinforcement of security in the border with Colombia, with whom conflicts persist.

COPPER FOR WEAPONS

Military spending in Chile, the world’s largest producer of copper, rose thanks to a law passed in 1987 that directed 10 percent of revenue from copper towards the Army. The price of copper has risen to almost four times its previous price in the last five years. Purchases made since 2006 include 18 F-16 fighter planes manufactured by Lockeed Martin and 10 anti-tanker Harpoon missiles from Boeing Co. Keeping in mind the relative sizes of the GDP of Brazil and Chile, the latter devotes six times more economic resources to military rearmament than the leading regional power.

During the government of the socialist Ricardo Lagos, the three branches of the Armed Forces were modernized at the cost of $1,653 million. Of the $250 million that they received until 2003, the rise in copper allowed them to receive $438 million in 2004 and another $750 million in 2007.

“In 2007, the government of Alan García announced an increase of 10 percent in the military budget for 2008” A strategic ally of Chile, and an adversary of Peru, Ecuador has been seen to benefit from the alliance with Chile. Ecuador´s Ministry of Defense recently signed an agreement with the shipyard Asmar, of the Chilean Navy, in order to modernize its fleet of Ecuadorian submarines for $120 million.

As a reaction to Chilean modernization, Peru decided in 2006 to push through a package of $600 million to strengthen its Mig-29 and Mirage 200 planes. In 2007, the government of Alan García announced an increase of 10 percent in the military budget for 2008 and the reassignment of resources for the repair and modernization of the Air Force’s airships. The governments of Peru have furthered the modernization of their aerial power through agreements with Russia and France.

Si vis pacem, para bellum: if you want peace, prepare for war, councils the well-known Roman proverb. What is certain is that the economic improvement of the last five years has expanded military spending in a region where poverty continues to be a damaging whip.