Latin America

Everyone lies and one tells the truth, or vice versa

Pablo Sapag

Winds of war are beginning to blow in South America, Hugo Chavez said in August. But, as always, the words of the Venezuelan president were taken out of context by the mainstream media. The very same media that often presents Chavez as responsible for tensions, that in turn have provoked others and have a context  goes beyond the extracts of the Bolivarian leader’ speeches.

Chavez has spoken of the consequences of the agreement between Colombia and Washington by which the United States would use seven Colombian military bases under the principle of the “fight against narco-trafficking,” which for Chavez “could generate a war in South America”. Since then many people what possibilities there are that the region could have war for which everyone is preparing.

The response is not easy, as security and defense are matters reserved for governments. The media, meanwhile, simplifies these things, although their own history offers a formula for trying to what is happening in the Latin American military arena.

Bye Bye, Berlin

Until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Cold War, the region was a place where local forces made their agenda to the interest of the world superpowers. With the economic, material and technical help of the United Sates and the USSR, bloody conflicts raged that served Washington and Moscow, adding or subtracting from the scoreboard of the Cold War.

The scheme of the Cold War ruptured this, and after a short period of confusion as to Latin America’s place in the world, things became clearer. If in the 90s many bet on being in the hands of the winner of the Cold War, few wished for this marriage with the US, and not only out of fear for that the US would devour everything. Latin America has many suitors. There are the EU and all its elements; Russia, China, Japan, India and other international actors. They want to guarantee their supply of primary Latin American resources. Others assume the strategy of allowing for the brief uni-polarity of the United States after the Soviet collapse to switch to a variable multi-polarity which gives Latin America a role.

In Latin America the  budgets of the countries of the region surpassed 29,100 millions of dollars in 2003 and 39,600 in 2008, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). In five years there has been a 36% increase, which translates into Latin America spending a little more than the Middle East, one of the “hot zones” of the planet. Between 2003 and 2008, Latin American participation in global investment in    2.87% to 3.23% of the world total, suggesting that military budgets are growing more rapidly in Latin America than in the rest of the world.

But expenditure did not grow equally in all countries. While some spent a lot, others remain stagnant, or cut this part of their budget, such as Argentina and Brazil. Buenos Aires as a result of its financial problems and the making cuts the discredited Armed Forces from the Falklands and the disastrous and criminal military dictatorship (1976-1982). The frustrated coups of those years, and the judgment of those responsible for the death and disappearance of thousands, caused a margin of pressure to be put on the military.

Peru has seen a reduction of activity of the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaro Revolutionary Movement, very active until 1993 and almost defeated by the government of Alberto Fujimori, today a prisoner. After Fujimori, military spending has fallen, even as the Shining Path resurfaces and the real protagonists of the arms race are the neighbors of Peru.

Brazilian Arsenal for the Major Leagues

The list of the biggest spenders is led by Brazil, with half of the regional total in 2008. Making it clear that this is not merely a tendency, in September, presidents Lula Da Silva of Brazil and Sarkozy of France sealed an agreement for 12,300 millions of dollars for Brazil to buy arms from Paris. On the list are 4 conventional Scorpene submarines, a nuclear submarine and 50 transport helicopters. If the negotiations go well, Brazil can buy 36 Rafael fighter planes from France.

Sarkozy is committed to manufacturing the planes in Brazil. This already occurred the submarines and helicopters, with increased building of plants and shipyards in Brazil, having sold to France ten transport planes made by the Brazilian giant Embraer, already successful in the construction of small and medium sized planes for civil use.

Colombia, or when internal is external

With 6.746 billion in 2008 and 5% of PIB, Colombia is the second biggest spender, even though officially it is not armed for international conflict. Like Mexico and its war against narco-traffickers, Bogota assures it does so for the conflict it has against guerilla organizations (FARC y ELN) and paramilitaries and criminal organizations. Nonetheless, regionally Colombian spending is concerned with the building of seven military bases by the US.

According to the governments of Alvaro Uribe and Barack Obama, the agreement is to “fight against the FARC, narco-traffickers and the terrorism they generate”. For many, this opens the door to more military intervention in the region, more so than when relations with the US depended more on the unilateral consideration by the United States of good or bad conduct in the war against drugs.

Venezuela, yes but not too much

Among those who most protested against the agreement between Bogota and Washington is Chavez, who feels harassed by his immediate  and by Washington, who he accuses of supporting the failed 2002 coup d’état against him. In this regard, Venezuela is in competition with Chile to be the third biggest military spender. Venezuela invested 5 billion dollars in 2008 to acquire Sukoi fighter planes, helicopters, a defense systems, and tens of thousands of assault rifles. The last weeks, and without resolving the tensions over the bases, Chavez has extended an agreement with Moscow which he insists is defensive. “The situation has been explained to us and we have been  the threats,” Chavez said in relation to the gas and petroleum of his country. “The empire has its sights set, and Venezuela has the right to count the minimal resources necessary to guarantee for our home the defense of our territory and of our energy treasure.”

And Chile…

Chile, who in 2008 spent 5.395 billion dollars on its arsenal, for the Army, second-hand Leopard tanks, for the Navy, frigates and Scorpion submarines, for the Air Force, 48 F-16 fighter bombers. The Institute for International Peace Research, in its last report about spending and import of conventional arms, indicated that Chile passed from 36th to 11th in four years  the global list of military spenders.

All thanks to a law that reserved to the military 10% of the benefits of state-owned Codelco, one of the major copper businesses of the world. In recent years, copper has experienced a bonanza, passing 3 dollars per pound, almost three times the average of the past century. With this means of financing, the FFAA fed a general presumption for the copper bonanza. Copper became 40% of exports for a country that has always called it “the salary of Chile”.

Few, nonetheless, associate Chile’s arms with its natural resources. Nothing like what is happening in Venezuela, which has almost been condemned for having petroleum, and is seen by its critics as becoming a threat. Brazil also has such resources, but has not used them in such a political context.

(Translated By Tarek Fouda)

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