S. American arms manufacturers unfazed by Latin arms row

Nov. 11, 2009 at 3:58 PM
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- State and private manufacturers of weapons in Latin America are going ahead with military regeneration plans despite concerns over arms spending and a continent-wide campaign by Peru to halt weapons purchases.

At the same time as Peru intensified its drive to persuade its Latin American neighbors to desist from further arms buying, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela widened their international contacts to acquire weapons or weapons-making capacity.

Most of the countries argue they need new weapons to replace old inventories, and others have not bothered to explain or justify the funneling of resources into military hardware. Argentina's military wants a major overhaul of its infrastructure and has been offered favorable terms by France.

Venezuela has signed deals with Russia for arms purchases as well as capacity building, and Brazil has been promised key technology transfers by France for naval craft, including a nuclear-powered submarine, helicopters and aircraft. Both Brazil and France have said they see potential for expanding the arms market in South America.

Peru, meanwhile, says the arms purchases are a blow to popular aspirations that increased revenues from commodity exports will be channeled into development projects and poverty-reduction programs.

This week Peru brought its campaign to Brazil, currently the largest buyer of military hardware in Latin America and an emergent military production industry, with plans to revive arms manufacturing that was neglected after military rule was replaced by democratic governance.

Peruvian Minister of Transport and Communications Enrique Cornejo, carrying the proposal from President Alan Garcia, told the media his country would be pushing for a regional pact aimed at reducing armaments purchases by members of the Union of South American nations. The 12 member-states of UNASUR are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

He said that military spending in the region amounted to $34 billion last year.

A Peruvian proposal submitted to Brazil's Senate President Jose Sarney calls for a 3 percent reduction in armament expenditure in the region over the next five years and greater allocations to social improvement programs.

"The enemies we have to tackle with is poverty, drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism," Cornejo said during his tour.

Peru is also promoting the idea of a friendship pact that it argues will help resolve differences between nations. A continuing war of words between Colombia and Venezuela last week led to Caracas ordering battle-readiness for Venezuelan armed forces, but the escalation was dismissed as rhetoric.

Peru's proposals have received most opposition from pro-arms lobbies that argue military regeneration is essential to keep foreign forces at bay. Peru's move runs counter to the aims of UNASUR's most ambitious initiative, the South American Defense Council.

The council began its life as a NATO-like organization but has plans to develop a fully integrated military industry that will serve the entire continent. Industry analysts admit the scheme is overambitious in present conditions.

A more likely scenario is the emergence of Brazil as a major arms manufacturer, with subsidiary companies in other Latin American countries. Several countries, including China and Iran, have expressed interest in helping Latin American countries with capacity building for both arms and ammunition.

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