Brazil's arms buying up for review again

Aug. 8, 2011 at 4:55 PM
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Brazil's multibillion-dollar defense acquisition program is up for review again after the latest high-profile departure from President Dilma Rousseff 's Cabinet.

Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, who resigned after criticizing the government, was promptly replaced by former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, heralding further change in the Latin American country's military establishment.

Jobim, 65, was one of the key aides of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and oversaw Brazil's military purchases worth several billion dollars and the start of a long-winded process toward a decision on refurbishing the air force with up to 100 new fighter jets, and development of Brazilian defense industries with technology transfers.

The first phase of the fighter purchase involving up to 36 jets is to come for up for presidential review next year. In the meantime, however, Rousseff has created a stir in the military establishment with her removal of key personnel and decision-makers.

Rousseff's sweeping overhaul responds to international criticism of alleged corruption at different levels of the government's decision-making process. There are also charges against some National Congress members, and accusations of politicians inexplicably living beyond their means and enriching themselves and their cronies.

Jobim was the third minister to lose his job since Rousseff became president in January. In June, influential Cabinet chief Antonio Palocci resigned after charges of financial misconduct, and Transportation Minister Alfredo Nascimento left over charges of corruption. Numerous investigations under way are likely to put spotlight on more political personalities.

Jobim attracted the president's ire after openly criticizing Institutional Relations Minister Ideli Salvatti and Cabinet chief Gleisi Hoffmann in comments attributed to him in a magazine article. Jobim denied making the comments but a deeper rift already appeared to exist after Jobim admitted a few weeks earlier he voted for Rousseff's arch-rival Jose Serra in the 2010 election that brought Rousseff to power as Brazil's first woman president.

Jobim's departure was seen as a further blow to manufacturers' hopes the jet fighter deal could be decided soon. Three frontrunners in the tender process, U.S. company Boeing, France's Rafale and Sweden's Saab are competing for an initial deal for the supply of 36 fighter jets, worth up to $7 billion, with an option on at least 64 additional aircraft of the winning model.

Brazil has made clear its intention to adopt technologies acquired in the purchase for development of its own aircraft manufacturing industries.

Although much of the government's anti-corruption campaign is a response to aggressive investigative reporting by the Jornal Globo, Folha de Sao Paulo and the Veja magazine, Rousseff has said she doesn't want her campaign to become a parade in front of the populist press. Instead, she warned, the government is seeking an effective solution to corruption in high places.

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