Latin American Arms Sales Moving Forward

Wade Boese

Spain plans to proceed with arms sales to Venezuela despite U.S. claims that the exports might upset Latin American security. Meanwhile, the United States recently delivered advanced combat aircraft to Chile, marking the first such transfer to the region in more than two decades.

Spain agreed in March 2005 to sell a dozen military transport aircraft and eight naval patrol vessels to Venezuela. (See ACT, May 2005.) Washington quickly protested Madrid’s action and in Janu ary announced that it would not allow Spain to export the planes because they contain U.S. components. U.S. law requires foreign governments to obtain permission from Washington to export arms incorporating U.S. technology or parts. The patrol boats do not contain U.S. parts and are not subject to a veto.

Department of State spokesperson Sean McCormack criticized the Spanish arms package Jan. 13 as “not consistent with U.S. foreign policy interests.” The United States brands Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as an undemocratic and volatile leader and charges that recent Venezuelan arms buys exceed the country’s defense needs.

Still, a Spanish diplomatic source told Arms Control Today Feb. 17 that Spain will replace the U.S. technology on the planes to complete the deal. EADS-CASA, the aircraft manufacturer, will “present the Venezuelan government a new proposal in a month’s time,” according to the source.

Playing down U.S. worries, Spain contends the weapons will not destabilize the region. Instead, they “should help Venezuela to control its borders and territorial sea and fight against drug trafficking and other threats,” the Spanish official explained.

The United States is also working to stop Brazil from supplying its Super Tucano, a light-combat/trainer aircraft, to Venezuela. Brazil has not publicly stated what it plans to do with the planes, which contain some U.S. components.

Although actively seeking to deny Venezuela arms, the United States delivered two F-16C/D fighters to Chile Jan. 31. The final eight fighters of the estimated $636 million order are also to be delivered this year. At a Santiago ceremony marking the transfer, U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for International Affairs Bruce Lemkin declared the F-16 “an instrument of peace.”

In August 1997, President Bill Clinton paved the way for the Chil ean F-16 deal by reversing a 20-year-old restriction on advanced U.S. arms sales to Latin America. (See ACT, August 1997.) Prior to Clinton ’s move, the only exception to the de facto ban had been the 1982 sale of 24 F-16A jets to Venezuela.