Syndicate content Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed

Friday, February 11, 2011

Week in Review

  • Colombia’s FARC guerrillas released hostage Marcos Baquero (kidnapped June 2009) on Wednesday. As of this writing (Friday), they have just released Armando Acuña (May 2009) and Henry López (May 2010). On Sunday, they are to release Guillermo Solórzano (June 2007) and Salín Sanmiguel (May 2008). While the unilateral releases have led some analysts to speculate about peace prospects, the FARC’s kidnapping of two paper-company workers on Thursday in Cauca puts a damper on things.

  • Meanwhile Colombia’s Free Country Foundation, an NGO founded by former Vice President Francisco Santos, found the first annual increase in kidnapping in the country since 2002: a 32 percent jump in kidnappings from 2009 (213) to 2010 (282).

  • On a visit to Central America and Colombia, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield spoke of a plan to provide Central American countries with $200 million in new assistance to combat drug trafficking and the influence of Mexican cartels. Brownfield also mentioned a desire to create “synergies” and a “single umbrella” to cover U.S. aid to Mexico (the Mérida Initiative), Central America (the Central America Regional Security Initiative) and Colombia (the Colombia Security and Development Initiative, a successor to Plan Colombia).

  • Speaking in Utah on Monday, the U.S. Army’s number-two civilian official was asked about America’s “strategic blind spots.” He replied:

    One of them in particular for me is Latin America and in particular Mexico. As all of you know, there is a form of insurgency in Mexico with the drug cartels that’s right on our border. This isn’t just about drugs and about illegal immigrants. This is about, potentially, a takeover of a government by individuals who are corrupt.

    After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the term “insurgency” to describe Mexico’s violence in September, President Obama walked back her comments a bit. Similarly, Army Undersecretary Joseph Westphal took back his statements the next day after they stirred an outcry from the Mexican government.

  • For the first time in years, Venezuelan authorities announced the national homicide rate: 48 murders for every 100,000 citizens. This is higher than Colombia (34) and about the same as Guatemala (46).

  • Brazil has long been considering a multi-billion-dollar purchase of high-tech fighter aircraft, which would be the biggest arms sale to Latin America since – well, probably ever. The Lula government had been leaning toward a purchase of French jets, due mainly to French promises of technology transfers. The new government of Dilma Rousseff, however, indicated to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner – who paid a visit to Brazil Monday – that it was now leaning toward a U.S.-made model, Boeing’s F-18. Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, who served under Lula but stayed in his post, is reportedly considering resigning out of disagreement with the new government’s preference.

  • Brazil may be near another big arms buy: a 2.9-billion-pound (US$4.64 billion) purchase of warships from the United Kingdom. This after a major deal from France last year, which includes a nuclear-powered submarine.

  • Sometime in the past 24 hours or so, the State Department posted to its website the Foreign Military Training Report for 2009 (see our post on the recently released 2008 report). At first glance, it’s a bit surprising to see no significant increase in training to Mexico. More details and analysis of this data-rich report will be coming soon.

  • A Republican push for ratification of pending free trade agreements with Colombia included a floor statement by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), a report issued by Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking minority member Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), and a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee. At the latter, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk “declined to commit to bringing the Colombia and Panama agreements to Congress within six months.”

  • Meanwhile, because of a larger trade impasse in the U.S. Congress, Colombia and Ecuador are to lose their preferential access to the U.S. market when the Andean Trade Preferences and Drug Elimination Act (ATPDEA) expires this weekend. The longstanding measure, which is repeatedly renewed, is likely to be passed next week.

  • A summit of Latin American and Arab leaders is scheduled to be held in Lima next week, but may be delayed by the political upheaval in Egypt. (UPDATE: AP Andean Bureau Chief Frank Bajak tweets that the summit has been postponed indefinitely.)

  • “While drug violence continues to spread in Mexico,” reports NBC News, “White House officials have decided the situation doesn’t rank as an ‘emergency’ under federal rules,” because doing so would mean angering the U.S. gun lobby and requiring border-state gun shops to report large purchases of assault rifles. Thus this small measure to slow the flow of weapons to Mexico’s cartels will have to wait several more months.

  • Opposition legislators now have over a third of seats in Venezuela’s National Assembly. Things are so polarized that, even though the new legislature began in early January, this week saw a mass fistfight break out on the floor of the chamber.

  • Recommended (in Spanish): University of Miami Professor Bruce Bagley, a renowned expert on U.S. policy toward the Andes, has a two-part series about the war on drugs at the Colombia-based “Razón Pública” website.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

CRS: U.S. is now Latin America's #3 arms supplier

A Sukhoi fighter plane, one of Venezuela's recent arms purchases from Russia.

On September 10 the Congressional Research Service, the research arm of the U.S. Congress, released its annual report on arms transfers to the developing world This report is rather unique: relying on U.S. intelligence data, it estimates arms sales from all suppliers worldwide, combining the United States and other countries.

Entitled “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations” (PDF), it is often referred to as the “Grimmett Report” after its author, CRS researcher Richard Grimmett. The latest report covers arms transfers from 2002 to 2009.

Due to the global economic crisis, the report found a small drop in arms-purchase agreements to developing countries in 2009. The United States and Russia, however, continue to dominate the market.

The value of all arms transfer agreements with developing nations in 2009 was $45.1 billion, a decrease from the $48.8 billion total in 2008. … Recently, from 2006-2009, the United States and Russia have dominated the arms market in the developing world, with both nations either ranking first or second for all four years in terms of the value of arms transfer agreements. From 2006-2009, the United States made $68.7 billion of these agreements, or 36.7% of them. During this same period, Russia made $42.4 billion, 23.8% of all such agreements, expressed in constant 2009 dollars. Collectively, the United States and Russia made 62.4% of all arms transfer agreements with developing nations during this four year period.

Latin America’s arms purchases lag behind those of developing countries in Asia and the Near East. The report, however, finds a very sharp growth in Latin American countries’ agreements to buy new weapons. Comparing the last two four-year periods (2002-2005 and 2006-2009), CRS documents a fourfold increase.

Regional Arms Transfer Agreements by Supplier, 2002-2009
(Millions of current U.S. dollars)

The table shows 80% growth in U.S. arms sales agreements to Latin America between these four-year periods. But the country that contributed most heavily to the increase is Russia, which was by far Latin America's greatest weapons supplier between 2006 and 2009. Russian arms transfer agreements to Latin America increased by 1,750 percent between 2002-2005 and 2006-2009.

During the 2006-2009 period, the United States in fact drops to third place among Latin America's top arms suppliers. Russia sold the region 46.78% of its weapons, France captured 26.55% of the market, and the United States accounted for 10.23% of the region's arms purchases. This is down from a 23.65% market share in 2002-2005.

Latin America, in fact, is now France's largest regional market for weapons in the developing world: fully 44.06 percent of France's arms sales agreements to developing countries in the 2006-2009 period went to Latin America, compared to 33.57% to the Near East and 22.38% to Asia. While 27.41% of Russia's developing-country arms sales went to Latin America, it sold still more to Asia and the Near East. The United States, by contrast, makes only 3.64% of its developing-country arms sales to Latin America.

Who in Latin America is buying these Russian and French weapons? Mainly Venezuela and Brazil, the only Latin American countries on the Grimmett report's list of the developing world's top ten arms-buyers between 2002 and 2009. Venezuela is fifth in the world with US$12.7 billion worth of weapons purchase agreements during those eight years; Brazil is ninth with US$8.6 billion.

Looking just at 2009, though, yields a remarkable result: Brazil and Venezuela are number one and two in the entire developing world.

Latin America's predominance on the 2009 list may be temporary; the global economic crisis did not hit the region as badly as it did most others. Nonetheless, the world's arms suppliers are clearly pursuing the Latin American market more aggressively -- and the United States is no longer the supplier of choice.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What is the South American Defense Council?

On a March 2008 visit to Washington, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim announced an intention to create a South American Defense Council (SADC), a body “based on the principles of non-intervention, sovereignty and territoriality.” Jobim then toured the region to get support for the SADC initiative.

Despite doubts that countries like Venezuela and Colombia could agree on common defense and security goals, the Council’s creation was approved in December 2008, in an extraordinary summit in Brazil, where the Statute of the UNASUR SADC was signed.

The Statute defines the Council’s main aims as:

1. Consolidating South America as a zone of peace, a base for democratic stability and the integral development of our peoples, and a contribution to world peace.

2. Creating a South American identity in defense issues, incorporating the subregional and national characteristics that strengthen unity between Latin America and the Caribbean.

3. Generating consensus to strengthen regional cooperation on defense issues.

The SADC is made up of the defense ministers of UNASUR’s 12 country members, who carry out annual ordinary meetings. (UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, is a regional cooperation body founded in 2008, the result of a process that began in 2004.) The Council has an executive body, made of the region’s vice-ministers of defense. The Presidency, charged with coordinating its activities, is exercised by the country that holds UNASUR’s pro tempore presidency – currently, Ecuador.

So far, there have been only two ordinary meetings of the SADC. The first, held in Chile, produced the Santiago de Chile Declaration (March 2009), which introduced several initiatives: to foster cooperation in defense issues; to overcome differences in military expenditure; to become a dialogue platform for conflicts between its members; and to coordinate every nation’s external security. The Declaration introduced a 2009-2010 Action Plan, based on four elements: defense policies and military cooperation; humanitarian actions and peace operations; defense industry and technology; and military education and training.

The IX Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (CDMA), a regional dialogue process begun with heavy U.S. support in 1995, will take place in Bolivia in November. It will be interesting to note whether South American defense ministries elect to use the SADC framework to coordinate their positions at the CDMA. There is a possibility that, at the meeting, the SADC countries will propose transparency standards for defense expenditure and defense budgets — an issue of ever greater importance amid ever greater concerns about rising regional arms purchases.

As one of its goals in the “defense policies” area, the 2009-2010 Action Plan seeks greater sharing information about defense expenditures and economic indicators of defense. As a result, an Extraordinary Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense of UNASUR took place on November 27, 2009. Participants signed a resolution establishing security and confidence-building measures (CBMs), with specific implementation measures and guarantees:

1.Exchange of information and transparency in defense systems. This includes the
creation of a network for:

  • the exchange of information regarding defense policies;
  • information on military forces: troops, weapons and equipment;
  • setting up an Information Bank of the UNASUR countries to register the transfer and procurement of equipment and conventional weapons;
  • A confidential mechanism of “notification and registration before UNASUR of the full text of the intraregional and extra-regional cooperation agreements in matters of defense and security once these are approved.” This goal appears to address the fears and tension created after the news about a defense agreement between Colombia and the United States were leaked to the press.

2.Exchange of information and transparency on defense expenditures. This includes initiatives “to report on defense expenditures from the previous fiscal year” and “to send the defense budgets of the last 5 years to the South American Defense Council on a gradual basis.”

3.Exchange of information and transparency about military maneuvers and exercises.

  • “a. to notify in advance, the bordering member countries and UNASUR about any intended military maneuvers, deployments or exercises at the borders, in a timely fashion … including the number of troops, location in respect to the borders, nature and amount of equipment to be used;”
  • “b. to notify UNASUR about the development of joint military exercises, whether with regional or extra-regional countries;” 
  • “d. to establish communication mechanisms between military forces in the borders with the purpose of coordinating and informing about their activities.”

4. Interestingly, in the section on “Measures in the Field of Security,” the resolution reiterates the member countries’ “most vehement rejection of all ruptures of constitutional and democratic law and any attempt of coup d’état,” and “their determination not to recognize governments that emerge from coups d’état or that alter the constitutional law.” This is a clear reference to Honduras.

5. Under “Compliance and Verification,” the resolution proposes “to develop a voluntary mechanism of visits to military facilities with the purpose of promoting exchange of information and experiences related to border control strategies, methods and policies.”

6. Finally, UNASUR deems it important “to invite the government of the United States of America to a dialogue in relation to the strategic matters of defense, peace, security and development.” This meeting has not happened yet.

Following up on this, regional leaders at the second ordinary meeting of the SDC, in May 2010, approved the Declaration of Guayaquil. This document:

1. “Approved the procedures to implement the confidence-building and security measures”
agreed at earlier meetings.

2. Set up a working group, led by Argentina, Chile and Peru, “to develop a methodology to address technical and design elements of the system for measuring defense expenses in our countries … in order to promote the issue of transparency in defense expenses.”

Although we have yet to see concrete, tangible results of these declarations and action plans, it is worth highlighting the coherence and continuity in the objectives that the SADC is following. This generates expectations of success for the SADC in defense and security matters in South America and the rest of the hemisphere.

This is especially important considering political tensions in the Andean region, which have had so far some military, defense and regional security implications. The SADC at least generates a space for debate and dialogue between the countries of this sub-region, particularly Colombia and Venezuela. The upcoming IX CDMA in November will most certainly present a good opportunity for the SADC to prove the utility of its existence and work. We hope it does so.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Links from the past week

  • Polls for the second and final round of Colombia’s presidential elections, scheduled for June 20, have pro-government candidate Juan Manuel Santos leading former Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus by a 2-1 margin. Read my analysis of Colombia’s first-round elections at the website. Links to much more coverage of Colombia’s election campaign are here.

  • Colombian President Álvaro Uribe lashed out last week against a prosecutor who, apparently in error, issued a citation to investigate Gen. Freddy Padilla de León, the chief of the country’s armed forces, for alleged involvement in human rights abuses. “I raise my voice in opposition to the accusations against Gen. Padilla de León. They [the accusers] are useful idiots of terrorism who do nothing more than make false accusations. … Terrorism wants to win by acting through scribblers who want to truncate the Democratic Security policy’s advances.”

  • Last Friday’s Washington Post led with a report on the Obama administration’s expanding use of Special Operations Forces troops worldwide. “Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year.” In The Nation, Jeremy Scahill adds that these countries, in Latin America, have included Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru.

  • Here is a transcript and video of Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela’s briefing on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Barbados.

  • Democratic Senators Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) and Mark Warner (D-Virginia) paid a visit to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

  • Bolivian President Evo Morales called on the armed forces to be more involved in counternarcotics, asking them “to prepare a strategy for the fight against narcotrafficking to guard national sovereignty against foreign interests, principally the United States.” The commander of the Bolivian Army’s U.S.-aided 8th Division responded that his unit has already been involved in counternarcotics for many years.

  • “The U.S. Southern Command's (Southcom) Joint Task Force Haiti officially completed its mission today marking the end of Operation Unified Response,” reported Southern Command. About 500 National Guard troops remain in Haiti carrying out humanitarian assistance exercises. Much remains to be done in Haiti, a Washington Post editorial recalls.

  • Recent arms transfers news: Venezuela will buy K-8 aircraft from China for US$82 million. Argentina will study the possibility of developing nuclear-propelled naval vessels. Brazil, working with France, already has an US$8 billion project to develop a nuclear-powered submarine, scheduled to go online in 2021. The Brookings Institution and the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies held a conference last week entitled “An Arms Race in Our Hemisphere”; Brookings has made available audio of the event, including my presentation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New WOLA report: "Arms-R-Us: South America Goes Shopping"

Earlier this month, the Washington Office on Latin America released a new report on arms purchases in South America.

"Arms-R-Us: South America Goes Shopping" provides a country-by-country look at recent weapons agreements. The report looks at the effects of increasing arms sales on an already tense environment, and it points out the potentially negative impact if these changes are not accompanied by communication and transparency.

Here is an excerpt from the report. The report is available to download as a PDF in both English and Spanish.

Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile and the rest of the countries in South America are entitled to arming and modernizing their defense systems. Recent expenditures are, in part, intended to update and modernize military equipment, which in some countries had long been neglected.

But these purchases do not take place within a vacuum. Old and new regional tensions exist. U.S. maneuvers, to increase effectiveness or flex its muscle — depending on how you look at it — through activation of the 4th Fleet and the new base agreement with Colombia, have exacerbated, not enhanced the regional security environment.

The move toward increased defense expenditures and increased U.S. military presence is likely to have a negative impact — and undoubtedly will — if not accompanied by communication, transparency and dialogue.

A true arms race may be avoided if countries reveal their purchases through official channels, communicate their intentions, and establish initiatives to build trust and confidence within the continent.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just the Facts Podcast: Recent arms transfers

Adam reviews recent arms sales from Brazil, Europe, Israel and the United States to several countries throughout the region.

The "Just the Facts" podcast is available here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Clinton concerned about Venezuelan arms purchases

Yesterday, we wrote that State Department spokesman Ian Kelly had expressed concern about Venezuela's desire to build up its arsenal. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a very similar statement yesterday during her press conference with Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez.

In response to a question about weapons sales and the possibility of an arms race in the region, Secretary Clinton chose to focus her answer entirely on Venezuela, even though the reporter also used Brazil's recent military agreement with France as an example. According to Secretary Clinton, "[Venezuela] outpace[s] all other countries in South America and certainly raise[s] the question as to whether there is going to be an arms race in the region." As Ian Kelly did in the press briefing, Secretary Clinton emphasized the importance of putting procedures and practices in place "to ensure that the weapons ... are not diverted to insurgent groups or illegal organizations."

Uruguayan President Vásquez also responded to the question, focusing his answer more on how investment in arms can divert attention and investment away from development and fighting poverty and inequality in the region. "The governments of South America [should] decide to devote more money to promote health, to promote education and education to prevent diseases; to spend that money, instead of spending it in weapons."

Below is an excerpt from the joint press conference, citing in full both Secretary Clinton's and President Vasquez's answers to the question on arms transfers in the region.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you could give us your thoughts on what seems to be a growing transfer of arms and possibly even an arms race in the region. We've seen a lot of transfers of technology from Iran to Venezuela. The Brazilians just bought a very big package from the French. And I'm wondering if this is alarming to you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have expressed concern about the number of Venezuelan arms purchases. They outpace all other countries in South America and certainly raise the question as to whether there is going to be an arms race in the region. So we urge Venezuela to be transparent in its purchases, clear about its purposes. They should be putting in place procedures and practices to ensure that the weapons that they buy are not diverted to insurgent groups or illegal organizations, like drug trafficking gangs and other criminal cartel

PRESIDENT VAZQUEZ: (Via interpreter) With respect to the arms race, not only is our country worried, but we have already expressed time and again our position against an arms race. We believe that it is quite inconvenient to the region to devote such significant economic resources toward purchasing arms. And - but it's a fact, and we can't deny it, that the countries are buying weapons.

And to make things worse, our region is the region that has the worst distribution of wealth. So with - under those conditions, it is still worse to be devoting those resources to weapons. South America has millions of people living in poverty, and there are thousands of children that die across Latin America and South America because of child diarrhea or diseases that could be prevented.

So because of all these reasons, all that should lead the governments of South America to decide to devote more money to promote health, to promote education and education to prevent diseases; to spend that money, instead of spending it in weapons, spending it in housing, good housing for our people, and to further deepen investment, especially in the field of education.

So we should devote our energies and resources to fight against the real scourges of our societies, that are drug - such as drug trafficking and terrorism. That would be certainly a much better use of our resources.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Venezuela's arms and nuclear deals concern U.S.

Yesterday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly was asked about Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's ambitions to pursue a civilian nuclear program with help from Russia, and whether this has inspired concern within the U.S. government about technology transfers or nuclear transfers between Venezuela and Iran.

According to Kelly, the United States is concerned not only about the civilian nuclear program, but also about Venezuela's desire to build up its arsenal. He stated a U.S. government desire that Venezuela put in place procedures and safeguards to ensure that "these arms are not diverted to any irregular or illegal organizations in the region." Kelly's response alludes to recent reports that Venezuelan anti-tank rocket launchers were recently found in the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), as well as the United States' growing concern about Iran's influence in the region.

Below is the full text of State Department spokesman Kelly's response to the question on Venezuela during yesterday's press briefing at the State Department.

QUESTION: Is there any concern about technology transfers or nuclear transfers on the U.S. part between Iran and Venezuela?

MR. KELLY: The short answer is, to that, yes, we do have concerns. We have concerns in general about Venezuela’s stated desire to increase its arms buildup, which we think poses a serious challenge to stability in the Western Hemisphere. What they are looking to purchase and what they are purchasing outpaces all other countries in South America. And of course, we’re concerned about an arms race in the region.

And we urge Venezuela to be transparent in its purchases and very clear about the purposes of these purchases. And we’re also very concerned that they put in place very clear procedures and safeguards that these – that these arms are not diverted to any irregular or illegal organizations in the region.


Venezuela is a signatory of the NPT. It has certain obligations, of course, under the NPT for any civilian nuclear program. And of course, we will be looking closely at this.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A season of arms purchases

Brazil's announcement yesterday that it is negotiating a $2-4 billion purchase of French fighter aircraft is the latest in a series of arms purchases, most of them in South America, that have analysts worried about an arms race. Just in 2009, we have seen the following arms purchases announced:

  • Brazil will buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from French aircraft manufacturer Dassault. Earlier, Brazil had announced a joint venture with France to build submarines - one of them nuclear-powered - and helicopters.
  • Russia offered a $100 million credit to Bolivia to buy Mi-17 helicopters, a new presidential plane, trucks and other logistical equipment. In January, Bolivia's defense ministry announced its intention to buy six Czech-made L-159 fighter planes.
  • President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, whose government signed deals for about $4.4 billion worth of Russian fighter planes, helicopters and rifles between 2005 and 2007, announced in early August the purchase of 30 to 40 Russian-made BMP-3, T-72 and MPR tanks. In April, Chávez announced the purchase of portable Russian missiles.
  • "Ecuador is buying 24 Brazilian warplanes and six Israeli drones to keep a closer watch on its borders," the AP reports.
  • In June, Chile announced a $270 million purchase of 18 U.S.-made F-16 fighters from the Netherlands. This follows the purchase of 10 F-16s directly from the United States in 2005-2006.
  • In addition to billions of dollars worth of training and equipment received as grants, Colombia has purchased dozens of helicopters from the United States during the 2000s, and in June announced a $150 million purchase of Israeli Kfir fighter jets from Israel.

During the mid-2000s, the United States normally sold between $1.1 and $1.4 billion in weapons to all of Latin America and the Caribbean in a typical year. This amount is dwarfed by some of Russia's single sales to Venezuela during this period, as well as the new French contract with Brazil. Sill, the United States is by far the largest arms vendor to the developing world, according to an annual Congressional Research Service report released late last week and summarized by the New York Times.

The United States signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before.

Italy was a distant second, with $3.7 billion in worldwide weapons sales in 2008, while Russia was third with $3.5 billion in arms sales last year.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The region's defense budgets

During the past few weeks, we noticed a significant increase in discussion of defense budgets throughout the hemisphere. In most countries, defense spending is on the increase. Here is an overview of recent media coverage from CIP Intern Matthew Mcclellan.

The combined defense budgets of South American states increased from US$39 billion in 2007 to US$50 billion in 2008. Most countries have become buyers in the new market for arms, some are sellers, and nearly all are furtively examining their neighbors' actions.

The Ecuadorian government took a step toward spending transparency with the elimination of the Junta de Defensa. The Junta was accused of embarrassing gaffes like the Defense Ministry overpaying for used Argentine defense articles, as it did in 1995. Some feel the government’s action amounts to little more than a token gesture. President Correa has meanwhile overseen a large increase in defense spending. From 2000 through 2008, Ecuador spent over US$895 million on Defense. During Correa’s time in office, since January 2007, the Defense budget soared over US$631 million – over 70% of the nine-year spending total in just two years.

Argentina has not put nearly as much money into the military as its neighbors, claiming a Defense budget of only 0.87% of its 2008 GDP. The Air Force has put off purchasing French Mirage fighter aircraft until 2011 or 2012, when it will reevaluate the economic climate. Today, the country’s most pressing Defense concern is keeping troops in its Armed Forces. Unlike other countries that are considering increasing military capacities, Argentina is concerned with maintaining them. A recent study found nearly half of all individuals in the Armed Forces have considered leaving within the last two years, including a substantial number of young pilots and officers who have left to seek better opportunities, for better pay, or to keep their families intact.

Some Argentine analysts appear distraught about falling behind “international heavyweight” – and neighbor – Brazil. In December, President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva announced Brazil’s plan to upgrade its military and arms industry. Part of the plan includes training soldiers in rapid mobilization and guerrilla tactics, and the government wishes to resurrect conscription. While the plan includes purchasing foreign arms, the modernization's focus is for the country to increase its domestic arms industry.

Brazil has ordered 4 diesel-powered Scorpène class submarines from France, but plans to develop its own nuclear-powered fleet, at a total cost over US$3 billion. The plan appears to be both financed by, and in the name of protecting, newly found Brazilian offshore oil reserves.

Over the last several months, Brazil has consolidated its position as the largest South American arms vendor. Bolivia recently negotiated the purchase of Brazilian land vehicles and Super Tucano attack aircraft, and hopes to borrow from Brazilian institutions to fund additional purchases. Bolivia has also acquired several helicopters from Russia.

Venezuela's Defense budget is 1% of its 2008 GDP, but growing steadily. It has been cultivating a relationship with Russia through arms purchases over the last several years. From 2005 through 2008, Venezuela bought over US$4 billion in arms and equipment from Moscow, and a September announcement revealed another US$1 billion credit for more purchases from Russia.

Peru has decided to install two facilities capable of repairing Russian-made helicopters, clearly setting the stage for future purchases between the two nations. While this particularly animated editorial in El Comercio questions the drive to increase Defense spending, much of the discussion centers on keeping pace with Chile, which maintained a 2008 Defense budget of 3.73% of its GDP, second only to Colombia in South America.

Colombia has more than doubled its defense expenditure since 2000. The Defense Ministry's budget, which includes police, now exceeds 6 percent of GDP. U.S. security assistance to Colombia is slightly less than it was in the early 2000s, making the U.S. contribution to Colombia's overall defense effort far smaller, as this July blog post from the Center for International Policy explains. Nonetheless Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s Defense Minister, plans to travel to Washington shortly after Barack Obama's inauguration, to urge officials to maintain established levels of aid under the Plan Colombia framework.