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Brazil in an Arms Race? No, It’s Just Housekeeping!

Lula aviator The choice of Latin American countries to buy fighter planes has brought about much speculation on the reasons behind the acquisition of armed power. Recently France’s president Sarkozy, in the latest of what has become frequent visits to Brazil in the last year, discussed the selling of 36 Rafale fighters from French Dassault with president Lula.

The Brazilian leader showed publicly his preference for the French, despite the fact that the US, with its F-18, and Sweden, with its Saab Gripen, are also trying to sell the valuable merchandise to Brazil.

That was enough to create a lot of speculation and discomfort. But there is more to this than a commercial decision. Brazil does not only want the fighters, the trade is more complex and it requires transference of technology as well. The president has made it very clear that this is, at the end of the day, a political decision, after all technical knowledge reports from the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) have been considered; and who can argue with that?

Lula wants the technology, he wants these planes built in Brazil, and, according to him, Sarkozy was the only one who literally said to him that he will not only transfer technology but will have the planes made in Brazil, enabling the country to sell fighters to all of Latin America. This is it. Usually there is not much mystery to things, even if they seem a bit too complex, it all goes down to economic reasons, to money that leads to power.

Much speculation has been going on that by purchasing so many combat planes Brazil might in fact lead to the escalation of spending on armaments in the region. The truth is that at least two other Latin countries have been among the 15 biggest buyers of armament for a while, Venezuela and Chile; Ecuador is not too far behind, and Colombia has been investing in arms, a real necessity, considering the presence of guerrillas and the narco-traffic, for years. Brazil, despite being the biggest and the richest, was not one of them and now it is only doing what the neighbors have been doing for quite some time.

During Lula’s first term, he canceled scheduled purchase of fighters claiming, at the time, that there was too much poverty in Brazil and he could not go ahead spending on armament. Rhetoric, a statement based on facts, words from the heart, or all of the above, what is the difference? Now Brazil shows economic stability and the president started acting on renewing the country’s armed powers.

Why would Latin American countries be armed? And why not? Everybody is, at least all those who can afford to be. The spending was already occurring discreetly, and it was not until Hugo Chavez started spending billions and bragging about it in order to intimidate neighbors and all, that it became obvious. Bolivia even borrowed money from Russia to buy arms, but buying arms does not necessarily mean that everybody has war in mind.

Brazil, for instance, is not thinking of attacking anyone or making war when it starts spending a substantial amount of money on armaments. It is more logic to think that Brazil wants to be fully armed for protection. But when the Latin America giant does something like that, even showing no signs of intention of war or fights nor having displayed an attitude of intimidation, it still causes concerns and speculations.

And why should Brazil not be armed? This would go against all logic of international relations. The presence of Hugo Chavez and his intimidating ways deems it necessary for the other countries to be prepared, and this is not too hard to comprehend. It would be irresponsible to pretend that nothing is going on. There is also other realities that need to be faced, like it has been too long since Brazil invested any money in armaments to protect and defend its security and the time to do so has simply come.

The Brazilian Marine needs urgent care and the Army has been weakened out of armed resources for a long time. Any country that cares to preserve and defend its sovereignty would do the same thing – as a matter of fact, they all do. All powerful and rich countries spend billions in technology and in the making and purchasing of armaments of all sorts, even nuclear, and this does not seem to cause much commotion or even interest.

Why is it different when a country like Brazil, of its size and proportion, with so much to protect and defend, takes the step to improve its capacities of defense? It shouldn’t; it is just a country doing what it is supposed to do.

Many are the reasons for any country to have a strong Marine Force. In Brazil, specifically, where most of the exported products leave in ships, it is expected that the routes be protected from terror and pirate attacks as a growing trade naturally calls for a stronger and better-equipped Marine.

And there is the apple of Brazil’s eyes, the country’s most cherished and envied treasure, the Amazon, part of the Brazilian territory and as such it must be well protected – the Amazon is in Brazil and it shall stay that way; and last but not least, of course, the pre-salt, a mega-field of 5 to 8 billion barrels of oil recently discovered by Petrobras and a concrete promise of wealth to Brazil in a world that foresees the disappearance of oil in a not so far future.

Speculations go on and on, but a lot of it just does not make much sense. The fear that a well armed Latin America would be preparing itself for a politic of common (and hard to beat) defense is also a hypothesis easily brought to the ground.

The European Union, the best and most unified region in the world has not done that to date, and most probably it never will. And it is not hard to understand that when it comes to defend a country’s sovereignty, the safety of its wealth and people, the utmost trust comes from the country itself, not from elsewhere, not even ‘thy neighbor.’

All and all, there is ‘much ado about nothing.’ Nothing is really happening; it’s just a country doing some housekeeping, for crying out loud.

Clara Angelica Porto is a Brazilian bilingual journalist living in New York.  She went to school in Brazil and at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  Clara is presently working as the English writer for The Brasilians, a monthly newspaper in Manhattan.  Comments welcome at clara.angelica@gmail.com.

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