Brazil, its Latin American neighbors and US officials may deny it, but there is an arms race going on right now in South America. As the SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) points out, "large increases in military expenditure have been taking place in several countries of the region."
According to SIPRI, South America since 2000 has increased military expenditure 33% in real terms and in 2007 military outlays reached US$ 40 billion.
In the last five years Venezuela, Ecuador and Chile are the countries which most have increased military expenditure in real terms: 78%, 53% and 49% respectively. In Central America, Honduras leads with a 20% increase in the last five years followed by Mexico's 15%. .
In 2007 the Brazilian government promised a 50% hike in the Armed forces budget and is planning to purchase conventional submarines and developing nuclear submersibles. However in the same five year period, Brazil was ranked 12 in military expenditure. Top of the list is Colombia with 4% of GDP, Chile, 3.6% and Ecuador, 2.3%.
Said this, it is also true that many countries in the region had drastically cut their military budgets and salaries of soldiers are still lagging considerably behind the rest of society. Furthermore Colombia's increase can be attributed to the ongoing armed insurgency challenge, according to SIPRI.
The Stockholm think tank underscores that South America is not among the world regions which most spend in their armed forces, but Venezuela has caused alarm since it has purchased over US$ 4 billion in Russian armament.
Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, who on taking office in 1999 said the country could no longer continue spending on aircrafts and tanks, earlier this month justified his long shopping list saying that Venezuela needs the arms to "defend the Bolivarian revolution" from the "United States empire of evil."
Stephen Johnson head of Hemispheric Affairs in the US Defense Department is quoted by The Miami Herald saying that "defense equipment deteriorates, become obsolete and it is clear there's an attempt to modernize the region's armed forces."
However in the case of Venezuela "there's a clear intent to project power or intimidate, the kind of gesture that can trigger in others a feeling of danger and make them spend more on arms".
This week Peru and Ecuador revealed they were spending in refurbishing and purchasing new equipment. Peru has plans to invest US$ 106 million in upgrading its MIG-29 with the purpose of "recovering the operational capability of our Armed Forces," said Defense minister Antero Flores Araoz.
Peru has a wing of 19 MIG 29 purchased from Russia and Byelorussia in the early nineties and signed an agreement with Russia for the refurbishing. However most of the work, upkeep and training "will be done in Peru by Peruvians as part of a long term plan stretching to 2011 and involving US$ 654 million."
Ecuador, which recently had border skirmishes with neighboring Colombia and was accused of allowing sanctuaries for Colombian guerrillas, announced the purchase of 24 Brazilian made Super Tucano fighters, fast boats and radars for border surveillance. The plan also includes refurbishing its wing of Israel manufactured Kfir fighter bombers.
"All our aircraft have years of service, we need to renew them and the government is committed to a significant investment in the Armed forces. This by no means is a mad arms race or nothing like it," pointed out Defence minister Miguel Carvajal.
Last March following an incursion of Colombian troops into Ecuadorian territory, Quito broke diplomatic relations with Bogota and announced the beefing up of its air power with the purchase of the 24 Brazilian Super Tucanos and six UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) plus the refurbishing of the Israeli version of the French Dassault Mirage fighter bombers.