Whereas many people are fully aware of conflict areas such as Georgia, the Caucasus or the Middle East, the international press and most of all our politicians are totally unaware of the growing tensions in South America. In the North, tensions between Columbia and Venezuela are growing and are climaxing with the abduction and killing of a Colombian amateur soccer team last month.
Sadly, the two countries seem to slither into a situation of mutual hatred and mistrust, also triggered and facillitated by their respective allies: The Bush-Administration, especially Robert Gates’ drug enforcement and defense policy established new military outposts in Colombia and still 7 big military bases are to be build. Gates, who still occupies the seat of the Defense Secretary aswell as the new Obama-Administration seem to hold onto that policy. On the other side of the border, Hugo Chavez, leader of the Bolivarian Revolution interprets the very presence of American Army personnel and army hardware as an offensive act and he is not afraid of saying this out lout: Neither seems he afraid of throwing oil onto the fire, and signing the largest arms deal in the history of Venezuela with the Kremlin. The 2.2 billion loan accorded by the Kremlin to Chavez was the biggest Russian loan ever to be processed in post-soviet times, and as an act of grace, Venezuela promptly recognized the 2 seperatistic provinces Abkahzia and South Ossetia.(*) In addidtion, “Along with the weapon loan, Caracas received another $1 billion from the Russian oil consortium for its access to Venezuela’s Junin-6 oil project, the country’s Energy and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said in televised remarks Sept. 13. Chavez said he had also won Moscow’s pledge to lead Venezuela’s nuclear program, but stressed that he was not going to make an atomic bomb.”(**)
Having said that, it seems not really suprising that the arms race in South America does not only flourish in Colombia and Venezuela but also stimulates other states to do so: The newest state that seems to be thriving for the bomb is Brasil. The country that was during years prophecied to become a global player due to its geo-strategical and important role in the natural resources area,(especially food, soy beans and wheat) never managed to meet this expectations: Multinationals bought millions of acres and the evil food giants such as Nestlé and Monsanto pillaged the rest. But now, the Brazilian Administration seems to have found a new way to rebuild their national pride: Brazil and Argentinia are massively expanding their Nuclear capacities by building new reactors(ex. Angra III reactor in Angra do Reis, BRA) . Both countries have overcome their status of mutual mistrust and reinforced the ABACC(***)(Argentinan-Brazilian Agency for the Control of Nuclear Material), which is not only a civil but futhermore a military institution due to the fact that inspection of weapon and enrichment facilities are one of their tasks.
Technologically, both countries have without any doubt the possibility to process Nuclear Weapons: Both Brazil and Argentinia entertained small atomic bomb programs in the 1960s and 1970s. Argentinia even traded between 1960-1964 115 tons of “homemade” yellow cake (concentrated uranium powder) against Israeli-made weapons grade plutonium from the infamous Dimona reactor, in the Negev, Israel.(****) Brazil itself run a covert atomic program in response to the Argentinian project and sucessfully enriched plutonium up to 20% by the year of 1985. No wonder both countries founded the ABACC in order to check on each others arsenals, hence now, the ABACC is becoming an interesting instrument for both countries to canalize their efforts. On September 28th 2009, Brazilian Vice-President Alencar told local press officials that due to the 15’000 km of borders, the strategic position and growing military presence of the U.S, Brazil should reinstate its Nuclear Weapons Program. Although a spokesperson of Lula da Silva, Brazilian President denounced this and stressed that this was not necessarily the position of the government, Brazil thus has the resources and technologies to procreate Nuclear Weapons. Strangely only a handful of media has covered this, although similar statements from Ahmadinejad are always making front pages, and Alencar’s statement violates the same international obligations and treaties that also apply for Iran. Although Brazilian media downplayed Alencar’s statements, they are absolutely nothing new: 2 years ago, the Brazilian Deputy Defense Minister de Barros-Moreira publicly lobbied for the Brazilian bomb, (*****) and many Brazilians don’t reject the idea that “la gran potencia” shall back up their policies with Nuclear weapons. Alencar said during this infamous press conference that this would be the only way for a nation, to find respect and recognition on the international level. To prove his point, he namely spoke of the Pakistani bomb.
Another decision by Robert Gates that led to unanimous reactions of Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela was the reactivation of the IV. U.S Navy Fleet that is stationed in Florida. Without consultation of its partners in South America, the Bush Administration decided to reactivate the fleet for the “war against narcotics” in the Caribbean(which should be a Customs and Coast Guard operation rather then a military op’). This summer, Pres. Obama ordered this summer to reactivate more of the mothballed vessels in Florida. Reactions from the South Americas were firm: Brazil signed a new arms deal with France mostly focussing on naval warfare technology and Venezuela annouced that its new Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 planes would just suit perfect to sink American vessels when trying to enter Venezuelian waters.
A gargantuan weapons race and many questions marks, that’s how one could sum up the momentary political situation in South America, a situation where somehow everybody has made giant mistakes and nobody is ready to back off yet. Without wanting to sound too melodramatic, some parallels strangely remind me of the cold war.
Further reading & inspiration: