Arms for Latin America
By Cecilia Bustamante
Services of Agencia de Información
In 1977, the Carter administration, then in the White House, decreed a ban on
arms sales to Latin America. The 1970s were a decade of some of the worst
dictatorships, disappearances, guerrillas and human rights abuses.
President Carter has said that, although circumstances have changed a lot since
then, the fundamental question remains "Should the United States become a leader
in the sale of arms to the region or should it restrict their sale?"
On the other hand, President Bill Clinton lifted the two-decade-old ban because,
in his estimation, a new era of peace and democracy had come to Latin America.
The Bush White House has defended that decision, arguing that
Latin America is no longer a region dominated by military
dictators and that it is joining the worldwide process of economic
The truth is that the economies of those countries are defined by, and based
upon, the rules set by international organizations and world power blocs. Each
Latin American nation is making its own history in the process, but none has
done it like Venezuela
and Cuba, who inspire the other nations by their example.
To what degree can Latin American nations put up, without complaints, with the
attempts to dissolve their national interests for the sake of global objectives?
To what degree can we aspire to maintain both balance and peace in this yet
undefined and volatile path to a period of democracy?
Is this the time to arm neighbors against neighbors when nations like Peru and
Ecuador not long ago needed a delegation of peacemakers and a ceasefire to
settle their border dispute? Or when Peru and Chile try to solve old disputes
and new disagreements caused by Bolivia's demand for a corridor to the sea, an
important issue because of the Camisea gas pipeline that will supply energy to
Arms manufacturers and exporters, who have lobbied forcefully in Washington,
believe that Latin America represents a potential market of $6 billion. We
Latins would buy warplanes, air-defense systems and other sophisticated
The Lockheed Martin Corporation would benefit immediately because it has
discussed the sale of 24 F-16 fighter-bombers to Chile. Peru bought a fleet of
MiG-29 fighters from
which then-President Fujimori turned over to the air force. When the words "arms
race" began to spread,
made official statements that there was no need to be concerned.
Despite everything, the lifting of the arms ban was not approved by the U.S.
Congress during Clinton's
presidency. However, under the new policy, Congress can block individual sales
of weapons. The U.S. government has stated that major purchase bids will be
examined individually, following the same standards used for purchase bids from
other world regions.
The state of Texas
in particular has benefited from the lifting of the ban. "The question is not
whether Latin American countries will buy weapons but from whom they will buy
them," said senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a Texas Republican.
The economic benefits for
will be significant. According to Rep. Martin Frost, a Texas Democrat, the
restrictions "have cost U.S. manufacturers billions of dollars and American
workers thousands of jobs."
Those are reasons, some more
pragmatic than others, that allow us to assess how U.S. policy moves -- and in
Cecilia Bustamante, a journalist and writer,
won the National Poetry Award of Peru.