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Could war erupt in arms-spree LatAm?

Sept 15--Is Latin America gearing up for conflict? Some regional commentators certainly fear that a handful of countries are teetering on the edge of a full-blown arms race they can ill afford - either financially or diplomatically.

That fear has been stoked in the past week by the coincidental announcement of two major procurement programmes.

Firstly, Brazil confirmed on 7 September that it will buy four Scorpène attack submarines from France and will build 50 EC-725 transport helicopters under licence.

It has also opened negotiations with French company Dassault for a large order of Rafale fighter aircraft.

Then Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez returned last week from a successful shopping trip to Moscow, with T-72 main battle tanks and an unknown quantity of air defence systems in the bag.

Both countries are ramping up military expenditure to levels not seen in decades.
For Brazil, re-armament is ostensibly necessary to update much of its obsolete equipment and to improve the protection of its vast territory and recently-discovered offshore oil fields.

But Brasilia also harbours a desire to cement its status as the regional political and economic heavyweight through increasing military clout.

Hence the accords with France, which will also see the two countries co-operate on the construction of a hull for a nuclear-powered submarine that Brazil wants in service by 2020.

Full technology transfer was a key Brazilian demand during all its contract negotiations.

Conscious of regional sensitivities, Brazil has consistently stressed that its re-armament is non-offensive.

For an emergent world power seeking the prize of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, that claim is entirely credible.

Cross-border spate

Yet the acquisitions by Mr Chavez, the region's most mercurial and outspoken leader, are a different case - particularly since Venezuela's relations with neighbouring Colombia have slumped towards outright belligerence since late July.

The standoff followed Bogota's decision to grant basing rights to the US military at seven sites across the country.
Read more here.
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