Thursday, November 28, 2013
Former president Michelle Bachelet is facing a run-off with conservative Evelyn Matthei Dec. 15 to decide Chile's next president. The Socialist Bachelet is expected to cruise to victory. But don't expect a change in leadership to be welcomed by the country's Mapuche activists. At a campaign rally, protesters disrupted Bachelet and made it clear they hold her responsible for the deaths of several Mapuches during her 2006-10 administration. Meanwhile, the native group continues to clash with police, landowners and timber companies. On Nov. 17, election day, a group in the heart of Mapuche territory ambushed several police officers, although no one was hurt. In another part of the region, the trial of a Mapuche man charged in the killings of an elderly couple when their home was set on fire is continuing. A conviction could set off more confrontations. Mapuche activists have been seeking moral and other support from outside Chile, and this month the two brothers of a Mapuche found slain on a field last August sought political asylum in Bolivia. They fled Chile after a group of masked men threatened to kill them. One more killing, and the crisis could worsen. It figures to be one of Bachelet's biggest security challenges.
Monday, November 11, 2013
The U.S. has taken advantage of its military cooperation with Chile to help train for the war in Afghanistan. Texas National Guard units have trained in Chile's mountainous desert, which bears a resemblance to the Afghan landscape. "The area (northern Chile) is very cold and mountainous much like Afghanistan," Lt. Col. Ricardo Santander of the Chilean Army, said in a U.S Army website. "It provides excellent training opportunities for Chilean and U.S. forces." Personnel from the Texas Air National Guard and Chile's armed forces have trained together several times. The U.S. also has a joint training facility for peacekeeping forces in Chile. More interesting was Santander's comment on helicopter acquisition plans: "One of my goals is to find the Chilean army some new helicopters," Santander said. "We have many transport helicopters, but are looking to add attack helicopters." That's the first time a high-ranking Chilean military official confirms plans to purchase attack helicopters, an acquisition that has been rumored for a while. The Chilean Army's recent decision to sell its two Super Puma helicopters, three C-212 light transport planes and a Citation III executive jet could be setting the stage for the purchase of aviation assets.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Former president Michelle Bachelet, expected to win the Nov. 17 presidential election, has promised to push forward reforms of the military budget that have become stuck in Chile's Congress. Current President Sebastian Piñera won only partial legislative approval for the plan, which eliminates the 10% tax on the state-owned Codelco mining company -- a tax that has financed billion of dollars in weapons purchases -- and replaces it with general funds. Bachelet also wants Congress to be notified of the military's spending and acquisition programs, although her plan doesn't specifically give Congress power to override those. She also is not happy about the surplus accumulated from the mining funds. Her closest rival, conservative Evelyn Mattei, also is urging the end of the "copper law" and supports a new financing mechanism. Both candidates also want to continue peacekeeping operations, and to improve military careers. Both also want to give the chairman of the joint chiefs more power in handling crises. Despite the similarities in platforms, Mattei is viewed as more friendly to the armed forces, while Bachelet has been sounding more liberal than she was during her first presidency. Oddly, both women have known each other since childhood, when their fathers were Air Force officers. But they were on opposite sides of the 1973 military coup. Mattei's father eventually became part of the ruling junta, while Bachelet's opposed the coup and died in captivity.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
The government of El Salvador has confirmed the purchase of 10 A-37B Dragonfly airplanes that had been retired by the Chilean Air Force. The $8.6 million deal, which includes spare parts, is being done with financing provided by the U.S., according to the October issue of Air Forces Monthly. El Salvador says the acquisition gives its air force a badly needed boost in equipment, although the acquisition means El Salvador will not buy A-29 Super Tucano airplanes from Brazil's Embraer. El Salvador already uses the A-37, which was used extensively during the civil war in that country. Chle had been shopping the A-37B's since they were retired from service in 2009. The Dragonfly was designed for counter-insurgency ground attack and got a lot of work in the Vietnam War. Chile had acquired more than three dozen A-37s over the years. Their last active service was in the base at Punta Arenas, in the far south of Chile. This is not the first aircraft sale to El Salvador. The Central American nation was one of several countries that bought the T-35 Pillan basic trainer from Chile.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
|A mishap in Antofagasta|
Thursday, October 3, 2013
As Chile's armed forces have evolved from being the country's rulers to becoming subordinates of elected presidents, the role of Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre stands as a milestone. While Cheyre was commander of the Army in 2002-2006, he published an essay in which the Army accepted responsibility for human rights abuses during the military's rule. His vow that the Army would "never again" commit such acts effectively distanced the military from former strongman Augusto Pinochet. But today, Gen. Cheyre is fighting accusations that he himself took part in abuses. Earlier this year, he was cleared in the case of an orphaned infant he was ordered to take to a convent in December 1973. The controversy forced him to quit his post as head of the national elections service. Now, investigators are looking into accusations by three sisters who say Cheyre was one of the officers who kidnapped and tortured them as children. It's hard to imagine that a champion of human rights would be a perpetrator himself. Yet, that's the conundrum facing the retired general. Meanwhile, the military officers who led the anti-communist war during Pinochet's rule are becoming more isolated. President Sabastian Piñera shut down an exclusive prison where several officers convicted of human rights abuses were being held. They will serve the rest of their sentences in a regular prison, although one of them committed suicide rather than accept life with common criminals. Many Chileans view these officers as heroes who battled leftist terrorists and whose work was not much different than the CIA's or SOCOM's. Indeed, the government has launched a probe into more than 100 attacks by leftist extremists.