Saturday, August 2, 2014

Chile's New Security Problem: A Wave of Bombings

Chile's security forces have a new problem on their hands. So far this year, 15 bombs have detonated in a terror campaign striking the metropolitan area. The Santiago subway was bombed last month, although the device went off after the final stop of the night. A subway worker spotted a suspicious backpack, and the explosive in it detonated before the bomb squad arrived. Investigators have linked the wave of bombings to anarchists avenging the conviction of three of their members and the arrest of two others in Spain. Pamphlets left at church bombing specifically mentioned the Spanish case. The blasts, police say, show that anarchist cells that were believed to be dormant are back in operation. Anarchists also took responsibility for a string of car fires in Santiago and Vina Del Mar. The bombings seem to have reawakened a long terror campaign that resulted in more than 140 explosions from 2006 to 2012 targeting banks, multinational companies and other establishments. Thankfully, most of the bombs then and now were relatively small and there were no mass casualties. But just like in the Mapuche conflict, police have been frustrated in finding the perpetrators and getting convictions. Sloppy crime-scene work and burdensome evidence rules are some of the problems vexing authorities.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Submarine, Frigate Collide During Exercises

The wounded SS Carrera
Two of the Navy's newest ships were damaged when they collided against each other during a training exercise. No one was hurt, but the FF Almirante Condell and SS Carrera sustained structural damage. The sub's turret and the frigate's stern were damaged. Both boats sailed to the Asmar repair yard under their own power, reports said. The Navy is investigating the collision, which occurred early July 18 about 30 nautical miles off the port of Valparaiso. The accident leaves two important assets out of service and a black eye for its commanders. A congressional panel says it will investigate. The Condell, a Type 23 frigate, was acquired from the British Royal Navy, where it was named HMS Marlborough, and handed over to Chile in 2008. The Carrera is a Scorpene class submarine delivered in 2005. Update: Defense Minister Jorge Burgos said Aug. 13 the submarine and the frigate will be repaired and back in service by the end of the year. Both sustained "considerable" damage, Burgos added.

Monday, July 14, 2014

British Officer's Book Reveals 'Crucial' Chilean Role in Falklands

The secret assistance Chile gave the British in the Falklands War is no longer a secret. Years ago, retired Chilean Air Force Gen. Fernando Matthei revealed details on how Chile provided intelligence that helped the British win the 1982 war. Now, the main British figure in that alliance has written a book describing the secret program in greater detail. Sidney Edwards, an RAF officer, was the man sent to link up with Chilean military and set up the intelligence network. In 1978, Chile and Argentina were on the brink of war over three disputed islands at the tip of South America. So, London found a willing ally in Chile. Edwards says without Chile's help, Britain may have lost the war. From radar stations in Punta Arenas, Edwards could monitor Argentine air traffic and relay those movements to London. This allowed the British to preserve valuable air-defense resources. The radar monitoring, Edwards says, was "crucial" in winning the war. After the war, Chile was thanked with British jets and other military equipment. Ironically, the Chilean leader who approved the Edwards operation, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, was arrested and held in England for a year and a half on human rights charges brought by a Spanish judge.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Politicians Urge Acquisition of New Presidential Jet

A Boeing 737-500 jet that has been the presidential aircraft since 1997 suffers from a short operating range, and that alone may be enough to get Chile to look for a VIP plane with longer range. The daily El Mercurio reported that a group of executives and government officials came back from a trip to Washington, D.C., exhausted from a flight that took 14 hours and two refueling stops. The 737 has adequate range for flights within South America, but no farther. The Air Force (FACh) has a Boeing 767 that can make the Santiago-U.S. trip nonstop, but it is not for exclusive presidential use and it may end up being sold. Another 737 has been converted for cargo. The fact that politicians want a new long-range transport makes it all the more possible that one will be purchased; they have most of the purse-strings to make it happen. But will it play in Peoria, or Peñalolén, shall we say? Spending upwards of $100 million on a VIP jet may not sit well with a citizenry that can point to health care, crime and education as bigger needs.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chile Ranks High in Peacefulness, Relatively Speaking

The latest edition of the Global Peace Index puts Chile as the second most peaceful nation in South America and 30th in the world. Only Uruguay scored better in the continent. The results might well reflect the overall security situation in Chile, at least compared with the rebel wars in Colombia and Peru. But Chile is a far less peaceful place for Santiago residents who have endured more than their fair share of violent street protests, and for those in the Araucania region, where Mapuche extremists continue a rebellion to reclaim ancestral lands. This month, a landowner was shot to death and homes were set on fire in Araucania. A house linked to a Mapuche leader was set ablaze, indicating that activists are being targeted, too. The national police and the government seems helpless to curb the violence, even after reinforcing the Carabineros. Although crime is a pervasive problem, the street protests and the Mapuche conflict are the most pesky security problems in the country, and neither seems likely to abate anytime soon.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Five Key Points from the President's Defense Plan

President Michelle Bachelet released an accounting of major defense policies, which was part of her report to Congress on the state of the nation. Here are the most interesting points:
  • Several steps are being taken to solidify Chile's sovereignty in Antartica, including adding resources to the bases in that territory. The Navy's current icebreaker, due to be retired next year, will remain in service until 2020, when a new ship should be ready. The government-owned Asmar shipyard is capable of building the ship at a cost of $160 million, the document states.
  • Electronic reconnaissance assets will be combined into an integrated system for all armed services. Electronic warfare, UAV, intelligence, satellite and cyberwarfare units will come under the umbrella of the new system.
  • Chile continues to forge military ties with some Central American nations. Under a program started last year and financed by Canada, Chile has been transferring know-how to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, specifically for peacekeeping missions and disaster and humanitarian aid. As part of the exchange, troops from El Salvador and Honduras have joined Chile's peacekeeping battalion in Haiti. Separately, Bachelet praised military cooperation with Argentina and urged closer ties with Peru.
  • For the Air Force, Bachelet cites a requirement to acquire advanced jet trainers "in the coming years," but doesn't spell out any specifics. A capitalization plan for its financially troubled Enaer aerospace company has been worked out, but figures weren't given.
  • The mine-clearing work is not even halfway done. At the end of 2013, 42.3% of landmines had been destroyed. That's 19 minefields, 3.68 million square meters, 52,563 antipersonnel mines and 25,963 antitank mines.