Monday, February 10, 2014
How a Businessman Became Chile's Top Arms Maker
Anyone wishing to understand Chile's military industry needs to know the story of Carlos Cardoen. He is the most successful weapons manufacturer the country has known. He built landmines, bombs, armored vehicles and other types of arms for Chile and several countries. In a TV interview last year, Cardoen explained his rise from maker of mining explosives into a major arms manufacturer. As he tells it, the pivotal moment came in the late 1970s, when Chile faced military threats from Peru and Argentina. A U.S. arms embargo had left Chile desperate for weapons, and the military turned to its industrialists to make the arms it could not buy in the market. Cardoen was one of those industrialists. In a matter of weeks, he developed an anti-tank mine using off-the-shelf materials, such as caps from oil barrels. Later, the Air Force asked him to develop a bomb that could be dropped by reconnaissance aircraft -- something described as a harassment weapon. That, Cardoen says in the interview (check starting about the 10th minute of the video), led to the concept of cluster bombs, which Cardoen patented in the U.S. It's debatable whether Cardoen actually invented the cluster bomb. The Germans used a bomblet-dispersion system during World War II, and cluster bombs were used in the Vietnam War. But Cardoen's bombs and other designs helped Chile stave off its hostile neighbors. He continued building up his arms business and became a supplier to Iraq during its war with Iran, which made him a controversial figure. Today, Cardoen is out of the weapons business. But for decades, Cardoen was the most successful weapons manufacturer in Chile, and a major part of a defense industry that today includes a number or private and government-owned companies.