Thursday, November 28, 2013

Mapuche Conflict not Likely to Ease Under Bachelet

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

New Details on U.S. Cooperation, Attack Helicopter Plans

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

Presidential Frontrunners Support New Military Funding

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 PiƱera 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.