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.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Chile Taking Steps to Better Integrate Gays into the Military

Chile's Minister of Defense, Jorge Burgos, is starting a round of meetings with the heads of the armed forces to formalize the inclusion of gays in the military. The goal is to come up with antidiscrimination policies and procedures to handle complaints. Gays and lesbians are already allowed to serve in Chile's military. But the ministry wants to eliminate subtle ways in which discrimination can still occur. For example, officers can ask a prospective recruit questions that could indirectly reveal his or her sexual preference. The minister's roundtable comes at a time when the government of President Michelle Bachelet is pressing a controversial social agenda that includes legalizing abortions in some cases and letting gays adopt children.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Government May Raid Military Funds to Raise Revenue

More than $5 billion in surplus funds for Chile's military could be used to shore up tight government revenues. The finance ministry says that's one alternative under discussion, which could be blended with a proposal to revamp the defense budget, El Mercurio reported. By raiding military funds, the government would strike another blow into a financing mechanism that grants the armed forces with more than $1 billion a year. For decades, 10% of export sales by the government-owned Codelco mining company has been assigned for weapons acquisitions. The so-called copper law has provided the money to buy F-16 fighters, modern warships, Leopard 2 tanks and other major weapons systems. The sum started growing sharply in 2004 as the price of copper boomed. For a country of Chile's size, that's a bountiful pot of money, but not all of it reaches its intended purpose. Under an interpretation of the copper law made some years ago, any surplus above the minimum allocation ($220 million for each service) was taken away from the military and left in the hands of the finance ministry. Then in 2011, as the surplus from the copper tax continued swelling, the money was placed in a sovereign wealth fund. That surplus has climbed to more than $5 billion, not including capital appreciation, according to analysts quoted by El Mercurio. Minister of Defense Jorge Burgos insists the budget proposal wouldn't harm Chile's defense needs, or that it would leave projects vulnerable to political bickering. The new plan wouldn't be the first time Codelco funds are used for non-defense needs: In 2010, $614 million was tapped for post-earthquake reconstruction. The new government of President Michelle Bachelet plans to introduce legislation in the second quarter that would eliminate the copper tax entirely and replace it with four-year spending programs passed by Congress. Similar legislation stalled and eventually died in the previous two presidential administrations.