Chile does not want to start an arms race, nor does it have aggressive intentions toward its neighbours.
This is the message contained in the Chilean government’s soon to be released ‘white paper’ explaining its recent record amount of arms purchases. This is the third such report since the country's return to democracy in 1990; the last paper was released in 2002.
The report, slated for release on December 17, will argue that Chile’s recent arms purchases are part of a modernization program for its military, not a threatening expansion of its arms capability.
The government will spend 300,000 US dollars to print the 300-page document, which will itemize and explain the reasons behind each of Chile's military purchases during the last seven years. It will also give a full inventory of the country's military hardware.
Amnesty International reported earlier this year that Chile has spent 6 billion USD on arms purchases since 1990.
In the report the government will insist that all recent acquisitions are designed to refurbish the country's defences in the wake of the international arms embargo imposed on Chile during the 17-year military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
The embargo left the country with obsolete equipment dating back to WWII, says the government. The report will also refute criticism that Chile spends 4% of its GDP on arms. The government will point out that this year’s defence budget of 3.8 billion USD is only 1.8% of GDP and that all arms purchases are well publicized and done with the full knowledge of neighbouring countries.
A recent CIA estimate ranked Chile 57th in the world in terms of military spending relative to GDP, with a ratio of 2.8%. This figure is much lower than other Latin American countries such as Ecuador and Colombia, not to mention the United States of America.
Even so, Chile's military spending has aroused strong suspicions from neighbouring Peru. Peruvian President Alan Garcia has accused Chile on a number of occasions of trying to start a South American arms race.
In an effort to reign in Chile’s suspect arms purchases, Peruvian representatives at last week’s UNASUR meeting in Quito proposed creation of a South American peace-keeping force. Peruvian Production Minister Mercedes Araoz said such a force would obviate the need for further military spending in the region, which last year totalled 33.8 billion USD.
In other military-related news, Chile’s navy announced on Wednesday that it would suspend a Regatta planned for this weekend following the arrest of four retired senior officials. The men were arrested on Tuesday in connection with the kidnapping and torture of six political opponents of the military regime in 1973.
The Regatta had been scheduled for this weekend and was supposed to commence the Navy's bicentennial celebrations.
By James Fowler – Santiago Times