When Brazil’s former president Lula da Silva handed power to successor Dilma Rousseff on January 1, triumph in a multi-billion dollar, 36-fighter bidding competition to supply Brazil’s next generation of strike aircraft was, for France’s troubled Rafale, a near certainty. It would be the plane’s first export — something manufacturer Dassault and the French government spent years cultivating with a receptive Lula. But three weeks later, Brazil re-opened bidding, throwing France’s budding achievement into doubt. Then last week, according to Reuters sources close to Rousseff, the current president told visiting U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner the Rafale isn’t the best choice after all: it’s the U.S. F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Boeing’s Hornet bid was already the favorite among Brazilian air force officers; though not, it should be added, with Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, who reportedly threatened to resign over the issue. The American jet is also likely to be less costly than the French model. But it’s yet to be seen whether the U.S. government will agree to the technology transfer agreements Brazil has required. For Brazil, a new fighter is as much a matter of domestic economic development as it is a means of exerting military power. It’s also a way to improve relations with Washington, a key goal of the Rousseff administration. Brazil and the U.S. are also forging a common alliance against an undervalued Chinese yuan, and, as major food producers, against French attempts to regulate commodity prices.
Proposed budget cuts by congressional Republicans also means austerity for U.S. foreign aid — particularly military aid — to Latin America. Recent numbers show an expected 18 percent drop in all aid to Latin America from 2009 to 2012 and a full 43 percent drop in military aid. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the cuts are “massive.” “The truth is that cuts of that level will be detrimental to America’s national security,” Clinton said. Proponents have cited a need to reduce a growing budget deficit. In the interim, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield visited Honduras to deliver funds aimed at boosting border enforcement and anti-gang initiatives across Central America — the primary smuggling route for drugs into Mexico. U.S. military and police aid to Central America will more than double this year — an outlier — though it’s expected to return to normal levels in 2012.
In other news, Argentine customs officials seized weapons, GPS units, surveillance gear and narcotics such as morphine from a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane in Buenos Aires last Thursday. Argentinian officials said the seized contents were an attempt “to violate Argentine laws by bringing in hidden material in an official shipment.” The C-17 was carrying the gear along with U.S. military personnel traveling to assist a hostage rescue simulation directed by Argentinian GEOF commandos. The U.S. State Department issued a statement calling Argentina’s actions “puzzling and disturbing,” and claimed all cargo was registered with the ministries of security and foreign affairs. The incident comes during a period of anxiety between the two countries after U.S. President Barack Obama announced a March trip to several Latin American countries — Argentina not included.