Guns, Not Butter, for Latin America's Poorest

Military spending is increasing in South and Central America — and so is poverty, as regional governments are opting to spending limited resources weapons instead of development.

Defense spending in the region has nearly doubled in the past five years to $47.2 billion in 2008, according to studies cited in a Miami Herald column, which also notes a simmering border dispute between Chile and Peru.

Elsewhere in the region, Brazil struck a multi-billion-dollar deal with France to buy fighter jets and other weapons systems, according to news reports, while Venezuela just secured a $2 billion line of credit with Russia to buy combat helicopters, tanks and advanced anti-aircraft missiles, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, World Bank statistics anticipate that the ranks of the poor in the region will swell by 6 million people this year.

A report by Knowledge @ Wharton confirms increasing poverty in the region, with millions of people expected to join the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed.

In Guatemala, President Alvaro Colom Caballeros recently declared a state of national calamity over a growing malnutrition crisis, CNN International reported, while the British charity SOS Children’s Villages cites the statistic that more than half of Guatemala’s 13.3 million people live in poverty.

The hottest business in Guatemala these days, however, appears to be illegal weapons trade serving Mexico’s drug gangs, according to the private intelligence firm ISA Consulting.

Some say the surge in weapons-buying driven by Colombia’s deal with the United States to host American troops as part of the war on illegal drugs.

Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, D.C., said in an interview with that there are other factors at work, including the end of “legislative restrictions” on arms purchasing in Latin American states following the “dirty wars” of the 1970s and ’80s.

More than that, he said, are concerns about having enough defensive weapons to protect energy resources — such as petroleum, which is abundant in Brazil and Venezuela.

Such nations have begun to “feel that they don’t always possess the physical force to guard their natural bequests which are now being pursued by rich countries,” Birns said.

–Ronnie Lovler/


“Despite crisis, latin countries’ military spending rising”
Miami Herald, September 12, 2009

“Latin American Poverty Rises”
Latin Business Chronicle, Aug. 26, 2009

“Guatelama declares calamity as food crisis grows”
CNN International, September 9, 2009

“Guatemala weapons bonanza”
ISA Consulting (private intelligence firm), September 16, 2009

“Venezuela buys powerful missiles with Russian loan”
Reuters, September 14, 2009

“Columbia bases row fuels arms race”
United Press International, September 2, 2009

“Women and children go hungry in Guatemala food crisis”
SOS Children’s Villages, September 16, 2009

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