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The choice of French fighter aircraft in Brazil and its impact on Latin America

By Thiago de Aragao.

The past week in Latin America has been pretty busy due to the repercussions of President Lula's comments during a visit by the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. Besides being the guest of honour and besides the fact that it is the year of France in Brazil, Sarkozy came with two missions: the first one was simple and the second was relatively difficult. The simple mission was to carry out something that was already or partially agreed upon: the purchase of submarines and helicopters. The difficult mission would be to turn things around regarding the fighters Brazil intends to buy.

Still missing a technical report, Rafale (French fighter aircrafts) was not FAB's (Brazilian Air Force) favorite. The engineers apparently prefer the Swedish plane Gripen NG, while pilots show a preference for the Super Hornet F-18, from the USA. Informally, Lula made Sarkozy's job easier when argued that Rafale fighters could be chosen because this agreement would also include "transferring technology". In the FX-2 program, technology transfer is a qualifying condition since the beginning of the bidding process. Each of the three current competitors presented solid technology transfer proposals.

Regardless of the merit of finding the best or worst choice for Brazil, Lula created a serious problem. Competition has become a relatively simple target for lawyers who would like to legally paralyze FX-2. The deal is only expected to be closed in October, but Lula ignored FAB's opinion and created a diplomatic situation with the USA and Sweden. In Latin America, repercussion was immediate. The Colombian press, for instance, wants to find out whether there will be a dispute for influence among the USA, France and Russia in South America. According to Colombians, the rationale will take place through the full support of the USA concerning the Colombian cause against FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia), the relationship between Chávez and Russia and now the possibility Brazil has to buy everything at once.

Sovereignty, a word repeated time and again by the Brazilian Government, is in a dubious situation: depending on only one country for strategic weapons, as well as their parts and know-how. This same sovereignty was the theme on each Argentinean trendsetters decided to argue about. Will Brazil really take a dominant global position, or does the country want to speed up this process by getting stuck to a aligned country? For Argentineans, the purchase of Brazilian weapons is extremely important. In some occasions, they make it clear that, as far as the fighters are concerned, Argentina could follow Brazil's choice. However, considering Rafale's astronomic value, which even reduced will continue high if compared to the other two competitors, Argentina will not afford a complete squad. As part of the seduction package offered by Sarkozy, Brazil will be the exclusive vendor of Rafales in Latin America. Nevertheless, which neighbour country can pay for such plane?

In Mexico, they set a tone of irony. Formally the purchase of Brazilian weapons was little discussed, but according to talks with Mexican government sources, they believe Brazil is about to close a complicated deal with France in case it really buys the Rafale fighters. It is even considered that this plane could not be sold outside France. There were 14 lost biding processes and a great deal of confusion. There is no doubt that this is an excellent fighter, but which runs the risk of having Brazil and Libya as its sole purchasers.