Source:  Miami Herald May 1, 1997 (Intn'l Satellite Edition)
Fax:     (305) 3768950 
Contact: Argentine army to aid in drug war
Some calling move unneeded, unwise
Herald Staff Writer

BUENOS AIRES   Argentina's armed forces are less than half their former
size, shamed by human rights abuses and military defeat, and so poor they
sometimes can't afford light bulbs.

	A U.S. diplomat dubbed them "The gang that couldn't shoot straight." But
the U.S. government is welcoming their hesitant entry into the
regionwide war against drugs.

	It began in December, when President Carlos Menem, meeting President
Clinton in Washington, proposed an expanded anti drug role for the
Argentine troops, and an "extraNATO" alliance with the United States.

	Last month, U.S. Southern Command chief Gen. Wesley Clark came to see
Menem and Argentina's brass in Buenos Aires, after which Argentina
agreed to send an air force officer to join the U.S. Joint Interagency
Task Force, whose main purpose is to fight crossborder

	The news has sparked resistance among opposition politicians, civilian
analysts and even some military leaders, who argue that a direct
antidrug role is against Argentine law, of dubious necessity and a
dangerous opening to newly aggressive U.S. defense firms seeking to sell
their wares.

	"There is a contradiction in the U.S. policy," says politicalmilitary 

analyst Rosenda Fraga. "On one hand. we're told Latin American countries
should spend more on health and education. At the same time they're
trying to sell us weapons."

Such complaints may grow more common in the region with signs that the
Clinton administration  will soon lift a 20year ban on arm sales to
Latin America.

	Eager to start making contacts, several major U.S. defense firms,
including Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, were hawking their 'wares at a
huge trade show in Rio de Janeiro last week, together with purveyors of
warplanes, radar and nightvision equipment from 11 other countries.

	South America is a beckoning frontier for the U.S. defense industry. Its
nations spend on average less than 2 percent of their gross national
product on defense, less than any other region in the world.

	Yet with several countries' democracies barely a decade old, following
harsh military regimes, there  is  strong  resistance throughout the
region to giving the armed forces more power in any form.

	"What people fear is that if the military becomes directly involved in
the drug war, not only will civil rights be threatened, but majors and

will be driving brand new Mercedes," said political scientist Carlos
Escude, a former adviser to the Foreign Ministry.

	In Argentina's case, the government has no immediate plans to buy
weapons. But four major U.S. firms  Raytheon, Hughes, Boeing and
Northrop Grumman

are competing with companies from France, Germany and Italy to sell the
air force $430 million worth of radar equipment, to be used in air
traffic control, including possible surveillance of drug shipments.

	Menern's government has yet to ask for bids, but the lobbying has been
intense. France and Germany have sent their chiefs of state to make the
pitch. An Italian firm reportedly promised to build a training center for
radar operators in Menem's tiny northern hometown, Anillaco.

	But the U.S. firms have the advantage, say Fraga and others, in their
close military relations with Argentina. "The Argentine armed forces
prefer American arms because it lends more prestige, comes with better
training and signals to our neighbors that we have American support,"
said Rut Diamint, a university professor and former adviser to the
Defense Ministry

	Menem's government has yet to offer details on the armed forces'
proposed role in the drug war. In fact, Menem may not have anticipated
the controversy his offer in Washington touched off.

	Military involvement in the drug war, other than logistical support to
the police or intelligence gathering outside  the country, would violate
a law passed a few years after the end of Argentina's Dirty War in 1983.
That campaign against leftist guerrillas and their suspected supporters
left 8,960 people "disappeared," by what is generally viewed as a
conservative official count.

	"The air force doesn't really want to get involved," said Fraga. "it had
a bad experience with the Dirty War and the fight against drugs is a
dirty war."

Partly for these reasons, Fraga said Argentina is now one of the region's
three strongest holdouts against military involvement in the drug war.
The other two are Chile and Uruguay.

	In none of those countries has drug trafficking reached anywhere near
the levels seen in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. The U.S. State
Department's most recent annual review of narcotics trafficking around
the world said Argentina is neither a major drug producing nor drug
transshipment country.

	Nonetheless, the report said Argentina "faces a growing problem in the
flow of drugs transiting its territory," citing "the existence   of  
thousands of uncontrolled airfields and many small municipal airports in
the northern part" of the country.

	The plan to install and upgrade radar equipment at airports throughout
the country is aimed at combating that problem. It would also signal a de
facto increase in the air force's role in fighting drugs, since the air
force would be responsible for operating it.

	Something similar is already happening in Brazil, where drug activity in
the vast Amazon wilderness has become a matter of worry for both the U.S.
and Brazilian governments.

	On March 14, Raytheon, one of the companies lobbying in Argentina,
joined two Brazilian firms in signing a $1.4 billion contract for
surveillance equipment to be used in the Amazon. Clinton  and 
thenCommerce Secretary Ron Brown had pushed the deal vigorously, saying
the monitoring would help protect the Amazon environment as well as
control drug trafficking.

	Brazil's air force will eventually operate the equipment, and a law is
now pending in Brazil's Congress to allow the air force to shoot down
planes, both significant steps expanding the armed forces' drugfighting
role, despite a clause in Brazil's constitution that delegates drug
control to the police.

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