By Aurelio Suárez Montoya, SEMANA, April 10, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
It’s a fiscal aberration to spend $14 trillion pesos (roughly USD $4.5 billion) for war in the middle of a Peace Agreement and in a full-fledged pandemic, with a fiscal deficit of $77 trillion pesos (roughly USD $21 billion) and public debt that exceeds 65% of GDP.
The Duque administration will be acquiring 24 F-16 Fighting Falcon planes from Lockheed Martin for USD $4.5 billion ($14 trillion pesos), in a package that “includes maintenance, weapons, engineering support, infrastructure, and technology”. So Colombia, “while the Kfir (planes made in Israel) remain operational”, will have “83 combat planes”, while “Chile has 45, with a fleet of 35 F-16s; Venezuela has 44, of which 16 are inoperative F-16s; Brazil has the biggest fleet with 120”. (Caracol Radio).
Iván Duque is emulating his predecessors. The Barco administration acquired 12 new Kfir planes and one more second hand from Israel, and added to the purchase in 1991 with a Boeing 707 tanker. Uribe, in his second term, bought another 13 and repowered 11 of the ones on hand. For 2014, the Colombian Air Force (FAC) had 21 Kfir units of different references.
In 1992, Colombia acquired 15 Black Hawk helicopters, added to 12 on hand, in order to guard the oil fields. In Plan Colombia, up to 2003, with Pastrana and Uribe, there came 27 UH-IN helicopters, 13 UH-60-L, and 24 HUEY II. In 2005, they purchased eight Russian MI-17 (Conpes 3353) and 25 Super Toucan planes from the Brazilian company Embraer, and now they are adding 38 of that class. The principal vendor, including contracts for support and technology, has been Lockheed Martin, and with all of that, Colombia, lined up in the “counterinsurgency battle”, was in 2018 the country with the highest military spending in the region, 3.1% of GDP (La República).
The business of the 24 F-16s, initiated in the International Aeronautical Fair F-AIR-2019 (Infodefensa.com), set off a real tidal wave of criticism in social media and in the opposition. It’s a fiscal aberration to spend $14 trillion pesos on war in the midst of a Peace Agreement and in a full-fledged pandemic, with a fiscal deficit of $77 trillion pesos and public debt that exceeds 65% of GDP; but particularly with a regressive tax bill that will extract more than $30 trillion pesos (roughly USD $8 billion) from the working classes between an increase in the IVA (a value-added sales tax), income taxes on one of every three workers in formal employment, and indirect green taxes.
The issue transcends just the fiscal. The organization that monitors weapons transfers, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI, points out that these sales incline toward corruption because of the secrecy that is inherent in national security; the intimacy among buyers, sellers, and intermediaries; the opacity in the chains of production, transport and financing; the technical specifications of the products, and the financial rewards that are customary. World Peace Foundation reviewed 41 cases of corruption in the exterior weapons trade, and International Transparency complained that the United States had watered down controls of military sales in 2020, and widened the loopholes that the stink can pass through.
Lockheed, the primary contractor for the Pentagon, with USD $75 billion in sales in 2020 and known as “The Wal-Mart of War”, because it offers a broad assortment of goods and services for security and defense, is not free of wrongdoing. Forbes exposed the fact that Lockheed had had to pay a fine of USD $4.7 million for a fraudulent lobby, using money that came from government payments to lobby a contract for more than USD $2.4 billion through a subsidiary company. That is a practice in the arms industry, in which every lobby dollar delivers thousands in contracts, usually with governments. Will anybody win a commission for the success in Colombia?
The United States export of weapons, which between 2016 and 2018 was valued at USD $30.6 billion (OpenSecrets.org), is authorized by Senate Committees, hawks who at the same time depend on the earnings of the military industries. Which are not small. In the total lot of F-16s, Lockheed will have a profit margin of 11.4%, which means USD $7 billion on total sales of USD $62 billion (Rich Smith). The massive increase in taxes on consumer products will land in the coffers of State Street, The Vanguard, Capital Research & Management, and Black Rock, equity funds that own 30% of the company, thanks to Duque’s tax reform.
And who is going to be bombed? According to Senator Bob Menéndez on the Foreign Relations Committee, and some analysts, Colombia “ is the country exemplary in extensive cooperation”, and faced with the Sukhoi of Venezuela, there would be “a response coordinated so as to have air superiority” (Evan Ellis). An internal attack or hostile skirmishes on the frontiers? In the embarrassing company of regimes like Morocco, Jordan, and Bahrain, or points of the lance like Taiwan, all purchasers of the same version of the F-16, Colombia will be part of the group of countries that are minions, not partners, of NATO. Airplanes at the service of Washington, even though acquired with money from Colombia’s taxpayers.
Conpes is Colombia’s National Council for Political and Social Economics.