SOUTH AFRICA Through the Back Door

September 25, 2007

The noise of Western doors slam- ming in South Africa's face has drawn attention away from Latin America, where several doors have remained quietly ajar. While the re- gion's governments have not gener- ally welcomed the apartheid regime as an official ally-most do not even host a South African mission-this has not stopped many from establish- ing economic and military ties. The dictatorships of Chile and Paraguay have long been friendly with South Africa, but in recent years a number of civilian regimes have responded favorably to Pretoria's long and atten- tive cultivation, including several that have publicly condemned apart- heid. The most spectacular triumphs for the white regime are the pending de- livery by Brazil of 200 combat ve- hicles, worth $16 million, and the reported purchase from Argentina of Mirage-3 fighter aircraft. The former is especially significant as Brazil, the Third World's largest arms exporter, maintains an official policy of ex- cluding South Africa from its arms transactions. In 1980 Latin American nations' total exports to South Africa amounted to $94.4 million; in 1987 this had risen to $419 million, not including suspected covert military sales. On August 9, 1985, Jose Sar- ney, the president of Brazil, issued a decree prohibiting export of arms, crude oil and petroleum derivatives to South Africa. A diplomatic row be- tween the two governments followed. Yet recently the conservative South African newspaper, the Sunday Times, boasted that last year South African imports to Brazil rose from $50 million to $60.5 million while exports rose from $40 millin to $80.9 million in the same period. Ironically, these increases came during a period when military re- gimes were giving way to civilian governments who were shoring up their postures of nonalignment. Ar- gentina, for instance, had sales of $71 million to South Africa in the first 11 months of 1985. In 1980, under mili- tary rule, Argentina's exports to South Africa totaled only $8.7 mil- lion. South African sales to the region, at $321 million in 1987, showed an increase from $210 million in 1980, suggesting that the white government might be using Latin American trad- ing partners to obtain not just the foodstuffs and timber it has always bought, but manufactured items its major Western trading partners are no longer willing to supply. Political and Economic Factors Ecuador, Colombia and Peru signed their first-ever trade agree- ments with South Africa in 1985-but they are exceptions. Other Latin na- tions-Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uru- guay and Paraguay--have trade agree- ments with Pretoria dating back to the mid-1960s, when it was forced out of the Commonwealth of Nations. Spurred on by Latin America's geo- graphic proximity and the political affinity of its right-wing militaries, the white minority regime has been methodically preparing for the cur- rent boom. Hemmed in by embargos, South Africa has used investment, loans and grants to the region's governments as a way of surmounting the loss of some Western trade. For Latin American governments who see themselves as victims of similar international attempts to isolate them-such as Chile, Paraguay and Guatemala--South Africa is a natural and sympathetic trading partner. Over the years Pretoria has given wide-ranging assistance, funding and encouragement to major South Afri- can corporations to invest in Latin America. The mining giant Anglo American has led the way with its investment in Brazilian companies, especially in the mining sector where it has sunk $84 million into the Cara- jas iron ore reserves. Anglo Ameri- can also bought into mining opera- tions in Mexico in the 1970s and more recently in Peru. It built a cop- per processing plant in Chile. Shaft Sinkers, an Anglo subsidiary, has been active in Bolivian mining, and Foreign Minister Pik Botha: shoring up Latin military ties Kt'UK I UN I ti AMENKIAS Jane Hunter is editor and publisher of Israeli Foreign Affairs, a monthly report on Israel's activities outside the Middle East. 4South African companies have been involved in Venezuelan mining and agriculture. In the last 10 years South African investment in Latin America has to- taled over $500 million. According to a 1985 report, South African pri- vate capital was the second-largest source of foreign private investment in Chile, totaling $80 million in 1984 alone. At the start of the decade, part of the South African fish processing industry moved its capital and plant to Chile from Namibia-the former colony of South West Africa, which South Africa continues to occupy il- legally, and where fishing grounds had been exhausted. A particular benefit Latin govern- ments derive from trading with Preto- ria is the latter's easy lending poli- cies, initiated in 1966. Between 1982 and the present, Chile, Paraguay, Guatemala and El Salvador borrowed over $190 million. These South Afri- can loans are, according to a recent report in the Toronto Globe and Mail, "mainly government-to-government loans, at half the interest rate preva- lent at most international banks and with no strings attached." Flouting the Embargo It is a major step, of course, from economic cooperation with South Africa to providing weapons to the apartheid regime, which is strictly forbidden by the United Nations Se- curity Council Mandatory Arms Em- bargo of 1977. Yet it is a step which certainly has been taken by Chile and Paraguay, and apparently by Brazil and Argentina. Furthermore, Latin American military establishments and arms industries have become in- creasingly attracted to South Africa not only as a buyer, but as an adviser in counterinsurgency. This spring diplomats confirmed to the London daily The Independent that the wooden-crated Mirage-3 fighter aircraft being unloaded at South African ports were from Ar- gentina. South Africa plans to update the Mirages with Israeli technology, rename them Cheetah, and put them into service as replacements for the aircraft it has been losing in recent fighting in Angola. When Argentina JUL, //".UGUS 1 98 broke diplomatic relations with South Africa in 1986 it cited South Africa's "repeated acts of aggression against neighboring nations and the illegiti- mate occupation of Namibia." In a statement denying the sale of Mi- rages, Buenos Aires reiterated its opposition to the apartheid state. It is doubtful, however, whether a major item like combat aircraft could be sold without government approval. There might also be validity to the June report in The Independent that in late 1986 the Argentine defense ministry struck an agreement with the foreign ministry, allowing under the counter shipment of arms exports through third countries or fronts. In the past the NATO govern- ments, France and Israel have freely violated the UN embargo. But in re- cent years increasing pressure from anti-apartheid activists has inhibited North American and European sales, even of so-called dual use items. And for years South Africa has tried in vain to obtain fighter aircraft. The Cheetah and additional Mirage 3's for upgrading into Cheetahs is certainly the next best thing. In January 1986 the Argentine government vehemently denied its complicity in another arms deal: the secret rerouting of five loads of French weapons carried by a Danish ship from Bordeaux to Durban, South Africa. Navy officials in Denmark said that the shipping documents named Argentina as the buyer. Argentine analysts noted the pos- sibility that retired navy officers could have provided the forged docu- ments needed for the operation. It is possible these officers felt indebted to South Africa, which had reportedly provided military training when the Carter Administration cut off aid to Argentina. Pretoria assisted in at least one arms shipment to Argentina during the Malvinas/Falklands war. Birds of a Feather But nowhere is South Africa more welcomed in Latin America than in Chile and Paraguay. Although pre- cise details about the wares involved are hard to come by, it is known that Chile has purchased Crotale surface- to-air missiles from South Africa (produced under French license and called Cactus) and has bought riot- control and security equipment from Companhia de Explosivos Valparaiba and other South African joint ven- tures in Brazil. There also have been persistent reports of intelligence ties and involvement of Chilean person- nel in Namibia. Moreover, all signs indicate that the relationship between the two countries is growing. In October 1983 Chile's state-owned naval docks and yards company, ASMAR, en- tered a joint venture with South Af- rica's Sandock Austral to build a shipyard in Punta Arenas. South Af- rica is planning to build submarines at its own yards in cooperation with Chile and there is speculation that Is- rael, which helped the white regime acquire plans from a West German company, is a third partner in this enterprise. Israel is performing the same overhaul on Chilean Mirages that resulted in the South African Cheetah. There may be other tripar- tite projects as well: Recently a Dan- ish ship under lease to an Israeli arms hauling firm took on cargo in Chile and delivered it to Durban. In the past year the white regime has assigned two new military at- tach6s to join the one already sta- tioned at its embassy in Santiago. In September 1987 Gen. Augusto Pino- chet met with South African Air Force Commander-in-Chief Lt. Gen. Denis John Earp in Santiago. Ac- cording to Gen. Fernando Matthei, commander of Chile's Air Force, the two discussed "how to cope with the embargo problems we are facing and how to enhance mutual cooperation in every aspect." In March of this year, Vice Adm. Glen Syndercombe, chief of the South African Navy, visited his coun- try's "replenishment" ship in the port city of Valparaiso. In the same month South African Foreign Minis- ter Botha visited Chile, suddenly and "privately." There were reports that the visit was connected to Chile's annual arms fair and international air exhibition, FIDA 88, at which South Africa was--as it has been in the past--a major exhibitor. While there is a certain reserve in the public conduct of relations be- I "'tween Pretoria and the Pinochet re- gime, the tenor of Paraguayan-South African relations is one of unabashed celebration. A state visit by President Alfredo Stroessner and a party of 70 in 1974 was the first visit by a non- African head of state to South Africa since the Portuguese president's visit in 1956, and the second since King George VI brought the British royal family there in 1947. South African Prime Minister John Vorster returned the favor with a state visit to Para- guay the following year. This spring Paraguayan Foreign Minister Carlos Augusto Saldivar visited South Africa and received the Order of Good Hope from his counterpart Pik Botha; Saldivar be- stowed the Paraguayan National Or- der of Merit, Class Grand Crux Ex- traordinaire upon Botha. The busi- ness at hand was to update a 1978 economic agreement and to sign ac- cords doing away with visas and es- tablishing air links. Although Paraguay does not pro- duce arms and is not known to have made major weapons purchases from South Africa's growing arms export industry, on at least one occasion in June 1978 it served as an entrep6t for a West German shipment of missile launchers and artillery to South Af- rica. The weapons were transshipped to Durban through Paraguay's leased free port in Brazil. An Ally in Counterinsurgency During this same period of grow- ing trade and military ties, South Af- rica's diplomatic representation in Latin America has shrunk. Its em- bassy in El Salvador, which also rep- resented South Africa in Colombia, was closed in 1979 when the ambas- sador was killed. Almost immedi- ately after President Alan Garcia took office in 1985, Peru closed its Cape Town consulate as well as the South African consulate in Lima. Accord- ing to an officer at the South African Embassy in Washington, Pretoria now has full-fledged missions only in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile, with honorary consuls in Colombia and Guatemala. In 1986 the Guatemalan Congress voted to break diplomatic relations with South Africa, following a Euro- pean tour by the body's foreign rela- tions commission. However, the move was opposed by the military and subsequently blocked by Presi- dent Vinicio Cerezo, who stressed Guatemala's need to surmount its own international isolation. The Guatemalan military's stance was undoubtedly prompted by its de- sire to maintain ties with its South African counterpart. In the early 1980s the South Africans offered counterinsurgency troops to Guate- mala. These, say several sources, were refused, although South African advisers are reported to be helping with the "development poles" rural pacification program. According to AfricAsia, in early 1983 Guatemalan officers visited South Africa and Namibia to study counterinsurgency techniques. South Africa was also an eager participant in the Reagan Administra- tion's covert resupply of the contras. It not only helped arm the contras but provided aircraft and personnel to deliver weapons. As late as March 1987 the San Antonio Light of the Knight-Ridder chain reported that South Africa had contra support per- sonnel stationed at Aguacate and Swan Island, both CIA bases in Hon- duras. While these counterrevolutionary activities expand the international scope of the increasingly isolated white regime, South Africa has not given up hope of more conventional relationships. In 1984 a Center for Latin American Studies was opened at the University of South Africa. "The center," said then Deputy Foreign Minister Louis Nel, "would play an important role in forging closer links between South Africans and South Americans." Pretoria's extensive collaboration with Chile and Paraguay cannot be a very satisfying substitute for what were once grand plans to establish a South Atlantic alliance styled after NATO.* Under U.S. tutelage, the South Atlantic Treaty Organization (SATO) would have paired South Africa with the right-wing regimes of * See Report on the Americas, Vol. 15, No. 3, "South Atlantic Triangle." Latin trade at work in Namibia the Southern Cone. Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia and Para- guay were all candidates for SATO membership. But the idea withered, especially in the aftermath of the Malvinas-Falklands war. In 1983 Argentina voiced strenu- ous objections to the landing of 250 South Africans to work on a British air base in the contested islands, de- spite assurances by Pretoria (which had professed neutrality during the war) that the government had not been involved in their hiring. The following year South Africa's ambas- sador to Argentina spoke of his gov- ernment's continuing support of a South Atlantic pact, but acknowl- edged that "the idea seems to be a divisive factor which makes the countries that would have to partici- pate uncomfortable." SATO's last truncated version proposed to include Chile, South Africa, Britain and the U.S. Latin America has found in South Africa a convenient and cheap source of credit, as well as a willing cus- tomer for its armaments. Those Latin leaders who may genuinely condemn the white regime choose to look the other way in less public matters of commerce. And since there has been little outcry in the region, Latin America's involvement with South Africa may well continue to grow.

Tags: South Africa, arms trade, Foreign Policy, apartheid

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