|F-16s parked at a Colombia air base.|
Still, the newspaper's account of meetings in Colombia and the United States sounded convincing.
Colombia's existing warplanes, made in Israel and Brazil, are aging. But does Colombia really need new warplanes?
Peace negotiations between the government and FARC guerrillas appear to be advancing. With a peace agreement potentially near, it seems that at a minimum the government should wait before making a big arms deal.
|An F-16 in flight.|
And there are no prospects of war with any of Colombia's neighbors. A few years ago, when the Venezuelans were making war noises, their tanks broke down on the way to the border. Colombia didn't take even Venezuela seriously enough to mobilize its own military, and analysts predicted that Colombia would come out ahead in any conflict.
The real point here is what Colombia would have to give up to buy these warplanes. The news reports don't specify how many planes Colombia might buy. And, F-16s vary in price from a few million dollars for used ones, to $80 million when training and additional equipment is included. And, a warplane of course requires a crew, fuel, maintenance and someplace to park, meaning that purchase is only the beginning of its costs.
Placing a round, somewhat arbitrary number on the rumored deal, I'll price it at $150 million, which might buy between four and six planes. That's roughly 300 billion (300 thousand million) Colombian pesos (talking U.S. billions, which are equivalent to one thousand million).
To put that in context, the city of Bogotá's most recent budget alloted only 5,000 million pesos for the environment and half that for the sports and recreation. Arts received 2,500 million pesos.
Military weapons, of course, can be useful. With all of its human rights violations, Pres. Alvaro Uribe's offensive did weaken the FARC guerrillas enough to force them to enter the ongoing peace negotiations with the Colombian government.
But today, with the country's armed conflict perhaps near its end, might it not be better to invest the F-16 money in schools, hospitals, environmental protection and economic development? You could even argue that more work and classrooms for young people is a good military strategy, since it keeps them out of the guerrillas and other outlaw organizations.
But the military boys must have their toys, and I suspect that Colombia's brass will get their airplanes.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours