Falklands impact: quicker Latin steps toward democracy, military spending

Powerful political waves from Argentina's defeat on the Falkland Islands continue to wash over South American shores.

The post-Falklands political forces are in part positive, said Latin American analysts meeting here for the 12th world congress of the International Political Science Association. Pressures to replace military regimes with elected leaders -- the so-called re-democratization movement -- have been heightened.

But the Argentine defeat will also likely boost military spending in Latin America -- at a time of deep recession and high unemployment, and as steady population growth is hampering economic development.

The Reagan administration's Latin American policies, characterized by regional experts here as off the mark in concept and fumbling in execution in the glare of United States Falklands diplomacy, are seen as requiring radical recasting.

''There is no clear political victory in this war,'' says Walter Sanchez, director of the Institute for International Studies at the University of Chile. ''The only clear winner is the arms race.''

In the case of Latin America, the Falklands war created a number of crises within the Southern Cone.

''It is clear now that Chile and Brazil need to improve their defense systems , particularly in aircraft,'' Mr. Sanchez says. ''They need to improve their air and naval support.

''They are going to find the money someplace -- and that will cause internal problems,'' he adds. ''Foreign debt will increase. We may see a proliferation of the military-industrial complex in both countries. Because of this, the pressures for democratization are going to increase very much, from all groups in society.

''In Argentina the military defeat, instead of uniting the country, is going to polarize the country,'' Mr. Sanchez says. ''For the next election, the Peronist faction can probably take over power again -- if the elections are carried out. That will move the country again into fragmentation of political parties. . . . The two main groups, Peronists and non-Peronists, will polarize again, opening the way again for future military intervention.''

In Chile, the Falklands conflict appeared to unite political groups behind a neutralist policy. (Another factor may be longstanding antagonism between Chile and Argentina.) The war also showed the Chilean public that military rule is not the best strategy for national defense, analysts say.

Chile has scheduled a presidential election for the 1990s. In the next two years, analysts here say, Chile will likely move more quickly toward democratic rule to help secure military aid from democratic countries.

This view, however, is not shared by all Latin American specialists. Other political analysts see military influence strengthening in Latin America -- in Chile and Uruguay, for example. The expected increase in military spending will likely give the armed forces in these lands more political power.

''As an inter-American conflict, the Malvinas (Argentina's name for the islands) fighting showed no clear support for Latin America in Europe and the US in time of crisis,'' says one Latin American analyst. ''Chile, Colombia, and the US did not endorse Argentina's quest.''

The South Atlantic region is likely to become more volatile, experts here say. Prospects for any military link between South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile now appear remote. Concern about regional unrest is rising in Chile, Uruguay and South Africa.

At the same time, the transition from authoritarian to democratic rule has been hastened, South American political analysts at the Rio meeting said.

The re-democratizing process began in Peru in 1979, followed quickly by Ecuador. Brazil holds elections in November - with presidential balloting slated for late 1983 or early 1984.

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