Brazil’s Rousseff, mulling jet deal, touts defense


Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is deliberating a multi-billion dollar jet fighter deal, defended the need to spend money on defense at a time when she is making big budget cuts in other areas.

Rousseff’s comments at a military ceremony in Brasilia are one of the clearest signs to date that she could move forward soon on a deal to buy at least 36 fighter jets from either U.S.-based Boeing , France’s Dassault Aviation or Sweden’s Saab.
“A totally developed Brazil will need equipped, trained, modern Armed Forces,” Rousseff said. “Defense cannot be considered a lesser element on the national agenda.”

Some critics have suggested that Rousseff should postpone the purchase of the warplanes until 2012 or later given that she just announced $30 billion in cuts in other areas to cool Brazil’s booming economy, Reuters reports.

Yet Rousseff told the audience it would be a “big mistake” to consider spending on upgrading military technology to be an “idle effort.”

Rousseff said that Brazil needs a strong military to defend its new offshore oil reserves, as well as guarantee the security of the vast Amazon region.

The aircraft deal has become one of the most hotly disputed trade and diplomatic issues under Rousseff’s administration, which took office on Jan. 1. She has cast the deal as a way to modernize Brazil’s Air Force as well as consolidate strategic partnerships over the coming decades.

Rousseff’s recent actions and declarations have indicated she is leaning toward purchasing Boeing’s F-18, and U.S. President Barack Obama pushed the deal on a visit to Brasilia last month.

However, Dassault and Saab have also expressed confidence that their bids are stronger, especially on transfers of proprietary technology that Rousseff has said are crucial to her decision.

To defuse criticism of her budget priorities, Rousseff could announce the winner of the tender in coming months but defer any expenditures until 2012, or seek financing that would lessen the short-term blow of the purchase to government accounts.