Pinochet cloud over Straw's
Chilean defence contracts push. By JIMMY BURNS and MARK MULLIGAN
Jack Straw, who as home secretary authorised the detention and then the release
of General Pinochet, is preparing for a politically sensitive visit to Chile
to bolster a British defence industry push for contracts.
The foreign secretary arrives in Santiago a week tomorrow behind a defence
industry delegation visiting one of the biggest annual military trade fairs
in Latin America.
The delegation led by BAE Systems, Britain's biggest defence company, is
bidding hard for Pounds 1bn worth contracts being considered by the Chilean
armed forces as part of a 10-year procurement programme.
The visit, the first by a UK foreign secretary since well before the Labour
party was returned to power in 1997, is symbolic because he presided over
the controversial house arrest in October 1998 of the former dictator.
Mr Straw, who last visited Chile in 1966 as a socialist student, is still
viewed with suspicion by rightwing Chileans and the armed forces who blame
him for the 16-month detention of Gen Pinochet on human rights charges before
his return to face trial in Chile.
Anger over the detention influenced the decision last year by the Chilean
airforce to buy 16 F-16 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin of the US instead
of the Gripen combat aircraft manufactured by a joint venture involving BAE
However, subsequent British ministerial visits to Chile, led by Geoff Hoon,
the defence secretary, have recognised the country remains a stable and important
Mr Straw is thought to have been advised by his officials not to include
Buenos Aires on his trip for fear his personal security might be compromised
and nationalist feelings stirred on the 20th anniversary of the Falklands
Contracts being negotiated in Santiago include an upgrade of the Chilean
military's avionics systems, including the refurbishment of Type-22 anti-submarine
frigates - currently used by the Royal Navy.
Britain hopes to take advantage of the collapse of Chile's negotiations on
a Dollars 1.2bn (Pounds 840m) contract for four frigates with the German
shipbuilder Blohm and Voss.