Armoured vehicles to Colombia?

The Harper government is clearing the path for the sale of Canadian-made light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the government of Colombia.

The revelation was made by Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Joseph Lavoie earlier this week in a letter to the editor explaining the recent addition of Colombia to Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List (Joseph Lavoie, “Appropriate uses only,” Ottawa Citizen, 8 January 2013):

The change in question was required to allow for the export of light armoured vehicles from a Canadian company to the Government of Colombia.

The company in question would be General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada of London, Ontario, which manufactures light armoured vehicles both for the Canadian government and for export.

[Update: According to a military industry website (“Army of Colombia has selected the LAV III 8×8 armoured vehicle for its mechanized infantry units,” ArmyRecognition.com, 29 December 2012), the Colombian government has decided to order an “unconfirmed total” of 40 Canadian-made LAV IIIs.

Update 2: General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada acknowledged this afternoon that the company has received a $65.3 million (U.S.) contract to supply 24 LAV IIIs to the Colombian Army. In a press release sent out within hours of Ceasefire.ca‘s post, the company’s senior vice-president and general manager for International Operations is quoted as saying, “We are proud to have been selected by the Colombian military to meet their armoured vehicle requirement and look forward to establishing a long-term relationship with this very important customer.” (“General Dynamics Awarded $65 Million by the Colombian Ministry of National Defence for Light Armoured Vehicles,” GDLS-C, 10 January 2013).

Does this mean more LAV contracts to come? GDLS-C clearly hopes so.]

The prospect of a lucrative arms sale explains not only the addition of Colombia to the Automatic Firearms Country Control List, but also the earlier conclusion of a memorandum of understanding on defence co-operation with Colombia (Jessica Hume, “Canada, Colombia strengthen defence relationship,” London Free Press, 17 November 2012).

An internal armed conflict has been underway in Colombia since the 1940s, and paramilitary death squads with ties to the Colombian government, and the government itself, have consistently been linked to extrajudical executions and other human rights violations, as noted in reporting by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and even the U.S. State Department.

The Canadian government has long claimed that Canada’s arms export regulations “closely control” the export of military equipment to human rights violators and countries in or facing imminent armed conflict. But those rules often seem to lose their force when sizable contracts are at stake–as they did in 2011 when the Harper government’s “principled” foreign policy managed to accommodate billions of dollars of LAV sales to Saudi Arabia even as LAVs the Saudis had bought from Canada earlier were helping to crush pro-democracy demonstrators in neighbouring Bahrain.

Further coverage:

David Pugliese, “You’re Wrong — Canada Isn’t Selling Assault Rifles to Colombia. It’s Selling Them Light Armored Vehicles Instead, Says John Baird’s Office,” Defence Watch blog, 11 January 2013

Ken Epps, “Colombia orders armoured vehicles from Canada,” Project Ploughshares blog, 11 January 2013

Photo credit: DND

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