Brazil currently has 110 aging jet fighters to patrol 5 million square miles, including most of the Amazon Basin and a vast new offshore oil field, the cable from the Paris U.S. Embassy said. While it didn't call it a Latin American arms race, the cable noted that Chile has 29 advanced F-16s and Venezuela 24 modern Sukhoi 30s.
Referring to Venezuela's president, the cable said, "With Hugo Chavez recently buying over $3 billion in aircraft, tanks and assault weapons from Russia, Brazil also seeks to enhance its regional military capabilities."
As the competition heated up early last year, the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia urged high-ranking U.S. officials to become more involved and to press the case for the F/A-18. A cable to the State Department in early January 2009 noted that the only one buying the Rafale was the French air force.
"French representatives have tried to spin the Rafale's dismal performance in the global market to be the result of U.S. government political pressure rather than the aircraft's shortcomings," the cable said, adding that the FX2 decision will only "marginally be based on price and Brazil is most interested in using the purchase to bolster its domestic defense industry."
Several months later, another cable from the embassy in Brasilia warned that U.S. government support for the F/A-18 sale was "lukewarm at best," as the Rafale sale was being managed "directly" out of Sarkozy's Cabinet and support for the Gripen came from the ministerial level in Sweden.
"We need to take steps to erode the French political edge," the cable said.
The cable also said there were Brazilian concerns that even if the F/A-18 were selected, the State Department would block the sale because it involved the export of sensitive technology, and financing could become an issue because the U.S. Export-Import Bank can't finance defense sales.
By the summer of 2009, President Barack Obama had raised the issue with Lula, and other U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and James Jones, the national security adviser at the time, had weighed in with the Brazilians.
In the fall of 2009, with a visit to Brazil by Sarkozy looming, the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia was getting skittish again. Sarkozy had met with Lula four times in 2008, and in 2009 the two also held four meetings.
The Brazilians also were wondering whether the U.S. decision to block the sale of Embraer's Super Tucano to Venezuela because it carried sensitive U.S. technology was a sign that there would be problems with the export of F/A-18s. Embraer is Brazil's largest aerospace company, and the Super Tucano is a turboprop light attack aircraft.
By the beginning of this year, the Brazilians were expressing renewed interest in the F/A-18.
"There remains, however, the formidable obstacle of convincing Lula," said a January cable from the embassy in Brasilia.
The USS Carl Vinson, carrying a deck full of F/A-18 Super Hornets, arrived in Rio de Janeiro in February in what was seen as an effort by the U.S. to show off the Boeing jet fighter.
A cable in early February said the FX2 sale came up during a meeting between new U.S. Ambassador Thomas Shannon and Brazil's deputy foreign minister.
That's where the trail of WikiLeaks' released cables ends.
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