Brazil largely ignoring bloody Colombia war
SAO PAULO, Brazil - A question that is rarely raised in diplomatic
circles but has always bugged me: Why is Brazil -- the biggest country
America, and increasingly a regional leader -- hiding under the bed when it comes to helping find a solution to the bloody war in neighboring Colombia?
The question came to mind last week, when Brazil sent a low-profile
delegation to the Aug. 7 inauguration of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
would have imagined that, given its international activism and geographic proximity, Brazil would have sent a top-level delegation to the inauguration
ceremonies. But it didn't.
Uribe's inaugural address was attended by the Presidents of Venezuela,
Ecuador, Argentina, Panama and Honduras, and by the foreign ministers of
these countries plus those of France, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. By comparison, Brazil sent the president of its Supreme Federal Tribunal.
Granted, Uribe's inaugural speech was one of the most boring
I've heard recently. He started out reading a list of distinguished guests
that was so long
that CNN International -- which I was watching in Brazil -- cut off its live broadcast amid the endless recitation. But I doubt Brazilian President Fernando
Henrique Cardoso would have known in advance that he faced a soporific speech.
The fact is that Brazil has always treated the war next door
almost as if it didn't exist. The 38-year leftist insurgency in Colombia
claims 3,500 lives a
year, creates tens of thousands of refugees and increasingly spreads violence and drug trafficking to Brazil and other neighboring countries. Yet Brazil
has limited its role to rhetorical statements of support for a peaceful solution, as if it were talking about some far-away conflict.
NOT A PRIORITY
None of the four leading Brazilian candidates for the Oct. 6
elections has mentioned Colombia among their foreign policy priorities.
newspapers reported the bombings that killed 19 people during Uribe's inauguration, most carried wire agency reports. Not one major Brazilian
newspaper or magazine has a full-time correspondent in Colombia.
Intrigued, I called Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Lafer, and
asked him why his country has not tried to create a Latin American regional
group to try to
mediate in the Colombian conflict -- like the Contadora group that helped solve Central America's wars in the '80s.
The foreign minister said Brazil has made such offers to Colombia,
but the Colombians never asked for help. ''We have been cautious not to
active than the Colombian administration has wished us to be,'' Lafer said, referring to the government of former Colombian president Andrés Pastrana.
Asked why Brazil didn't send a higher-level delegation to Uribe's
inauguration, Lafer said that there was an election-related legal problem:
president could not leave the country because his immediate substitutes -- the heads of the two chambers of Congress -- are running for office in the
October elections, and could thus not take his place.
Other sources say the reason this country is not more active
on Colombia is that the Brazilian military is dead-set against it, for
fears of getting drawn
into a quagmire.
The Brazilian military has two big concerns. One, that if Brazil
backs Colombia's war against the rebels -- which, by the way, has the support
overwhelming majority of Colombians -- the guerrillas would react with an escalation of political kidnappings, bank robberies and drug trafficking inside
The second one is that, if Brazil becomes more active in diplomatic
efforts to mediate in the Colombian war, it would have to publicly criticize
the $2 billion
U.S.-financed Plan Colombia to help fund Colombia's government forces, which would damage ties with the Washington. Either way, Brazilian
policymakers see a greater involvement as a no-win situation for their country.
But, with the ongoing escalation of the war, Brazil will not
be able to continue sitting on the sidelines. It should at the very least
lead a regional effort to
create a Contadora-like mediation group.
''No matter how hard it tries, Brazil cannot continue avoiding
taking a position on the Colombian conflict,'' says Bruce Bagley, a University
of Miami expert
on Colombia. ``If it remains silent and continues trying to keep a low profile, it will be inviting more illicit uses of its border territories by leftist guerrillas
and drug traffickers.''
I agree. Brazil can't have it both ways.
It's nice to play Mahatma Gandhi, and to leave the United States to pay the economic and political price of helping Colombia fight its narco-guerrillas.
But if Brazil really wants to be a regional leader, it will have to take on the responsibilities that come with the role.