Brazil's leader pledges to build nuclear arsenal
Lula da Silva revives Cold War fears in Washington
Brazil's newly elected president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, has promised
to expand the military in Latin America's
largest country and turn Brazil into a nuclear power.
Mr. da Silva, a left-wing populist who campaigned on promises to improve
conditions for the country's vast
population of poor, promised military leaders he will forego Brazil's adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty and refocus efforts on building up nuclear weapons.
"Why is it that someone asks me to put down my weapons and only keep
a slingshot while he keeps a cannon
pointed at me?" said Mr. da Silva, addressing a group of high-ranking military officers in Rio de Janeiro earlier
"Brazil will only be respected in the world when it turns into an economic, technological and military power."
In addition to nuclear weapons, Mr. da Silva, who takes over the Brazilian
presidency on Jan. 1, has pledged
support for a plan that would see Embraer, a Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, begin producing a new jet fighter
and missile technology capable of competing with the U.S. F-16.
Mr. da Silva did not make clear why the country needs nuclear weapons
in a region where no other country has
a similar program. He also did not address how Brazil, which has been promised a US$30-billion loan from the
International Monetary Fund to bail out its floundering economy, would pay for the program.
Analysts suggest Mr. da Silva made the pledge to win support from the
military, which remains a powerful force
in Brazil and has traditionally looked with suspicion on leftist politicians.
The spectre of nuclear weapons emerging under a leftist government in
a country with a population of more than
175 million has rekindled Cold War anxieties in Washington. Mr. da Silva, a former union leader and Communist,
is close to both Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, the firebrand president of Venezuela.
He has on several occasions attended conferences with Latin American
terrorists, such as the FARC guerrillas of
Colombia and the Tupac Amaru rebels in Peru. Mr. da Silva has been friends with Mr. Castro for more than 25
years, has praised him as "a great hero" and urged the United States to lift its trade embargo against Cuba.
In 1990, Mr. Castro and Mr. da Silva established the Forum of Sao Paulo,
a group of highly-placed Latin
American leftists who organize annual conferences to debate issues. Last year the conference was held in
Havana and featured members of the FARC, which has waged a long civil war with the Colombian government
and is largely financed by drug smuggling.
Also in attendance were high-ranking members of Tupac Amaru, who were
responsible for the 1996 hostage
taking at the Japanese Embassy in Lima.
"A new terrorist and nuclear/ballistic missile threat may well come
from an axis including Cuba's Fidel Castro and
a newly elected radical president in Brazil, all with links to Iraq," said Constantine Menges, a senior fellow a the
Hudson Institute in Washington and former member of the U.S. National Security Council.
In a recent letter to George W. Bush, the U.S. President, a group of
12 Republican congressmen warned that Mr.
da Silva's position on nuclear weapons was a matter of "grave concern." So far, the White House has made no
comment on Mr. da Silva's ambitions.
"The fact that Lula associates with the worst elements of Latin America
should make clear that this is no
moderate," said Paul Weyrich, chair and chief executive of the Free Congress Foundation in Washington. "He
may be wearing suits these days, but his politics could end up putting Brazil in a straitjacket."
Mr. da Silva already faces severe financial problems. He has promised
extensive social reforms for the poor,
who make up more than a third of the population, and needs to reassure foreign investors who fear the
government will default on the country's US$250-billion debt. Stock markets in the country have plunged and the
Brazilian currency, the real, has fallen sharply in recent months on fears of an economic meltdown.
Mr. da Silva has promised to adhere to the strict budgetary restrictions
imposed by the IMF as a condition of the
US$30-billion bailout. But, among his own economic advisors, there is little consensus on what the primary focus
of a Workers' Party government economic policy might be.
Between 1965 and 1994 the Brazilian military worked to develop nuclear
weapons and designed two atomic
bombs. The country was reportedly on the verge of testing a nuclear device when the program was shut down by
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was elected president in 1994.
The program also brought Brazil into alliances with Iraq and China,
which sold enriched uranium to Brazil and
has invested in the Brazilian aerospace industry. In several campaign speeches, Mr. da Silva said he would
welcome a closer relationship with China.
© Copyright 2002 National Post