- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

SAO PAULO, Brazil, March 19 (UPI) — Several South American leaders have spoken out against the imminent U.S.-led attack on Iraq, adding to the growing international divide regarding the Bush administration's decision to go ahead without the support of the U.N. Security Council.

Following President Bush's address Monday in which he called for the exile of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his kin, several governments in this region issued statements condemning the move — saying it would be ultimately detrimental to the well-being of the United Nations and set a dangerous precedent for future confrontations.

The most vocal opponent of military action against Iraq was Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who since his Jan. 1 inauguration has evolved into a regional leader whose opinions regarding international affairs are widely respected and supported in South America.

Lula slammed Bush for his decision to ignore the U.N. Security Council and go ahead to oust Saddam for not complying with U.S. demands, and for the U.S. promise to bring democracy the currently dictatorial state.

"In my opinion, his speech disrespected the United Nations, by not taking into account the Security Council or the opinion of the rest of the world," said Lula, "I think that is serious."

The Brazilian president who made his reputation as a union leader during the military dictatorship that Brazil was subject to in the mid-'60s to the mid-'80s went on to point out that Iraq's failure to comply with U.N. resolutions that called for the nation's disarmament after the 1991 Gulf War was every U.N. members concern, and not just that of the United States.

"The American government is transforming the war into an eminently American problem," he said. "We all want Iraq to be free from atomic weapons, weapons of mass extermination and we all want the world to live in peace. Now, this doesn't give the United States the right, by itself, to decide what is good and what is bad for the world."

Other South American leaders followed suit and have expressed sentiments similar to that of the Brazilian president. A spokesman for Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde expressed his disappointment with the Bush administration's decision to move ahead without the approval of the Security Council.

The economically and politically strife-torn nation has also been the scene of large anti-war demonstrations in the last month, as the majority of its population is vehemently against an invasion of Iraq.

In Chile, President Ricardo Lagos not only lamented the gearing up of the U.S. war machine, but the failure of the Security Council itself, of which Chile is currently a member.

"We have arrived at this solution because among the 15 members of the Council of Security we were not able to find a solution — therefore we should regret that, but not condemn ourselves," Lagos said Tuesday.

Not all South American nations have denounced the U.S. move toward war with Iraq. Bolivia and Colombia — which receives U.S. aid for its struggle against leftist rebels — have backed the Bush ultimatum.

Latin America — at one-time professed priority for the White House — has been on the administration's back burner since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Now it appears with the advent of war in the Middle East, it is destined to stay there until the United States is satisfied that it has introduced lasting democracy in Iraq, or barring that, a government friendly to U.S. interests in the region.

That is to say that no one in these parts should hold their breath waiting for the Bush administration to recognize regional issues for a long time. But the continuing effort to wage war against terror organizations and their alleged supporters could prove detrimental to U.S. and South American interests in this hemisphere, namely trade.

The U.S.-led Free Trade Area of the Americas — an attempt to eliminate barriers to trade and investment among 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere by 2005 — is set to enter a critical phase of negotiations in upcoming months.

In February, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick announced the initial details of the U.S. offer to eliminate tariffs and trade barriers, receiving a chilly response by the Brazilian government and media.

The FTAA is not very popular in the Lula administration.

The Brazilian president has called the hemispheric trade bloc "annexation politics" and has expressed his determination to not allow Brazil to join under the currently proposed plan, which that does not lift enough trade restriction for Brazilian exports to the United States for Lula's liking.

Brazil is proposing to improve regional trade ties via the Mercosur trade bloc so member nations can negotiate the FTAA with the United States as a singular body capable of standing up to American bullying.

Now, with war on the horizon due to the U.S. decision to disregard the Security Council, the moniker of bully gains even greater credence, feeding the growing animosity among South America's leadership who feel their opinions as U.N. members should carry the same weight.

But from the perspective of some South American leaders, that doesn't seem to be the case. They were sidelined by the war on terror and its appears they'll stay there until the United States is good and ready to give them the benefit of its time and attention.

Regardless of the circumstances, that's just bad politics on the Bush administration's part, a move that will haunt them in months and years to come when dealing with the likes of Lula and his fellow leaders.

If the United States has any interest in salvaging what was once a promising future with this continent, it would behoove Bush to direct some attention to his hemispheric neighbors even if his primary interests are half a world away.

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