- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2005

SAO PAULO, Brazil

An 18-month-old military agreement between Paraguay and the United States is viewed with skepticism in Brazil, but analysts say concerns are overblown.

The Paraguayan Congress endorsed the accord four months ago.

Influential newspapers in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia generally have denounced the agreement as intrusive Washington politics.

President Bush and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will meet at the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina, next week to discuss money laundering, counterterrorism policies and other issues for the Triple Frontier region shared among Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.

Mr. Bush is scheduled to meet with Mr. Lula da Silva in Brasilia after the summit, sources in the Brazilian capital told The Washington Times. The meeting has not been announced officially.

Arab influence

Since the early stages of its war on terrorism, the Bush administration has said the Triple Frontier region near Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, generates funds for Hamas and Hezbollah, though ties to terrorist activities remain unsubstantiated.

Documents found during U.S. military operations in Afghanistan reportedly included photographs of Paraguay and letters received from Arabs living in Ciudad del Este, a city of 150,000 people, of whom 10 percent are Arabs, Paraguayan officials said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, interviewed on TV Cultura in Sao Paulo on Oct. 3, warned Brazilian viewers of the U.S. military presence in South America. Mr. Chavez suspects the Bush administration is using its war on terrorism as a cover to counter populist political movements in South America.

Opponents of the U.S.-Paraguayan accord do not trust official claims by both sides that the United States does not plan to take over an airstrip it built in 1982 in the Chaco region in northern Paraguay.

Paraguay’s Foreign Ministry told the Brazilian government in writing on July 7 that “the national government did not sign any accords with the U.S. government for establishing an American military base.”

The air base, located in Mariscal Estigarribia, is large enough to handle B-52 bombers and C-5 Galaxy cargo planes, but is being used only as a runway for small planes owned by local farmers.

Mariscal is 434 miles from the Triple Frontier and 186 miles from the Brazilian border. The surrounding area is mostly forest.

Skeptics point out that the United States and Ecuador said the same thing about a supposed military base in November 1999, only to sign a 10-year agreement with the U.S. Air Force soon after.

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