Wednesday, August 7, 2002

A new terrorist and nuclear weapons/ballistic missile threat may well come from an axis including Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the Chavez regime in Venezuela and a newly elected radical president of Brazil, all with links to Iraq, Iran and China. Visiting Iran last year. Mr. Castro said: “Iran and Cuba can bring America to its knees,” while Chavez expressed his admiration for Saddam Hussein during a visit to Iraq.

The new axis is still preventable, but if the pro-Castro candidate is elected president of Brazil, the results could include a radical regime in Brazil re-establishing its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs, developing close links to state sponsors of terrorism such as Cuba, Iraq and Iran, and participating in the destabilization of fragile neighboring democracies. This could lead to 300 million people in six countries coming under the control of radical anti-U.S. regimes and the possibility that thousands of newly indoctrinated terrorists might try to attack the United States from Latin America. Yet, the administration in Washington seems to be paying little attention.

Brazilians will hold presidential elections in October, and if current polling is any guide the winner could be a pro-Castro radical with extensive ties to international terrorism. His name is Luis Inacio da Silva, the presidential candidate of the Workers Party who is currently at about 40 percent in the polls. The Communist candidate is second with 25 percent and the pro-democratic contender is at about 14 percent.

Mr. da Silva makes no secret of his sympathies. He has been an ally of Mr. Castro for more than 25 years. With Mr. Castro’s support, Mr.da Silva founded the Sao Paulo Forum in 1990 as an annual meeting of communist and other radical terrorist and political organizations from Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. This has been used to coordinate and plan terrorist and political activities around the world and against the United States. The last meeting was held in Havana, Cuba in December 2001. It involved terrorists from Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, and sharply condemned the Bush administration and its actions against international terrorism.

Like Mr. Castro, Mr. da Silva blames the United States and “neo-liberalism” for all the real social and economic problems still facing Brazil and Latin America. Mr. Da Silva has called the Free Trade Area of the Americas a plot by the United States to “annex” Brazil, and he has said that the international lenders who seek repayment of their $250 billion in loans are “economic terrorists.” He has also said that those who are moving their money out of Brazil because they fear his regime are “economic terrorists.” This gives a hint about the kind of “war against terrorism” his regime will conduct.

Brazil is a vast, richly endowed country, nearly the size of the United States with a population of about 180 million and the world’s eighth largest economy (with a GDP of more than $1.1 trillion). It could soon become one of the world’s nuclear armed powers as well. Between 1965 and 1994, the military actively worked to develop nuclear weapons, it successfully designed two atomic bombs and was reportedly on the verge of testing one nuclear device when a newly elected democratic government and a Brazilian congressional investigation caused the program to be shut down.

That investigation revealed, however, that the military had sold eight tons of uranium to Iraq in 1981. It is also reported that after Brazil’s successful ballistic missile program was ended, the general and 24 of the scientists working on it went to work for Iraq. There are reports that with financing from Iraq, a nuclear weapons capability has been covertly maintained contrary to directives from the civilian democratic leaders.

Mr. da Silva has said Brazil should have nuclear weapons and move closer to China, which has been actively courting the Brazilian military. China has sold Brazil enriched uranium and has invested in the Brazilian aerospace industry, resulting in a joint imagery/reconnaissance satellite.

Brazil shares common borders with 10 other countries in South America. This would help da Silva to emulate as he has said he would the foreign policy of the pro-Castro and pro-Iraq Chavez regime in Venezuela, which has provided support to the communist narco-terrorist FARC in Colombia as well as other anti-democratic groups in other South American countries. Hugo Chavez worked with Mr. Castro to temporarily destabilize the fragile democracy in Ecuador two years ago. Now both support the radical socialist leader of the cocaine growers, Evo Morales, who hopes to become president of Bolivia this August.

Along with helping the communist guerrillas take power in the embattled democracy in Colombia, a da Silva regime in Brazil would be well situated to aide communists, narco-terrorists and other anti-democratic groups in destabilizing the fragile democracies of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, as well as to exploit the deep economic crisis in Argentina and Paraguay.

Further, a da Silva regime is likely to default on its debt, causing a sharp economic downturn in all of Latin America, thereby increasing the vulnerability of its democracies. This could also trigger a second phase of economic downturn in the United Staes as export markets contracted.

A Castro-Chavez-da Silva axis would mean linking 43 years of Fidel Castro’s political warfare against the United States with the oil wealth of Venezuela and the nuclear weapons/ ballistic missile and economic potential of Brazil.

Come our own elections in November 2004, Americans may ask: Who lost South America? The United States was politically passive during the Clinton administration, when it ignored the pleas of Venezuela’s democratic leaders for help in opposing the anti-constitutional and illegal actions of Mr. Chavez and also ignored his public alliances with state sponsors of terrorism. Why can’t the Bush administration act before 20 years of democratic gains in Latin America were allowed to be reversed? Why can’t anything be done before a vast new southern flank is opened up in the terrorist threat and our nation menaced by one more radical anti-American regime intent on acquiring nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles?

This disaster for U.S. national security and for the people of Latin America must and can be averted if our policy makers act quickly and decisively, but they must do so now. Timely political attention and actions by the United States and other democracies should include encouragement for the pro-democratic parties in Brazil to unify behind an honest, capable political leader who can represent the hopes of the majority of Brazilians for genuine democracy and who has the resources to mount an effective national campaign.

Constantine C. Menges, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, is a former National Security Council member.

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