Brazil's next president most likely will be an anti-American radical with an appetite for atomic bombs. Leading in the polls, Ignacio "Lula" da Silva could win either the October 6 first-round election or October 27 run-off. If so, Brazil, Venezuela and Cuba could unite in hostility to the United States.
"We must prevent a nuclear-armed Axis of Evil in the Americas," says Constantine Menges, a senior fellow in the Washington office of the Hudson Institute. Since last spring, the former advisor to President Reagan has offered spoken and written warnings of da Silva's mounting menace. "Lula's a supporter of terrorism," Menges continues. "He will, I believe, permit covert support to be given to bring about anti-American regimes in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru."
Da Silva chillingly hinted on September 13 that Brazil should resume its quest for atomic weapons. Speaking at the Air Force Club in Rio de Janeiro, he criticized Brazil's compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"I imagine this would make sense only if all countries that already have [nuclear weapons] also gave them up," the former metalworker said. As O Globo On Line reported the next day, da Silva added: "It is not fair that developed countries, who have nuclear weapons technology, demand that others not have them or deactivate what they have. All of us developing countries are left holding a slingshot while they have atomic bombs."
But Brazil clearly surpassed the slingshot. In 1975, according to a Federation of American Scientists study, Brazil "transferred technology from its power plant projects to a secret program to develop an atom bomb." Brazil's Congressional Investigating Committee discovered that the initiative was funded through covert bank accounts. It determined that the former military regime shipped eight tons of uranium to Iraq and also concluded that Brazil built but never tested a 12-kiloton atomic weapon and another 20 - 30 kiloton device. Brazil officially halted its nuclear arms program in the mid-1990s. (For details, go to www.fas.org/nuke/guide/brazil/nuke)
Why should a Brazilian bomb be more bothersome than a British or French nuke? Da Silva's comrades answer that question. He is a co-founder of the Sao Paulo Forum, a consortium of militant, often Marxist groups that huddles regularly.
The Forum "brings together all the anti-U.S. elements," Menges says. "They gather to see how they can attack America and harm democratic governments."
The Forum convened last December in Havana. Joining da Silva were Cuba's Fidel Castro, former Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega and representatives of the Argentine, Colombian, Chilean, Peruvian, Uruguayan and Venezuelan communist parties. The 400 delegates included members of Colombia's FARC and ELN guerrillas and Peru's Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, all included on the State Department's list of active terrorist groups. As Granma, Cuba's official daily, reported, Zuhair Dhaif -- chief of the Latin American Division of Iraq's Baathist Party -- participated, as did a Libyan emissary. With friends like these, why not fear a nuclear-armed Lula da Silva ?
Da Silva calls Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias "an example to emulate." Not good. Chavez, among other things, has used pseudo-legal means to consolidate power between himself and a unicameral legislature his Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement dominates. He and Castro have held numerous, private visits in and out of Cuba. Chavez hosted Castro's three-day-long 75th birthday bash in August 2001. More important, since fall 2000, Chavez has sent Castro 106,000 barrels of oil daily in exchange for Cuban doctors and sports specialists. Chavez also has conducted official missions to Libya, Iran and Iraq. Venezuelan brigadier general Nestor Gonzalez has complained that Chavez has taken a "passive" attitude toward FARC rebel camps on Venezuelan soil.
Da Silva also denounces Brazil's lenders as "economic terrorists" and threatens to default on its $200 billion external debt. Such a financial belly flop could soak the already fragile economies of Brazil's neighbors.
The election of Lula da Silva could shift Earth's eighth largest economy and its 180 million people into the "problem" column in the War on Terror. Combine Brazilian nukes with Venezuelan petrodollars and Cuban subversion, and Washington policy makers will suffer migraines for years. While the Bush Administration's plate already overflows with Iraq, al-Qaeda and homeland security matters, it better find some space for Brazil — pronto.