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Brazilian Nuclear Ambitions?

By Jaylan Boyle, Contributing Reporter

Brazilian Vice President José Alencar, photo by Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr.
Brazilian Vice President José Alencar, photo by Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr.

RIO DE JANEIRO – Incendiary remarks from Brazilian Vice President Josá Alencar last month regarding the country’s nuclear ambitions have provoked speculation that Latin America may soon cease to be the world’s largest nuclear-free region.

Although confirming that Brazil currently does not have plans to build atomic weapons, Alencar said that “we should advance on that”. He also remarked, “The nuclear weapon, used as an instrument of deterrence, is of great importance for a country which has 15,000 kilometers of border to the west and a territorial sea where oil reserves have been found.”

In the same speech, Alencar championed nuclear weapons as a means of empowering Brazil with more “dissuasiveness” and “respectability”, and seemed to suggest that other emerging nations such as Pakistan, viewed largely by the west as a potentially rogue state, had gained the world’s attention “precisely because it has a nuclear bomb.”

The government has however moved to distance itself from the Vice President’s comments. Adriano Silva, Alencar’s aid, called the remarks “personal opinions”, and pointed out that Brazil’s constitution prohibits the construction of nuclear weapons.

Defense Minister Nelson Jobim immediately joined the chorus of denial, reiterating that Alencar’s opinions are not the official position of the government. “It was a mistake on the Vice President’s part,” he said.

Alencar’s comments could be seen as mystifying and somewhat embarrassing in their timing, coming as they did on the same day that the U.N. Security Council passed a unanimous resolution aimed at ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide.

Alencar is not the first Brazilian official to express a desire to join the nuclear community. General José Benedito de Barros Moreira made similar comments in 2007.

Jobim and the government are making no secret of the country’s intention to pursue a program of nuclear development for peaceful purposes. The initiative will include a transfer of French technology in procuring a nuclear-powered submarine, as previously reported in The Gringo Times.

The submarine will be used to patrol Brazil’s considerable offshore wealth, and forms part of a military regeneration program initiated by the Lula government. Terrestrial nuclear power generation is also firmly in the government’s sights.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, right, with Lula, and Bolivian President Evo Morales, photo by Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, right, with Lula and Bolivian President Evo Morales, photo by Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr.

Director of Florida International University’s Latin American and Caribbean Center, Cristina Eguizabal, has said that observers should take the Defense Minister at his word: “Brazil’s foreign policy project is one of becoming a respected regional power, but not an anti-systemic pariah,” she warned.

Commentators however have speculated that Alencar’s comments may reveal clues as to the thinking of factions within the government, who may have a nervous eye on regional developments to the west.

A recent nuclear accord between Venezuela and secretive Iran is being watched closely, with President Hugo Chavez openly admitting that the country is helping Iran explore uranium possibilities in Venezuela, but for “peaceful purposes only”.

The assertion caused skepticism in Columbia. “We are very worried, and I can’t refrain from saying so, that nuclear war be brought to our neighborhood,” said President Uribe recently.

Most analysts predict that Brazil will stick to the ‘straight and narrow’, but some are saying that if the cooperation between Venezuela and Iran continues to be shrouded in secrecy, as Iran’s domestic program currently is, Brazil may be forced to re-think its position.

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