May 2003

Brazil to Say 'No, Thanks' to US

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will veto a proposal
being discussed in Congress that would allow the US military to use
the Alcântara missile launching base located in the Amazon.
According to some, with this accord, Brazilians would lose
sovereignty over their territory and get very little in return.

Dozens of entities organized a rally on May 12 in the nation's capital of Brasília to commemorate the veto of a project which would have permitted the US military to use the Alcântara missile launching base located in the Amazon. The Minister of Foreign Relations, Celso Amorim, the Minister of Defense, José Viegas Filho, and the Minister of Science and Technology, Roberto Amaral, recommended to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva that he veto the proposal which was being discussed in Congress. It is almost certain that President Lula will accept the recommendation.

The objective of the rally was to bring together people from the social movements to recognize this important victory of the Brazilian people. Last year, various entities sponsored an unofficial plebiscite on the base proposal to which Brazilians gave a resounding "No." Organizers of the act also wanted to recognize how the veto is also a victory for "quilombo" communities. (Quilombos are communities of descendants of runaway slaves. Had the accord been approved, more of these people living in these communities would have been forced off their lands).

The debate over Alcântara once again drew attention to the importance of the Amazon, which alone represents 50 percent of the national territory. Some in the debate say that this immense green space, which is currently sparsely inhabited, is at the mercy of foreign powers, especially that of the United States. The US has set up 20 military bases, which nearly encircle the Amazon. Alcântara would have completed US domination of the area.

Alcântara currently is property of the Brazilian Air Force, which planned and constructed the base in 1982. It is located three degrees south of the equator, a locale which, due to the rotation of the earth, allows rockets to be more efficiently launched into space. Scientist estimate that rockets launched from the site spend 30 percent less in fuel and can carry a bigger payload.

It is estimated that over the next four years, the telecommunication, weather and military industries will spend US$ 45 billion sending rockets and missiles into space. Had the agreement been made, Brazil would have benefited very little from this billion dollar industry. Additionally, it would have had no control over what could be launched from the base. The terms of the accord stipulated that Brazilians could only enter the area with US approval and the base could not be subject to inspection from Brazilian authorities or any other outside power.

Brief History

In 1982 the Brazilian government created the Alcântara Rocket Launch Center (CLA) in the municipality of Alcântara, state of Maranhão. and expropriated an area of 52,000 hectares. Five hundred families were affected, the majority descendants of escaped slave communities (quilombos) who lived on fishing and subsistence agriculture. Those families were moved to seven villages and granted 15-hectare lots, far from fishing access. In 1990, the Collor government increased the size of the base by expropriating an additional 10,000 hectares, giving the CLA a total of 62,000 hectares.

In October 2000, the Cardoso government signed an agreement with the U.S. government to cede the base or, in other words, the 62,000 hectares of land. Under the accord, the United States would control the area and Brazilian authorities would not even be able to monitor it. In practice, the CLA would be a U.S. military base.

Analysts warn that the real objective of the U.S. government is not just to launch rockets, but to use nuclear warheads, as a way to maintain military control of the Amazon. The geopolitical strategy of the United States in the Amazon region already includes military bases in Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia, which can benefit from intelligence provided by the Amazon Intelligence System, or SIVAM, which was set up by U.S. corporations. Consequently, what was at stake is the sovereignty of the Amazon and the control of its riches, its biodiversity and water resources.

In 2001, the agreement was evaluated by the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Chamber of Deputies. The member reporting on the agreement, PT Deputy Waldir Pires of the state of Bahia, produced a document, approved by consensus, which rejected it and proposed changes that would guarantee Brazilian sovereignty over the area. The accord was then evaluated by the Committee on Science and Technology. The member in charge of reporting on the agreement, PFL Deputy Jose Rocha of Pará, produced an evaluation in favor of the original agreement. That document was approved by the Committee.

By the Brazilian Constitution, all international agreements must be approved by Congress. The Brazilian government sent the agreement to Congress in 2002 for approval.

Sources: Brasil de Fato and Adital

This material was supplied by Sejup, which has its own Internet site:

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