Ibero-American News Digest
Brazil Inaugurates Industrial-Scale Nuclear Enrichment
On May 5, Science and Technology Minister Sergio Resende presided over the inauguration of the first industrial-scale production at Brazil's uranium enrichment plant, operated by the state-run Nuclear Industries of Brazil (INB), O Estado de Sao Paulo reported May 6. The enrichment centrifuges now in operation will produce only 2% of the fuel used by Brazil's two nuclear plants, Angra 1 and 2, but Resende emphasized that this marks Brazil's first step towards nuclear self-sufficiency. By 2015, Brazil intends to produce 100% of the fuel required for those two plants, and a third, yet to be built, Angra 3.
Resende compared this small beginning with the inauguration of Brazil's first offshore oil platform in 1984, which only produced 50,000 bpd. Today, Brazil produces 2 million bpd, reaching oil self-sufficiency only last month with the inauguration of its latest offshore oil platform.
The investment in uranium enrichment will pay for itself in ten years, "but the significance for our country's sovereignty is much greater," Resende told the press. "If the international nuclear situation worsens, and there were to be a pact between countries to not supply uranium to other countries, we would become dependent."
The minister emphasized two other points:
(1) The centrifuge technology developed by Brazil's navy, which is employed in the new plant, is almost four times more economical and productive than traditional technologies used in the U.S. and Europe; and
(2) He is sure that after Bolivia's nationalization of its oil and gas industrywhich has been met with a wild propaganda campaign inside Brazil about how this "threatens" Brazilthe government as a whole now recognizes the urgency of having a diversified energy base. Brazil's long-mothballed third nuclear plant, Angra 3, must be built, Resende stated. With the increase in the price of oil, and the uncertainty of other energy sources, "I have no doubt that the nuclear component in our energy grid is going to increase." Resende has been fighting to override the opposition to completing Angra 3 from environmentalists and small-minded penny-pinchers in President Lula da Silva's cabinet.
For more on the regional drive for industrialization, see this week's InDepth: "Argentina: Infrastructure for General Welfare, Not Profit," by Cynthia Rush).
Brawl in Brazil Over Bolivia's Nationalization
"Brazil's policy will never be that of the stick, but that of the Good Neighbor," Foreign Minister Celso Amorim stated emphatically on May 9, making unmistakably clear which President Roosevelt he would have Brazil line up with. This is the third or fourth time Amorim has slammed those who continue demanding a "tough" response from Brazil to Bolivia over Bolivia's renationalization of its energy industry. Bolivia, said Amorim, is a country with whom Brazil has one of its longest borders; it "is a country with which we have to integrate ourselves one way or the other. We integrate for the good, or we integrate for bad, with the drug trade, guerrillas. and contraband."
Teddy Roosevelt's legacy in Brazila current centered in the early 20th Century around TR's ally, the founder of the Brazilian diplomatic corps Baron of Rio Brancohas reared its ugly head in recent days, with demands that Brazil respond "forcefully" to Bolivia's nationalization of Brazil's quasi-state oil company, Petrobras.
President Lula and Amorim have felt it necessary to reject military action against Bolivia. "What do you want me to do, invade Bolivia and force them to choose the price which I want?" Amorim angrily asked on May 5. Negotiations on the price of Bolivia's gas will occur, but they should be done in such a way that Bolivia "does not feel plundered ... as happened so frequently in the past, where their natural resources were taken out without any value added, without leaving anything for the country."
For his part, Lula repeated on May 8 that Brazil "is not going to retaliate against a country which is infinitely poorer than Brazil, a people more hungry that the Brazilian people." Bolivian President Evo Morales acted because 92% of the Bolivian people voted in a plebiscite in 2005 to nationalize the gas [industry]. We have to help. As Amorim noted on May 5, many of "these people who demand toughness many times were very flexible and even excessively flexible with demands from the great powers."
Germany Promises To Continue Aid to Bolivia
German Minister for Cooperation and Development Aid Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (SPD) defended Bolivia's right to nationalize its oil and gas: "Every country has the sovereign right to decide how to organize its natural resources sector.... No European country would accept influences from outside on such a decision," she told Der Spiegel, according to a report in Bolivia's El Deber on May 6. "To threaten Bolivia with freezing development aid is an error and counter-productive," she added, even as she called on Bolivia to continue to offer attractive conditions for foreign investment.
Wieczorek-Zeul had just been in Bolivia, and met with President Morales. She told DW-World (according to El Deber) that, "Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, and therefore it is one of the most important partners for Germany's cooperation.... With the election of Evo Morales, the first Indian President, a historic change has occurred. There is the possibility that the new government will introduce a determined policy of fighting poverty, which we want to support." It is important that Bolivia use its natural resources to develop the country. And, she said, it is not true that Morales wants to freeze the fight against drugs, despite her skepticism over his "Coca, Yes; Cocaine, No" plan, since separating coca from the cocaine trade is not practicable.
Bush Team to South American Nations: Let's You and Him Fight
In the wake of Bolivia's nationalization of its hydrocarbons industry on May 1, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States and long-time Project Democracy "Latin America hand" John Maisto is visiting the Presidents of Argentina and Brazil this week, hoping to get their governments to turn against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to thus bust up the informal "Presidents Club," which has managed, despite everything, to move continent-wide integration efforts forward. Maisto's argument is reportedly that "moderates" like Brazilian President Lula da Silva and Argentina's Nestor Kirchner must attempt to freeze out Chavez's influence within the region, which is being blamed for everything, from problems inside Mercosur and the Andean Pact, to Bolivia's action.
Wall Street and London are nervous that they are losing control. On May 8, the New York Times described the attacks on privatization and free trade in Ibero-America as "a tide" that the U.S. can do little to stem. Inter-American Dialogue President Peter Hakim told the Times: "It is a genie that is not going to be put back in the bottle." Hakim suggests that, lacking region-wide support for its free-trade policies, Washington will have to attempt to influence the region "on a country-by-country, issue-by-issue basis."