Next nuclear showdown
in Western Hemisphere?

By WND Staff

While Washington is preoccupied with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a Fidel Castro protege taking power in Brazil Jan. 1 is threatening to restart the country’s nuclear bomb-building program in a direct challenge to U.S. power in Latin America.

Brazil’s new president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, swept to victory at the head of his hard-left Workers’ Party by ripping the U.S. at every turn, by promising to expand the military in South America’s largest country and by turning it into a nuclear power.

“Why is it that someone asks me to put down my weapons and only keep a slingshot while he keeps a cannon pointed at me?” da Silva asked in a speech to his generals in October. “Brazil will only be respected in the world when it turns into an economic, technological and military power.”

Brazil had a nuclear-weapons program but abandoned it when Fernando Cardosa was elected president in 1994. That program, ironically, saw Brazil forge alliances with both China and Iraq.

Da Silva has said he will work toward closer relations with China, which has already demonstrated its interest in Latin America with extensive investments and even military presence in Panama.

Da Silva received the support of the Communist Party in Brazil and is personally close with Cuban dictator Castro and Hugo Chavez, the hard-left president of Venezuela. He has attended conferences with Latin American terrorists, such as the drug-smuggling FARC guerrillas of Colombia and the Tupac Amaru in Peru. He has known Castro for more than 25 years and has praised him as “a great hero.”

Chavez, opponents say, has brought Venezuela to the verge of bankruptcy with massive spending on social programs. He has cracked down on demonstrators who say his presidency is turning into totalitarianism, while unemployment skyrockets and the national currency deteriorates. Some say the nation is on the verge of civil war, but Chavez refuses to submit to new elections.

Brazil already has a massive $250 billion debt and is depending on the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

A group of Republican congressmen wrote a letter to President Bush warning of da Silva’s nuclear threat, but, so far, the White House has not commented on Brazil’s nuclear and military ambitions.

Since his election, da Silva has issued a “clarification” of his bellicose remarks, saying he does not intend to develop nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, some in Washington are beginning to raise concerns about the potential for an alliance of Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela.

“As the United States continues to fight its war on terrorism, this development in our own back yard could represent a devastating second front,” said one military intelligence analyst.