Brazil's new leader says hungry come before weapons

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Mon Jan 6 23:50:44 MST 2003

The Cuban government has explained that preserving education, medical care,
assuring basic necessities for the population, and organizing for a popular
war against any invader, are higher priorities for national defense than
pouring desperately scarce  resources into trying to match the imperialists
jet for jet and superweapon for superweapon.  One of Lula's first moves in
office indicates that this intelligent idea may be beginning to catch on.

Cuba's decision on priorities is part of the background to Cuba's recent
signing of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty despite the treaty's
discrimination in favor of the United States and against countries like
Cuba, Iraq, Korea, Iran, and others that are potential targets of U.S.
nuclear weapons.

In addition, the cancelled aircraft purchase may signal a reduction or end
to Brazil's very modest relationship with the  U.S.-organized war against
the people of Colombia.
Fred Feldman

Brazil's new leader shelves warplanes to feed hungry

Alex Bellos in Rio de Janeiro
The Guardian

Saturday January 4, 2003,3604,868573,00.html

    Brazil's new leftwing president, Luiz Inacio Lula da
Silva, signalled the seriousness of his fight against
poverty yesterday when he delayed an important arms deal so
that he could spend the money on an anti-hunger campaign.

    Two days after he was inaugurated as the leader of Latin
America's largest country, the man known universally as Lula
held his first cabinet meeting and reaffirmed that his
government would make social programmes a priority.

    The defence minister, Jose Viegas, announced that the
previous administration's proposals to modernise the air
force with the £450m purchase of 12 fighter jets would be
put on hold for a year.

    "Funding social projects is more important in Brazil
right now," he said. "But this doesn't mean that the
purchase will be abandoned. The president has said he holds
the armed forces in high esteem."

    In his inaugural address, Lula said his initial
objective was to end hunger among the country's estimated 54
million poor, 24 million of whom live on less than $1 a day.
He has said that he will have fulfilled his life's mission
if by the end of his four-year mandate every Brazilian can
afford three meals a day.

    The political scientist Jairo Nicolau said: "I think the
decision is more symbolic than effective. The amount of
money involved is not very much for the scale of what he
wants to do."

    Lula, who is Brazil's first working class president, was
brought up in poverty in Brazil's semi-arid north-east. His
Zero Hunger project has already become the main plank of his
programme, and next week he will lead a delegation of
ministers on a three-day visit to some of the north-east's
most impoverished areas.

    Despite the country's precarious economic situation,
polls show that Brazilians have higher levels of optimism
about Lula than they had about any of the four other elected
governments since the end of the 1964-85 dictatorship.

    The jet deal was part of a £2.1bn plan in 2000, to
update Brazil's ageing air force. The contract aimed to
shore up surveillance of Brazil's vast and porous Amazonian
border to prevent incursions by Colombian rebels, and the
smuggling of drugs, weapons and timber.

    Most of Brazil's 60 current fighters - American-built
F-5s and French-built Mirages - were bought in the 1970s and
are outdated compared to those in the air forces of Brazil's
neighbours, according to John Shields, an expert on South
American defence and political affairs.

    The Brazilian contract would be the largest purchase of
fighters by any Latin American country in two decades. Mr
Viegas said the government might consider alternatives, such
as renting planes or buying used jets instead.

    Last week Mr Viegas said that Lula wanted the military
to provide planes, equipment and soldiers to help in the
anti-hunger campaign.

    The military's £4.6bn budget is scheduled to be cut by
£177m in 2003. Last year the army discharged 45,000 recruits
four months early because there was not enough money to feed
and clothe them.

    The international markets did not appear to worry that
the government's priorities had shifted towards more social
projects. The embattled Brazilian real rallied nearly 3% as
investors bet that Lula's team would pursue sound economic

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