Merchant of Death
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Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Lula and Latin America
There are times when Hugo Chávez just can't help but let his less appealing side peak out, as he recently did by publicly praising the convicted terrorist Carlos the Jackal, AKA Ilich Sanchez Ramirez during a speech Friday night saying: "I defend him. It doesn't matter to me what they say tomorrow in Europe."

While Chávez has a long history of praising terrorists and sponsoring them, particularly those who hate Israel, he is feeling particularly emboldened because Chávez and his Iranian counterpart and recognized recognized state sponsor of terrorism Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have scored a major victory.

After years of refusing to do so and behaving as a responsible international citizen, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has not only sided with Iran on the issue of nuclear power, but has agreed to meet with Ahmadinejad in an embrace Lula says he is honored to host.

Lula should know better than to squander Brazil's new international prestige on such a meeting, and has faced internal protests by his own people who can't stomach Ahmadinejad's racism, hatred, anti-gay, Holocaust-denying views.

But Ahmadinejad's statement that "Iran and Brazil have a common vision about the situation in the world and are determined to develop their cooperation" makes one wonder what Lula is thinking. And Lula did not publicly dispute Ahmadinejad's always-close to the surface hatred of Israel, when the Iranian president added: "If the Brazilian people and the Iranian people are united on issues such as the Zionist regime's cruel attack on the defenceless people of Gaza, this will show a mutual desire for peace."

Many (myself included) had hoped that Lula would use his international and natural stature to stand up to the bullies who are fomenting armed revolutions and terrorism in Latin America like Chávez and his chief strategist, Ahmadinejad.

As a socialist labor leader with strong democratic credentials and the good sense to not try to change the constitution to stay in power indefinitely (a clear lesson to Chávez, Uribe in Colombia, Morales in Bolivia, Correa in Ecuador etc. etc.), Lula has been positioned to be a significant counter-weight to the authoritarian, anti-democratic tendencies of his neighbors.

However, he appears to be unwilling to confront Chávez and his Bolivarian allies on the fundamental rule of law questions or the support of armed groups across the continent. Now he appears willing to embrace a significant state sponsor of terrorism by welcoming Ahmadinejad, after being the first head of state to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his fraudulent electoral victory. A pretty sad record in the end.

Chávez, as I have often noted, is closely allied with Iran in part in the hopes of acquiring the capabilities to wage asymmetrical warfare against the United States, a capacity that Iran can provide through Hezbollah. Iran, in turn, wants to have financial institutions to avoid international sanctions and diplomatic ties across Latin America as a way to avoid total international isolation. So far, both sides seem to be benefitting from the alliance.

What is far less explicable is what Brazil could possibly hope to gain by hosting Ahmadinejad. Brazil does have a significant (and unlike Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador) and somewhat transparent commercial relationship with Iran. Lula has also hosted Israel's president with far less fanfare, perhaps in an effort to blunt some of the damage Ahmadinejad's visit will bring.

Lula has placed himself on the side of authoritarian thugs who sponsor terrorist groups. Not an inspiring performance at the end of what could have been a remarkable term in Brazilian history. Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), who chairs a House subcommittee on Latin America, told the BBC last week that Brazil's invitation was "a serious mistake." Indeed.
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