Brazil's Election Could Trigger Left-Wing Surge in South America

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

( - As Brazilians prepare to elect their new president Sunday in a run-off election, a Latin American expert believes a victory by leftist candidate Lula da Silva could produce a domino effect in South America that could evolve into a dangerous strategic alliance against the United States.

Most experts think da Silva will win Sunday's election in a landslide. A recent opinion poll showed he had the support of 66 percent of Brazilians.

Dr. Constantine Menges, a specialist from the Hudson Institute and former national security advisor to President Ronald Reagan thinks Lula could form an axis with Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and provoke a left-wing political surge in South American countries like Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and even Argentina.

He disclosed his findings in a study entitled "A Strategic Warning: Brazil."

"The political effects of an eventual victory of the leftist Workers Party in Brazil could be worse than the economic effects," Menges said. "A Castro-Chavez-Lula axis would be formed, capable of pushing other South American countries to the left and of establishing a dangerous strategic alliance with Communist China as well as Iran and Iraq," he added.

Lula has been an admirer and friend of Cuba's Fidel Castro for 25 years. In August, Chavez, Venezuela's president since 1998, told foreign reporters at a press conference that Lula "is a great man," and predicted a victory by the left in Brazil.

"Changes are coming step by step on this continent. I think about it day and night," Chavez said at the time.

Ian Vasquez, director of the Project on Global Economic Liberty at the Cato Institute thinks the type of alliance Menges refers to is a "worst case scenario" and not necessarily a "given outcome."

"It's too early to tell whether that's something to be overly concerned with, mostly because both Chavez and Lula are being elected based on populist economic rhetoric," said Vasquez.

"Their populations were tired of the old regimes. Many Latin American governments basically are bankrupt or getting close to it and Brazil may be in that very situation as well," Vasquez said. But Vasquez doubts such a scenario would unfold. "I think that that's overblown," he said.

"I think we should be concerned about the rhetoric and the ideology of the three leaders (Lula-Castro-Chavez) but I don't think that that's a given outcome. To pull off such an ambitious project you need resources and you need the support of the population. If that is the project, then it's more ambitious than reality will likely allow," Vasquez said.

While Lula has tried to portray a moderate image, that is merely an electoral facade, Menges said.

Lula was quoted in the influential Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de Sao Paulo, last September as saying, "Our victory will be able to change much in the region, and will have repercussions in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Colombia."

Later that month, O Globo, another Brazilian newspaper, reported that Lula expressed his opinion that Brazil should withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"If someone asks me to disarm and keep a slingshot while he comes at me with a cannon, what good does that do?" Lula was quoted as saying.

A Vox Populi opinion poll taken earlier this month showed Lula with 66 percent support, well ahead of Jose Serra, the candidate from the current ruling coalition.

Lula is a former lathe operator and former labor union leader. This is his fourth run for the Brazilian presidency.

In Ecuador, retired Army Col. Lucio Gutierrez garnered the most votes in the Oct. 20 elections, but not enough to avoid a run-off with Alvaro Noba, who finished second. The run-off contest between Gutierrez and Noba is set for Nov. 24.

Vasquez concluded that, "the future of Latin America is more likely to be demagoguery and mediocrity rather than the alarming scenario."

But Menges thinks the United States and "other democracies" must give immediate and serious attention to Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia."

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