Bullying Brazil

The latest expression of unilateral discord by the United States against an independent international agency has put the United Nation’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the line of fire. In a move unprecedented even for the US’s frequent pressuring of the UN, the State department has called for the resignation of the current head of the OPCW, director-general, Jose Bustani, a Brazilian diplomat. Bustani has headed the Organization since first being elected its director-general in 1997.

On March 20, the WASHINGTON POST featured an Associated Press report on the conflict penned by Adalid Cabrera Lemuz. In the report, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher was said to have accused Bustani with a line of irregularities, the most serious of which include “financial mismanagement, demoralization of the technical secretariat staff and what many believe are ill-considered initiatives.” Yet neither Boucher nor any other senior Washington or New York official provided further explanation or examples of the problems cited.

The Brazilian foreign ministry disputed Boucher’s charge, emphasizing that the federal government in Brasilia, “considers that Bustani has conducted himself with a sense of responsibility and correctness.” American pressure on Bustani led to an executive committee no-confidence vote held in The Hague (where the Organization sits) on Friday, March22. Bustani survived the vote by a narrow margin.

These are the basic players in this affair. Against a background of diplomatic discretion and downplay, the consistently objective American press has not hesitated, once again, to establish the norms by which interpreting this discord is to proceed.

To get a better idea of what’s at stake it might be interesting to start by examining the OPCW’s mandate itself. Created in 1997 from a treaty banning chemical weapons, the OPCW is the offspring of the various UN missions to Iraq to control what, the US has claimed, is Sadam Hussein’s manufacturing of “weapons of mass destruction”. 145 nations are part of the Organization, which operates on an annual budget of about $60 million a year. The Associated Press writer deems it important to point out that the US foots about 22 percent of that bill, though this year it is behind in paying its dues by 50%. We should keep both of these figures in mind to understand how funding for the US means controlling.

Wednesday’s report included Boucher’s denial on the US demand being related in any way to the organization’s conclusions on Iraq’s weapons-making capacity. On Friday March 22, however, another Associated Press writer, reporting from The Hague, cites an unnamed “senior U.S. official” who claims that Bustani had sided with severe criticism of U.S. arms export policy, though he declined to be more specific. This is the same unnamed source who revealed and commented on the defeat of the US led no-confidence vote. In a typically Orwellian interpretation, the official claims that the executive committee of the OPCW voted “overwhelmingly” against the Brazilian director-general, even though almost as many countries abstained than voted.

Based on such an assessment, it’s obvious that the most recent American elections would have had a significantly different outcome. In fact, the final tally had 17 nations being in favor of the no confidence motion, 5 against, and 18 abstaining. In light of the arithmetic, instead of the heuristics, it’s clear why Mr. Bustani has refused to step down.

It was only a year ago that Bustani was elected for a second term as director-general of OPCW with the unanimous vote of the 145 member-nations. In an interview published in the JORNAL DO BRASIL on March 25, 2002 (<www.jb.com.br>), Bustani lists the US as the only nation complaining about his mandate. He goes on to argue that other states, such as Japan and Germany, have voted along with the US primarily for fear of seeing the OPCW dissolve under American pressure.

Part of Bustani’s mission had been to rally 58 outstanding states to join the OPCW. The skill with which he did so managed to raise membership to 145 nations. This led directly to his reelection, though the vote took place during the waning days of Clinton’s presidency. With W. Bush’s arrival in the Oval Office, Mr. Bustani observed a sharp change in cooperation form the American government regarding the mandate of the OPCW.

The initiative to have Bustani sacked was reportedly launched by John Bolton, Sub-secretary of State for Arms Control and one of the loudest voices for the go-it-alone attitude of much of the Bush Administration’s international accords. The discord may have two possible motives.

The first may simply involve frustration by American arms manufacturers with restrictions placed on future chemical weapons production and sales by the US through the OPCW’s regulations. With Bush’s men openly speaking of using small nuclear bombs to attack countries of the “axis of evil”, a ban on chemical weapons in the eyes of US military and trade planners probably looks like child’s play.

More sinister is the prospect of what now seems to be a clear preparation for an attack on Iraq, only temporarily relieved by the Arab League’s opposition voiced during its assembly in Beirut last weekend. Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has been noteworthy in leading the Arab nations to disagree with an attack on Iraq. France has voiced its opposition on the front of the European Union, and a growing cacophony is resonating from Blair’s backbenchers in Westminster. In face of this resistance, President Bush may need some type of official evidence to warrant his move. Bustani has suggested that the cooperation the OPCW received from the Iraqi government in 1999 regarding the Organization’s activities has offended the Bush Administration. Though Iraq has not joined OPCW, Bustani was able to send a team there to conduct inspections at a time when the American and British led UNSCOM finally failed. Bustani emphasized to the JORNAL DO BRASIL that “this is what the US clearly didn’t like”.

Faced with these diplomatic strong-arm tactics, the federal government in Brasilia has remained open to discussion and collaboration regarding Mr. Bustani’s future. Nonetheless, Bustani has emphasized that the OPCW is an independent, international body. He may have received Brasilia’s support, but he remains an international diplomat, as independent as his executive colleagues. In Brasilia during the week of 25 March for a Latin American and Caribbean Civil Defense congress on Chemical Weapons, he furthermore claimed to have no further links to the Brazilian embassy in Washington D.C.

Brasilia has been playing a conciliatory card with respect to the US. With its victory in breaking patents on drugs used to treat AIDS-related illnesses, yet faced with the damaging consequences of the recent tax levy on steel imports, Brazil has no stake in seeking direct confrontation with the Bush Administration. Fresh from its victory over Canadian accusations of subsidizing Embraer Enterprises, Brasilia has even been reticent to have recourse to the WTO, to the criticism of its business groups.

The tension grows nonetheless. Bush’s recent visit to Lima on a Latin American trek merely echoed the declaration made by the American Trade Representative, Robert B. Zoellick in Brasilia two weeks ago. As Clinton’s idea of a free-trade zone of the Americas is put on the burner, Bush’s men are discussing with nations piecemeal, stringing together free trade agreements when and where they can. They are doing so by sidestepping as much as possible the already existing MERCOSUR, the free-trade zone of South America, which includes Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, but is dominated by Brazil, the world’s 11th economic power. To be sure, Brasilia sees the FTAA as anathema to its economic and political sovereignty. Showing his true colors in Lima, President Bush suggested that it was up to Latin American countries to help Argentina’s dramatic economic collapse–something which Brazil and its neighbors have long been doing without the President’s dictates.

As an additional feature of the American desire for seeing the move toward open markets continue in Latin America, the fight against corruption has now seemingly become the leading buzzword. To be sure, it’s also a euphemism for the tired expression of the ‘war on drugs’, while also being a safeguard against the rise of populist, indeed popular, revolt in countries like Argentina. The Cheshire cat’s cynical grin refuses to be erased as we recall how the American Government and Big Business supported the very actors they now point to as causes of corruption–while keeping them nameless as a matter of course.

That this drawing of the Bush doctrine hardly taints the surface of the string of WASHINGTON POST/Associated Press reports may not be surprising. One cannot fail to notice, however, what helps to give context to American claims. First there’s Marcela Sanchez’s ideological slide amidst the veneer of objective reporting. She describes President Toledo’s struggle with Peruvian State institutions and coffers, rendered virtually disable by former President Fugimori, now wanted on a Peruvian extradition order from Japan, which has rejected it. (Adding insult to injury, Japan has also allowed Mr. Fugimori to publish his self-justifying memoirs.) This turbulence leads Sanchez to read the US President’s lips: “Bush can issue one other warning to current and future regional leaders: Don’t be tempted by populist measures unable to deliver the long-term benefits of <U.S.-inspired> democratic and free-market models.” In light of the US levy on steel imports, such a determined assertion triggers an unusual reaction in the reader’s conception of truth, to say the least.

All of this comes together to focus on the recent American concern with–alleged–Latin American corruption. Undoubtedly made sensitive by the recent Enron and Andersen scandals, mismanagement seems to be party to business gone wrong when it is not mixed up in drugs and other illegal exports. Which is why the timing of a WASHINGTON POST article on the Dengue Fever epidemic that has stunned Rio de Janeiro truly raises eyebrows. Dengue Fever has been creating havoc in Brazil with its worst epidemic ever. But it has been well over a month that CNN carried the first alarming report, while the POST failed to mention that the epidemic has seemed to ebb. Apart from the general feeling that Rio de Janeiro may not be among your best vacation choices right now, one word jumps out of the article, seemingly tying together the OPCW pieces of Tuesday and Friday: mismanagement. State and Federal mismanagement and wrangling in Brazil may be some of the tangible roots to the Dengue crisis. Nonetheless, few journalists have mentioned the ever-increasing role played by densely packed urban agglomerations on the onslaught of potent viruses, not to mention bug resistance to pesticide as additional causes. Human error has to be calculated here on an exponential and chaotic scale, rather than merely on the simple arithmetic of budget allocations.

From the sound of things, mismanagement is what ends up spreading its substance as the real Brazilian epidemic. But freedom of the press and critical journalistic coverage of international business practices in the fully corporate-owned US news media are among the givens that–if only in history, or better yet fiction–parents tell their children about when citing the marvels found in the land of the free. In a corporate controlled press, articles end up referring less to the facts described than cross-referring to the tacit stakes involved in exposing some facts to the detriment of others. Director-general Jose Bustani has survived the US-led assault, but where the OPCW goes next is anyone’s guess.

Canadian philosopher Norman Madarasz has edited and translated Alain Badiou’s Manifesto for Philosophy, available at SUNY Press. He lives in Rio de Janeiro and can be contacted at n–madarasz@hotmail.com.