SAO PAULO, Brazil (Dec. 18)
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait has put an end to more than a decade of Brazilian military cooperation with Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a retired head of Brazil’s intelligence agency.
Col. Carlos Cunha, a retired former senior operative of the Servico Nacional de Informacoes, said President Fernando Collor de Mello has ordered national companies to end their military collaboration with Iraq, which reportedly began when Brazil was ruled by a military junta and continued throughout the civilian administration of former President Jose Sarney.
Military cooperation with Iraq was a boost to the Brazilian economy and a reason why Brazil voted consistently for anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations, explained Cunha, who used to be in charge of foreign affairs.
Brazil sold over $4 billion worth of arms and other products to Iraq during the 1980s, which helped reduce its own $22 billion debt to Baghdad, Cunha said.
The Brazilian military rulers also reportedly signed a secret agreement to sell Iraq 100 tons of uranium. According to the daily Jornal do Brasil, the two countries embarked on a joint nuclear project aimed at creating an atomic weapon.
But the project fell through in 1981 when it was exposed and denounced in the local and international press.
Cunha said the main target of Collor’s order was a private corporation, HOP, owned by retired Brig. Hugo Piva. Before the invasion of Kuwait, HOP helped Iraq develop the air-to-air Piranha missile and improve the performance of the Scud missiles Iraq purchased from the Soviet Union.
Cunha said contacts between Brazil and Iraq started after the first Arab oil embargo in 1973. The Brazilian military government was trying to assure a reliable supply of oil, and the Iraqis were looking for new vendors of weapons, industrial goods and technology.
“It’s easy to understand the success of that cooperation,” Cunha said. “Iraq agreed to exchange oil for industrial goods, and this helped to reduce the enormous Brazilian foreign debt.
BLIND EYE TO NUCLEAR PROJECT
“By that time, Brazil started to become more independent in the military area. It developed its own military industry, renounced the nuclear treaty with the United States and signed a parallel nuclear agreement with former West Germany,” Cunha explained.
He said Israel had lobbied Brazil to reduce its military links with Iraq, to no avail.
Trade between the countries increased in the 1980s under the impact of the second oil crisis. A national construction company called Mendes Junior developed many projects in the Middle East.
Officially, Brazil sold Saddam Hussein’s regime Urutu and Cascavel armored cars.
But according to Jornal do Brasil, Brazilian military experts turned a blind eye to Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, which the Israelis destroyed in a bombing raid in June 1981.
A private Brazilian company, Natron, was called in by Hussein to build a uranium dioxide plant in Iraq, but Natron backed out because of high cost projections.
Before the deal was canceled, the Iraqis asked the Brazilian firm not to send any Jewish technicians to their country.
According to Cunha, when the government stopped the Piranha missile project, Piva was invited by the Iraqis to continue the project in Iraq with his own crew of military technicians.
But Collor de Mello finally put a stop to it, Cunha said.
After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the international blockade, all Brazilian companies left Baghdad with big losses, Cunha said.