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Brazzil - Brazil/USA - September 2004

Why Can't Brazil Stand Up to Bush?

Brazil's so-called Shoot Down Law was approved seven years ago
by the Brazilian Congress, but it was never enforced because the
US would not permit. By way of an imperial gesture, US president,
George Bush, is now allowing Brazil to shoot drug-carrying
planes as if he were dishing out a handout to a hobo.

Carlos Chagas

Picture More than shocking, it was humiliating the information disclosed last week by Defense Minister, José Viegas, that the President of the United States, George W. Bush, decided to grant Brazil's Air Force jets special permission to shoot down clandestine narcotrafficking and smuggling planes, within our territory.

Well gee, the so-called Shoot Down Law (Lei do Abate) was approved seven years ago by Congress; only not to have been enforced because the United States would not permit. They threatened economic and commercial sanctions in case Brazil, sovereignly, applied a decision from the Legislative.

We quietly bowed to one more American intervention over our sovereignty. Worse yet: we now celebrate the authorization, kind of like a first grade student rejoicing after being released from the teacher's punishment.

The Shoot Down Law is cruel, but necessary. Most of the drugs smuggled into the country are flown in. Troubling situations take place almost on a daily basis. Small planes loaded with cocaine invade Brazil's air space.

They are detected, and Air Force jets scramble to their pursuit. Our officers issue orders for them to land, but the orders are ignored. Often, clandestine pilots make obscene gestures and move on, and no action can be taken. Why? Because the Americans don't want…

They don't want because years ago, in Peru, the local Air Force shot down, mistakenly, an unidentified plane that—instead of carrying drugs—was transporting evangelic pastors born in the United States. The blackmail is conducted in the usual fashion: economic and commercial threats of retaliations, even cutting back on social aid programs.

Submissive, our technocrats shudder in fear and impose obedience to Washington's ukases [authoritative decrees from the imperial Russian times]. The adoption of independent postures, telling the Americans to take care of their own affairs, didn't cross the mind of the sociologist [former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso]_ as well as President Lula's considerations _ once the Shoot Down Law was passed; much less to engender reactions on our side. Because, despite more fragile, we too possess mechanisms capable of hurting them. Besides, to let drugs into the country is inadmissible.

Not to mention that the destruction of clandestine airplanes is viewed as a last resort in a series of cautious procedures, set off by radio contact, then visual, as well as all customary signaling used in aviation, including mere warning shots. Also, the order to shoot down can only be given by the Air Force commander-in-chief, no matter where he is.

Obviously, things aren't all that simple, because human lives are on the line. Smugglers and narcotraffickers, without any scruples, often take on board women and children, putting them on display through the small windows.

Each case is unique, but—at the end—rests the question of national sovereignty. In fact, sovereignty that has once again been stepped over and besmirched, now by way of an imperial gesture from George Bush, making an exception for Brazil, as if he were dishing out a handout to a hobo. All on account of the elections up there…


Certain distortions are better dealt with before swelling, even with the risk of the collapse of its effects on our shoulders. Some electoral judges are threatening to deny registration to illiterate candidates for city council and mayor. The concern demonstrated by the Judiciary in regards to the necessity for improvement in our system of representation is touching.

The Constitution is clear. All men are equal before the law. The illiterate gained the right to vote. They can express themselves politically. And if they vote, to be voted is also their prerogative.

They didn't learn to read because of pitiful social conditions in which they were brought up, never for their own fault. How can a second punishment be justified, barring them from exercising their rights as citizens?

The requirement is elitist, which makes treating it carefully crucial. When Brazil was under the imperial system, only citizens who earned a certain amount of money or whose rural properties yielded a set amount of manioc were allowed to vote or be voted. The problem is that we have been in a Republic since 1889.

Carlos Chagas writes for the Rio's daily Tribuna da Imprensa and is a representative of the Brazilian Press Association, in Brasília. He welcomes your comments at
Translated from the Portuguese by Eduardo Assumpção de Queiroz. He is a freelance translator, with a degree in Business and almost 20 years of experience working in the fields of economics, communications, social and political sciences, and sports. He lives in Boca Raton, Florida. His email:

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