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Dilma To Houston, Brazil Aims To Relaunch Space Program With US Boost

After doing business with both Saddam Hussein's Iraq and China, Brazil's space program is going back to where it started: NASA.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks at the White House on June 30, 2015
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks at the White House on June 30, 2015
Matias Spektor


SAO PAULO — The Brazilian space program was born in 1961 thanks to American support. It never recovered from its demise during the following decade, and it's clearer now than ever that a successful space program can only happen with renewed cooperation with Washington. Which is why Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's visit to NASA this past week was fortuitous.

In the 1960s, NASA indeed trained engineers, sold equipment and transferred propulsion technology and fuel for rockets, on top of providing assistance in the meteorological tests area.

But it all fell apart starting in 1977, when Brazil launched its own rocket construction program, which the Pentagon believed could be diverted to assemble missiles. The fact that Brazil later signed contracts to produce military reconnaissance satellites and missiles with Saddam Hussein's Iraq didn't help either.

The United States imposed commercial sanctions as a result and pressured France and Russia into suspending cooperation contracts they had signed with Brazil. In response, Brazilian authorities by seeking Chinese cooperation for the launch of satellites and invested in construction of satellite launch vehicles (VLS).

But the space program never took off. All three attempts to send a VLS rocket into orbit failed. The last one in 2003 cost 21 lives.

For more than 20 years, it's been clear that the solution to these problems lies in renewing Brazilian cooperation with the United States.

And for that to happen, Brazil has the perfect trump card: the Alcantara Launch Center on the northeastern coast, in the state of Maranhao. The site could be leased in exchange for the recipe necessary to execute the space program that's existed only on paper for so long.

For this project to happen, we need a safeguard agreement with the Americans, who already dominate the global launch market.

Former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso tried to do just that. Negotiations were tough at first. Washington was asking that Brazil nullify its contracts with countries that hadn't signed on to the Missile Technology Control Regime, which would have benefited American companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin. They also asked that Brazil abandon the construction of its own launch vehicle.

The American government also presumed to block Brazilian access to their launchers. Brazil's foreign policy mobilized some of its best leaders to try and turn the tables.

In 2000, after months of difficult talks, negotiators finally reached common ground. Brazil would limit its access to American launchers, but in compensation would be allowed to develop its own launch vehicle and decide whether to authorize any demand to use Alcantara for American launches.

But when the agreement came, Workers' Party lawmaker Waldir Pires launched a devastating attack against the plan, denouncing the agreement as a Trojan horse giving the U.S. control over the Alcantara site and an "affront to Brazil's sovereignty." His criticism featured on the front pages of all the newspapers and magazines and was backed by lawmakers from a broad political spectrum, even among some in the then-governing right-wing Social Democracy Party.

Since then, Brazil has tried to resurrect Alcantara in partnership with Ukraine. But the plan petered out because there is simply no viable launch market without a general agreement with the United States.

Everybody in Brazil knows that the future of the space program is entirely dependent on Brasilia and Washington reaching a deal. Now that President Dilma Rousseff has restarted the dialogue, it's about time we launch a whole new series of negotiations.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Finally Time For Negotiations? Russia And Ukraine Have The Exact Same Answer

The war in Ukraine appears to have reached a stalemate, with neither side able to make significant progress on the battlefield. A number of Western experts and politicians are now pushing for negotiations. But the irreconcilable positions of both the Russian and Ukrainian sides make such negotiations tricky, if not impossible.

photo of : Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, presents a battle flag to a soldier as he kisses it

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky presents a battle flag to a soldier at the Kyiv Fortress, October 1, 2023.

Ukraine Presidency/Ukrainian Pre/Planet Pix via ZUMA
Yuri Fedorov


The Russian-Ukrainian war appears to have reached a strategic impasse — a veritable stalemate. Neither side is in a position at this point to achieve a fundamental change on the ground in their favor. Inevitably, this has triggered no shortage of analysts and politicians saying it's time for negotiations.

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These conversations especially intensified after the results of the summer-autumn counteroffensive were analyzed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valerii Zaluzhny, with not very optimistic details.

Though there are advances of the Ukrainian army, it is mostly “stuck in minefields under attacks from Russian artillery and drones,” and there is a increasing prospect of trench warfare that “could drag on for years and exhaust the Ukrainian state.”

Zaluzhny concluded: “Russia should not be underestimated. It suffered heavy losses and used up a lot of ammunition, but it will have an advantage in weapons, equipment, missiles and ammunition for a long time," he said. "Our NATO partners are also dramatically increasing their production capacity, but this requires at least a year, and in some cases, such as aircraft and control systems, two years.”

For the Ukrainian army to truly succeed, it needs air superiority, highly effective electronic and counter-battery warfare, new technologies for mining and crossing minefields, and the ability to mobilize and train more reserves.

China and most countries of the so-called global South have expressed their support for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Meanwhile in the West, certain influential voices are pushing for negotiations, guided by a purely pragmatic principle that if military victory is impossible, it is necessary to move on to diplomacy.

The position of the allies is crucial: Ukraine’s ability to fight a long war of attrition and eventually change the situation at the front in its favor depends on the military, economic and political support of the West. And this support, at least on the scale necessary for victory, is not guaranteed.

Still, the question of negotiations is no less complicated, as the positions of Russia and Ukraine today are so irreconcilable that it is difficult to imagine productive negotiations.

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