US efforts to encourage Brazil to move toward a more civilian form of government after 20 years of military rule deserve support. It is important that the most powerful nation of the Americas ultimately be on good terms with the most populous country of the Southern Hemisphere.
The agreements between the two nations, signed early this week, mark another step forward in bilateral accord, although they do contain one disquieting item.
Brazil by itself is aiding the process of improving relations by its continued move, albeit slowly, in the direction of democracy. Many Brazilians, however, are showing through street demonstrations that they seek prompter action and more direct public participation. Under existing plans a president will be chosen next January by the electoral college, in which the military is extremely influential; protesters want a direct election.
Relationships between the two nations hit a low seven years ago when the Carter administration in effect charged Brazil with violations of human rights and, among other responses, suspended US export of weapons to it. Although some government contacts did continue during the Carter years, the situation took a definite upswing when Ronald Reagan became President.
In December of 1982, he visited Brazil: The two nations at that time established commissions to work toward accords in various fields - cultural, scientific, economic, educational, military. These finished agreements the two nations have now agreed to.
But one part of the accords is particularly troubling: the new US willingness to give Brazil sophisticated technical knowledge to aid its arms industry. In the last few years Brazil has gone from an arms importer to a major arms exporter, now the world's sixth largest. This provides it with income that is much needed in view of its economic difficulties, which include a $93 billion foreign debt, the world's largest.
But two of Brazil's weapons customers are Libya and Iraq, both of which the US views with suspicion. Libya is also believed a prime trainer of international terrorists. Brazil has assured the US that no sale of products which involve American technical knowledge will be made until Washington specifically approves it. Yet even that promise is not wholly reassuring in the long run, given the identity of two of Brazil's customers. Before long the growing complexity of armaments can be expected to cause many weapons systems to incorporate aspects of this technical knowledge. Naturally Brazil will want to continue its sales - and then what?
Overall, however, the US efforts in behalf of encouraging Brazil toward civilian government are worthy of strong support from the American people.