Brazil: Former 'terrorist' gets US travel visa, praises Obama

A Brazilian who, as a student in 1969, helped kidnap the US ambassador to Brazil was granted a visa. Paulo de Tarso Venceslau is now an economist.

What do Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize and a Brazilian ex-"terrorist" have in common?

Very little on the surface. But the Brazilian's new status in the eyes of the US government may be another sign to critics of this year's Nobel award: The emperor really is wearing peace beads and a tie-dye T-shirt.

Some Russians say US President Barack Obama is thawing a 'second cold war.' Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres gushed as he congratulated Mr. Obama for last Friday's Nobel win: “You provided the entire humanity with fresh hope.”

And there's now this quirky kicker: A Brazilian student radical who kidnapped the American ambassador in 1969 says the newest Nobel peace laureate seems to be making amends with him, too. The US granted him a travel visa.

Paulo de Tarso Venceslau had already been turned down three times by the American consulate. The reason? They said he was a "terrorist."

It was 40 years ago last month that Mr. Venceslau, current congressman Fernando Gabeira, Franklin Martins (a minister for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva), and their group of radical students held US Ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick hostage for four days. The group, known as Revolutionary Movement 8th October (MR-8), demanded the release of 15 political prisoners held by the Brazilian military dictatorship. It worked.

But in the years since, none of the MR-8 companheiros of Venceslau had been granted visas to the US, according to the Rio de Janeiro daily O Globo. Mr. Martins sends a substitute whenever President Lula travels to the US.

Congressman Gabeira was delighted by Venceslau's news.

“I was very happy to see the United States looking forward and overcoming these old resentments. They’re good signs, including this Nobel for Obama,” he told the paper.

Gabeira – who wrote the screenplay for the 1997 internationally popular film about the kidnapping, “Four days in September” - has also been denied a visa three times.

Has the Obama administration changed its policy toward these former "terrorists" in Brazil?

Certainly, the the perception of the kidnappers in the eyes of the American and Brazilian public has long-since changed. When Mr. Gabeira, now a respected writer and politician, ran for mayor of Rio de Janeiro last October – and nearly won – the late ambassador's daughter herself said she supported his campaign. Valerie Elbrick told The New York Times that were she not working for Obama, she would likely be working for Gabeira.

But the US consulate in São Paulo denies that giving Venceslau a visa was any sort of policy change. OK. But it does appear to be part of a pattern of travel restrictions quietly being lifted by the Obama administration. Exhibit B: Travel between the US and Cuba is taking off, the Miami Herald recently reported.

In any case, what does a former radical-underground-operative-turned-economist want with a US travel visa? Venceslau says he's planning a January vacation. He told O Globo:

I didn’t believe it. Usually I didn’t even get to the first window [at the consulate]. When I passed by and the guy from the consulate asked me why I wanted to go, I said, “To hear a bit of jazz in Chicago and New Orleans and to pass around cultural centers in New York.” Then he consulted the computer, looked at the paperwork and said: “It’s granted.” I thought: “I don’t believe it. Will these be new times? Did Obama really changed things?”

O Globo added:

Asked if he would repeat the kidnapping, [Venceslau] emphasizes that the times are different and analyzes that Obama started a positive transition for the world.
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