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Brazil leader, wooing Trump, opens base to US rockets

Brazil aspirations for Alcantara faced setback in 2003

By AFP - Mar 19,2019 - Last updated at Mar 19,2019

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro shakes hands with US President Donald Trump at the conclusion of a joint news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, on Tuesday (Reuters photo)

WASHINGTON — Brazil's new right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro signed a deal on Monday to open a base to US satellite launches as he appealed for warm relations with Donald Trump on a visit to Washington.

The outspoken conservative, who will meet Trump at the White House on Tuesday, has ideological affinities with the US leader and has broken Brazilian precedent by heading to Washington, not Argentina, for his first official trip abroad.

Promoting a business-friendly approach after more than a decade of socialist presidents, Bolsonaro signed an agreement with US companies on technical safeguards to allow commercial satellite launches from the Alcantara base in the northern Brazilian state of Maranhao.

"We should be thanking God for the recent change of ideology in Brazil," Bolsonaro said at the US Chamber of Commerce.

"We want to have a great Brazil, just like Trump wants to make America great."

Alcantara is an ideal location as it lies near the Equator, decreasing fuel needs by 30 per cent. 

Brazil hopes it will take a slice of the multibillion-dollar launch market as it competes with the Kourou space centre in French Guiana.

But the deal needs approval from the Brazilian Congress, which blocked a similar agreement by former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso on the grounds that the country would lose sovereignty to the United States.

Brazilian Science and Technology Minister Marcos Pontes, who was the country's first astronaut, likened the proposed status of Alcantara to a hotel.

"Imagine that you brought technology to your room. You have the key and I, the hotel owner, can get in if necessary," he said.

Brazil's aspirations for Alcantara were set back by a 2003 explosion in which 21 technicians were killed.

Former leftist president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva signed a deal for Ukraine to launch from the base, but the deal was later terminated, with Brazil citing economic and technological developments.

Bolsonaro — whose close ties to business and agricultural interests have frightened environmentalists — said he hoped for US investment beyond the space base.

"In different areas, minerals, agriculture, biodiversity — we have immense biodiversity in the Amazon — we would very much like to have a partnership with this country that I admire," he said of the United States.

Bolsonaro said he would also speak with Trump about their joint campaign to oust Venezuela's leftist president, Nicolas Maduro.

"We cannot leave them the way they are. We have to free the nation of Venezuela. This is why we're counting on the United States to reach this objective," he said.

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