Brazil Open to Hosting US Military Base

SAO PAULO (AP) -- Brazil is open to hosting a U.S. military base to counter Russian influence in the region, the South American country's new far-right president said.

Jair Bolsonaro, who took office on Tuesday, is a fan of U.S. President Donald Trump and a fierce critic of Venezuela's socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

In the interview to the SBT network Thursday night, Bolsonaro said he is worried about Russia's closeness with Venezuela. In December, the two countries held a joint training mission in Venezuela that was criticized by U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

"My approximation with the United States is economic, but it could also be warlike," said Bolsonaro, adding the base would be "symbolic" since American military power can reach any part of the globe.

"Depending on what might happen in the world, who knows if we might have to talk about it (a U.S. base) in the future," the former Brazilian army captain said.

On Friday, asked by journalists in Brasilia about his openness to hosting a U.S. base, Bolsonaro said: "I have the American people as a friend."

The possibility of a U.S. base in Brazil was not openly discussed during Pompeo's recent visit to Brasilia. Bolsonaro did not clarify where in Brazil he would like to see an American base.

American and Brazilian military forces collaborated between 1941 and 1945, a partnership that included an air base near Natal.

Then U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt called Natal — the closest point in the Americas to Africa — the "Trampoline to Victory" during World War II because it kept allied troops in Africa supplied. During part of the war, the Brazilian costal town had one of was the busiest airports in the world.

Since then, Brazil's top leaders, including the generals during Brazil's 1964-1985 dictatorship, have frowned on the idea of having American bases in the South American country.

Former Brazilian national security secretary Jose Vicente da Silva believes such a base could be advantageous.

"We have a long cooperation, especially with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). The Americans have concerns in the Amazon because of drug trafficking. Brazil has American technology to monitor borders and could obtain new technologies," Da Silva told The Associated Press.

In Thursday's TV interview Bolsonaro praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Hungarian colleague Viktor Orban. Both attended his inauguration in Brazil's capital.

Bolsonaro reiterated his decision to move Brazil's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but did not offer a timeline.

Bolsonaro also reiterated his plans for a presidential decree that would make it easier for Brazilians to legally own guns. Bolsonaro argued it was necessary for people to defend themselves.

While legal gun ownership is restricted, drug traffickers and other criminal groups are often heavily armed with automatic weapons.

Brazil is the world leader in total annual homicides. Last year, nearly 64,000 were killed, many from firearms.