RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had trouble remembering the name of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, but he said today he supports what it’s doing.
“What’s it’s name? Viki-leaks? Like that?” Lula asked an audience in Brasilia, seeming to go off-text during a speech about infrastructure. “To WikiLeaks: my solidarity in disclosing these things and my protest on behalf of free speech.”
In the two minutes he discussed the website that has embarrassed the U.S. government by releasing a trove of secret diplomatic cables, Lula described the organization’s jailed founder, Julian Assange, as a champion for free expression. Assange was arrested in London this week on sexual-assault charges — accusations he has dismissed as a smear orchestrated by powerful critics. Lula echoed this interpretation.
“I don’t know if they put up signs like those from Westerns saying, ‘wanted dead or alive,’” Lula said. “The man was arrested and I’m not seeing any protest defending freedom of expression.”
Leaked cables dealing with Brazil have not so far caused much of an uproar. Several detail American diplomats’ irritation with what they called Brazilian officials’ reluctance to take tough public stands on terrorism.
“This sensitivity results, in part, from their fear of stigmatizing the large Muslim community of Brazil or prejudicing the area's image as a tourist destination,” then-U.S. Ambassador Clifford Sobel wrote in a 2008 message. “It is also a public posture designed to avoid being too closely linked to what is seen as the U.S.’ overly aggressive War on Terrorism.”
In a cable released this week, Sobel told Washington that Brazil’s defense minister, Nelson Jobim, revealed during a private breakfast that the then-secretary general of Brazil’s foreign ministry, Samuel Guimaraes, "'hates the United States' and is actively looking to create problems in the relationship.”
Another leaked cable relayed an anonymous Red Cross official’s raw appraisal of the unchecked violence in Rio de Janeiro’s slums, or favelas. “It is his assessment that the situation in many Rio favelas today is, for all practical purposes, a full-blown internal armed conflict, and not simply an urban crime problem,” Rio de Janeiro’s American consul general, Dennis Walter Hearne, wrote on Nov. 3, 2009. “He makes a compelling case.”
In his remarks today, Lula did not appear to address any of the leaked cables specifically but instead criticized the U.S. government’s public condemnation of WikiLeaks.
“Instead of blaming the person who disclosed it, blame the person who wrote this nonsense,” he said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the scandal we now have.”