Interview with Admiral Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva (2017)

Renata Dalaqua
Nov 8, 2017 · 8 min read

Here is a translation of the interview Admiral Othon Pinheiro gave to Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. It is the first time he speaks up after being released from jail.

To get a background on his arrest and the recent troubles affecting the Brazilian nuclear energy program, you can check the article written by Togzhan Kassenova: “Turbulent Times for Brazil’s Nuclear Projects”.

The original of the interview is here. It is quite colloquial, with a lot of slang and idiomatic expressions. If you spot a mistake or has a better translation for the interview, just let me know.

Folha — How did you became close to the constructing company Andrade Gutierrez?

Almirante Othon — In 1994, when I went to the reserve, the first thing I did was to take part in a selection process with to the Nuclear Research Institute of CNEN (National Nuclear Energy Commission).

There were two vacancies for researchers. I competed with 16 doctors and took first place.

But we were in 1994, in a phase of intense globalization. And I was not called. My appearance is of a nationalist. And I really am.

Since it did not work, I set up a consulting company, Aratec. In early 2004, a comrade from Andrade Gutierrez, Mr. Marcos Teixeira, appeared there.

And what did he want?

He said, “We [the contractor] have a 1982 contract [for the civil works at the Angra 3 nuclear power plant.] We barely started working on the foundation and it was cut short.”

They thought that I could help [in the resumption of works], for having military influence. I said “I do not have it any more, I left [the Navy] a long time ago”. Then came the idea of doing a study for them.

I was not in the government and I did not think I was coming back [Othon was invited to chair Eletronuclear a year later in 2005].

The Prosecutor’s Office considered that the study signed by you for Andrade Gutierrez was weak and understood that it was fictitious.

It is a total lack of knowledge or a desire not to recognize [the importance of work]. It were years of thinking about Brazil.

What happened in the country, and what was I talking about in my study? Energy consumption grew and the water supply of the hydroelectric plants stagnated in the 1980s. Before that, Brazil could go through several “dry” years because it had a water supply. But that changed and the blackout came.

Brazil now needs thermal energy on its basis.

Thermoelectric plants have to be [moved by] coal or nuclear [fuel] And nuclear is better for us because we have [uranium] reserves corresponding to 50% of the pre-salt.

We have to take advantage of what nature gives us.

Oh, if I had more [nuclear]. The cost of the investment is higher but the fuel cost is lower [than other alternatives].

In the case of the hydroelectric plant, the cost [of fuel, water] is almost zero. And in the case of nuclear, it is small.

If I have nuclear energy, I save water and I do not get it [blackout]. Nuclear energy does not compete with the hydroelectric plant. It complements it. That was what the study showed.

Then you went to the government and the work of Angra 3 was resumed.

In July [2005], I knew there was a list [in Lula’s government] to choose the president of Eletronuclear. I did not want it.

But then I did the greatest nonsense of my life. I was invited. The vanity kicked in and I accepted it. In October 2005, I took the position.

And how did you get money from the contractor?

Everything I did back then [when I was a consultant] was based on success.

And it coincided that I went to the government and there was the decision [to resume Angra 3].

Who made this decision was the National Council for Energy Policy, of which I was not a member. As president, I just followed the guidelines.

But I came to do justice [to the remuneration] to the work [study for Andrade] that I did before.

How much did you receive?

I charged R$ 3 million in December 2004 figures [the Federal Police says the Admiral received R$ 4.5 million in updated figures].

I began to get payed after the decision to resume the construction.

As it was a completely different thing, they said, “Let’s pay through other companies.” Then it was another crime.

If it were today, I would demand from them [Andrade Gutierrez] a debt confession contract so that they would pay me only after I left. I would not get it while in charge.

I had the right, it was a job I did before. It was not immoral nor illegal. Only with today’s experience would I have done it differently

The Prosecutor’s Office and the Justice considered it as bribe.

It was not a bribe, it was not. I thought I had the right to receive. Now, I was careful not to make any decision [which would benefit the contractor], there is no official act signed by me.

We had [Andrade and him] even initial frictions, because I demanded that the TCU [National Audit Office] approve the details of the additives [for the payment of the service in the works of Angra 3].

They got very angry. I was a disappointment with them. There were other differences, the construction work came to a halt. Wow, if I had a connection with them, would that have happened?

Company officials said that you actually charged a percentage of Angra 3’s contracts.

Andrade already had a grudge against me. And the plea bargain is a very damn process. The guy thinks he is pleasing [the investigators] and gets tough. He has no commitment.

You say that your arrest is in the interest of the international system. What evidence is there?

How did all this start? In a testimony that the president of a contractor gave about a contract with Petrobras.

He mentioned that he heard something about the Eletronuclear president agreeing to a cartel.

This served as a pretext for comrades to scour my life since I was a boy. There was a direction.

But is there an external command of the investigations?

Not a command, but strong, ideological influence. I cannot prove it but I have a very strong feeling. There was an international interest.

And why should there be an international interest in your arrest?

Because everything I did [in the nuclear area] annoyed. What is the biggest news you have today? North Korea and its nuclear activities. The nuclear field generates rejection in the international community.

And Brazil being a nuclear power is displeasing. Of that I have no doubt.

There are sectors that believe that Brazil should develop an atomic bomb. Has the country done well giving it up?

I think it did. The nuclear artifact is a weapon of mass destruction and inhibits concentration of force. But in our case, if we had the bomb, we would disturb Latin America, raising apprehensions.

And the last thing we need in Latin America is a clash.

The country, however, did not give up the technology. If necessary, how soon would we make a bomb?

In about four months. With the enrichment technology we use, we can make the bomb with plutonium, like Nagasaki’s, or with uranium, which was that of Hiroshima. We have both because whoever has enriched uranium can have plutonium too.

Returning to the investigations, you were accused of contributing to the devaluation of Eletronuclear.

When I took over, it was called a firefly. In a few years, it was among the best performing plants in the world.

The stocks went up. How, then, did I contribute to devaluate stocks? None of this was taken into account in my judgment.

My past has served as an aggravating factor. I got five extra years in jail because, if I had that past, I had to behave [exemplary]. This is the first time that an antecedent has become an aggravating factor. Unblemished past life became an aggravating.

It is there, written [in sentence]. Just read it. I read it. It gave me such great revolt … [get up from the table, cry].

How was the story of your suicide attempt?

How was that? [He cries more. Drink water]. I was arrested and saw on television that I was sentenced to 43 years in prison. I thought “the guys went crazy”. And another 14 years for my daughter [Ana Cristina]. And she did nothing.

I felt despair … it’s not despair. It’s revolt. A deep revolt. I wanted to get attention. And I thought, “I’m going to make an act of revolt.”

I gathered the laces from my shorts and with them I was going to hang myself. Through the chamber, the officer saw and [prevented it]. 15 minutes later she would not have caught it anymore.

At the time I got really angry. But then I saw it was silly. They would bury me and in three days it would all be over. Am I going to play the Japanese, confess guilty? No. Today I think I have to stay alive and fight.

Have you resisted arrest?

At 6 am, I was asleep; two guys [police officers] came screaming into my apartment. I went up against them. I’ve been trained for this my whole life.

They said I was armed. Is not true. I have a gun, but it’s locked in a drawer.

But I could not resist. If I had resisted, I would die, but you can be sure that one of them would too. I trained with the São Paulo police when I was in the secret [nuclear] program. I used to shoot 200 bullets a week.

And where did they take you?

First to Curitiba and then to Rio. I was even arrested in Bangu.

There I stayed two days with [illegal bookmaker] Carlinhos Cachoeira [laughs]. We talked, watched the television, it was him, [businessman Fernando] Cavendish, six people in total.

Then I was transferred to the Navy base in Rio de Janeiro, where I stayed a year and more.

Were you alone then?

Total isolation. In the morning, I would do 25 minutes of exercise in the cell. Then I walked five miles during the sunbathing hour to which I was entitled.

An officer was escorting me. Besides this moment, I did not speak to anyone. Then it occurred to me to write a book, by hand, with pen and paper. I already finished and I intend to release it.

I ate food with a plastic spoon and fork. It’s tough, right? I learned to eat with my hands. I became Indian. And I started to watch soap operas.

And what is it like to be free again?

After going through all this, we get a bit insecure, you know? I don’t know, I keep waiting for something unexpected that I don’t know what it is [cries]. I’m getting rid of it [insecurity] now.

Also, we start to see the end of life approaching, right? [touched]. All my life I’ve been working on something. That’s what I miss. Everywhere I’ve been on the front lines.

What did you do when you got out of jail?

I left home only twice. It seemed that I was a tourist in Rio. In two years [in which he was imprisoned], the city changed a lot.

The first day at home, I felt very empty. We always look for something to do. From time to time I think “what do I really have to do now?” And I have nothing to do!

I’m learning to be free again. That’s the feeling.

Renata Dalaqua

Written by

Political scientist, nuclear geek, bookworm, very troubled child.