22 outubro, 2008

Brazil: Truth and force

Publicado no ISN Security Watch - ISN ETH Zurich

2 Oct 2008

Brazil: Truth and force

A Brazilian soldier aiming a rifle

A soldier aiming a Brazilian military rifle

Brazilian military movements project a show of geopolitical force but do little to combat drug trafficking in Operation Southern Border II, writes Sam Logan for ISN Security Watch.

By Sam Logan for ISN Security Watch

Operation Southern Border II mobilized 3,500 soldiers from the Army, Navy and Air force on 19 October along the Brazil-Paraguay border as part of a larger force of some 10,000 soldiers deployed along the border of four Brazilian states bordering Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay. The troops will remain in place until 24 October.

While the Brazilian government has advertised the operation as one that will focus on integrating the military with Brazilian Federal Police and Highway Patrol to shore up one of South America's most prolific trafficking corridors, a closer look suggests ulterior motives are at play. Combating drug trafficking, it appears, is secondary to a geopolitical projection of military might.

After the intense focus on the tri-border region, the military will return to base in just over a week's time. The Federal Police and Highway Patrol, hamstrung by tight budgets and a seemingly endless need for more man power, will remain alone to face the realities of day-to-day border protection.

Why have four operations been planned in the same area in the past two years when Brazil's most likely enemy is not Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina but Venezuela? Why is not more funding and attention diverted to the Federal Police and Highway Patrol, the two organizations with the most need and highest possible impact on black market activity? And why use a massive military force to scare a much smaller neighbor whose cooperation Brazil needs to stymie illicit traffic?

Many questions surround the military exercise and its dubious effects on actually reducing the flow of drugs and guns across the Brazil-Paraguay border, as advertised. Observers wonder if the exercises have served only to prove to other countries in the region (ie, Venezuela) that the Brazilian military is massive and very mobile.

Two weeks before the deployment, the Brazilian Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs detailed the military's intentions for the exercise in a letter sent to the Paraguayan government. But their best efforts to avoid geopolitical fallout between the two countries may have been for naught.

Within 24 hours of the operation's initiation, the Paraguayan media presented a story of Brazilian aggression, moving massive military assets into the region to protect Brazilian farming interests there. No official complaint was registered with the Paraguayan government, yet it remains unclear if Paraguayans see the action as aggressive or, as the Brazilians put it, simply a military exercise.

In the heart of the tri-border region between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil lies the Friendship bridge, connecting Paraguay's Ciudad del Este with Brazil's Foz do Iguacu. The amount of daily traffic across the bridge has only increased over the years, so much so the Brazilian government has begun exploring options for a second bridge.

This news alarmed the regional Federal Police chief, Maria Alice Nascimento Souza, who testified in April to the Brazilian House of Representatives Committee on Public Security and Organized Crime that there were only one Federal Police and one Highway Patrol officer on duty per shift.

According to Souza, it is inhumanly possible for one agent from each organization to effectively cover the international traffic flow across the bridge. As of her testimony, the Federal Police had not been called to testify as to how a second bridge could be effectively patrolled.

Part of the problem with successfully patrolling Brazil's borders - especially the 2,500 kilometer stretch between Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay - is a lack of coordination between the military, the Federal Police, the Highway Patrol and the various other elements involved in protecting Brazil's borders, according to Commander Luiz Eduardo de Carvalho, who testified at the same April hearing.

Operation Southern Border II follows a similar operation conducted in July. Two other operations were also conducted in 2007, yet while each operation may serve as an impressive mobilization of military force, when the military tide recedes, indications are that the Federal Police agents in the region are left off little better than they were before the operation. Most critical is the lack of human resources to patrol wide stretches of border lands.

In the Brazilian state of Acre, which borders Bolivia and Peru, there are some 30 Federal Police agents in place to cover some 20,000 kilometers of border. Acre lies in the Amazon region of Brazil that is poorly patrolled, where coca fields have reportedly been discovered in the past and where one of the region's budding tri-border problematic regions - between Brazil, Peru and Colombia at the Leticia-Tabatinga crossing - remains unnoticed.

Why is the military not deployed along the upper fluvial system of the Amazon River, where a large percentage of Brazil's black market traffic continues to flow unabated? For many years, the Federal Police has been forced to patrol one of the world's largest waterways, and reports out of Manaus, the Federal Police station in the area, suggest there may be one or two vessels available for patrols. Meanwhile, at least one Brazilian military expert who has asked not to be named claims the Navy maintains that it only works on salt water and will not patrol the Amazon.

When large-scale operations that involve various branches of the military force regional attention on Brazilian military force, it has little to do with drug trafficking. Brazil remains undoubtedly the most powerful country in South America, but from time to time it must remind its neighbors of that fact. This is a geopolitical reality. But if the government is serious about combating drug trafficking, it should put more money where it is sorely needed. Military exercises may warn neighbors but bolstering the country's national police organizations will keep citizens safe.

Sam Logan is an investigative journalist who has reported on security, energy, politics, economics, organized crime, terrorism and black markets in Latin America since 1999. He is a senior writer for ISN Security Watch and has a book on organized crime and immigration forthcoming from Hyperion in Spring, 2009.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the International Relations and Security Network (ISN).

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