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Brazilian Military in the Amazon

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Brazil Military in the Amazon

The Amazon region occupies more than half of Brazil's territory. In 1985 the army announced the Northern Corridor (Calha Norte) project, in an attempt to establish better control of Brazil's interests in the Amazon. The project has consisted of building a series of outposts along the Brazilian border with Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Some of these outposts have been established. Calha Norte is therefore more than a military project. Its goals are to provide effective control of the border, improve the local infrastructure, and promote economic development of the region.

The army has increased the number of posts near the border from eight to nineteen. The posts are placed under five Special Frontier Battalions, with headquarters from west to east in Tabatinga, Rio Branco, São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Boa Vista, and Macapá. In addition, the army has been transferring battalions from the South and Southeast to the Amazon: the Seventeenth Motorized Infantry Battalion from Cruz Alta to the Seventeenth Jungle Infantry Battalion; the Sixty-first Motorized Infantry Battalion in Santo Angelo to the Sixty-first Jungle Infantry Battalion; and the Sixty-first Engineering and Construction Battalion at Cruzeiro do Sul to Rio Branco. The First Brigade in Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro State, was moved to Tefé, Amazonas, except for one infantry battalion. Lastly, the army was planning to open two new garrisons in the Rio Negro region, at Tunui and Asuno do Içana.

Some Brazilian officers have warned against "foreign intervention" in the region. In July 1991, Army General Antenor de Santa Cruz Abreu, then chief of the Amazon Region Military Command (Comando Militar da Amazônia--CMA), threatened that the army would "transform the Amazon into a new Vietnam" if developed countries continued to "internationalize" the region. The vitriol subsided partially in January 1992, when General Santa Cruz Abreu was replaced by General Carlos Anníbal Pacheco, who dispelled some of the concerns about the "internationalization" of the Amazon.

In 1993 the Brazilian press reported on United States-Guyana military exercises near the Brazil-Guyana border. The proximity of the exercise to the Brazilian border provoked an angry response from many high-ranking Brazilian officers and government officials. United States joint exercises were also held with Colombia and Suriname, to the consternation of the Brazilians. In a show of force on October 4, 1994, the armed forces were involved in Operation Surumu, the largest combined and joint maneuvers ever carried out in the Amazon. The exercises were held north of the city of Boa Vista in the state of Roraima, over an area of 34,900 square kilometers. They included the participation of eight countries in a war against Cratenia, an imaginary enemy. The exercises involved 5,000 soldiers, thirty-seven aircraft, four ships, and two hospital ships. The army had the largest contingent with 3,000 men. The air force dropped 700 parachutists into the jungle and was involved in transporting most of the troops, many by civilian aircraft. The navy provided logistical support, using riverine patrol boats. The joint nature of the maneuvers indicated that whereas the army would continue to take the lead in the Amazon, the other two services (especially the air force) also would be involved.

However, such massive operations are specially staged affairs, giving an impression of military power that is not reflected in the day-to-day reality. The commanding general of the First Jungle Brigade, headquartered in Boa Vista, oversees two infantry battalions, whose units are spread from the Guyana border to that with Colombia. One battalion headquarters is located in Boa Vista, the other in São Gabriel da Cachoeira. The general does not have his own aircraft, and he must request transport from Manaus if he wishes to inspect his troops. Headquarters maintains contact with the units via radio. The first battalion maintains five Special Border Platoons (Pelotões Especiais de Fronteira--PEFs) at Bom Fim and Normandia on the Guyana side, at Pacarema (also called BV-8, for the eighth marker on the Brazil-Venezuelan line), Surucucu, and Auaris facing Venezuela. The second battalion at São Gabriel da Cachoeira has PEFs at Maturaca (near Pico da Neblina) and Cucui on the Venezuela border, and three more looking toward Colombia at Matapi, Uaupés, and Iauaretê.

The platoons consist of about seventy soldiers, corporals, and sergeants, and five officers, the most senior of whom is usually a lieutenant. Many of the soldiers are recruited locally. In Roraima many of the soldiers are Macuxí and Wapishana Indians.

In late 1993, the armed forces received presidential approval for the Amazon Region Surveillance System (Sistema de Vigilância da Amazônia--Sivam). Sivam will consist of a large network of radar, communication systems, and data processing centers and should assist the government in air traffic control and its efforts to curb deforestation and drug trafficking. The control centers of Sivam will be in Manaus, Belém, Porto Velho, and Brasília. It will take at least eight years to install the system, at a cost of US$1.55 billion. Sivam will include five Embraer EMB-120 Brasílias carrying Ericsson Radar Electronics Erieye airborne early warning and control system. Sivam is part of a larger plan called the Amazon Region Protection System (Sistema de Proteção da Amazônia--Sipam). The purpose of Sipam is to provide a more sophisticated infrastructure for policing the Amazon.

The Sivam case was particularly controversial in 1994 and 1995 and involved Brasília, Paris, and Washington. In June 1994, two days after then United States Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown visited Brasília, President Itamar Franco decided to award the Sivam contract to a consortium led by Raytheon (United States), instead of to a group led by Thomson CSF (France). In December 1994, when many legislators already had left Brasília for the Christmas holidays, Brazil's Senate approved the financing of Sivam. A Brazilian senator reportedly received US$7 million to expedite congressional approval. In February 1995, the New York Times reported that the United States Central Intelligence Agency had discovered that Thomson CSF paid bribes to Brazilian officials. French diplomats countered that it was the United States that bribed Brazilian officials, paying $30 million Dollar to obtain the contract. France charged the United States with industrial espionage and expelled five staff members from the United States Embassy in Paris.

In March 1995, Raytheon's Brazilian partner, Automation and Control Systems Engineering (Engenharia de Sistemas de Contrôle e Automação--ESCA), which was hired to manage Sivam and to develop the system's control software, was removed from the project because of fraud in social security contributions in Brazil. In its place, the Brazilian government proposed a team of Ministry of Aeronautics experts. However, wiretapping and alleged influence-peddling created the most serious crisis for the Cardoso administration in its first year in office, and threatened the very future of the Sivam project.

At least two dozen Brazilian government organizations deal with the Amazon, in addition to many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from both Brazil and abroad. The vast array of organizations reflects the many interests in the Amazon, which include concerns with national security, indigenous peoples, economic development, the environment, and drug trafficking. These interests often clash. In an attempt to coordinate Brazil's Amazon policies, President Franco created the Ministry of Environment and the Legal Amazon on August 18, 1993 (later renamed Ministry of Environment, Hydraulic Resources, and the Legal Amazon), and placed Rubens Ricúpero at the helm. Ricúpero, the chief negotiator of the 1977 Amazonian Cooperation Treaty, was brought from the post of ambassador in Washington.

President Collor established the Yanomami Indigenous Park, encompassing 9.5 million hectares of territory adjacent to Venezuela. The reservation is home to 25,000 members of the Yanomami tribe, 10,000 of whom live on the Brazilian side of the reserve. The 600 gold prospectors who lived on or near Yanomami land and ignored the extensive reservation were expelled. In 1992 President Collor demarcated the territory, and in the following year mining revenues dropped considerably.

The problems associated with competing interests in the Amazon became apparent in August 1993, when at least sixteen Yanomami Indians were massacred near the Brazil-Venezuela border. Twenty-three illegal gold prospectors were arrested and charged with the slayings. They were later acquitted, after investigations allegedly indicated that the Indians had died in conflict with other Indians.

The governors of Roraima, Amazonas, and Pará states have called for the reduction in the area of the reservations. According to one poll, 51 percent of Brazil's legislators agreed with that position. Many officers within the armed forces have also expressed their discontent with the size of the reservations. A common argument is that there are few Yanomami per square kilometer allotted to them.

In early 1994, there was a broad consensus in Brazil on the need to expand the military presence along the border. Such a presence was supported by Ministers Ricúpero and Flores. Brazilians have expressed concerns about sovereignty, particularly the encroachment by the United States and others via drug interdiction and environmentalism. Despite such consensus, however, only limited funding has been available to the Ministry of Environment, Hydraulic Resources, and the Legal Amazon, and the constant clash of interests has impeded a coordinated policy.

Data as of April 1997



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