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Political Science

The olive-green forest

Studies analyze military thoughts on the Amazon region

miguel boyayanOverview of the Amazonian “demographic emptiness”miguel boyayan

“Of a battle peerless/a company of bold and indomitable/pioneers of a virile race/anxious to see Amazonia/forever a part of Brazil”: the verses of the song “A mais bela batalha” (The most beautiful battle) of the 6th Battalion of Construction and Engineering, based in the Amazon region, perfectly summarizes the military thinking on the region, with its historic references (the hat used by the group, for example, imitates the ones used by the old pioneers), the warrior spirit of the mission and, more important, the concept that one is experiencing a peculiar state of war so that, at the end of the day, a Brazilian state may be integrated into Brazil. “In the views of the Armed Forces and their military intellectuals, the Amazon region is the last frontier to be conquered and incorporated into the Brazilian State. After two decades advocating the post 64 political order, the uniformed military are increasingly geared toward a classical military mission: guaranteeing national sovereignty through force of arms,” explains political scientist Adriana Marques, author of the doctoral thesis “Amazonia: Military thoughts and presence,” recently submitted at the University of Sao Paulo (USP). The thesis advisor was Rafael Duarte Villa.

“Sovereignty over the territory is a theme that was subordinated to the strategy of containing communism throughout the Cold War and it is now back with a vengeance,” says the researcher. “In fact, the Amazon region is increasingly becoming a mobilizing symbol for Brazil’s armed forces, a symbol of sovereignty and of a military mission, now that threats from the Soviet Union and Argentina have disappeared at the foreign level, and communism has ceased to be a point of reference for domestic defense,” asserts the philosopher Humberto José Lourenção, who recently also submitted his thesis at the University of Campinas, on the theme: “Armed Forces and the Amazon (1985-2006)“, under the guidance of Shiguenoli Miyamoto. Curiously, this concern with the Amazon region, which has caused a rising number of military personnel to be posted there and that has put pressure on the Ministry of Defense to raise the budget of the Armed Forces, has changed previous military parameters. “The Army in particular dedicates itself to developing a genuinely Brazilian military doctrine; one of its chief lines of thought being the perception that possible enemies of the Brazilian Army are to be found in the northern hemisphere, especially in the USA,” notes Adriana. For the military, she continues, globalization is seen in a bad light and ultimately reveals a new form of colonialism in which the expansion of nations is no longer carried out by territorial conquests.

Similarly, military ideology believes that the environmental and humanitarian concerns of the rich northern countries are insincere and in fact “camouflage” economic interests and opportunities, or camouflage these countries’ appetite for the Amazon region. The old “partner” from the times of the dictatorship is now regarded with mistrust. “In the post Cold War world, the notion of the right of interference has established itself, as the American actions in the Gulf War, from 1990 to 1991, illustrates. For the Brazilian military, the principles of non-intervention and self-determination, which were fundamental in international relations during the Cold War, have been relegated to a second plane. From this viewpoint, the USA, for the Armed Forces, is positioning itself as the arbitrator of the new world order, as it is a military superpower, and will certainly intervene in foreign countries when the latter disagrees with the US’s vital strategic interests, without listening to the U.N. Security Council . The researchers note that following the September 11, 2001 attacks, furthered this ‘independence’ was furthered through the creation of the so-called ‘preemptive strikes.’ With this concept, the realistic perception of the Armed Forces considers that the Amazon region runs the more or less imminent risk of being internationalized, due to the strong strategic interest it has awoken in developed countries and for being in a geopolitical zone of strong American influence,” analyses Lourenção. Major General Meira Mattos wrote that “a real conspiracy against Brazilian control of the Amazon region is being established in ideologies justified by scientific and religious organizations of the northern hemisphere and endorsed by their governments.”

In 1999 Al Gore, then Vice President of the USA, and now a Nobel Prize winner stated that “the phase of temporizing has come to an end. Now is the time for military action, as the countries that have their part of the Amazon don’t know how to care for it.” His was not an isolated voice: from French President François Mitterand (“Brazil needs to accept relative sovereignty over the Amazon”) to General Patrick Hughes, head of information for the American army (“If Brazil resolves to make use of the Amazon and this puts the environment of the USA at risk, we have to be ready to interrupt this process”), continuing with Mikhail Gorbatchov (“Brazil must delegate part of its rights over the Amazon to competent international organizations”), not to mention similar comments by Henry Kissinger, John Major and Helmut Kohl, there has been no one who has not insinuated or spoken openly on the subject of the alleged “Brazilian incompetence” in maintaining the region. “According to the views of the Brazilian military, the Amazon region is the Brazil’s chief strategic vulnerability, peppered with possibilities of international community attacks, based on the argument that the Brazilian government is not controlling it’s own territory and protecting the Amazon forest, which might in the future lead to the internationalization of the region,” notes Adriana. Although this idea of foreign greed was not created by the military, it fuels a lot of the imagination of the Armed Forces who, Lourenção reminds us, fear that the region may fall victim to a process of “Balkanization” or “Mexicanization” by the rich countries.

stfAir maneuvers: according to the Armed Forces, only their presence can ensure safetystf

According to the military the “demographic emptiness” of the area contributes to this. There are four inhabitants per square kilometer in a region of 11 thousand kilometers of land borders and 1.6 thousand kilometers of coastal borders. “However, the emptiness that the military studies mention also speaks of the lack of a population committed to the preservation of Brazilian sovereignty over the region. The perception that the indigenous peoples could be co-opted by foreigners is constant in military discourse,” explains the researcher. As such, the main arguments of the military against the so called demarcation of indigenous territories is based on the fact that they are close to the frontier and that there is a possibility that these territories become the embryo of an autonomous State. “The wealth in the subsoil of the land under dispute is also frequently mentioned as an argument in favor of the revision of the demarcations.” Lourenção agrees: “International concern with the indigenous peoples is considered excessive and is seen as another incentive to appropriate the riches of the Amazon, especially those in the subsoil. The foreign pressure, according to the military, does not correspond to the interests of the Brazilian Indians, but derives from imperialist greed, and interest in the veiled occupation of the Amazon region and in the preparation of a declaration of independence of the tribes as nations within Brazil.”

The central target of this mistrust, revealed in various texts of military institutions such as the Higher School of War (Escola Superior de Guerra) targets foreign NGOs active in the Amazon region. “The main criticism is that many of the NGOs have spurious objectives, different from those they declare, such as pressing the Brazilian government to preserve the forest and make large areas even more inaccessible, declared indigenous reservations, national parks or areas of protected environment,” notes Lourenção. According to him, for the military, these NGOs are “non-governmental” in name only, being at the service of foreign governments or manipulated by them. In the same context, the strategy of these organizations is to use the media to persuade national and international public opinion that the issue of the Amazon region is of interest to humanity, and not only to South American countries that lack the capacity to guarantee its conservation. Worthy of note was a sticker on an anonymous car in Europe, with the following message “Save the Amazon Forest: burn a Brazilian” or the celebrated apocryphal map that went around the web as part of an American school book, which showed the Amazon separated from Brazilian territory.

The fight against drugs and the transformation of guerrilla movements such as FARC into “terrorists”, note the researchers, also work, in the military viewpoint, as a form of internationalization of the Amazon region. “In the division of labor proposed by the wealthy countries of the north for the countries of the south, the latter would carry out semi-policing activities, a mission rejected by the Brazilian armed forces, leaving military security under the control of international organizations,” observes Adriana. Here again is the threat of the principle of interference: to protect their countries from terrorists and drug dealers an “intervention” in Brazilian territory would become acceptable. “According to the military, one of the effects of the Colombian Plan (the enrolment of various countries for the pacification of the Colombian guerrillas ) is making it easier for the US military forces to penetrate Latin American countries. The balance of forces between the various countries might change depending on the nature of American interests. The governments of countries that would submit to the USA, waiving their sovereignty, would receive financial aid, material, technology and American troops,” notes Lourenção.

“In the military imagination, Brazilian sovereignty over the Amazon region could only be maintained through the presence of Brazilian armed forces in the region. This perception, however, is not only determined by the identification of external threats. The idea that that military are the guarantors of national integrity is one of the chief characteristics of the strategic culture of the Brazilian armed forces,” describes Adriana. To some extent, the researcher notes, the military counted on the disregard or consent of the politicians. “Politicians looked kindly upon the military activity in the region and didn’t contest the military strategies chosen to defend the country. The small amount of attention that the political world dispensed to issues of defense allowed the military a high degree of autonomy in the Amazon region.” Proof of this is that projects such as Sivam and Calha Norte circumvented the National Congress, recalls Lourenção, for whom “in order to ensure the defense of the Amazon region, it is necessary that this question ceases to be only a subject of the armed forces; apart from military presence, it is necessary to have a viable set of public policies, that must be more sensitive to the specifics of the region, bringing together economic growth, social development, environmental preservation and defense.” Proof that the existence of a “preemptive attack” as ” a good thing” is possible.