Brazil’s hemispheric geopolitics
The Federative Republic of Brazil used the occasion, nine years ago in 2000, to celebrate the historic 500th anniversary of its discovery which coincided with the start of the new millennium. But it was also the start of a thrust to demonstrate its greatness and to initiate a strategy for continental leadership.
The significant summit of Brazil, Russia, India, and China − the so-called the BRIC states − in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on June 16 seemed to be more show than substance. It is true that these states are the world’s four major emerging economies, constituting 15 per cent of the world’s $60.7 trillion economy. From a global point of view, however, Brazil, which pushed the hardest for the summit to be staged, seemed somewhat out of place.
The Federative Republic of Brazil is the only BRIC state with no nuclear weapons. Its economy, though strengthening, has grown more slowly than the other three in the past decade. It is, rather, an international platform on which Brazil hopes to gain global attention and acceptance for its aspiration to be regarded as the dominating power on the South American continent and in the Caribbean Basin. Unquestioningly, it will seek to use its new influence as a BRIC state to further enhance its regional influence and to utilise its growing economic clout and geopolitical reach.
The BRIC summit was a coming-of-age event that confirms Brazil’s most ambitious strategic initiative in its 500-year history. It is only the most recent manifestation of that country’s penchant for organisations and agreements. It inaugurated a series of summit meetings of South American presidents and played a leading role in the establishment of the União de Naçoes Sul-Americanas (Union of South American Nations). Back in 1978, it had launched the Tratado de Cooperação Amazonica (Treaty of Amazonian Cooperation) which emphasised its economic status and ecological roles and responsibilities. In 2008, it sought to establish the Conselho Sul-Americano de Defesa (South American Security Council). The effectiveness of these organisations is still to be measure.
The aspirations of this solitary, Portuguese-speaking state, however, have never overwhelmed its mainly Spanish-speaking neighbours on the South American continent. Brazil, nevertheless, has always liked to be considered the ‘colosso do Sul’ (the Colossus of the South). Its military and political élites imagined their huge country to be South America’s counterbalance to North America’s ‘colossus of the North’ − the United States of America. Its expanding economy has permitted it to increase military expenditure. Its armed forces are the largest and strongest on the continent.
The global environment has now changed dramatically. The colossus of the North has found itself embroiled in wars on two fronts – far away in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is also preoccupied with its most severe economic crisis for decades; and, further, it is too weak or unwilling to respond robustly to changing international relations – especially in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, for example – in South America.
This international situation provided the opportunity for the ‘colosso do Sul’ to assert its ambitions. It was largely Brazil’s moderating role that helped to resolve the Andean security tangle that was precipitated by Colombia’s attack on a rebel camp in Ecuador that escalated when Venezuela menacingly mobilised a military task force on its border with Colombia in March 2008. Possibly, no other South American state possessed the influence and enjoyed prestige to command the compliance of the would-be belligerent states in such tense times.
It is against this strategic background that Brazil’s Minister of Defence Nelson Azevedo Jobim paid a brief visit to President Bharrat Jagdeo in Georgetown, in April 2008 as part of a series of meetings with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in Caracas and Suriname’s Ronald Venetiaan. Jobim’s mission was to canvas the idea of the formation of the Conselho Sul-Americano de Defesa. As Jobim put it, the Conselho is meant to develop a defence policy; resolve international disputes on this continent without resort to extra-continental mediators; act collectively on peacekeeping missions; and combat organised crime.
Jobim had advised that the Conselho would aim at dealing with what he called “low intensity conflicts that may spread out of control.” But it will be a long time before an effective multilateral security organisation can be established among the fractious and mutually suspicious South America states. Even if that was done, it will take longer still to achieve a satisfactory level of operational coordination and integration of this continent’s armed forces to enable them to confront the serious security challenges. Most important, the continent’s two small states – Guyana and Suriname – must be assured that their special security concerns will be met in a continental security system dominated by huge armies such as those of Argentina, Brazil and Colombia.
In September that year, as if to reinforce Jobim’s message, Senator Heráclito Fortes led a delegation of the Comissão de Relações Exteriores e Defesa Nacional (Committee on Foreign Affairs and National Defence) of the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil’s National Congress to meet the President. That delegation, comprising senators from various parties, performs a congressional oversight role.
The Brazilian strategic thrust, therefore, can be examined at several levels. At the national level, Brasília’s long-standing foreign policy objective is to maintain stability along its nearly 17,000 km border with ten neighbouring countries, especially along its sparsely-populated, heavily-forested, northern belt Amazonian boundaries. This, in turn, is influenced, at the continental level by security problems most likely to arise not so much from neighbouring states as from non-state organisations and transnational criminal cartels and gangs that pose threats of narcotics trafficking, gun-running, terrorism and piracy.
It is at the hemispheric level, that Brazil has flexed its military muscle more decidedly than ever. The Brazilian Army has made itself into the dominant contributor to the 10,000-member foreign military and police force – Mission des Nations Unies pour le Stabilisation en Haiti − better known by its acronym, MINUSTAH − mandated by the UN Security Council, which has been deployed in that country there since June 2004.
This operation came only four months after the constitutionally-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide became the victim of a controversial regime change conspiracy that shoved aside the Caribbean Community’s initiatives which were aimed at finding peaceful means to resolve the crisis in that country. The fact is that thousands of foreign soldiers from an amazing array of mainly non-Caribbean states − Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Jordan, Nepal, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Phillipines, Sri Lanka, United States and Uruguay − have been assembled to occupy a CARICOM state.
Brazil, evidently, is trying to announce its graduation as a state that has the capability to project its military and economic power in a regional theatre and which is trying hard to obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. As defence Minister Jobim explained plainly, “It is Brazil’s duty to be in Haiti because Brazil is a major power.”
Haiti has become a test case for Brazilian diplomacy, military intervention and peace support operations. After more than five years, Brazil’s military involvement in Haiti has become an example of how a low intensity conflict could blunt the strategic ambitions of a would-be major power and tarnish a professional army’s performance, particularly in the relations of its soldiery with the Haitian citizenry. That no Caribbean Community soldier is on the ground must be one of the strangest anomalies of regional security and diplomacy.
Guyana has enjoyed cordial relations with Brazil for forty years since the 1969 Rupununi defence crisis. Brazil’s principled support for Guyana’s territorial integrity has contributed measurably to national security. Scores of Guyana Defence Force officers, including the current chief of staff, have been trained by the Brazilian Armed Forces; officers from the two forces meet periodically to exchange military intelligence and Brazilian naval ships occasionally visit Georgetown to boost defence relationships. No Guyanese President has ever failed to make the pilgrimage to Brasilia to preserve cordial diplomatic and economic relations.
Defence relations were strengthened in April last year with the visit of Brazil’s Minister of Defence Jobim. He reportedly reached an agreement with President Jagdeo, who is Minister of Defence of Guyana, for defence cooperation through which it is expected that Guyana Defence Force officers would undergo training at various Brazilian military institutions and that the Guyana will receive computers, generators, radio equipment, Global Positioning Systems, and other items. Brazil agreed, also, to assist the Defence Force to develop the jungle warfare training centre in the Essequibo.
Brazilian Ambassador to Guyana Arthur Meyer only last month announced that Guyana and Brazil are expected to sign an ‘Agreement of Cooperation on Defence Method’ that “covers a whole range of issues − cooperation and training of staff in military exercises; exchange of information and also in defining common policies regarding methods that affect not only both countries, but the entire South American Region.” The full meaning of this statement seems obscure but the intention is clear.
Brazil seems to be at a crossroads as a regional power in terms of its foreign policy and strategic role in South America. In the past, it seemed to focus more on conflict resolution and cultivating relations with neighbouring states rather than with those farthest away. Even before giving some of the international organisations that it established an opportunity to show results, Brazil now seems to be looking beyond the continent.
Brazil-Guyana strategic relations remain cordial. But, how long will they remain so in light of its ambitious global thrust as a BRIC state and its regional reach as the military force in the Caribbean state of Haiti?
Nota del editor del blog: Al referenciarse a la República Cooperativa de Guyana se deben de tener en cuenta los 159.500Km2, de territorios ubicados al oeste del río Esequibo conocidos con el nombre de Guayana Esequiba o Zona en Reclamación sujetos al Acuerdo de Ginebra dl 17 de febrero de 1966.
Territorios estos sobre los cuales el gobierno Venezolano en representación de la Nación venezolana se reservo sus derechos sobre los territorios de la Guayana Esequiba en su nota del 26 de mayo de 1966 al reconocerse al nuevo Estado de Guyana .
“...por lo tanto, Venezuela reconoce como territorio del nuevo Estado, el que se sitúa al este de la margen derecha del río Esequibo y reitera ante la comunidad internacional, que se reserva expresamente sus derechos de soberanía territorial sobre la zona que se encuentra en la margen izquierda del precitado río; en consecuencia, el territorio de la Guayana Esequiba sobre el cual Venezuela se reserva expresamente sus derechos soberanos, limita al Este con el nuevo Estado de Guyana, a través de la línea del río Esequibo, tomando éste desde su nacimiento hasta su desembocadura en el Océano Atlántico...”