Andre Guzzi is an intern from Brazil who joined us late in this fall semester. I recently asked him why his country, which is by far the largest and strongest in the region, has played such a small role in Colombia, both militarily and diplomatically, even though the two countries share a long border. In particular, I wondered why Brazil, with its pretensions of regional power, chose to distance itself from Plan Colombia and to play only a small role in support of past peace processes.
Here is the response that AndrÃ© came up with – much of it based on research that he has done earlier, in Portuguese and in more detail. It’s a very useful overview of Brazil’s role and its foreign policy. It answers many of my own questions and includes a lot of information I had either never heard before, or never heard stated so clearly.
Is Brazil absent?
(by Andre Cavaller Guzzi*)
Analysis of drug trafficking in South America usually places the spotlight on Colombia, and to a lesser extent Bolivia and Peru. Brazil seems to be less directly connected, even though it is known that the country has a narco problem: drugs affect public security and public health and, according to the U.S. government, Brazil is a major transit country for drugs produced in the Andean region en route to Europe and the United States.
The Brazilian government seeks to play a continental leadership role, and desires a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. However, Brazil has appeared to be absent from the global debate on drug policy. What, in fact, is the Brazilian government’s position on the issue of narcotrafficking? What measures does the government favor?
The Brazilian government views itself as well-positioned to play a role of great responsibility in South America: a continental reach, a population of more than 180 million, a peaceful relationship with all countries in the region, and a strong and multi-sectoral economy. In order to play a leading role in hemispheric security and defense, the current and recently re-elected president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has sought to mediate and stimulate dialogue between countries whose governments have discordant policies. One example is Lula’s stated willingness to mediate dialogues between the president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe – notably isolated in the continent due to his political positions and his close connections to Washington – and the president of Venezuela, Hugo ChÃ¡vez, currently considered the U.S. government’s strongest opponent in the region.
According to the minister of security, Geraldo QuintÃ£o, Brazilian diplomacy has been constantly working to reinforce security by identifying opportunities to increase Brazil’s international standing, in order to gain the mentioned seat on the Security Council. The most relevant current measure is Brazil’s leadership of Minustah â€“ the United Nations’ stabilization mission in Haiti.
However, when we focus on one of the most prevalent threats in South America – drug trafficking – we note that the Brazilian government is not serving as an effective international actor. The border between Brazil and Colombia is approximately 1,023 miles long, almost totally covered by Amazon-basin jungle, and according to Brazilian authorities, many incidents take place in this region between guerrillas and drug traffickers. In addition, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that 4,000 Colombian refugees have illegally crossed this remote border over the last few years.
Brazil and Colombia have promoted some joint actions in these territories. In June 2003, both countries’ Ministries of Defense signed a memorandum about defense cooperation. They decided that both countries will promote research, scientific and technological development of the defense industry, logistical support, training and confidence-building measures.
Cooperation, non-intervention and respect for sovereignty, and diplomatic support for peace processes are considered the three bases of Brazil’s foreign policy. While cooperation between BogotÃ¡ and Brasilia has increased, the notion of sovereignty has distanced both countries at the same time. Plan Colombia is a key example.
When Plan Colombia was launched, it assumed a different character than its initial purpose. Its original priority was to combat drug trafficking which, as it required a high amount of financial resources, caused the Colombian government to turn to the international community for assistance. The United States became the Plan’s biggest financier. The Brazilian government rejected Plan Colombia, mainly because of its militaristic emphasis.
Among the alleged reasons why the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration (1994-2000) took this position, two are of the greatest significance. First, the fear that a military offensive against guerrillas could spill over into Brazilian territory, displacing both drug-crop cultivation and refining. Second, there was huge discomfort with the likelihood that Colombia could be a precedent for greater military engagement of the United States in South America.
At the same time, the Brazilian government decided to promote some counter-narcotics operations on its border with Colombia. The main intention of Operation Colombia-Brazil (COBRA), for example, was to create a stable region near the Colombian border. [Note: Operation Cobra received several million dollars in assistance from the United States.] Brazil developed similar operations with Peru (PEBRA), Venezuela (VEBRA) and Bolivia (BRABO). The aim of the Brazilian government was to mobilize the countries that border Colombia in order to maintain a â€œpeaceful regionâ€ around the country. This position follows the logic of Brazilian diplomacy, which considers that national problems should be solved by internal measures. COBRA is a preventive program, which aims to control the Amazon by containing drug trafficking and stopping illegal logging.
With the implementation of the Amazon Surveillance System (SIVAM), in 2001, the Brazilian government offered Colombia all relevant information it obtained, in order to enhance military, police and environmental control in the region. The Brazilian government launched two other operations to protect the border with Colombia: â€œOperation Timbo,â€ created in 2003 with the objective of coordinating and combining the Brazilian Armed Forces’ actions, and the so-called â€œShoot Down Lawâ€ (Lei do Abate), which permits the Air Force to shoot down clandestine planes suspected of carrying narcotics. Colombia has already adopted a similar law. [Note: because it has stricter safety procedures in place, the United States helps fund Colombia's â€œshoot-downâ€ or aerial interdiction program. Very little U.S. funding has gone to Brazil's program.]
Through these operations, it was possible to observe how the Cardoso government distinguished cooperation policies from intervention policies, and to note praise for the first and opposition to the second. Lula’s government has a similar position, and its government also considers Plan Colombia to be a â€œmilitary strategy,â€ not an initiative for peace.
Another position that separates the Brazilian government from Colombia and the United States is the definition of guerrilla groups as â€œterrorists.â€ The U.S. and Colombian governments have sought to define these groups not as a national problem, but as a threat to the whole continent and, consequently, a phenomenon that should be fought by joint efforts. Brazil, on the other hand, does not consider the guerrilla groups to be terrorist organizations because if it did so, it would no longer be possible to negotiate with them.
Finally Brazil, aiming to maintain leadership status in the continent, tries to be more cautious than Colombia and the United States. Its efforts tend to be more preventive than offensive and more cooperative than coercive.
*Student at the International Relations Masterâ€™s Program San Tiago Dantas (UNESP-UNICAMP-PUCSP), supervised by Suzeley Kalil Mathias, intern at the Center for International Policy and has received a scholarship from The State of Sao Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP.