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Civil-Military Relations, 1985-94

Alfred C. Stepan has argued that although the Brazilian military ceded power to José Sarney (1985-90) in 1985, it retained significant prerogatives. President Sarney depended on the armed forces because of his weak political base. According to Professor Fleischer, Sarney was not well prepared to assume the presidency, so General Ivan Souza Mendes, the director of the National Intelligence Service (Serviço Nacional de Informações--SNI) "stepped in to fill the void" and helped him "organize his presidency." As a result of his dependence on the military, Sarney's administration made little progress in gaining greater control over the armed forces.

Congress, meeting as a Constituent Assembly (Assembléia Constituinte), redrafted the constitution from February 1987 until October 5, 1988, when it was promulgated. The 1988 constitution strengthened presidential control of the military by removing the clause that stated the military was only obedient to the executive "within the limits of the law." In late 1989, the first direct presidential election was held in almost three decades, and in March 1990 Fernando Collor de Mello took office.

Under President Collor de Mello, the prerogatives of the armed forces were reduced modestly, but erratically, in a "two steps forward, one step back" manner. Four examples of such reductions can be cited. First, Collor de Mello replaced the military-dominated SNI with the civilian-led Strategic Affairs Secretariat (Secretaria de Assuntos Estratégicos--SAE). Second, he cut defense spending to the lowest level in decades: approximately 0.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP--see Glossary) in 1993, down from 0.9 percent in 1987. Third, he attempted to establish more effective control over Brazil's various nuclear and other strategic programs. And fourth, the government announced that the Brazilian Aeronautics Company (Empresa Brasileira da Aeronáutica--Embraer), which manufactures the Tucano trainer and the subsonic AMX fighter, would be privatized (Embraer was privatized in December 1994).

Furthermore, in 1990 Collor revealed publicly the secret atomic bomb project developed by the army. On September 5, 1991, Brazil and Argentina agreed to establish the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (Agência Brasileiro-Argentina de Contabilidade e Contrôle de Materiais Nucleares--ABACC). This agreement permits the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect nuclear installations in Argentina and Brazil. On that occasion, Brazil also signed, with Argentina and Chile, a treaty forbidding the development, manufacture, and use of chemical weapons. In December 1991, Collor participated in the signing of a comprehensive safeguards agreement among Brazil, Argentina, and the IAEA.

Collor created an interministerial group to formulate a more restrictive arms-control policy. He increased consultation with the United States on the conditions for gaining access to the technologies covered by the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime). He also announced that Brazil would create a space agency, under civilian control, to open up activities in this sector and to promote the commercial exploitation of the Alcântara rocket-launching base. That agency was established by his successor, Itamar Franco (president, 1992-94).

Under Collor civilian political institutions generally were strengthened. The government granted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Itamaraty) even greater autonomy on foreign policy issues, including some defense-related issues. Congress played a more assertive role, and in late 1990 conducted a major investigation into Brazil's nuclear program. The investigation, conducted by a Congressional Investigating Committee (Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito--CPI), was extensive and included the testimony of former President João Figueiredo (1979-85).

Collor's political isolation after his first year as president led him to curry the support of the military. For example, Collor restored funding for Embraer's subsonic AMX fighter in mid-1991 after denying funding in 1990. In addition, the army announced that it would not allow a foreign firm to buy the nearly bankrupt Specialized Engineers, Inc. (Engenheiros Especializados S.A.--Engesa). Instead, Engesa, which had a debt of more than US$400 million and showed little hope for profitability, would be turned into a state-controlled enterprise.

President Franco established closer ties with the military. He named various retired officers to sensitive posts within the cabinet. On several occasions, he acquiesced to military requests for higher salaries. The government's relations with the military improved further after Fernando Henrique Cardoso became president on January 1, 1995.

Brazil and International Conflicts, 1917-95

Brazil's involvement in World War I did not include sending troops to Europe. In the early years of the war, the Brazilian authorities sought to maintain strict neutrality, and full diplomatic relations were continued with the Central (Axis) Powers. Pro-Allied sentiment was strong among the Brazilians, however, and by 1917, when German U-boats began torpedoing Brazilian freighters, Brazil broke diplomatic relations with and declared war against the Central Powers. Participation in the war was limited largely to naval patrols in the South Atlantic. As a belligerent, Brazil was represented at the Versailles peace conference, thereby securing a measure of prestige, as well as a share of German reparations. This led to Brazilian membership in the League of Nations (see Glossary).

At the outbreak of World War II, Brazil was again quick to announce its neutrality, and the Vargas government avoided any action that seemed to favor either side. The army's numerical growth, from a 1930 level of 47,997 to a 1940 level of 93,000, and its acquisition of modern weapons gave it the muscle to make its influence felt. Germany had become an important trading partner for Brazil during the 1930s and, because the United States was also neutral, Brazil did not feel uncomfortable in that category. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Brazil broke diplomatic and trade relations with the Axis powers and supported the anti-Axis resolution of the Pan-American foreign ministers meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 1942. In the summer of 1942, a rash of U-boat sinkings of Brazilian freighters and ferries led to the abandonment of neutrality in favor of participation in the European war on the side of the Allies.

The Brazilian contribution to the World War II effort was considerably greater than it had been during World War I. For example, Brazil permitted the United States to establish air and naval bases in the Northeast (Nordeste) and to use Natal in Rio Grande do Norte as a staging area for transit to Africa. Brazil also made the islands of Fernando de Noronha available to Allied forces as a base of operations for patrolling South Atlantic sealanes. In addition, Brazil placed its navy under United States control in order to join other Allied navies in antisubmarine defense; Brazil provided corvettes and destroyers for Atlantic patrols and for convoy escort duty.

Unlike other Latin American countries, Brazil dispatched troop units to Europe to participate in combat. The Brazilian Expeditionary Force (Fôrça Expedicionária Brasileira--FEB) reached about 25,000 strong in Italy in the summer of 1944 to become part of the United States Fifth Army. The FEB's principal fighting unit, an infantry division, was committed to combat that September and remained in almost continuous action for more than 200 days, winning high praise from Allied leaders. World War II and the military alliance with the United States left the military with more equipment, enhanced its organizational and individual skills, increased its prestige, and ultimately gave it what it had lacked since 1870--combat seasoning against a foreign enemy. The experience of the FEB in the Italian campaign also gave the army a popular status somewhat separate from the Estado Novo and allowed the FEB veterans (Febianos) to return as heroes. After the war, an elaborate memorial was erected in Rio de Janeiro to honor the 451 servicemen who lost their lives during the conflict.

Since 1945 the armed forces have not engaged in international combat. However, Brazil did send units to the Suez Canal in 1956, to the Belgian Congo in 1960, and to the Dominican Republic in 1965. The first two instances were in response to UN requests for multinational peacekeeping forces. The third was in answer to a call from the OAS, after President Lyndon B. Johnson sent the United States Marines to Santo Domingo to intervene in the civil war. Brazil complied by sending the largest contingent of non-United States troops (1,000), and a Brazilian general, Hugo Penasco Alvim, commanded the OAS forces. This was called the Inter-American Peace Force (Fôrça Interamericana de Paz--FIP).

Brazil has been reluctant to get involved in international conflicts that might require military action. In the early 1950s, Brazil politely declined the United States invitation to send troops to the Korean War. In September and October 1990, Brazil, anxious to win the release of 200 Brazilians being held in Iraq, refused to assist in the military blockade of Iraq, after Iraq invaded Kuwait. In stark contrast, Argentina sent two surface ships to the Persian Gulf. Brazil did, however, comply with UN Security Council Resolution 661 and cut off all exports to Iraq and Kuwait. The Central Bank of Brazil (Banco Central do Brasil--Bacen; see Glossary) suspended financial transfers to Iraq and Kuwait, and Brazil also observed the UN embargo of September 25, 1990, on air cargo.

In the early 1990s, Brazil became increasingly involved in UN peacekeeping operations. In 1993-94, for example, Brazil sent a company from the 26th Airborne to Mozambique for six months. By May 1994, 152 members of the Brazilian military and police were involved in five of the fourteen UN efforts--Angola, El Salvador, Mozambique, the former Yugoslavia, and on the Rwanda-Uganda border. These included eleven troops, sixty-six police, and seventy-five observers. A Brazilian brigadier general commanded the UN officer observer group in 1994-95. The officers were involved in nonmilitary assignments, in areas such as medical support, management, and observation. Typically, a Brazilian officer was assigned to one of the operations for one year, before being replaced by a fellow officer. Brazil's Congress had to approve any contributions to the peacekeeping forces. In 1995 Brazil sought to send a battalion to join the UN peacekeeping force in Angola. Although the ministries of planning and finance forced a delay because of budget constraints, a Brazilian battalion went to Angola.

Data as of April 1997

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