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The Military Role in Counter-Drug Actions

The escalation of the war on drugs in the Andean region has led narco-traffickers to change their shipment routes, and Brazil increasingly is being used as such, especially for drugs sent to Africa and Europe. In addition, some drug producers in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia have used Brazil as a shelter from security forces in their countries. Brazil is a major supplier of precursor chemicals. In the early 1990s, Brazil created the Special Secretariat for Drugs (Secretaria Especial de Entorpecentes--SEE) to coordinate the government's counter-drug actions.

Brazil's military has been reluctant to become involved in the war against drugs. Officers argue that, according to the constitution, it is the responsibility of the Federal Police to pursue such a war. The armed forces consider their involvement to be potentially corrupting and are loathe to become entangled in a "no-win" war. Furthermore, Brazilians, like other Latin Americans, are sensitive to United States involvement in the region and fear the United States may use the antidrug role as a rationale for an expanded presence in Brazil. From 1990 through 1993, the United States provided Brazil with approximately US$1 million a year for antidrug activities. As a result of United States Attorney General Janet Reno's visit to attend President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's inauguration on January 1, 1995, the antidrug agreement was renewed in April 1995, just before Cardoso's official visit to the United States.

The armed forces have been willing to provide logistical and intelligence support to the Federal Police in the war against drug trafficking. They have also become increasingly involved in countering the spread of armaments among the drug traffickers. In 1994 there were an estimated 40,000 illegal weapons in Rio de Janeiro. The constitution gives the army the responsibility for supervising armaments. In addition, the army's Eastern Command has provided the Military Police (Polícia Militar--PM) of Rio de Janeiro State with many weapons, long-range vision goggles, and bulletproof vests for countering the well-armed drug traffickers. In October 1993, the army provided the police forces with 7.62-millimeter FAL assault rifles--the first time such rifles were used by police forces in Brazil. The army also trained members of the Special Operations Battalion (Batalhão de Operações Especiais--Bope).

In October 1993, some police officers were implicated in the smuggling of arms to the traffickers, and as a result the army was called on to take firmer measures. All weapons seized in police operations were to be put under army control in military arsenals. In addition, special army agents were to work with the Civil Police, Military Police, and Federal Police forces to identify the traffickers' arms sources.

Drug trafficking and domestic consumption are, by all accounts, on the rise. Some of the groups involved in drug trafficking control entire shantytowns (favelas) and are far better armed than the Federal Police or State Police. In October 1994, there were reports that up to 70 percent of the police force was receiving payoffs by the heavily armed drug-trafficking gangs in the favelas. Growing public demands that law and order be restored in Rio de Janeiro prompted the Itamar Franco government to order the army to launch an offensive against the gangs and to oversee a purge of the police force. The army, under the command of a general, mobilized as many as 70,000 soldiers for the operation in the favelas.

The task force that identified the corruption was led by António Carlos Biscaia, attorney general of Rio de Janeiro State. Corruption in Rio de Janeiro was widespread, and included the Civil Police, Military Police, judges, and prosecutors. In addition, the Rio de Janeiro governor, Nilo Batista, was induced to sign an agreement with the federal government allowing for federal intervention through the army, which took over the security command of Rio de Janeiro prior to the 1994 gubernatorial elections. By mid-1995 the army had largely pulled out, but the security situation was little improved.

Civic Action

With the possible exception of military officers in Peru, the officers in Brazil have been the most involved in civic action in South America. To a certain extent, the civic-action role has been appropriated because the officers consider themselves responsible for the guidance and development of the nation. Civic action is not a new role for the armed forces. Under Vargas the army, which felt responsible for helping modernize the country through a more elaborate infrastructure, was involved in development and reconstruction projects. Construction battalions built roads and railroads in the interior of the country. Officers were placed in high positions within state enterprises such as the Volta Redonda steel plant and the Brazilian Petroleum Corporation (Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.--Petrobrás), the petroleum monopoly. The air force and navy were involved in transport to remote areas, and in health care assistance to those regions. As Professor Fleischer notes, "This new mission reinforced the doctrine of industrial development as a basis for national strength and security and the positivist ideology of a technocratic scientific approach to national problems."

In the early 1980s, the army was again extensively involved in civic-action projects, such as building roads in the Northeast and a railroad in Paraná State. Despite the reluctance of some officers to embrace such a role, cutbacks in defense funding make civic-action programs attractive.

Data as of April 1997

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