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Brazil Table of Contents


Penal Institutions

The two general categories of penal institutions are correctional and detention. The first category includes penitentiaries, houses of custody and treatment, penal and agricultural colonies, and houses of correction. Of Brazil's approximately 5,000 penal institutions, fifty-one are correctional institutions, including twenty-seven penitentiaries, six houses of custody and treatment, twelve agricultural colonies, and six houses of correction. The second category includes military prisons, houses of detention, and juvenile correctional institutions.

The Federal Prison Department (Departamento Penitenciário Nacional--Depen) is responsible for operating the penal system. Depen is subordinate to the National Council of Criminal and Prison Policy (Conselho Nacional de Política Criminal e Penitenciária--CNPCP), which is under the Ministry of Justice. Places of detention include twelve military prisons, 1,580 prisons, 2,803 jails, and five institutions for minors. The separate women's penal institutions are usually operated by nuns. Prisoners in penitentiaries are assigned to work units in maintenance shops and in light industrial plants that produce and maintain the clothing and furnishings used in the institutions. In some minimum security agricultural colonies, inmates have their families live with them during their incarceration.

Prison conditions generally range from poor to harsh, and include overcrowding, a lack of hygiene, poor nutrition, and even instances of torture. In 1995 Brazil's overcrowded prisons held 129,169 inmates in space designed for 59,954. That compares with 23,385 inmates in 1965, nearly a sixfold increase. Often there are six to eight prisoners in a cell meant for three. The Ministry of Justice reported that thirty-three prison rebellions occurred in 1994, while attempted or successful escapes averaged almost nine per day.

Internal security in Brazil is primarily the responsibility of state governments. The Federal Police play only a minor role and are limited by their small force. The largest and most important State Police force is the Military Police, whose members are uniformed and responsible for maintaining order. They also serve as army reserves. The Civil Police constitute a much smaller force, and are responsible for investigations.

Toward the Future

As Brazil looks toward the future, it will have to adjust its national security policies to new international and domestic conditions. In the international arena, Brazil probably will continue its integration with nations in the Southern Cone of South America (especially Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay) and the rest of the continent, creating new linkages and reducing any perception of external threat. At the same time, there is increasing demand for Brazil's participation in operations other than war, such as peacekeeping. Although Brazil has resisted major involvement in such operations, the country's desire for greater recognition by the international community (for example, a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations) may force it to be even more fully involved.

Democratic rule in Brazil is being consolidated. The return of the armed forces to the barracks did not eliminate them from the decision-making process, but they were forced increasingly to share power with civilians. Unlike their counterparts in Argentina, the armed forces retained some of their prerogatives. And yet, as Alfred Stepan concludes: "It is clear that the attraction of military rule--its presumed stability, unity, and fixity of purpose--has been largely illusory. Even more importantly, the difficulties encountered by the highly professional army in Brazil, with its technocratic civilian allies, illustrate that there can be no apolitical solution to the problems of political development."

Major issues concerning Brazil's national security include the revision of the constitution, the role of intelligence, protection of the Amazon, and an increasing number of actors in the national security arena. There is a debate over whether a revised constitution should give the military responsibility for both external and internal defense, as was granted in the 1988 constitution. Weak political institutions in Brazil have created a vacuum in which the armed forces continue to play a somewhat influential political role. Although the military has resisted greater involvement in civic-action and counterdrug activities, it may have little choice but to increase its involvement in some of these areas. The military's dominant role in national security (especially in the nuclear, space development, and arms industries) may be eclipsed by an expanding roster of actors. It remains to be seen how the military will respond to its displacement by civilian actors in the political system.

The neoliberal economic model introduced by Fernando Henrique Cardoso poses major challenges for those involved with national security issues in Brazil. The economic model imposes severe financial constraints on all state-related sectors, including the security forces, and calls into question the size, roles, and missions of the armed forces. By late 1995, the armed forces had managed to curb any further erosion in defense expenditures, suggesting that the impact of the neoliberal economic model on the military would not be as severe as in Argentina. The economic model, with its emphasis on privatization, reduces state support for defense and other industries previously considered "strategic." The privatization of Embraer, for example, symbolized a new era of reduced state support for defense-related industries.

Although the neoliberal economic model has reduced the means for security in Brazil, the demand for security has not necessarily declined. On the external front, as seen above, participation in peacekeeping continues to strain resources. On the internal front, growing criminality, increased drug trafficking, and similar problems also strain the security apparatus. In conclusion, the need to balance means and ends in the security arena, at a time of major international and domestic changes, will challenge Brazilian policy-makers into the twenty-first century.

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The rich literature on the Brazilian military is exemplified by Alfred C. Stepan's classic, The Military in Politics , and his Rethinking Military Politics . Thomas E. Skidmore provides a thorough review of the military regime in The Politics of Military Rule in Brazil, 1964-85 . See also his Politics in Brazil, 1930-64 . Stanley E. Hilton's works include "The Brazilian Military: Changing Strategic Perceptions and the Question of Mission" in the journal Armed Forces and Society . David V. Fleischer contributes excellent sections on the Brazilian military in The Latin American Military Institution, e dited by Robert Wesson. Wendy Ann Hunter provides sophisticated analysis of the Brazilian military since 1985 in her doctoral dissertation, "Back to the Barracks? The Military in Post-Authoritarian Brazil."

Comprehensive coverage of the subject of defense in Brazil is contained in Adrian J. English's two books, The Armed Forces of Latin America and Regional Defence Profile: Latin America , both now somewhat dated. For a study of Brazil's defense industry from an economist's perspective, see Patrice Franko-Jones, The Brazilian Defense Industry . In the field of geostrategy, good and concise coverage is provided by Robert J. Branco's The United States and Brazil: Opening a New Dialogue , which takes a political-economic point of view, and by Orlando Bonturi's Brazil and the Vital South Atlantic , which deals mainly with Brazil's geostrategic importance.

From an historian's perspective, an overview of Brazilian military history from colonial times to the mid-1980s is Robert Ames Hayes's The Armed Nation . Frank D. McCann's The Brazilian-American Alliance: 1937-1945 analyzes an important period in Brazil-United States military relations, including Brazil's participation in the Italian campaign of World War II. Hernani Donato's Dicionário das batalhas brasileiras provides a good synoptic outline of Brazilian military history, from the colonial period until World War II.

In the case of the individual armed forces, the history of the navy is better documented than that of the army and air force, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of the navy's own Historical Section. Apart from the navy's publications, Arthur Oscar Saldanha da Gama's two books on the Brazilian Navy in the two world wars provide excellent coverage not only of this aspect of the subject but also of the period immediately preceding each conflict. The public relations departments of the army and the navy publish monthly newsletters (O Verde Oliva and No Mar , respectively) on their respective forces, and these can be useful sources of up-to-date information on current developments. Informative dissertations done in the early 1990s include Scott D. Tollefson's "Brazilian Arms Transfers, Ballistic Missiles, and Foreign Policy" and Jorge Zaverucha's "Civil-Military Relations During the Process of Transition."

Deoclecito Lima de Siqueira's Fronteiras: A patrulha aérea e o adeus do arco e flecha , although dealing ostensibly only with the maritime patrol and antisubmarine warfare activities of the Brazilian Air Force during World War II, merits attention for the light it throws on the early development of Brazilian military aviation, the impact of United States military assistance, and the important role played by the Brazilian Navy and Air Force in the latter stages of the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II.

Useful magazines include Tecnologia e Defesa and Flap , which deal with general defense and aviation subjects on a bimonthly and monthly basis, respectively. Security and defense issues are discussed in Segurança e Defesa . The best sources of up-to-date and relatively objective information on Brazilian defense are the Spanish monthly magazine Defensa and the two German-published Spanish-language magazines Tecnologia Militar and Iberoamericana de Tecnologias . (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of April 1997

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Brazil Table of Contents