Brazil Marshalls Defenses to Fight Amazon Internationalization

BRASILIA, Brazil, April 11, 2005 (ENS) - The Brazilian military is readying itself to defend the country's sovereignty over the Amazon rainforest should there be a threat of foreign military occupation, a top admiral told the Brazilian Senate on Friday.

The idea that Brazil's Amazon rainforest, the largest in the world, is coveted by the international community because its drinking water and forest resources are seen as "collective public goods," was the subject of a debate held by the Senate Foreign Relations and National Defense Commission, according to the Brazilian state news agency, Agencia Brasil.

"We in the Ministry of Defense consider our forces adequate to defend the Amazon region in a regional conflict. In the case of a threat from a superior power, we shall be compelled to adopt a strategy that the army has been training very effectively, called the strategy of resistance," said Fleet Admiral Miguel Ângelo Davena, the secretary of Policy, Strategy, and International Affairs of the Ministry of Defense.


The Amazon rainforest near Manaus, Brazil (Photo courtesy NASA)
In response to questions of military readiness by lawmakers and in email sent by viewers of the TV Senate's coverage of the public hearing, "The Internationalization of the Amazon: Real Risk or Imaginary Fear," Admiral Davena said the Armed Forces' equipment now assigned to the region is not up to this task but that the problem can be corrected by transferring vehicles and vessels from other regions of the country.

"I believe that it is common knowledge to all Brazilians that our forces need to be reoutfitted," the admiral said.

Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães, the executive secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Relations (Itamaraty), said that "the germ of future foreign interference in the Amazon" begins with the idea that the international community could do a better job of managing natural resources than the governments of the countries where they are situated,

"I wouldn't claim that there is a threat that the Amazon will be internationalized, but I confess I find it interesting that this concern never goes away," Guimarães said.

"Nowadays, a physical presence is not required in order to enjoy the benefits of occupation," he declared, referring to the Amazon region.

Many Brazilians are concerned about internationalization of the Amazon. European and U.S. biotechnology companies are perceived by some as pirates, robbing Brazil of its genetic heritage, and environmental groups are viewed as usurpers.

Some in Brazil, including some senators, perceive the conservation efforts of environmental groups and western countries as intrusion on their country's position as a sovereign state.

For their part, environmentalists regard the Amazon as a world resource that must be preserved because its rich biodiversity is of global importance. Brazil contains the planet’s widest range of plant species. One-sixth of all the world’s birds live there, an eighth of all amphibians, and one in every 11 mammals. Five thousand different kinds of trees grow in the Amazon, by comparison North America has 650 different trees.About 20 percent of the fresh water entering the oceans comes from the Amazon.

Two-thirds of the 2.7 million square mile extent of the Amazon basin is within Brazil's borders.

The Amazon is being plundered by illegal gold miners, by deforestation at a rate of over five million acres per year, and the peace is disturbed by land use conflicts between the indigenous people and more recent settlers.

Brazilian fears are aroused by statements of concern such as this by Greenpeace Brazil, which says on its website, "The protection of the forest and the search for solutions for the development of the region are a global priority of the Greenpeace."


Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães is the executive secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Relations. (Photo courtesy Universidade de Brasília)
Guimarães said that Brazil's chief concern should be to administer the region adequately. "To the extent that the sovereign State administers the natural resources of the Amazon region, all types of threats diminish to the same degree," he said.

At the beginning of this year, the Itamaraty issued a note in response to declarations by the former Trade Commissioner of the European Union, Pascal Lamy.

According to Guimarães, at an Economic Commission for Europe debate in Geneva on "global governance," Lamy, currently a candidate for the top spot at the World Trade Organization, spoke in favor of "international rules for collective public goods," such as tropical forests, water, fish, and the ozone layer. He did not refer specifically to the Amazon.

The appropriateness of issuing this note was questioned by the senators.

Guimarães replied that the Itamaraty's statement was "firm," not "exaggerated," and that it was intended to reaffirm that "Brazil is competent to administer its territory."

To monitor and control the Amazon, the government of Brazil is working with the U.S. company Raytheon to build in Brazil a sophisticated radar system called the System for the Vigilance of the Amazon, or SIVAM.

SIVAM will use a wide range of sensors - from stationary radars to satellites to geophysical monitors - to gather data from the Amazon region. This information will be used by the government of Brazil to protect the sensitive environment of the Amazon, improve air safety, increase the accuracy of weather forecasting, assist in the detection, prevention and control of epidemics, help to manage land occupation and usage, and ensure effective law enforcement and border control.