Photo Jonathan Blair

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Haiti as a training ground for Brazil's military

For quite a while, I have been hearing and reading that Brazil's peace mission in Haiti served, among other things, as a training ground for developing the military's skills at urban operations, with a view to using them for that "pacification" purposes in Brazilian cities' often unruly favelas. It sounded more like a plausible rumour than anything else, however.

Well, the cat is now out of the bag and, if you forgive the mixed metaphors, it is from the horse's mouth: Nelson Jobim, Brazil's Defense minister has now announced that for the first time on the country's territory, the military would be acting as a peacekeeping force in the recently-conquered favelas of the Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro. And who will be in charge? General Fernando José Lavaquial, currently head of the Infantry Airborne Brigade and... former military commander of the UN Peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

In Rio at least, crime still pays an awful lot

Remember that chapter in Freakonomics called "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?" On the basis of sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh's work with a Chicago gang, Dubner and Levitt explain that crime does not pay much for street-level drug traffickers.

The same does not seem to be true in Brazil. An article in today's Estadão tells the story of two young women who used to sell drugs in the streets of Cidade de Deus, the favela made famous by the eponymous movie. They now collaborate with the Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP), which the state of Rio is implanting in the favelas from which it expels traffickers. Apparently happy with the change, they nonetheless point out that they miss the 2000-3000 Reais they used to make weekly, peddling drugs.

Now, this is a lot of money: between 1200 and 1800 US dollars per week, or roughly between U$60,000 and U$90,000 a year, this in a neighbourhood where, according to a recent study by the Federation of Industries of Rio, the average family makes less than U$400 (R$648) per month, or about U$4600 per year.

Obviously, the two young ladies may have been boasting, but clearly, the incentive structure in favelas such as this one is still tweaked massively towards crime.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Brazil's spying apparatus: NOT impressive for a supposedly global power

Brazil's premier intelligence and security specialist, Joanisval Brito Gonçalves, has a fantastic piece--still only in Portuguese however--on the country's intelligence apparatus.

What Brito Gonçalves describes in a detached manner but with copious details is a poorly financed legal and institutional mess--my words, obviously. He goes through the formal mandates of the various agencies involved, as well as the legal framework that governs their activities and tells a remarkable story of overlap and inconsistencies. Most striking, however, is the stunning under financing of the whole sector: In 2010, while Germany devoted US 460 million dollars to intelligence activities, Mexico almost 130m and Argentina 120, Brazil spent only 30m dollars, which already represented a 54% increase compared to 2009 (p.11).

He explains how the intelligence apparatus still suffers from the reputation it gained under the military regime, but his only goes so far. My own hunch is that Brazil's civilian political establishment never felt the need to develop a substantial intelligence capability: with no real enemy and a diplomacy that has adroitly played its cards in the War on terror game, no real threat could justify substantial investments in this area.

Now, expect this to change, for there is a limit to what Brazil can do on the global scene with so limited an intelligence capability. And being out there, most everywhere, matters increasingly to Brazil's leaders, whatever their political stripes.

Defense policy as industrial policy (2)

After the nuclear submarines announced a while back, the Brazilian military is now acquiring 3 Super-Cougar helicopters from EADS' local subsidiary Helibras. The first three are being delivered now, with firm order for 42 more. Once again, Brazil gets the technology and, from 2012, the aircraft will all be built in Brazil.

Expect the forthcoming announcement for fighter aircraft to follow the same model: technology transfer, and local production.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chavez ridiculed in Brazil, and the US blowing it, again

Wikileaks, Wikileaks...

Le Monde has a neat scoop from Wikileaks: Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim once tried to calm the Americans down and explain why Brasilia was not that worried about Hugo Chavez: "He barks but doesn't bite."


Then things almost get worse: in 2004, Brazil tried to get the US to support their sale of Super Tucano trainer/light fighter planes to Venezuela by promising to help the opposition!

Once more with Wikileaks, we learn less about substance than about form, but this one remains a keeper because it confirms that Itamaraty has a much better grip on what needs to be done with Chavez than the American government.

Why? Well, the US wanted to prevent Brazil from selling planes that had no bearing whatsoever on the strategic balance of South America (which is why Brazil was keen on selling them in the first place). Meanwhile, Chavez was getting 24 units of one of Russia's best fighter jets, which is a factor of instability. The more money Chavez invests in small turbo-prop trainer/ground support planes, the less is left for sophisticated weapons. Moreover, a rational policy would want Brazil as tightly involved as possible in Venezuela's military and weapons' technology programs.

Dumber still: Brazil needed US permission because the Super-Tucano uses American technology. By exploiting that fact to constrain Brasilia, the US was basically killing its chances of getting the contract for the major jet acquisition that Brazil has been toying with for years, and on which it should finally decide soon.

Both these details did not seem to register in D.C.

Michael Shifter is really right: the US is not conspiring any more in Latin America. Their policy doesn't seem to be going anywhere in fact: they are just blowing it, time after time.