Internationalization of the Amazon: indigenous people can be a solution, not a problem

The internationalization of parts of the Amazon is one of the biggest strategic concerns of many members of the Armed Forces. The fear is that an indigenous ethnic group, inhabiting the border region, will declare itself an independent nation and become recognized by other countries. By opposing this, Brazil could receive international sanctions and, eventually, even be the target of military action.

But an analysis aligned with the most recent concepts of 21st century warfare has identified the indigenous peoples not as a military problem, but as a fundamental part of the defense of the Amazon.

Since the rapprochement between Brazil and Argentina in the years 1978, the country’s strategic defense priority turned to the Amazon. Several military units from the south and southeast were transferred to the jungle region and special platoons were created along the border.

The idea was to prevent two scenarios: the loss of territory to nations or external agents. interested in natural resources and the emergence of the so-called “black spots”, parts of the country where the State is unable to exercise its authority against drug traffickers, illegal miners, land grabbers, among other criminals.

Brazil has been betting on military deterrence strategies. First, the country tries to equip itself with weapons that make a foreign invasion too costly. In a scenario where the adversary is a major military power, Brazil would wage a war of resistance, guerrilla warfare, as happened in Vietnam (600-1975). Here, the idea would be to show the enemy the political costs of entering an “infinite war”.

If the opponent were a neighboring nation, with a military power comparable to Brazil, there would be an conventional warfare, with artillery, aviation, ships and other heavy weapons.

To prepare for these scenarios, the country maintains the Jungle Warfare Instruction Center (CIGs), a unit that carries out one of the world’s most highly regarded jungle warfare training. The column has already addressed this aspect of the defense of the Amazon.

But to defend the Amazon, it is not enough to flex your muscles. Despite being important, these resources alone would be ineffective if they were disconnected from actions of social and economic inclusion and understanding of the cultures of indigenous and riverside populations, according to more contemporary military analyses.

Especially in a context called “fourth generation warfare”, where non-state actors, such as civil agencies and civil society organizations play an important role in military strategy.

That is, several military analysts who research wars of the 21st century no longer only take into account the regular armies of States. They admit, in the strategic scenario, actions by guerrillas or rebels, special forces, manipulation of information in the media, support for protesters and NGOs, in addition to cyber, legal and economic actions.

Thus, the defense of the The Amazon also needs to be designed in this context. And the indigenous issue, although it still divides opinions in the military, is an element that cannot be left out, according to analysts.

In various parts of the jungle, especially on the borders with Guyana and with In Bolivia, there are entire indigenous tribes living in Brazilian territory, but who speak their own languages, English or Castilian. There, communication in Portuguese is not possible.

This occurs for several reasons: there are pre-Columbian ethnic groups spread across regions prior to the current borders of the countries. In other points, despite being in Brazilian territory, the villages are closer to foreign cities. According to Funai, there are 17 different indigenous ethnic groups in the country and 17, 5% of the approximately 817 thousand indigenous Brazilians do not speak Portuguese.

A common fear among a large portion of the military is that a foreign nation use NGOs and special forces operators to convince communities with these characteristics to try to separate from Brazil.

To give you an idea, there are tribes in such remote areas in the jungle where only the Armed Forces and agencies like Funasa (National Health Foundation) manage to arrive, but with less than ideal frequency. International NGOs pay for helicopter flights (which cost more than R$ 150 thousand per trip) to take supplies and supplies to these regions.

An eventual geopolitical adversary of Brazil could also use resources to deepen fractures in society, funding leaders or entities to explore political divergences. The idea would be to intensify the disputes that already exist between local actors, such as social movements that defend indigenous causes or environmental conservation, farmers, prospectors and State agents.

However, a scenario like this, in an attempt to externalization of partial or total internationalization of the Amazon, is not an imminent possibility, according to analysts. But it is a hypothesis that cannot be ruled out in the long term if social conditions in the region deteriorate.

Relationship with indigenous peoples

The forces armed forces are not oblivious to all these factors, but a multidimensional strategy for the defense of the Amazon has not yet been fully implemented.

At least since the middle of 2007, the special forces of the Army have been increasing integration with indigenous peoples at the tactical level. The idea is to incorporate “cultural intelligence” into the training of the military, that is, to know the peculiarities of each indigenous community in order to obtain support and multiply forces.

To achieve this objective, the first challenge is free the military “from the stereotyped view that characterizes the indigenous as an exotic being, who walks around naked, uses bows and arrows and lives in the forest”, according to military analyst Alessandro Visacro, author of the books “Guerra Irregular” and “A Guerra na Era of Information” (Editora Contexto).

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“Wearing clothes, watching television, accessing the world wide web, driving a car or even performing military service, as a large number of indigenous youths do in the special border platoons and in the jungle infantry brigades, does not characterize the rupture of indigenous citizens with their ancestral culture” , wrote Visacro in an article on the topic .

According to him, the effort of the Armed Forces has been to leave behind the idea that the Indian has to be assimilated and integrated (or even left to his own devices in an isolated region) and to develop concepts provided for in the Constitution of 1988, such as cooperation, interaction and respect for multiculturalism in relation to Indians who have already had contact with society.

In In other words, the idea is for the State to understand and respect indigenous culture, but at the same time bring sustainable development to their communities. This involves making resources such as electricity, health and education available.

Last year, for example, the Army installed more than 600 kilometers of fiber optic cables to bring internet for the first time to communities that inhabit the Rio Negro channel.

In parallel, the military maps reputable NGOs to establish partnerships, increase integration with the communities and reduce the ideological distance between activists and the military.

The general idea is that the more indigenous peoples feel supported and an essential part of society, the less chance they have of cooperating with external agents. Not to mention the high value that indigenous people add to the Army by serving in its ranks with knowledge of the jungle and its nuances.

But one of the problems is that at the political and strategic level, the understanding between The state and the indigenous movement still have a long way to go. Land issues and land demarcation pending since the Constitution of 1988 are still the subject of debates, for example.

And in parallel, there is still the issue of combating illegal activities in the Amazon, such as miners, illegal loggers and land grabbers. One of the main international drug trafficking routes in the country currently passes through the Solimões River channel, already characterizing a “black spot”, a region of the country where the State is unable to exercise its authority.

International legal war

Another possible unconventional threat to the Amazon is that eventual international geopolitical rivals try to use the theme of climate change in international forums to advocate for the concept of the “New Antarctica”. That is, creating global governance over the Amazon to prevent countries in the region from exploiting its resources in order to preserve the area for future generations.

At the end of last year, diplomats from Niger and Ireland organized a vote to decide whether international security issues related to climate change should be decided in the UN Security Council. Their focus was the African continent, not Brazil, but Russia vetoed the proposal.

According to Army Colonel Oscar Medeiros Filho, one of the ways that Brazil has to oppose this type of of movement is to bet on a partnership with neighboring countries in regional defense and security policies through the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (OTCA). It was created in 1978 by treaty and transformed into an organization in 1995.

“Otca remains the best antidote to curb a kind of ‘internationalization manoeuvre’, insofar as it reserves the exclusive responsibility for the region’s destiny to the ‘communal’ countries”, he wrote in the Army’s e-blog.