Academic journal article Military Review

Controlling the Hydra

Academic journal article Military Review

Controlling the Hydra

Article excerpt

Around Tabatinga and in the Alto Solimoes region generally, FARC elements have been attracted by the profit potential of drug trafficking, money laundering and illegal gold mining. . . . A 40-man FARC guerrilla unit attacked across the Traira River from Colombia into Brazil, killing three Brazilian soldiers and wounding nine other members of a 17-man Brazilian Army detachment.

THE FRONTIER where the Amazon River forms the border between Peru and Colombia, then flows into Brazil, has become one of the critical "hot spots" in South America and not just because it is near the equator. Here, the Brazilian city of Tabatinga (alongside sister-city Leticia, Colombia) is the nexus of transnational activities that make this region an exemplar for regional ungovernability.1 Dangers to security and managed development in the Brazilian Amazon abound. Brazil will need modernized, mobile forces and sound operational concepts to control the Amazon.

Brazil's interests throughout the Amazon include defending the territorial integrity of a huge area, over half the size of the country; maintaining a Brazilian spirit of citizenship (and ascendancy of the Portuguese language) in border communities; and promoting sustainable development. Advancing these strategic interests hinges on cultivating cooperative relationships with neighboring countries and actively defending against transnational threats that have blossomed at remote jungle borders.

The Threat

Threats to Brazilian interests include the criminal activities of narcoguerrillas and drug traffickers, smuggled contraband ranging from guns to bird feathers and direct assaults against the environment and economy by illegal loggers, gold miners, fishermen and hunters. South American nations hold each other responsible for these coterminous border areas in traditional, geostrategic terms, but they have been unable to maintain control. The Alto Solimoes region of western Amazonas state, which Brazil guards with a battalion of jungle infantry, some platoon outposts and a handful of federal police has been especially problematic.2 This area reprents the challenges found all along the border of Brazil's Regiao Norte (northern region), and thus, the Alto Solimoes is the main focus of this article.3

The Area of Operations

The Brazilian Army's Solimoes Frontier Command (CFSol)/8th Jungle Infantry Battalion is responsible for providing security throughout the Alto Solimoes and along the open frontier. This section of the frontier is 1,300 kilometers long, running north and south from Tabatinga on the border with Colombia and Peru. The area of responsibility is about the size of Pennsylvania, and it sustains about 130 thousand people who live in and around seven small fluvial townships or counties. About 30,000 of these are indigenous people who continue to live in 90 outlying tribal societies. Officially there are about 200 foreigners registered in Tabatinga, but local officials estimate that 10,000 Peruvians and Colombians reside throughout the municipality. Many of these foreigners are directly or indirectly connected with drug trafficking, illegal fishing and wood cutting.4

Although the CFSol area of responsibility has a relatively small population, it is rich in natural minerals, trees and fish, attracting Brazilian and foreign businesses. The river transportation system supports ocean-going ships that travel from Iquitos, Peru, via the port at Tabatinga, on through the Brazilian Amazon to the Atlantic Ocean. Not one major road exists in this region linked by rivers.

The river network, stretching into the center of South American drug, gold and wood-producing areas, has attracted criminals to Tabatinga and the Alto Solimoes region. Indeed, the Brazilian Antidrug Secretariat (SENAD) regards the Tabatinga area as a critical drugtrafficking pathway to the Atlantic and has given priority to preventing Colombia's narcoguenillas fi-om infiltrating the Brazilian Amazon. …

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