Interview with Major General Sarmento, Commander of the Arcanjo VII Pacification Force
In April 2012, the Training Unit Group Command/9th Motorized Infantry Brigade took over coordination of actions to maintain public order in the area of the Alemão and Penha complexes, former trafficking strongholds in the city of Rio de Janeiro, and replaced the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, headquartered in Campinas (São Paulo). The replacement was part of the Eastern Military Command’s operational plan, and the work carried out by the mission did not interrupt the transition process from the Brazilian Armed Forces to the state Military Police. To talk about the work performed by Brazilian Military personnel in the area in what is known as Operation Arcanjo VII, Diálogo spoke to Major General Carlos Maurício Barroso Sarmento, commander of the Pacification Force that took action in these enormous conglomerates of shantytowns within the “Marvelous City.”
Diálogo: General Sarmento, why did the Armed Forces, and more specifically the Brazilian Army, have to intervene in the Alemão and Penha complexes?
Major General Carlos Maurício Barroso Sarmento: The Army’s participation in the pacification of Penha and Alemão is a specific mission for this purpose. There was a situation of urban terrorism here in Rio de Janeiro, a situation, we might say, of action by criminal factions who took the city by assault, which demanded more rigorous measures than normal, and exceeded the capabilities of the public-safety agencies. For that reason the Army was called on to cooperate in this effort, specifically in Penha and Alemão.
Diálogo: Is this good for the Army’s image?
General Sarmento: It’s a constitutional mission of the Army. The Army, according to the Brazilian Constitution, is responsible for defending the country and guaranteeing the constitutional powers and law and order. So this mission is an activity for which the Army must be prepared, and it prepares constantly for this type of operation.
Diálogo: Do you believe that a parallel can be drawn between the work done by the Brazilian Army in Haiti, in MINUSTAH, and here in the Pacification Force?
General Sarmento: There are many similarities and many differences. Similarities: visible patrols, the occupation of certain points, the pacification mission, per se. But the fundamental differences are in the mandate, in the rules of engagement, in what the troops can and cannot do, in the limits on action. The Pacification Force in Penha and Alemão is an agreement established between the federal government and the state government, in which the Army takes over control of an area within a scenario of democratic normality, constitutional normality. All individual powers are guaranteed. It’s a situation of normality. At the same time, it’s an abnormal situation because the Army is being used in a more intensive and more visible way than a normal police force would operate, but all, I repeat, under conditions of democratic normality.
Diálogo: Do you anticipate that there will be the same type of missions in the near future?
General Sarmento: The Armed Forces are always in preparation mode. They’re preparing to defend the country and to defend constitutional power and law and order. So in this context, we’re ready to operate, and we do so in many other situations when we’re called on and assigned by the President, such as in the fight against illicit activities on the border, smuggling, where we act together with the Federal Police along the border, and in the pacification of agrarian conflicts, among others.
Diálogo: Is there specific training for this type of mission?
General Sarmento: Training for war is comprehensive nowadays. It involves action in a non-war scenario. For instance, the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan: I have to have lethal weapons to act as a combatant and non-lethal weapons to intervene, when necessary, in an urban conflict. I can’t go around shooting civilians left and right. This scenario of total war, like we had up to World War II, no longer exists, in which a city is invaded, occupied, destroyed. This scenario doesn’t exist nowadays. The population continues to work, continues to lead a normal life, while operations are in progress. The Armed Forces today have to be prepared to face both, war and non-war activities with lethal and non-lethal weapons.
Diálogo: Could you discuss that specific training?
General Sarmento: Nowadays in the Brazilian Army we have a reference point, which is the Instructional Center for Operations to Guarantee Law and Order. It’s an instructional center operating in Campinas, São Paulo, subordinate to the 11th Brigade; it’s an organization that centralizes behavior, that tries to formulate doctrine, that concentrates the experiences of various Brazilian units. As I’ve said, there are several types of operations: this one in Rio de Janeiro, for instance, is focused on intensive and visible patrols, as well as the occupation of certain strong points. For each type of operation of this kind, we have training, and those who prepare for war, for the worst, for total war, prepare for this.
Diálogo: How does synergy arise between the Armed Forces and the Military Police?
General Sarmento: The Pacification Force is not limited to the Army. It’s made up of a field battalion of the Military Police, which in its turn is made up of Military Police personnel and the Civil Police precinct. They also have Civil Police representation here in our complex, and we try to clearly highlight the work of each of them. In this transition to the police, we simply hand over responsibilities, leave the area, and allow the police to go in and take action. They have their own special way of doing it, [they] no longer [have] such visible patrols; they’re even closer to the population, all within the Pacification Force policy that they’re trying to implement, [which is] completely different than ours. This is an immediate transition.
Diálogo: General Sarmento, a population was living under the yoke of criminals, drug dealers, who dominated that area and dictated the laws there for over 30 years. What did the Army do to gain support for its actions from the residents?
General Sarmento: We did more in the social communication side, promoting the work of the force, and trying to show the population that there’s another way to live. The public-safety agencies had very limited penetration there. As a matter of fact, it was not only the public-safety agencies, but other organizations that went in or were permitted by the dealers to enter, [had very little reach]. So it’s an enormous effort to try to change this culture, their reality. The message of the pacification is that there’s a peaceful, orderly way of living, and that we were here for a year-and-a-half, during which the inhabitants, the local population, had the opportunity to experience this new reality, and it’s also their responsibility to choose. So, if they want to live the way they’re currently living, they have a way to maintain that [lifestyle], we’re giving them these tools. The public-safety agencies are coming in, the State is coming in with other structures: schools, education, sports, infrastructure, water, sewers, garbage collection, electricity, all to benefit the welfare of the population. This is progressive, it doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s the choice that they make. Is this what you want, or do you want to go back to how it used to be?
Diálogo: We know that with such a mission come multiple difficulties. If you had to name one, which would be the greatest difficulty in this type of mission?
General Sarmento: I would say the greatest difficulty, is to reestablish order, the everyday activities of the population, having an orderly life, and the fight against crime. Drug trafficking is terrible; this is what devastates our population. As long as there’s someone who wants to consume, there will be someone who will sell, so it’s impossible to stop this criminal activity.
Diálogo: What about something positive? In terms of your pride for having fulfilled this mission successfully, what would you like to highlight about it?
General Sarmento: I would say, mainly, to the Soldier who was here, who is not from Rio de Janeiro, that one day he will be able to say, “Wow, I helped to pacify the Marvelous City, which remains marvelous because I contributed my grain of salt as well.”
Diálogo: And what was the main lesson learned?
General Sarmento: That the Brazilian Army is very precise in its preparation, in how it prepared to confront this mission, how it adapted. Each mission requires different adaptation. There were many more successes than mistakes; we learned a lot in terms of the amount of lethal and non-lethal weaponry when on patrol, ways of patrolling, equipment to be acquired. It’s a very large operational gain for the force, comparable to our work in Haiti.