The Armed Forces spend more than $67 million a year to provide shelter to those who cross the Brazil-Venezuela border.
The cost of military operations Brazil conducts at the border with Venezuela far exceeds the annual average cost of the humanitarian aid the Armed Forces provided to Haiti, a country devastated by civil unrest and earthquakes. This is where Brazil conducted its longest mission, which lasted 13 years.
In the past 12 months, the government spent more than $67 million from state funds to support military activities associated with Operation Shelter (Operação Acolhida) in the state of Roraima, bordering Venezuela. The number is more than twice the annual average ($33 million) that Brazil dedicated to Haitian operations between 2004 and 2017. Operation Shelter kicked off in March 2018, to welcome and relocate Venezuelans fleeing to Brazil.
On April 29, 2019, after Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó called on the people to protest in an attempt to oust President Nicolás Maduro, Brazil announced funding of $56 million for Operation Shelter to carry on activities through May 2020. That same day, Federal Police identified for 848 Venezuelans crossing into Brazil in those 24 hours. This is more than twice the daily average of between 250 and 300 recorded at the border.
The complexity and inclusiveness of the mission on the Venezuelan border in the cities of Boa Vista and Pacaraima, 1,300 kilometers from Caracas, are the reasons behind these costs. In Haiti, the Brazilian expenses accounted for the sustainment of troops, training, food, and military supplies. Sustainment of the troops is now only a small portion of the cost. The current mission includes all humanitarian operations required to receive, feed, and treat the sick and starving Venezuelans arriving at the border.
According to the Brazilian Ministry of Defense, the number of Brazilian officers deployed to the border includes nearly 600 members of the Navy, Army, and Air Force. The troops assigned to Operation Shelter are specifically trained for the mission and rotate every three months.
“In the city of Pacaraima, the Armed Forces operate the Reception and Identification Station, the Screening Station, the Advance Services Station, the Support Area, the Janokoida Shelter, and another housing unit. Boa Vista has 10 shelters, one Relocation Area (Rondon II), one Support Area, one Screening Station, one Information Station, one Warehouse, and one Overnight Stay Area. The last three structures are near the Boa Vista International Bus Station,” the Ministry of Defense Press Office told Diálogo.
From shelter to relocation
According to the Federal Police, 55,721 Venezuelans entered Pacaraima between January 1 and May 9, 2019. The border between both countries was closed following orders from Maduro in February 2019. During this period, daily entries reached 372. On May 10, the Venezuelan government reopened the border with Brazil.
The Brazilian government houses 8,500 Venezuelans in shelters. More than 25,000 meals are served each day. According to the Ministry of Defense Press Office, Boa Vista has 11 shelters that can house about 5,822 people, while the two in Pacaraima have a capacity of about 846 people.
Venezuelans who wish to remain in Brazil are referred to representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They receive immigration documents, including identification and temporary employment authorization. Immigrants also go through an interview to assess their professional knowledge. The mission ends once immigrants are relocated. According to the Ministry of Citizenship, more than 5,000 immigrants have been relocated in 17 states.
“The three pillars of the [Logistics Task Force] Operation Shelter that the Armed Forces of the state of Roraima conduct are: planning, sheltering, and relocation of Venezuelan immigrants. The activities in these phases include reception, identification, screening, immunization, shelter, and relocation of Venezuelan immigrants. Various government institutions, international agencies and nongovernmental organizations are part of these processes,” said the Ministry of Defense Press Office.