Colombia, Brazil Negotiate Plan to Improve Border Security

By Geraldine Cook
July 15, 2011

Colombia’s defense minister, Rodrigo Rivera, and his Brazilian counterpart, Nelson Jobim, have taken the first steps toward a binational plan for border security between the two countries, with a focus on protecting the vast Amazon River basin.

Colombia’s defense minister, Rodrigo Rivera, and his Brazilian counterpart, Nelson Jobim, have taken the first steps toward a binational plan for border security between the two countries, with a focus on protecting the vast Amazon River basin.
The negotiations started June 24, as part of Jobim’s official visit to Colombia, and are expected to take two months. The plan seeks to strengthen bilateral cooperation while protecting the Amazon’s rich natural resources, biodiversity and inhabitants living along the 1,645-km border between the two countries. The area is increasingly threatened by organized crime, illegal mining and the growing of coca and poppy fields.
“This plan aims for an armed border,” said Rivera, “that allows for social and cultural integration of border communities, but at the same time serves as a containment wall for criminals, particularly international criminals, so that it limits their freedom of movement.”
The two dignitaries agreed on the need to increase collaboration between the armed forces and police of both countries.
“This means bringing our relationship to strategic levels of integration never seen before in the history of both countries,” said Rivera, emphasizing that Brazil and Colombia will share intelligence in real time, and coordinate operations to face potential security threats.
Both ministers seek to make the treaty an example for other countries to follow.
“We want this agreement with Colombia to become a model for work with other countries,” said Jobim, declaring that the border should not be a de facto protected zone for criminals, “but a tool for border countries to fight them.”
The armed forces of Colombia, Brazil and Peru have been conducting joint operations in tri-border Amazon region since 2010, as part of agreements of collaboration.
Ease of movement for security forces
Behind the plan is the acknowledgement that both countries must update their approaches to border security to match the realities of global organized crime in the 21st century.
Border security at times ends up protecting criminals by hamstringing military forces in pursuit of criminals once they cross to the other side.
“We need to stop the game of the criminals, who continue to move around just to bait our military forces,” Jobim told the Brazilian newspaper Estado de São Paulo. “They know about the limited mobility, so they lure the military to one place while the big shipment is crossing a few miles down the river. We need to have mobility to be able to surprise organized criminals.”
The binational agreement would define a strip of land on both sides of the border for free circulation of Brazilian and Colombian federal agents. A precedent for this kind of cooperation exists in the current agreement between the two countries’ air forces, under which a zone of common surveillance extends 150 km into each country’s airspace.
This zone is simultaneously patrolled by radars of both countries. Suspicious aircraft are monitored without interruption, through instant communications between Colombian and Brazilian air forces.
Since the common border area between Brazil and Colombia includes hundreds of rivers, the agreement will establish a strip of rivers that both countries’ military forces would be able to navigate freely inside each other’s borders.
Jobim said he’d like to see this agreement serve as a model for Brazil’s negotiations with Peru and Venezuela as well. Operations would then be coordinated by the Amazon Military Command.
Defending the Amazon and its riches
One of the central themes of Brazil’s bilateral cooperation talks with Colombia will be the protection of Amazon’s vast natural resources and biodiversity. Transnational crime threatens the preservation of natural and strategic resources.
The threats, according to Rivera, include illicit crops, systematic depredation of plant and animal species, human trafficking and illegal mining. This is causing “a true ecocide,” Rivera said.
“We have great riches,” said Jobim, stressing that South America needs to establish a policy of cooperation that would dissuade crime. But it wouldn’t work as a national strategy, he declared; it has to be regional.
“We must deploy our military and police forces throughout the border to guarantee the security and sustainability of the environment and the safety of the communities that live in this area,” Rivera concluded.
Military initiatives in the Amazon
The Brazilian Armed Forces have had a longstanding tradition of protecting and caring for the Amazon and its people.
Part of the environmental damage is caused by poverty in border towns and throughout the Amazon. Deforestation also plagues the region, and all branches of the Armed Forces have partnered with federal and local police as well as NGOs to launch Operação Arco Verde (Green Arch) in the state of Mato Grosso.
This program works with local communities to find train environmental activists and find new models of economic development that run counter to the logic of deforestation.
One military initiative is Cenispam (a Portuguese acronym for Administrative and Operational Center for the System of Protection of the Amazon). Cenispam will provide broadband technology and technical support to 130 isolated Amazon municipalities, thereby increasing their access to social programs.
The health of those communities is also a priority for the country. As such, the Brazilian Air Force recently launched “Operação Gota,” in partnership with the Ministry of Health, to vaccinate 4,000 Brazilians in approximately 30 remote communities.
“This is an opportunity to bring vaccines to very hard-to-reach communities and ensure that the children, and even the adult population, can get vaccinated,” said Carla Domingues of the Health Ministry’s National Immunization Program.
Under the program, which concluded June 18, health workers travel in Black Hawk helicopters to remote towns and villages, in order to vaccinate locals against polio and other diseases.
“We were working entire days for a couple of weeks and it was a very gratifying mission for all of us,” said Air Force Lt. Jefferson Martinez, of the 7th Squadron of the 8th Aviation Group. “The people are grateful for our presence and we are very happy to be able to help.”