General José Elito is the new Brazilian Chief Minister of the Cabinet of Institutional Security
By Dialogo December 22, 2010
Brazil’s President-elect Dilma Rousseff on Tuesday, December 22,
announced five more ministers. Among them is Army General José Elito Carvalho
Siqueira, who will be the new Chief Minister of the Cabinet of Institutional
During the South American Defense Chiefs Conference, co-hosted by the
Armed Forces of Peru and the U.S. Southern Command, which took place in August
in Lima, Peru, Diálogo spoke with General Elito, who was then the Chief of
Defense Staff and is the former Force Commander for MINUSTAH, the United Nations
stabilization force in Haiti.
Diálogo: What is the situation regarding the Brazilian armed
forces and the fight against illicit trafficking?
General Elito: Congress passed a law in 2004/2005 that gave the
Brazilian Army more of a police power, especially along the borders. Therefore, the
armed forces – more particularly the army – are spread out in the far
reaches of the country and many times represent the only state presence in those
areas. It was a natural consequence of years and years of our presence there, which
makes it a very logical law. It gives the Brazilian Army the authority to perform
authorized police activities or actions within a 150-kilometer strip along the
border. So, this was very good. And now this law is being updated; the supplementary
law, which should be approved by Congress soon, extends this police power to the
Navy and Air Force. Because the Navy also has some areas near rivers that need this,
let’s say, special attention; and the Air Force had authority in its airspace, but
whenever a clandestine aircraft would land, the Air Force would lose this authority.
In other words, this is great, because it’s a matter of national security or
national defense. Its great advantage, aside from its content, is the fact that it
is a state document. It’s not a military document, or in other words, defense is no
longer simply a military matter. Today, defense is a national matter. Every citizen
is responsible for defense. The armed forces are the arm that will execute the
defense, but the citizen is also responsible for it. Therefore, the fact of this
integration or extension of the power of defense only helps the nation. It’s a great
accomplishment, and I think that Brazil has made a large step forward in strategy.
This strategy gives Brazil today, its inhabitants, its population a broader sense of
defense, which is very important for us military professionals, that is, that
everyone is involved with the problem.
Diálogo: Can you give us a panorama of what the situation is now
in Haiti as compared to when you were the Force Commander, in 2006?
General Elito: I was in command there before the earthquake, and
I went back now six months after the tragedy. What we can say on the positive side
is that you notice that there is movement in Port-au-Prince, which is really good.
That complicated traffic all the time, people in the streets doing informal trading,
which sometimes seems to be a chaotic situation, but which from my perspective, is
very positive. In other words, people are wanting to have a way of life after the
earthquake. Before, the same was also true; whenever the population or the country
were doing better, the streets were crowded. The streets are clean; there is still a
lot of debris in the areas of the houses, but the streets are clean, which is very
good, because shortly afterward, there was a very complicated period on the
roadways. On the other hand, we have information, for example, that the
international resources did not really arrive as promised, and there are over one
million people living in tents today, which is a permanent concern. However, these
people are being taken care of and they have food and water. MINUSTAH is doing very
interesting work with the police on their presence and intelligence, to avoid
greater complications in the future in these areas. It’s really unfortunate that the
earthquake struck after a year and a half of stability in Haiti. Everything was
improving in Haiti when the earthquake happened. I think that Haiti deserves, and
its people deserve, something positive; let’s hope it happens.
Diálogo: Why do we see Brazilian troops in other countries, but
not other countries’ troops in Brazil?
General Elito: Brazil is a country, I would say, blessed by God.
In other words, our problems are minimal compared to other problems we see in other
areas of the world. We’re really in a position to handle our problems. It’s that the
need was never there. We’re not a country that has earthquakes, tsunamis,
hurricanes, etc. Brazil would be open, should an extreme situation occur, to receive
humanitarian aid from any other country.