Interview With Chief of Defense Staff of Brazil, Gen. Elito
By Dialogo August 11, 2010
The top Brazilian military official present at the second Annual South
American Defense Chief’ Conference, which took place August 2-4 in Lima, Peru was
Army Gen. JoséElito Carvalho Siqueira, Chief of Defense Staff (Ministry of Defense)
and former Force Commander (Minustah). His previous experience includes commander of
the United Nations stabilization force in Haiti (MINUSTAH), military commander of
the Brazilian province of Amazonia, and command of the country's Southern
The focus of this year’ South American Defense Chiefs Conference, co-hosted
by the Armed Forces of Peru and the U.S. Southern Command was on military support to
humanitarian assistance and disaster response in addition to security issues and
threats, as the United States and regional partner nation’ work together to better
address those threats.
General Elito spoke about the current situation in Haiti, the Brazilian
participation in humanitarian aid in the region and national security issues in this
exclusive interview with Diáogo.
Diálogo: You have just returned from Haiti. Can you give us a
panorama of what the situation is now 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. First of
all there is concern about the hurricanes, which might come in the next two, three
months, as well as a political concern, which is a natural concern in Haiti, as well
as in any other countries, but particularly in Haiti, with the approach of the
presidential elections scheduled for the end of November. So for the next six months
there’s a double concern linked to the earthquake, which are hurricanes and the
pre-election period, which is always very tumultuous in Haiti. I participated in the
election of President Préval, and I know how complicated it is, because anything can
generate consequences when it comes to elections. So, then, this is the situation,
but from what I saw, despite all that destruction, the Haitian people are very
strong. But these are people who have a goal, and I hope that all those who can
help, really do help, and that Haiti can find its way. 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: Regarding BRABATT 2 (the 900 Brazilian troops sent to Haiti after
the earthquake)--Those troops were expected to return to Brazil by the end of 2010.
Is that still the plan, or will they stay longer?
General Elito: BRABATT 2 is not an isolated unit within
MINUSTAH. The UN mandates are renewed every six months to one year. BRABATT 2
arrived together with other units from other countries as a result of the
earthquake. So we had companies from Japan, for instance, and troops from other
countries, and we went with nine hundred men, which is BRABATT 2. So, before being a
unit decision, this is a decision about the UN mandate. The mandate was for six
months, and now it’s been renewed for another six months. Therefore, until January
of 2011, at least, BRABATT 2 will continue, in the same way as the other units that
were sent to Haiti due to the earthquake. There are currently 2,300 Brazilian troops
Diálogo: Turning now to focus more on the humanitarian aspect
that was the subject of the conference here. What is the Brazilian participation, if
any, in other countries, rather than Haiti?
General Elito: Well, Brazil also has many problems. We’ve just
now experienced floods in Alagoas, Pernambuco; we’re in those areas today with over
two thousand men from the army. Also in Santa Catarina, when the flood happened, in
the beginning of the year... Therefore, humanitarian action really gives us an
important experience, so that we are ready to help in any region in the world,
including Brazil. So much so that we had no problem going to Chile, when that
country was struck by an earthquake right after Haiti; we go anywhere that is in
need of assistance, including here, in Peru.
Diálogo: If Brazil also needs help, 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.
Diálogo: Let’s talk a little bit about national security in
general. 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.