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Interview with the Brazilian Defense Ministry’s Head of Strategic Affairs, General Mendes

Interview with the Brazilian Defense Ministry’s Head of Strategic Affairs, General Mendes

By Dialogo
October 17, 2011


One of the greatest current concerns of Brazilian civilian and military authorities is preparing for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. During the 3rd Annual South American Defense Chiefs Conference, held in Santiago, Chile, in August/September, 2011, Diálogo had the opportunity to talk to Brazil’s representative at the conference, the Brazilian Defense Ministry’s head of strategic affairs, Air Force General Marco Aurélio Gonçalves Mendes, about this and about the participation of the Brazilian Air Force in the UN peace force in Haiti, MINUSTAH.

DIÁLOGO: General, could you speak a bit about the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) Infantry contingent’s participation in MINUSTAH?

Air Force General Marco Aurélio Gonçalves Mendes: After the January 2010 earthquake, the situation in Haiti became even more complicated, more complex. So the UN [United Nations] asked for an increase in the number of Brazilian military personnel present in Haiti. The Brazilian Government sent another 900 men, forming what came to be called BRABATT2 [the 2nd Brazilian Battalion]. There was also the need to increase the number of engineers, because it was evident that there was a lot to be done, not so much in the task of rebuilding the country, frankly speaking, but in terms of engineering facilities so that the Brazilian unit and BRABATT1 itself could perform their activities: to reach a particular place, to be able to perform rescues, to have road access, to improve security capability. In other words, it was pro-combat or pro-stabilization engineering, specifically in reference to the use of the Brazilian troops. It was a very enriching experience for the Army and then for the Navy, which also participated with a group of approximately 200 Marines. More recently, less than a year ago, the Air Force had the opportunity to be able to participate in this type of work.

DIÁLOGO: Why was there interest in that?

General Mendes: Because the Air Force Infantry was an infantry force specialized in activities related to guarding airfields, aviation installations, facilities, communications, radars, etc. It also has an anti-aircraft area of activity, and we didn’t have any experience working in a peacekeeping situation.

DIÁLOGO: But in a peacekeeping situation, will the use of Brazilian planes be a possibility?

General Mendes: We think that eventually, yes, and then grows the need to have an infantry unit to work directly on the security of the installations for those aviation resources. In order to plan ahead for that experience, and to put us in a position to be able to assess the requirements for training an individual in this direction, we need to think of what kind of profile an Air Force professional has to have in order to work in such an area; so we thought it was a good opportunity, for example, to take advantage of MINUSTAH’s and BRABATT’s experience in particular, and we sent the first infantry group of 25 to 30 men to Haiti.

DIÁLOGO: And how has this experience been?

General Mendes: The experience has been a very good one, very positive, not only from a professional perspective, but also from the personal perspective of each of the men. Creating to a point of reference is also very important. How should we prepare ourselves? What kind of training should a member of the Air Force have in order to be able to live in such a situation? The experience was so positive that it was recommended that we send a second group.

DIÁLOGO: Do you think that due to all this experience acquired in Haiti and in other parts of the world where the country has personnel serving as members of peace forces, such as Lebanon, that Brazil would be a natural regional leader, in the event that a common disaster-response organization is formed, as was discussed at the South American Defense Chiefs Conference (SOUTHDEC), which had military humanitarian assistance as its main focus?

General Mendes: Currently, Brazil is more of a collaborator in this area. I wouldn’t speak in terms of regional leadership, because we have several countries in South America at quite an advanced stage in terms of preparation and use of their forces for humanitarian actions in case of natural disasters. SOUTHDEC showed that we have many possibilities, many alternatives; each country in its own way and each according to its structural demands up to now. I believe that the consensus of the meeting is that we develop a process, study a way to be able to interact with all of these alternatives. Instead of isolated initiatives, let’s have one initiative that takes advantage of all the expertise already developed. In this context, there’s no place and it wouldn’t be appropriate to say that country A, B, C, or D is a leader in this area. I believe that it’s a very promising opportunity for you to be able to learn more about the subject, know more about what each one has to contribute, how we can join our strengths, combine our possibilities.

DIÁLOGO: Because we already know the needs…

General Mendes: Exactly. We already know that in a certain area in South America there’s going to be a drought, there’s going to be a flood, there’s going to be a volcanic eruption… we already know that the ash will travel in a certain way in the physical space of South America, we know where you’re going to have landslides, earthquakes; this is already known. So there’s nothing more logical than for you to create a system to identify in advance where there are possibilities of natural disasters taking place, and work on prevention activities, creating an initial basic infrastructure capacity around these places in order to be able to have a fighting chance in terms of humanitarian assistance. Now, we have to adopt a regional approach initially, and we have to identify the most important actors, so that we can take advantage of all the initiatives on the table up to now.

DIÁLOGO: Can you give some examples?

General Mendes: I can mention a few. Argentina presented a very interesting system called CRISES. It’s a program that brings together the capacity to collect data and to make that data available for immediate combat activity in humanitarian-assistance actions. It’s very well developed, well designed.

We have Chile’s contribution – fantastic – because they have a program that physically identifies -throughout the entire country, obviously in Chile – the consequences of each of the already identified threats translated into terms of natural disasters. And they’re already in a position to say, “Well, there was an X-magnitude earthquake in such-and-such a place, we’re going to have an area Y that will be affected and that needs this much help for elderly people, for children; all this information is obtained. So this makes it much easier for you to quantify what kind of assistance is needed, and it even disciplines the activity, the participation of other countries in this regional humanitarian assistance.

Brazil presented a product that has been used for some time to support Haiti. It’s a very simple program, nothing very complicated, but we realized that we were receiving a very large amount of aid of all kinds of supplies. Everything. We needed to know what was needed in Haiti at that time. Then for you to send everything over there and put it in storage without using it would be too much, because they don’t have the space or the means to preserve these supplies until the time when they’re needed. So we created a simple program, where people itemize their contribution, say what it is, specify the quantity, the weight and volume, the expiration date, and this information is provided to our ambassador in Haiti. The ambassador reads through the inventory of what’s available: food, medical supplies, medicine, etc. He lists, selects what he would like to receive and when it’s needed, in the amount that it’s needed. I say all this in order to prove that at the moment we don’t need to lead this process. However, we do need to raise the awareness of all the countries participating in this conference, so that they can develop or fine-tune their tools and move to integrate this in such a way that it can be used in South America, obviously, and why not?, also in other regions in the Hemisphere of the Americas, if I can call it that, as in Haiti, for example.*

DIÁLOGO: Do you think that JIATF-South, in Key West, Florida, would be a possible model to be followed? I mean, in terms of establishing a transregional partnership, because obviously, it’s a body that fights drug trafficking. In other words, would it be possible to create an interagency humanitarian-assistance body involving several countries?

General Mendes: It seems reasonable to me that, if you want to integrate all the capabilities of the American countries in order to provide humanitarian aid anywhere in this region, that the Inter-American Defense Board, which I believe is the oldest military committee in the world, and the only eminently military body that works on military affairs in North, Central, and South America, would be the ideal body. The U.S. Southern Command has this part that you just mentioned for fighting drug trafficking. In other words, it’s a body that’s very specifically for that purpose. I believe that in this kind of thing, due to its importance, to its sensitivity, perhaps even due to the type of mission that you’re going to perform – humanitarian aid – something that’s needed, if possible, is to be more specialized, more … I don’t mean particularized, but that it should be something quite specific, unique in that subject so that you can really explore all its possibilities. I believe that drug trafficking is very well served by the existing structure. I don’t question that structure, but I believe that we should start our work with respect to natural disasters and humanitarian aid with the Board; that seems more reasonable to me at the moment.*

DIÁLOGO: Brazil just hosted the 5th Military World Games and apparently, it was a success in terms of security, transportation of the delegations, etc. With regard to specific vulnerabilities in Brazil, for example, the Pre-Salt area and the Itaipu Binational Power Plant, How is Brazil preparing for that, General, with the proximity of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics?

General Mendes: Look, I want to start to answer your question with what happened at the 5th Military World Games. In the city of Rio de Janeiro, we had 6,000 foreign athletes gathered in one place, and obviously, the total went beyond 7,000, if you include managers, authorities, media, and so on. Obviously, it was run by the Armed Forces Joint General Staff, the EMCFA, which just had its first anniversary on August 25th, that is, its first year of existence. I would say that all the security activity for personnel and facilities, and all the operational coordination of security support for the athletes, vehicles, Olympic villas, transportation of authorities, I would say that without a doubt, it was a complete success. First of all, because if nobody’s talking about it, if there’s nothing about it in the press, that’s because it was good.

DIÁLOGO: This is a good theory…

General Mendes: If anything had gone wrong, it would have probably ended up in the media. However, this is only a playful way, shall we say, for you to get a point of reference, but the truth is that very well implemented security measures were adopted, Security Operations Centers; our convoys were tracked by GPS, every movement during the natural and collective movement of the Games within Rio de Janeiro was under permanent surveillance. We monitored all the land access routes; we also monitored the airspace. The Army did a fantastic job keeping track, keeping an eye on everything. In sum, the Games took place without incident, and keep in mind that there were 111 countries, 6,000 athletes, 20 sports… We had events going on simultaneously, on the order of 15, 20, 30 at the same time, between athletic events, transportation, meetings, and other events that were part of the program planned for the 5th Military World Games, so I believe that we have a good starting point from which to be able to analyze what can be done moving forward. Obviously, we also had the support of the Military Police in Rio de Janeiro, the security agencies of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

DIÁLOGO: However, the World Cup is a much larger event…

General Mendes: That’s true, but the 2014 Cup isn’t going to happen in only one city, but in 12 cities. So you have to replicate the same security framework 12 times, and it has to be very fluid, because several teams will be playing in different places, perhaps even simultaneously. So that demands an enormous number of personnel and quite extensive security measures, and that comes at a cost. It requires planning, it requires looking ahead. *

DIÁLOGO: The same thing will happen with the 2016 Olympics, correct?

General Mendes: Exactly. The Olympics are concentrated in just one city, but the number of people involved is twice what we had at the 5th Military World Games. That doesn’t mean that you have to double the security measures, but you’re going to have to make a very significant investment to ensure that everything goes well, and that it happens quite calmly, where you don’t frighten people with the equipment set up in the streets. Nowadays, it‘s a consensus within the Defense Ministry and within several other ministries, chiefly the Justice Ministry, that nobody can organize the Olympics alone. There has to be a pool of ministries and institutions working along the same lines, and this is already being done currently in advance of the World Cup. And I believe that the same thing is also being done already in advance of the Olympics. The scenarios are different, and we have to work as far ahead of time as possible. I would say that the matter is being well handled, that there’s awareness among the ministries involved, the presidency, the President’s staff, the Defense Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Sports Ministry; in sum, I believe that all the ministries directly involved in this today are aware of the importance of being adequately prepared.*

DIÁLOGO: It will be a legacy for the country, correct?

General Mendes: Of course! We’re making an investment in the country’s future, in the country’s credibility, in the country’s capability to manage and put on events of the magnitude of the Olympics, with all possible security for those who are going to participate as athletes or tourists or spectators, and for those who are already in the cities where the events are going to take place, so I am absolutely certain that everyone can count on the Defense Ministry’s dedication in participating in the security effort, its planning, and its execution, so that everything goes well and the country can be the greatest beneficiary of everything that’s being put into place. Again, it’s an investment in the country’s future. We’re going to think this way.



It appears that the way the Brazilian authorities are thinking about the Olympics in based on sound experience of the Military games and currently with the football world cup.
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