The Role of the Brazilian Armed Forces in Support of Venezuelan Refugees
By Rodney Lisboa* June 20, 2019
The main entry into Brazil for Venezuelan immigrants is Roraima, a state located in the Amazon region (the northern part of the country), with 1,922 kilometers of a shared border between Venezuela (964 km) and Guyana (958 km).
Although the Venezuelan migration flow into Brazil is significantly less than in other countries, the increasing entry of Venezuelan refugees causes a direct social and economic impact on the government of Roraima, which has limited resources to manage such a high number of immigrants.
Within this context, the Ministry of Defense, in collaboration with the United Nations and in partnership with different government agencies and civil society entities, created Operation Shelter. The operation carries out distinct activities and responds to emergencies to meet 10 priority areas: social protection and health care; promotion of educational activities; professional qualification and training; guaranteeing human rights ; protection for women, children, teenagers, the elderly, the disabled, indigenous populations, and traditional communities; infrastructure and sanitation supply; public safety and border control strengthening; logistics and distribution of supplies; mobility, distribution within the national territory and relocation support.
Based on the above, the Brazilian Armed Forces put into action their well known experience in civil and social operations, to conduct support and humanitarian aid operations to help Venezuelan refugees, and promote the control and organization of immigrants entering the border.
A contingent of about 600 service members from the Army, Navy, and Air Force leads the Armed Forces’ tasks, providing support to nearly 8,500 people staying in the shelters built in the cities of Boa Vista (state capital) and Pacaraima (near the border with Venezuela). An estimated 180,000 Venezuelans have crossed the Venezuela-Brazil border since 2017.
Responsibilities of the Armed Forces
As part of Operation Shelter, the Armed Forces are tasked with the following responsibilities: to provide support for logistics and humanitarian transportation, in addition to the mobility and relocation of Venezuelan immigrants to different Brazilian states (Air Force); to promote emergency assistance to shelter Venezuelan people in vulnerable situations, by planning and providing basic health services, urgent medical services, laboratory exams, zoonosis control, as well as operations to ensure food safety (Army and Navy); to conduct infrastructure work, organize the setup of tents for shelters, and ensure public safety and increase border control (Army).
The government of Jair Bolsonaro, along with 13 other countries (Lima Group), does not recognize Maduro as the leader of the Venezuelan government, due to the worsening crisis in Venezuela and the controversial electoral process that reelected Nicolás Maduro. The Brazilian government signaled the need to increase funds for the military operation carried out in Roraima, due to the scale and complexity of the operation, as well as the position Brazil took regarding the current situation in Venezuela.
The deterioration of democracy and the political and economic failure of Chavism (leftist ideology associated with Hugo Chávez), created a serious social and humanitarian crisis for Venezuelans, which increased crime levels and heightened feelings of insecurity. The growing flow of Venezuelan migrants, mainly to South America and the Caribbean, is a direct result of this shortage and lack of security.
* Rodney Lisboa is a military historian with a Master of Maritime Studies from the Brazilian Navy War College.