The ministries of Defense of Brazil and Colombia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to expand Brazil’s cooperation in the demining process of Colombian fields. The agreement, signed on February 21, 2018, will bring around 15 Brazilian service members to Colombia.
According to Brazilian Marine Corps (CFN, in Portuguese) Lieutenant Colonel Anderson Reis, coordinator of the Office of Global Agencies of the Ministry of Defense’s Deputy Office of International Agencies, Brazilian service members will to work as instructors or technical advisors in the demining area, but won’t perform any minesweeping or removal of mines and explosive devices. “Our service members won’t go into any mined areas or places thought to have mines or improvised explosive devices,” said Lt. Col. Reis.
Brazil’s contribution to Colombia’s demining process through the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Defense Board began in 2006. “At this time, four service members, two from the Brazilian Navy [MB, in Portuguese] and two from the Brazilian Army [EB, in Portuguese], are on the mission since the start of 2017,” said Lt. Col. Reis.
Among those is CFN Major Bruno Tiago Silva dos Santos, whose tour of duty in Colombia started in January 2017. Prior agreements, he explained, were between the Colombian National Navy and MB to build and develop doctrine, manage courses, and assist in operations related to the humanitarian demining program. The Colombian Army also had a similar agreement with EB.
Brazil’s involvement in Colombia increases
The MOU, noted Maj. Bruno Tiago, considers deploying more service members to instruct, plan, and oversee operations. “Specifically for our mission with the Colombian National Navy, the agreement centralizes on the ministries of Defense, but in practice, the initially stipulated terms haven’t changed. In the past, two Brazilian service members contributed to instruct the Colombian National Army. With the agreement, the number will increase to five. In addition, eight service members will provide technical advice to demining units, as part of the mission’s operational arm,” he said.
According to Maj. Bruno Tiago, securing another channel of cooperation between the two countries increases the exchange of knowledge. “The Brazilian Armed Forces have a lot to add in terms of experience, given that they participated in humanitarian demining missions as OAS monitors in Angola, Peru, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, as well as in Colombia, before these agreements,” he explained. The deactivation of explosive device doctrine acquired in the Marine Corps Engineering Battalion, improved Colombia’s situation, he said.
The MOU turns out to be a plus for Brazil as well, whose service members learn from the different explosive devices used in 50 years of conflict. “Many of them are improvised and hand-made, which makes the demining process even more dangerous, and we Brazilians end up gaining considerable knowledge,” Maj. Bruno Tiago said.
“With all the know-how added to the mission and the increase in personnel we should be able to shift demining activities into higher gear, while always ensure the highest levels of safety in such a dangerous and important task for Colombian people,” he added.
CFN Major Fernando de Paula Lima will join Maj. Bruno Tiago on the mission, which extends until January 2019. The service members will instruct, train—in both theoretical and practical humanitarian demining education—and assist in the development and improvement of doctrine within the Colombian National Navy, creating and revising operational documents.
Brigadier General Ricardo Ernesto Vargas Cuellar, commander of the Colombian Navy's Marine Infantry Training Base, where Brazilian marines are stationed, highlighted for Diálogo the importance of the work done, both in humanitarian demining doctrine creation and in monitoring and training platoons in the Montes de María region of Colombia. So far, Brazilians trained 344 graduates. The OAS and the Colombian government’s Office of Integrated Action against Antipersonnel Mines (Descontamina Colombia, in Spanish) certified 92 percent of them. “Brazil’s officers contribute to the improvement of processes and compliance with the international regulations required by OAS and by Descontamina Colombia to perform these tasks,” Brig. Gen. Vargas said.
According to Brig. Gen. Vargas, service members demined 188 municipalities. Only 263 locations remain with explosives. The MOU, he added, is critical to meet the goal set in the Ottawa Convention for complete clearance of mines from the Colombian territory by 2021. “The agreement is also institutionally significant for both navies, since it enables us to strengthen bilateral alliances, which aren’t limited to demining, but to other mutual interests like the fight against cross-border crimes drug trafficking and illegal mining in the Amazon border region,” he said.
Brazilian reinforcements in Colombia
Colombian Vice Minister of Defense Aníbal Fernández de Soto greeted the new Brazilian military contingent on March 22, 2018. MB and EB service members are set to work on demining 22 Colombian departments.
“They come to offer their experience in humanitarian demining,” said Brigadier General Luis Emilio Cardozo Santamaría, commander of the Colombian National Army Corps of Engineers. “[They come] particularly to plan and enhance work done with OAS.”