The Brazilian Ministry of Defense launched a new phase of Operation Ágata between June 13th-22nd to combat illegal trafficking of people, drugs, weapons, munitions, as well as contraband and environmental crimes across the borders. Phase 11 covered nearly all 17,000 kilometers of the country’s borders across 11 Brazilian states. Throughout its 10 days in operation, Ágata relied upon nearly 12,000 members of the Armed Forces and the cooperation of a number of neighboring countries.
Approximately 10,000 Brazilian Army personnel, 600 Air Force personnel, and 1,700 Navy personnel were directly involved in the operation. Another 2,000 worked on the support side, for a total of nearly 15,000 servicemembers, according to Lieutenant General Hudson Potiguara, Deputy Chief of Joint Operations of the Ministry of Defense. “This is a joint operation with countries along our border. All of our neighbors were invited, and we had confirmed monitors in Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, Argentina, Bolivia, and elsewhere. They all participated and have all reinforced their individual borders,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Potiguara stated that this partnership was essential for Operation Ágata’s strategy. If a criminal escapes Brazil and finds his way into another country, Brazilian military personnel cannot go after him or act across the border. However, because of new multilateral efforts, Brazil can now alert the neighboring country, which allows them to be prepared to act within their territory.
“This partnership is very important. We don’t fight border crimes alone,” said Lt. Gen. Potiguara. “Fighting border crimes is in everyone’s interest. This interaction with our neighbors is what ensures operational success.”
In addition to military personnel, members of city, state, and federal law-enforcement agencies such as the Federal Highway Police, the Federal Police, the Brazilian Tax Authorities, and the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABI) took part in the operation, as well as nearly 40 government institutions that worked together to combat border crimes. Operation Ágata involved highway inspection and monitoring as well as land, air, waterway, and sea patrols.
Outcomes of Phase 11 of Operation Ágata
Operation Ágata was established by decree in 2011 under the Strategic Border Plan (PEF, for its Portuguese acronym). The initiative is headed by the Ministry of Defense and coordinated by the Joint Staff of the Armed Forces. Actions of Phase 11 of the operation were deployed simultaneously in the areas of the Amazon Military Command (CMA), based in Manaus (Amazonas state); the Military Command of the West (CMO), based in Campo Grande (Mato Grosso do Sul state); and the Military Command of the South (CMS), based in Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul state).
According to the final report published on June 24th, Phase 11 of Operation Ágata included 126,259 vehicle inspections and checks at checkpoints on roads and highways in all of Brazil’s border regions. Shipboard inspections were conducted at 7,732 river checkpoints and 575 naval and river patrols were carried out. Teams from the National Civil Aviation Agency inspected 62 aircraft and 13 airfields.
The Brazilian Air Force carried out 40 air patrols and aerial reconnaissance of seven suspect areas, particularly in the southern triple border between Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. It also intercepted 22 unknown aircraft along the border. They had been flying over or near the area of the operation without a flight plan and were identified by the military.
The Brazilian Air Force carried approximately 40 tons of cargo and 1.2 million passengers in support of the Army, particularly the border platoons, along with police and federal agencies involved in the operation.
In its 10-day tactic, Ágata resulted in the seizure of 5.7 tons of explosives; 168 weapons; 22,865 munitions; 11 tons of marijuana; 123 kilograms of cocaine; 122 kilograms of other illegal substances; and 4,400 cubic meters of timber. A total of 71 people were taken into custody.
“Each region has its own characteristics, and the materials seized under the operation vary widely from one place to the next,” Lt. Gen. Potiguara said. “In the Amazon, for example, our operatives seized a lot of illegal timber. In the south, there is more electrical and electronic contraband.”
A report published by the Institute for Social and Economic Development along the Borders (Idesf, for its Portuguese acronym), based out of Foz do Iguaçu (Paraná state), shows that the apprehended contraband through Operation Ágata has resulted in a direct increase in tax revenue for the affected areas. The study took into account eight phases of Operation Ágata, carried out between 2011 and 2014. According to Idesf, a decrease in the supply of contraband encourages consumption of goods legally manufactured in or legally imported into Brazil. The report also shows that contraband goods account for approximately US$7.5 billion in lost tax revenue along its borders.
An estimated US$215,000 in goods, where taxes had not been paid, as well as approximately US$5,000 in contraband, were seized during Phase 11 of Operation Ágata. Public officials also collected approximately US$191,300 of funds from unknown sources.
Social Support for Border Populations
In addition to security measures, Operation Ágata provided medical and social care to underserved populations in border cities through civil-military efforts known as Acisos for its Portuguese name. These included fostering cultural activities and distributing medication to those in need.
By the end of Ágata’s 11th version, 9,278 Brazilians received medical attention; 6,082 received dental care; and more than 34,000 preventive health measures were adopted. Soldiers also provided maintenance and worked on renovations of 231 public buildings, mostly schools, and helped repair 68 roads. The services secured identification papers for 1,108 undocumented citizens and promoted more than 26,000 social and cultural activities.
In a video message, Minister of Defense Raul Jungmann stressed the importance of Operation Ágata after a visit to the states of Paraná and Mato Grosso do Sul on June 17th and 18th.
“This is an act of defense. The border is a sensitive zone for national sovereignty and defense. And that is our primary mission. Secondly, this represents constructive action in terms of improving public security, especially in our big cities,” Minister Jungmann said. “And thirdly, these actions, in which the Ministry and Defense and the Armed Forces are engaged, are extremely important to ensure that everything goes safely and smoothly during the Olympics.”
Phase 11 of Ágata marked the beginning of a series of actions to increase security of the Olympic Games, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro in August. Other phases of the operation also preceded major events such as the Confederations Cup in 2013 and the World Cup in 2014.
“In addition to doing the basics for public security – preventing criminal activity, seizing illegal substances and weapons and so on, – the Army, Navy and Air Force are working together on social issues other than the Acisos; namely combating Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya and Zika viruses,” Minister Jungmann added.