Brazilian Army Increases Presence on Amazon Borders

The Amazon Military Command, together with government agencies, conduct surprise operations to fight cross-border crime.
Andréa Barretto/Diálogo | 5 May 2017

Capacity Building

In partnership with IBAMA, the Army has seized 3,359 cubic meters of wood in the southern region of Roraima state. (Photo: Brazilian Army)

With 984 service members spread over nearly 1,920 kilometers of Brazil’s border with Venezuela and Guyana, Operation Curaretinga keeps track of a series of actions taken by the Amazon Military Command (CMA, per its Portuguese acronym), to fight cross-border smuggling. Conducted from March 23rd to April 3rd, this was the ninth edition of Curaretinga, conducted by the 1st Jungle Infantry Brigade, headquartered in Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima state. During the operation, the Army made itself present in the state’s 15 municipalities, where more than 46 percent of the territory has been designated as indigenous land.

Working with the Federal Police, service members have detected illegal mining activity on the shores of the Uraricoera River and seized 1,790 grams of gold from 12 individuals who had it in their possession. (Photo: Brazilian Army)

But the service members were not operating alone. As is common in this type of operation, they carried out their activities in partnership with 86 professionals from 26 government agencies, including the Federal Police, the Federal Highway Police, and the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA, per its Portuguese acronym). “This encourages a very good turnout, with each agency operating in its own specialty and working together so the mission is more effective,” said Major Rodrigo Luiz Soares Evangelista, communications officer for the 1st Jungle Infantry Brigade.

Interagency operations were already common practice in the Armed Forces but the disposition to adopt this model was backed by Executive Order 8,903, signed by President Michel Temer in November 2016. The order established the Strategic Border Plan with the goal of strengthening the prevention, control, oversight, and policing of cross-border crime. The document defined as one of its directives “comprehensive and coordinated action by public safety agencies, intelligence agencies, the Brazilian Internal Revenue Service, the Ministry of Finance, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces.”

River patrols are one example of the joint operations performed in Operation Curaretinga. On one such patrol, Army service members and the Federal Police arrested 12 people with 1,700 grams of illegally mined gold and seized a motor that was used to extract the precious metal and a satellite phone. The operation resulted in the seizure of 2,733 grams of gold, and the arrest of 28 civilians involved in illegal mining, which had taken place within Yanomami Indigenous Land.

Working with IBAMA, the Army seized 3,359 cubic meters of wood that had also been harvested illegally from the southern region of Roraima. Together with the Federal Highway Police, their focus was on inspecting the land routes that connect Brazil with its neighboring countries. Forty-seven highway roadblocks and checkpoints were set up, with the police and service members checking nearly 6,000 vehicles.

Resources used

The majority of the 984 service members deployed in Operation Curaretinga were from the 1st Jungle Infantry Brigade, but the operation also included participants from the 6th Construction Engineering Battalion and the 4th Army Aviation Battalion, all under the command of CMA.

Service members from both the engineering and aviation battalions had a key role in facilitating equipment mobilization. “Some parts of Roraima are quite isolated and hard to access, primarily on indigenous lands,” said Maj. Rodrigo Luiz. “Members of the engineering battalion helped restore roads and bridges to improve our access, as well as access for the indigenous people. And members of the aviation battalion assisted with troop transport using their aircraft.”

Children and adults who live along the border in Roraima benefitted from personal care and aesthetic treatments during Operation Curaretinga. (Photo: Brazilian Army)

Helicopters were also used in aerial patrols allowing for the detection of suspicious activities on land, such as localized areas of environmental degradation in the forest, which called attention to the possibility of illegal logging. The 4th Army Aviation Battalion used four aircraft in Operation Curaretinga. For the river patrol activities, 11 vessels — primarily speed boats — were mobilized. The Army also used 115 armored vehicles to transport its troops throughout Roraima.

Army doctors and dentists performed more than 3,400 health services in the communities along the border zones. The social activities carried out during the operation also included haircuts and other aesthetic treatments for children and adults, as well as recreation.

Focus on Amazon limits

Another Operation Curaretinga is scheduled for 2017, as well as another Operation Curare, which is more extensive. “But we cannot disclose the time that these operations are planned for because that would compromise the operations’ effectiveness,” Maj. Rodrigo Luiz said.

In effect, carrying out surprise operations is a strategic decision for CMA. “Currently, such operations [border operations] are planned to be done suddenly, in short periods, with a lot of intelligence support and, whenever possible, with support from public safety agencies and government agencies,” stated Major General Antônio Manoel de Barros, commander of the CMA Operations Center.

Along the same lines, Operation Abraço and Operation Relâmpago have already taken place in 2017. The former was conducted by nearly 50 service members from the 61st Jungle Infantry Battalion (61st BIS, per its Portuguese acronym), working in tandem with troops from CMA and the Western Military Command to perform widespread surveillance throughout the border region with Bolivia and Peru. That operation took place from February 15th to 24th. Operation Relâmpago also began at the same time but is still without a scheduled end date.

Operation Relâmpago has 70 service members from the 61st BIS who are concentrated exclusively on the border with Peru. “These operations are justified by the fact that Brazil’s border region, which spans the states of Rondônia and Acre, is known to be used as an international drug trafficking route, a crime that, if not sufficiently dealt with, results in public safety problems in Brazil’s large cities, and in other countries,” Maj. Gen. Barros said. Rondônia and Acre border Bolivia and Peru, respectively. The CMA’s intent “is to step up operations like these, in order to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our activities, limiting the freedom of action for criminal organizations operating in the area,” he added.

CMA is responsible for a 9,762-kilometer area that borders five countries: Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and Guyana. In order to secure this region, the unit has nearly 20,000 men and women organized into four brigades, six battalions, one special border company, and 23 special border platoons, six of which are located in Roraima state, where Operation Curaretinga took place.

These operations complement the activities of the border platoons, which operate 24 hours a day, year-round, with activities directed at fighting transnational crime.

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