On August 10, 2018, Brazilian Army (EB, in Portuguese) Major General Mario Fernandes assumed command of the Special Operations Command (COpEsp, in Portuguese), one of EB’s greatest operational commands, located in Goiânia, Goiás state. Maj. Gen. Mario relieved EB Major General Sérgio Schwingel. COpEsp service members participate in several important current and past missions, such as the federal intervention in the state of Rio de Janeiro and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. Diálogo talked with Maj. Gen. Mario about his troops’ missions and other topics.
Diálogo: You assumed command over the Army Special Operations Command in August. Have your priorities changed or stayed the same?
Major General Mario Fernandes, commander of the Brazilian Army Special Operations Command: Priorities continue to be to maintain special operations training and capacities. Currently, our Special Operations Command has two other very important assets, namely psychological operations and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense. I like to say that we are a harmonious set of experts: paratroopers, non-paratroopers, combat use and support, whose integration and interoperability demonstrate the flexibility, proficiency, and deterrent capabilities of the Brazilian Army Special Operations Forces. Today’s priority for COpEsp is to maintain the continuity of its operational capacity for strategic use to spearhead the ground force. Within the scope of the Ministry of Defense, take part in the federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro, receive [the Venezuelans] in Pacaraima [Roraima], patrol the borders and combat crimes, support all the military commands of the region, and provide security to the Brazilian diplomatic corps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This flexibility, this extensive capacity, strategic mobility, proficiency, and continuity are our priorities.
Diálogo: There is an increasing demand for measures that involve members of the special forces. Is there a plan to expand the force?
Maj. Gen. Mario: Yes, despite budget restrictions and the [Brazilian Congress’s] ban on increasing the Armed Forces’ personnel. For that matter, the subdivision of EB’s General Staff was reorganized under the guidance of the Army’s chief of staff. The process was made possible with very detailed guidelines for personnel use and allotment. In this case, we requested this allotment to the Planalto Military Command, whom we depend on, to approve personnel increases. As you said, the demand is increasingly higher due to political and strategic goals, including social demand. The Brazilian society wants the Armed Forces to be part of the solution to the country’s many problems. Therefore the Army, like the other forces, remains flexible, and adjusts and changes instruction and training plans from basic instruction to qualification. We expanded our instructional module, Law and Order Assurance Operations, and we made progress to increase that training, particularly the special forces and other assets COpEsp uses. We constantly try to improve our personnel’s specialization training system, officers and noncommissioned officers of the professional staff, and our Special Operations Training Center [a training unit], which carries an important role in the increase of specialized contingents, resulting in the expansion of our forces/troops.
Diálogo: Argentina is in the process of creating a Special Operations Joint Command. Do you think this is also a possibility for Brazil?
Maj. Gen. Mario: When the EB special forces structure moved here to Goiânia, it was referred to as the Special Operations Brigade. In other words, a large basic unit, with all the required combat support, except for firearms. But the initial idea of creating a Special Operations Command was never forgotten. This brigade was created in 2002 and eight years later became the Special Operations Command. Today, COpEsp is the only large special operations command [in Brazil] permanently activated and fully equipped to receive, under its operational control or reinforcement, special operations troops from the Navy and Air Force to create or conduct the operations of a joint command or a special operations joint task force. Argentina has a very good structure for joint operations. They have a joint military study center and a high level of integration. However, when it comes to special operations, all assets must be combined, particularly direct and indirect operations. I find it remarkable that the Argentines start with the creation of a joint command at the Ministry of Defense level. If we compare, our Special Operations Command is active on a permanent basis.
Diálogo: We understand there were several lessons learned from big events, specifically the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. If you were to mention one, which one would it be and why?
Maj. Gen. Mario: Without a doubt, the greatest lessons learned and the capacities we developed have to do with integrating all assets used, the interagency capacity, and the ability to integrate assets through interoperability, seeking a complementary relationship. We did this by combining military and police assets, civil public agencies and military and private agencies. This integration led us to reflect on security and strategic plans, which gave us the know-how to create, for instance, a security strategic plan for the intervention in Rio de Janeiro—possible today due to the experience gained from major events, aligning planning and execution protocols with the doctrines and capacities of public agencies and military and police components. There is no question that the great experience that all of us took away from these major events, as a country, Armed Forces, police forces, and state and federal governments was the capacity for interagency effectiveness.
Diálogo: According to the news media, the federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro is not working and there are reports of human rights abuses. How does the Brazilian Army respond to that?
Maj. Gen. Mario: This is misinformation, a disservice to society. The Brazilian nation invested a lot of money and we had fatalities among civilians, soldiers, and patriots; therefore, we must show society the truth, reinforcing the correct and truthful narrative for the Brazilian people. This is a work in progress. To reinforce this narrative through the media is an extremely important mission. We must reach this goal. The people of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil must understand that the intervention was successful. Did some plans fail? Yes. For several reasons, but many things changed for the better. Today, a public security agent in Rio de Janeiro makes decent money. Police troops are well equipped and receive more material, equipment, and weapons. We were able to limit the operational freedom of organized crime and its various existing factions in Rio. Do they still exist? Yes. Criminals are still there, but we will continue to fight them to the end and always try to dismantle and neutralize the criminal structures that infiltrated our communities, the fabric of our society, and even agencies that exist to instill order in the country. As such, we are restructuring. Many things are getting cleaned up. The idea is to show society that a feasible security plan was initiated and carried out, with current and future guidelines on what is to be done. It is now up to society to demand continuity from the government, and to avoid what happened at the Alemão Complex, where we stayed for one year and eight months, and at the Maré slum, where EB stayed for one year and four months—the problem was solved, but following our temporary exit, the government did not take over and everything went back to how it was before. When there is a gap in power, organized crime, militias, or factions take over. It’s not easy for the government to carry out these missions. To reach out to a local resident, used to paying $3 for Internet and $6 for water and electricity combined, all illegally, and explain that they will have to properly pay for cable TV, electricity, and water, makes us the villains. The homemaker who supports crime because her 13-year-old son makes $80 a week working as a crack house lookout doesn’t understand that this young man’s life expectancy is not much more than 25. For this reason, the Brazilian military is proud to be an essential tool for a solution to these significant problems in Brazil.