Born in Rio Grande, the son of an officer in the Military Brigade, 64-year-old Brazilian Army Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, is internationally recognized by colleagues and subordinates as one of the most brilliant Brazilian military officers. His work in Haiti became a reference, and was so important that a few months after he retired he was asked to return to active service in order to command the largest and most complex United Nations (UN) peace mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the first to have an Intervention Brigade. In the African jungle, he was at the front line, leading combat units in highly complex operations with technological resources that were previously nonexistent in the Brazilian ground forces, achieving complete success by overcoming the enemy and opening a space to create peace, which again resulted in the international community’s recognition.
Diálogo: Your first command assignment abroad was with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH, per its French acronym), where you initiated a radical change in Haiti’s security situation and called the UN’s attention to your command and strategy to solve the country’s crime problem. What was your experience like in that mission?
Brazilian Army Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz: My first participation in the UN was in Haiti, as the commander of the UN troops in that country. I held the job for two years and three months, from January 2007 to April 2009. When I arrived in Haiti, the criminal street gangs were concentrated in the neighborhood of Cité Soleil and already had complete control of the area for some years. The UN troops had some points already established inside the area, called strong points. Later, after we arrived, the decision was to end this gang dominance over the area and the local population in order to make it possible to reestablish public order. It is impossible to tolerate criminal groups who rule an area by overtly using weapons, not allowing state access, and subjecting the population to kidnapping, extortion, rape, etc. Attacks against UN troops occurred daily. The troops had a big advantage in this situation since the military is prepared precisely for conflict situations. The armed groups’ belief that it was possible to defend the territory and face the UN troops in combat was crucial to our success. We immediately decided to confront them. The troops are professional; they have better training, supplies, technology, logistics, and much better leadership. In these situations, leadership and resolve are fundamental. It’s important to keep the operations at a strong and steady pace against the criminal gangs until they are completely dismantled and eliminated. You can never rest. This was done by well-led and well-trained troops from various countries, with the Brazilian contingent being the largest. In reality, the actions were not to solve the crime problem but rather to eliminate the power of the armed groups that had been politically exploited at a certain moment in the country’s recent history. The reduction of the normal public safety problems, namely the crimes that occur in the day-to-day life of a society, was a natural byproduct. On this point, it’s important to emphasize that Haiti’s homicide rate, for example, is considerably lower than Brazil’s. The UN’s goal, usually, is to eliminate violence that is political in origin, and not really the crimes that take place in society, which are problems of public safety. However, in the Haitian case, the elimination of the gangs also led to increased security in the areas under UN military control. And all this was obtained without so-called collateral damages, thanks to the quality of the troops responsible for the actions.
Diálogo: In 2013, you were called back and assumed command of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO, per its French acronym), including the first Intervention Brigade in the history of the peace missions. Could you talk more about your work in DRC? What were the missions like? How did you defeat M23?
Lt. Gen. Santos Cruz: I left active service in the Brazilian Army in December 2012, and in April 2013 I was surprised at the possibility of commanding UN troops in DRC. MONUSCO was, and still is, the UN’s biggest mission, and also the one that has the biggest budget. At that time, it had a force of more than 20,000 men and a budget of around $1.4 billion. The Congo’s problems are extremely complex, especially on the eastern side, where the country borders South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania. That entire area has a history marked by violence, with one of the most well-known events being the 1994 genocide, when nearly 500,000 ethnic Tutsi people and more than 300,000 ethnic Hutu people were killed in Rwanda in a period of approximately three months. Many of them fled into the Congo. Later, in Congo’s interior, innumerable Hutus and members of other ethnic groups were massacred during various conflicts. It is estimated that between five million and six million people died as victims of violence in the Congo in the last 20-25 years. The inaccuracy of the numbers shows the loss of the human dimension of the problem.
In 2012, another rebel movement arose in the Congo, called M23. It was basically an ethnic Tutsi group with solid military training, among whom were strongly armed deserters from the Congolese Army itself who had external support. After several battles, this group occupied Goma, one of the main cities in Congo. Located in the east, on the border with Rwanda, it has more than one million inhabitants. The Congolese Army retreated, the UN did not prevent the occupation, and this led to a situation of shame and disgrace for the United Nations. The Security Council issued a new mandate with a broader authorization for the use of force, and it beefed up the mission with the so-called Intervention Brigade, composed of around 3,000 soldiers from Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi. I arrived in the Congo in the first days of June 2013, after the first contingent of the Intervention Brigade from Tanzania was called in. Later the troops from South Africa and Malawi arrived. There were around 45 armed groups in the Congo, but the main focus at the time was to liberate the city of Goma from the M23 siege north of the city. Thanks to the UN’s political pressure, that armed group had left the city and established itself in the first hills to the north in the outskirts of the urban area, around 6-7 kilometers from the city center. However, M23 had artillery with a range of 18.5 kilometers. In the political sphere, a round of peace talks between the Congolese government and M23 had been opened in the city of Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
The immediate decision was to support the Congolese Army in the fight against M23, in order to liberate the city of Goma, defeat the movement, and recover the area to the north that was under the control and administration of that rebel group, since M23 had created a type of parallel government in the region. The battle to liberate Goma occurred at the end of August 2013, with the UN supporting the Congolese Army. M23 was in very strong positions, in hills that were hard to conquer, and the battle lasted eight days, culminating in M23’s defeat and retreat, but also with many losses on the Congolese side, and some UN casualties. It was typical combat, with infantry on the attack and very strong support from artillery, mortars, and attack helicopters. M23 retreated to positions further north, and in October 2013, there was a new confrontation in Rutshuru and Kiwanja, where we also sustained losses, but we defeated M23 once again by making the rebel group occupy a defensive position that was extremely difficult to conquer near the border with Uganda. After some attacks by the Congolese Army, and support from the UN, with the use of infantry, artillery, and mortars, the rebel group was defeated with a massive bombing by attack helicopters, and those remaining fled to Uganda.
During the ongoing operations, actions were launched against other armed groups in jungle areas that were completely different from the combat area with M23. The combat became one of small patrols and squads in an area similar to the Amazon forest, against groups who avoided direct conflict and relied on ambushes. One of these groups, which originated in Uganda, was called ADF. It had a radical Islamist ideology and terrorized the population with indiscriminate violence against civilians, including cruel assassinations of men, women, and children, almost exclusively with axes and machetes, with minimal use of firearms. The use of the ambush and civilian assassination technique (around 500 assassinated in one year) also led to many casualties in the Congolese Army and some among the UN forces. In other areas of the country, we had other operations against different rebel groups.
Diálogo: In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, you frequently resorted to equipment that the Brazilian Army (EB, per its Portuguese acronym) does not even have today, such as attack helicopters and remotely piloted aircraft. What is the importance of these systems, how were they used, and what operational benefit did they provide? Which lessons did you bring to the EB regarding their use?
Lt. Gen. Santos Cruz: To enter into combat you need equipment, training, knowledge, but mainly resolve, the will to win, leadership, perception, and decisiveness. You need to maintain a strong rhythm of [military] actions, and to have the ability to escalate the conflict if needed. The entire military apparatus of technology, arms, logistics, and fire support needs to be used at its maximum efficiency level. This is very hard to manage in a UN environment since the motives and the influences on the organization are very different. You must have confidence in the perception since there is no time to sit around analyzing everything in a classic military way. There is no time available. You must have an operational dynamic but also follow all the rules of the International Law of Armed Conflict, the principles of human rights, and not have collateral effects. This is all possible since it’s only a question of perception. Equipment such as attack helicopters, efficient artillery, special troops with special equipment, and remotely piloted aircraft with good image resolution are essential for intelligence, for situational and operational area awareness, for making decisions with the least risk, for destroying the opponent, and protecting the infantry and cavalry in their advance on the ground. When you have quality troops and equipment, you have a greater sense of security in making risky decisions. The great personal lesson that I can pass on is that the EB can multiply its capacity many times over if it is equipped with what it requests because the EB already possesses the main component [for success] – the quality of its personnel. I had the opportunity to command our personnel in action, together with combatants from other countries, who were also excellent. The privates, corporals, sergeants, and officers on the front line are extremely fearless, courageous, careful, technically adept, precise, and disciplined. At one point, I had the opportunity to mention at a UN meeting that the best “show” was not on Broadway, in New York. The best of all was to see the privates, corporals, sergeants, and officers in action on the front line. And I had the pleasure of seeing our personnel in action. That is how I remember and pay homage to them and to the soldiers from other countries as well.
Diálogo: If you were asked again, would you be ready and willing to return to active service and command another peace or combat mission abroad? Considering the current conflicts, what would be your preference and the strategy to be implemented?
Lt. Gen. Santos Cruz: Without a doubt. If I had another chance, I would go. I don’t lack willingness. And I think that, even with the inexorable passage of time, I am still capable. But opportunities also have to arise at the right moment. In a conflict situation, there’s no choice, but without a doubt, it has to be a task that gives you the feeling that you are contributing to the defense of innocent people, to the defense of the most vulnerable, to the protection of those who suffer from the violence of political and armed criminal groups. People have to have the feeling that they are contributing to the defense of the weakest. Thus, it’s not so hard to identify the “preference.” Each situation is unique, but the strategy to be implemented in any situation follows certain principles: planning, specific training, initiative, and determination for the confrontation.
Diálogo: Already in the reserves you were asked to manage FT-35 (Ground Force), bringing your operational experience to the restructuring of the Army. What is the significance of this work? What are the main changes to be implemented, as you see it? How should the EB be in 2035?
Lt. Gen. Santos Cruz: All organizations, including the [Brazilian] Army, need to make a medium- and long-term plan from time to time. FT-35 is a small part of the projects with the end goal of suggesting and implementing the changes to the Army, with an outlook toward 2035. At certain times, it is necessary to verify the technological gap, structural modernization, and change of contexts for possible deployments of the Ground Force. Military equipment is constantly evolving in the area of vehicles, individual equipment, individual and group armaments, command and control, cyber, aircraft, munitions, etc. And the Brazilian Army is underway with this process. I feel useful by participating in this process, and being able to contribute something. It’s an important task, since it modernizes, rationalizes, and increases the efficiency of the Brazilian Army.
The Brazilian Army follows the beat of society and budget availability. So the evolution occurs within what is possible. The changes to be implemented, especially in the area of equipment, will follow budgetary perspectives. It’s clear that it is impossible to make all the desired changes, as occurs in any area of public administration, but there are some points that the Brazilian Army has maintained at a level of excellence: the selection of personnel and the instruction and training system – these are the Brazilian Army’s points of excellence, and they are recognized nationally and internationally; the disciplinary conduct of its personnel; the national presence, allowing the population to have confidence in the institution; its smooth administration and good application of allocated resources; participation in all emergencies in order to provide aid to the population; maintaining troop readiness for immediate strategic response; updating technology in deploying Army aircraft, special forces elements, command-and-control systems, artillery systems, mechanized and armored cavalry, mechanization of basic combat elements, cyber defense, and monitoring and intelligence systems. Eighteen years from now (2035) is not such a long time, and I think that the EB is going to get there with the same reputation of a highly reliable, exemplary, and admired institution; as a reference point in many aspects for the Brazilian population, and a force with greater combat power in certain selected internal units.
Diálogo: Speaking in terms of equipment, in your opinion, which systems should be introduced to improve the Brazilian Army’s combat capacity?
Lt. Gen. Santos Cruz: This is a strictly personal opinion, for these definitions depend on the commander of the Army, assisted by the Joint Staff. I think that evolution is important in the areas of attack helicopters, in artillery systems, such as target search and modern guided/intelligent munitions, in mechanization and armored vehicles, in the areas of sensing, command and control, remotely piloted aircraft, intelligence, and cyber. These are examples of areas where the development of systems is fundamental.
Diálogo: You participated in many urban combat operations. How do you see the possibility of deploying the Ground Force in missions like this? How could they protect the borders and keep peace in the country, with regard to fighting crime?
Lt. Gen. Santos Cruz: The Brazilian Army is extremely well-prepared for combat missions in urban areas. We had high-intensity clashes, exchanging thousands of bullets with armed groups, and there was never any physical harm to innocent people or damage to their property. The EB is perfectly adept at this type of mission and is also very well-prepared for police-type operations.
There is no difficulty for the Brazilian Army to be deployed in urban combat missions or in police-type operations. That is not to say that the Army can, or should replace the police. The problem of the level of criminality in [Brazil] is much broader than the implementation of the police force or the prospective participation of the Army. At its root are questions of administration, leadership, impunity, corruption, bad examples, and social imbalance, among others. Crimes that involve violence comprise just a part of serious problems already in existence. The fight against crime is a crusade that must be waged against all types of crimes, at all levels, and not just against those crimes of direct violence against persons or property. The spectrum is much broader. The fight against crime must be waged against all types of crimes and criminals. This goes beyond the ability of an armed force deployed in a support role or in response to a Guarantee of Law and Order situation in an emergency situation.
As to the expectation of the Brazilian Army’s participation in the fight against crime, whether at the border or not, it’s important to take some things into account. Anywhere in the world, armed forces are deployed in emergency situations to support the other institutions responsible for the area where the emergency occurs. The Brazilian Army should not be routinely deployed to fight crime, or in any other public security operation. There are specific entities for that. The frequent use of the Ground Force in public security is a symptom of chronic problems, of social imbalance, and not of an emergency situation. The alarming situation of crime in Brazil has reasons that go beyond public security. Public security has three pillars: police, courts, and the prison system. In a balanced society, these three pillars need to function efficiently. This harmony is impossible when there is no example, leadership, or efficiency in upper management. To the extent that the three pillars do not function effectively, there will be no solution. The deterioration in public security occurs, in part, because of poor functioning and lack of synchronization of points that go from one extreme to the other.
At the level of security enforcement, the civilian and military policy need to be valued, equipped, receive investments, able to resolve their economic and social problems with a suitable professional proposal, and supported so that they can carry out their work effectively and safely. This is not a problem that is solved with armed forces. The problems of the courts are currently seen on the front pages of the newspapers. Likewise, the issues of the prison system are labeled as catastrophic. All these matters have causes that occurred over time, for various reasons. Thus, you have to clearly distinguish what is an emergency situation and what is long-term deterioration – perfectly identifiable as a reported catastrophe. Defining responsibility for the existing problems is as important as the direct enforcement of security measures. It’s not hard for any citizen with an ordinary level of knowledge to identify the existing problems, their origins, causes, and what needs to be done.
The Ground Force is a resource for emergencies, and its deployment in activities that are the jurisdiction of other agencies should not be frequent; it should not be a routine deployment. This cannot function as a smokescreen to obscure the vision of the real problems, or even to be exploited for other purposes.
As for the Army’s participation in the fight against crimes that occur along the border, the military organizations normally participate in security [exercises] in support of the responsible entities, such as the Federal Police, Internal Revenue Service, Brazilian Environmental and Natural Renewable Resources Agency, State Police, etc., as a subsidiary action, when so determined. This is a perfectly standard matter since there is specific legislation that grants police power to the EB along the border.