U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited South America for the first time. His first stop August 13, 2018 was Brazil, where he held meetings with Brazilian Defense Minister Joaquim Silva e Luna and Foreign Affairs Minister Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, in Brasília. The topics of discussion included alternatives to further science and technology, political-military, and defense-industry cooperation to increase commerce between both partner nations. Mattis’s trip to Latin America follows a visit by U.S. Navy Admiral John Richardson, chief of Naval Operations, to Colombia, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. About a month before Richardson’s visit, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence also spent a week in South America.
Speech at the Brazilian Army War College
“I am here to make a down payment on our shared destiny as the hemisphere's two largest democracies, and as defenders of our inter-American values: respect for fundamental human rights, the rule of law, and peace,” said Mattis during a visit to the Brazilian Army War College in Rio de Janeiro, August 14th. "The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it."
Citing U.S.-Latin American relations as an example of long-term partnership, Mattis said the success and security of future generations depends on “how well we build trust at every level with our Western Hemisphere allies and partners today. America seeks to earn your trust daily; we want to be your partner of choice in this shared effort.”
Mattis reminisced on World War II to emphasize the U.S.-Brazil partnership. American soldiers fought side-by-side with the Brazilian Expeditionary Force in Monte Castello, Italy, and the Brazilian Navy escorted more than 3,000 merchant ships –and lost only three. “Our native languages may differ, but four decades of military service have persuaded me that the profession of arms has a language of its own and a way of turning strangers into family,” said the retired U.S. Marine Corps general.
Transformation in defense relationship
In April 2018, Mattis directed his staff to enhance the U.S. defense relationship with Brazil, and build on the solid foundation already in place. “It happened after I picked up the phone and heard Minister Silva e Luna’s voice on the other end. He talked; I listened. When our call ended, I made that decision,” he explained.
Mattis also talked about the broader military relationship Brazil and the United States share, as well as in research, "especially in space," he highlighted. The two countries are negotiating an agreement to allow the United States to launch satellites from the Alcântara Launch Center, a facility operated by the Brazilian Air Force at the Brazilian Space Agency in Alcântara, state of Maranhão, in Brazil's northern Atlantic coast. “We choose Brazil not because it lies along the equator, in a happy accident of geography, but because we want to work with Brazilians—people whose values we share. Outside actors cannot credibly say the same.” After all, he highlighted, Brazil is a worldwide leader as seen in their role in demining missions in Central and South America, and peacekeeping missions in Haiti, Lebanon, and Africa.
Furthering military sales
Mattis stated that the United States sees a future in military sales with Latin America. “America's Foreign Military Sales program is second to none. Nations can freely choose to purchase where they wish and we respect that. After all, friends do not demand you choose among them. America is not looking to make quick cash; we are looking to earn and keep friends.”
At the conclusion of his speech, Mattis answered questions from the audience. One asked if creating a sixth U.S. military branch, the Space Force, wouldn't equate to militarizing space. Mattis argued that China already developed a weapon that can destroy satellites. He was also asked about U.S. operations in the South China Sea, and about territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighboring countries. Those are some of his and the U.S. Department of State’s priorities, he said, to keep the region peaceful and expect more transparency from the Chinese in international relations.
Following his visit to the War College, Secretary Mattis visited the World War II Memorial, in Aterro do Flamengo. Mattis assumed office in January 2017.