The recent murders of the British journalist Dom Phillips and the indigenist Bruno Pereira reignited the debate on the problems of the Amazon. The duo struggled to denounce real problems in the Vale do Javari region, such as illegal fishing, mining and logging, in addition to the intimidation of indigenous people by criminals. But what is real and what is information warfare in this debate?
The War Games column takes a break this week from coverage of the war in Ukraine – which remains intense – to bring an analysis of updated scenario from the point of view of the defense of the Amazon.
Military analysts identify at least two main threats to the region: the formation of the so-called “gray zones”, where the low presence of the State makes possible the practically free from criminals, and the efforts of other nations to prevent Brazil from exploiting the natural wealth present in its territory.
See below some of the sensitive aspects of the region from the social point of view, technological, environmental, political, economic and regulatory.
Lack of development and crime
After the end of the last rubber cycle, in 1945, economic stagnation made thousands of migrants and their descendants look for new ways to support themselves. They now form a large part of the so-called riverside population. Some engage in non-legalized activities, such as large-scale or protected species fishing, hunting, logging and mining.
Although many have merged their families with the native population, the conflict of interests between this segment of the population and indigenous peoples began to become more evident with the demarcation of indigenous lands from the decade of 886. Many riverine people had to move out of the reserves, but continued to return to them irregularly to exploit natural resources, causing eventual shocks.
The northern region of the country is home to most of the Brazilian Amazon and extends for almost 4 million square kilometers. These are immense distances, which make any type of operation more expensive, from inspection to the provision of basic services. It is called the “Amazon cost”. Add to that the fact that the region is home to less than % of the Brazilian electorate and the result is the lack of history of investments in social development policies and sustainable exploitation of natural resources – which intensifies social tension.
But this is not the only cause of conflicts and the emergence of “gray zones”. Organized crime has been growing in the region, with large gangs operating drug trafficking, mining, land grabbing and illegal logging.
The leaders of these criminal groups and a good part of their “soldiers” do not are in the jungle, but in cities like Manaus, Belém or capitals in the Southeast of the country.
The presence of drug traffickers, for example, became evident from 2016 At the time, the criminal faction Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) murdered the drug lord in Paraguay, Jorge Rafaat, and took control of the route that takes drugs from the Andean countries to Europe and to the national market through the Southeast and South regions of Brazil.
The rival faction Comando Vermelho (CV) started to explore a secondary route, which brings cocaine produced in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia to Brazil through the rivers They came into direct confrontation with the local criminal faction Família do Norte (FDN) – which resulted in capitals such as Manaus s of violence similar to those produced by gang “wars” in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
In addition, criminal organizations specializing in the trafficking of gold and precious stones operate in the region by bribing police and public authorities. Hardwood explorers have connections that allow illegal sales in countries like Holland, Belgium and France.
That is, in cases like these, investment in social policies helps, but does not solve the problem. But then how to face this?
Rio de Janeiro, which faces a similar problem, managed to temporarily advance in the fight against organized crime when it underwent a federal intervention. It adopted unpopular public policies that reshaped, trained and equipped the police, as well as momentarily diminished the influence of corrupt politicians over police operations.
From a technological point of view, the Brazilian government’s biggest bet on the defense of the Amazon is a strategic program of the Army called Sisfron, the Integrated Border Monitoring System. Its objective is to create a surveillance system to monitor 16.886 kilometers of borders in a strip of 319 kilometers wide within the Brazilian territory. It provides for systems of radars, sensors, software and communication equipment that integrate the actions of the Armed Forces with those of the police and inspection agencies.
The movement of illicit materials in the region occurs mainly through of boats in rivers or by air in small planes. Even for criminals it is practically impossible to operate only by means of land displacement in the dense forest. The idea of Sisfron is to make it possible to intercept mainly suspicious planes and boats as soon as they enter or try to leave Brazilian territory.
Instead of buying all the technology from foreign companies, the government’s idea is to develop Sisfron at Embraer, in an attempt by the country to strengthen its Defense Industrial Base.
The problem is that there was a lack of money to put the program into practice. It was created in 2009, but so far it only exists as a pilot project in the Mato Grosso region. Its approximate total cost would be BRL 12 billion, with an annual investment forecast of BRL 1.2 billion in ten years old. In 2021, the amount allocated to the program was less than R$ 800 million.
In other words, the project is delayed and government sources justify themselves by saying that it was necessary to put aside investments in defense to pay attention to emergency issues, such as helping the population during the pandemic and the economic crisis.
The program entered its second phase this year, with the beginning of the partnership with Embraer, but it is not possible to accurately predict when it will be fully operational.
Untouched forest or sustainable exploitation
From the environmental point of view, the protection of the Amazon is often discussed in the midst of efforts to reduce global carbon emissions. The global goal is to reduce emissions in order to limit the temperature rise of the planet to 1.5 ºC above the pre-industrial level by the year of 2050.
It is common sense that forests are capable of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, transforming it into plant tissue or accumulating it in the soil. When part of a forest is deforested, this carbon returns to the atmosphere.
Thus, because of the fires, eight of the ten Brazilian municipalities that emit the most greenhouse gases are in the Amazon, according to a study released this week by the Climate Observatory, a network of entities and NGOs. Thus, according to the study, extensive Amazonian municipalities with many fires would pollute the air as much as large cities with many cars and factories, such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
The Amazon Forest currently has about 334 million hectares and corresponds to 5% of the earth’s surface, according to IBGE. Between 2020 and 2021, the forest would have lost 1.3 million hectares. It was an increase of 12% in relation to the previous year, according to the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe).
Brazil is also not the country with the most forests in the world. Russia ranks first, with 496 million hectares and Brazil ranks second, with 886 million hectares, according to FAO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Thus, the concept that the Amazon would be the “lungs of the world” is more related to propaganda pieces than to scientific data. Even because the most modern concepts show that the seas are more capable of absorbing carbon than the forests. In other words, the Amazon alone is far from determining the future of global warming.
But the protection of the Amazon also has to be seen from the point of view of preserving biodiversity, maintaining water resources and sustenance. of native peoples. This seems to be a consensus in Brazilian society.
The divergence occurs in how to do this. In general terms, a current defends that the forest is kept untouched, through parks and indigenous reserves. Another defends the exploitation of the forest through sustainable management within the laws – which, although it generates some environmental loss, makes possible the economic sustainability and development of the region.
Internationalization of the Amazon
From the political point of view, one of the main concerns in the field of national defense is the possibility of partial or total internationalization of the Amazon by the initiative of foreign countries – under the argument of environmental preservation or the self-determination of indigenous peoples.
Since the consolidation of diplomatic relations between Brazil and Argentina, in the decade of 1980, a large number of troops that were kept in the south of the country it was transferred to the Amazon.
A military invasion by a world power is very remote in the current situation. The United States, its European allies, Russia and China have far more pressing geostrategic concerns, such as the war in Ukraine and heightened tensions in the Indo-Pacific. But if an invasion of this nature were to occur, Brazil’s strategy would be to adopt a posture of resistance – with techniques of irregular or guerrilla combat.
An action of contestation of territory by a neighboring nation is also considered little likely. In that case, Brazil would try to repel the invader using a regular war strategy – with planes, tanks, artillery and ships.
Thus, although military action against the Amazon is highly unlikely, authorities in the area of defense do not rule out actions carried out “below the line of war” by specific nations. They would have the objective of obtaining economic advantages or making it difficult for Brazil to use its natural resources.
One of the first steps would be the use of information warfare to spread the idea that Brazil does not is capable of preserving biodiversity or the rights of native peoples in the Amazon region. Another widespread concept would be that the region is a world heritage site – and not just Brazilian. Some analysts argue that this type of action is already done through the action of NGOs, activists and politicians.
For example, cases such as the deaths of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira have been used politically by activists to try to relate the crime to the government’s rhetoric of defending the regularization of mining in indigenous areas or to an alleged lack of investment in inspection agencies – which the government denies.
Sanctions against agribusiness
From the economic perspective, it is possible to focus the scenario analysis on the attempt of European actors, such as the French president Emmanuel Macron, to delegitimize Brazilian agribusiness. The argument is that agricultural activities are expanding to the detriment of environmental preservation in the Amazon. According to analysts, this would be an attempt to reduce the competitiveness of the sector internationally.
In the worst scenario, this process could lead to boycotts of Brazilian products and even sanctions characteristic of economic warfare. However, the world fertilizer crisis and the war in Ukraine change that calculation.
The pre-war fertilizer shortage and the current blockade of the Black Sea by the Russian fleet (which prevents the export of food from the Ukraine, one of the largest grain producers in the world) are leading to a global food crisis.
Rising prices are already reflected around the world and the possibility of hunger in poorer countries is bigger and bigger. Against this backdrop, the US and its allies have already lifted sanctions against Russian fertilizer exports and
From a regulatory point of view, the increasingly intense legal uncertainty in Brazil and regional political pressures against the approval of infrastructure projects have been impeding the development of the Amazon region.
Railways, highways and ports do not get off the ground due to endless legal proceedings, sometimes motivated by environmental concerns, sometimes by political interests. Classic examples are the restoration of the BR-319 highway, which connected Manaus to Porto Velho, and the Ferrogrão railway, which would connect the Midwest to Pará, but its construction was suspended by the Federal Supreme Court (STF).
This type of legal uncertainty not only delays or prevents the development of the Amazon region, but also makes it difficult to attract resources from international investments .
Another problem is the land issue, which hinders development not only in the Amazon. The uncertainties about land titles and the slowness of justice facilitate the action of squatters, squatters and criminal groups that work with the illegal commercialization of rural properties.
There are ways to reduce part of the Amazon problems in a not so long term. Among them are the development of national technology and investment in security and inspection agencies.
Diplomatic actions, such as the strengthening of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (OTCA), which involves the Amazonian countries Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela can reduce political risks for the region.
More complex sustainable development and regulatory actions should take longer to be put into effect. practice, but at least they need to be discussed now by the population.