Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A "U.S. base" in Rio?

"United States plans new bases in Brazil and Peru to contain Venezuela," says TeleSur.

During his stop in Quito yesterday, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, was asked about reports that the United States and Brazil are talking about creating a joint anti-narcotics facility in Rio de Janeiro.

Valenzuela responded that the United States and Brazil are discussing a bilateral security agreement. He insisted that this will not resemble the Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by the United States and Colombia last October, which granted U.S. personnel access to seven Colombian military bases. But he didn’t explain much more.

Below is a translation of the article that broke this story, a piece that appeared last Wednesday in Brazil’s O Estado de São Paulo.

This article tells us the following:

  • The facility will be under Brazilian command.
  • It will resemble the U.S. facility (Joint Interagency Task Force South) in Key West, Florida, where representatives of several Latin American countries, and several U.S. military and law-enforcement agencies, monitor the skies and waters of the Caribbean and eastern Pacific for aircraft and boats suspected of trafficking in drugs, arms or other contraband. It will also resemble a similar European Union facility at Lisbon, Portugal.
  • As such, it will not be a military base, but a building where people gather and share intelligence.

Put that way, the new facility sounds rather uncontroversial. But as media outlets all over the region start reporting about a “new U.S. base in Brazil,” the U.S. government’s public diplomacy apparatus has responded with … silence.

This lack of an official response is troubling because we’ve seen this before. In 2008, the Southern Command caused a regional outcry by suddenly rolling out a long-dormant “4th Fleet” for its operations in the hemisphere. Alarms went off again in mid-2009, after the first leaks about the Colombia defense agreement. In neither case did U.S. officials explain what they were doing. In the face of this silence, Latin American perceptions of both moves ended up being shaped by media outlets and governments that suspect the worst of U.S. motives.

In the Internet era, several days of silence are no longer an option. The vacuum will be filled quickly by others. The Venezuela-based TeleSur network, for instance, is already reporting extensively about the Brazil agreement.

Rather than let others define an agreement that may in fact be quite benign, the Obama administration must show us that it has learned the importance of a more agile public diplomacy effort in the Western Hemisphere. Explain this, please.

Here’s last Wednesday’s article.

O Estado de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, March 31, 2010

Brazil discusses with the U.S. setting up a base in Rio

Goal would be to strengthen the fight against drug trafficking and smuggling, all under the command of Brazilians

By Rui Nogueira and Rafael Moura Moraes

At the suggestion of the Federal Police, the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva discussed yesterday with the commander of U.S. Southern Command, Lieutenant General Douglas Fraser, the proposed creation of a “multinational, multi-function” base headquartered in Rio de Janeiro.

The base would form, along with two existing ones in Key West (USA) and Lisbon (Portugal), the tripod of monitoring, control and combat against drug trafficking and smuggling, especially of weapons, and surveillance against terrorism.

Douglas Fraser spent the day yesterday in Brasilia. After meetings and a working lunch with Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, the U.S. commander met with the director general of the PF [Federal Police], Luiz Fernando Corrêa.

The PF already has an intelligence attaché working at the base in Key West, Florida [The Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South]. The Planalto [the Brazilian Presidency] is to decide whether the attache at the Lisbon base will be a federal delegate or an officer of the Navy.

The base in Rio, as well as the other two, does not allow operations under the command of foreigners. Countries who participate in cooperative programs to fight organized crime always send attachés who work under the supervision of the sovereign country’s agents on the base. The idea is that with the base in Florida, which closely monitors trafficking in the Caribbean, and Lisbon, which exercises control over the North Atlantic, the Brazilian base serves as an outpost for monitoring the South Atlantic.

Tragedy. Key West is a naval air base and that operates in cooperation with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, federal agencies and allied forces. Since 1989, it has housed an intelligence task force that conducts operations against drug trafficking in the Caribbean and South America.It was from there that the first airplane rescue flight departed after the tragedy of flight AF 447, Air France, last June, off the coast of Brazil near Fernando de Noronha. Notified of the accident, the base mobilized its Brazilian attaché, who initiated the rescue.

The group of agents at the Key West task force aims to curtail the cultivation, production and transportation of narcotics. The British, French and Dutch contribute by sending ships, aircraft and officials. The group includes representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and other Latin American countries.

The U.S. presence in the region [Key West] began in 1823 with the objective of combating local piracy. It was initially used for patrol and submarine operations and as an air training station, used by more than 500 airmen at the time of World War I (1914-1918). In 1940, it earned the designation of a naval and air base.

In Lisbon, the naval base is on the bank of the River Tagus, the Alfeite Military Perimeter. It was established in December 1958.

Fraser also came to Brazil to organize the trip of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, planned for mid-April. The visit is the reciprocation of Jobim’s trip to New York in February. On the agenda is the two countries’ strategic military cooperation, the purchase of fighter planes by Brazil and the U.S. interest in acquiring training aircraft - Embraer produces the Super Tucano. The American Boeing makes the F-18 Super Hornet, which is among the three models being considered in the FAB [Brazilian Air Force] plan for a big purchase.