Defending the Amazon

Defending the Amazon

Cavalcanti is the author of three projects proposing a referendum,
as the Constitution determines, to create three new states:
Solimões, Tapajós, and Araguaia.
By Iosif Landau

Everyone in Brazil independent of political affiliation seems to be interested in the
defense of the Amazon these days. With American troops training in neighboring Colombia
fears of an invasion have increased. Villas-Boas Corrêa, a well-known political
commentator for Rio’s daily Jornal do Brasil has raised the issue recently. In
Congress, Mozarildo Cavalcanti, senator for the state of Roraima, also touched on the
matter of a possible American invasion.

Brazilian borders with Colombia are 1,700 km (1,062 miles) long, an area sparsely
populated and with an insignificant Brazilian military presence. It is a wide open border
where guerrillas, drug traffickers, weapon smugglers, and bio-pirates all come and go
freely.

Cavalcanti does not embrace the old idea of massive occupancy of the border by
stimulating internal migration. Disorderly occupation by crowds of peasants ignorant of
local cultures and habits is not something he accepts since past experience showed it to
be predatory. He also has no illusion that it is possible to maintain the Amazon
untouched. He believes, however, that the Amazon should be occupied according to
well-prepared ecological projects that have shown viability and efficiency in the past.

In his own state of Roraima, as well as in the stare of Amapá, self-sustaining
projects were established with excellent results and were internationally recognized as
such. Careful occupation does not destroy but protects forest reserves, teaches the
senator.

The senator also warns that the military should modify ancient concepts, abandoning
their old colonial strategy that concentrates the defense of the country on sea borders as
if to defend Brazil from foreign invasion by sea. While there is a concentration of 44,000
military men in Rio, in the Brazilian Amazon, which occupies over two thirds of the
country’s territory, there are only 22,000.

Cavalcanti believes that the United States intervention in Colombia will not end soon.
He says that Brazil has to accept the facts and protect its territory near seven bordering
South American countries. The geopolitics of the Amazon must change, he argues, pointing
that natives who live along the border feel more like Bolivians and Venezuelans than
Brazilians,

Among the senator’s solutions are the rearranging of the Brazilian territorial division
in order to assure more efficient administration, and better territorial defense and
geographical equilibrium of the country. Cavalcanti is the author of three projects
proposing a referendum, as the Constitution determines, to create three new states:
Solimões, on the west side of the Amazonas state; Tapajós, on the west side of the Pará
State; and Araguaia on the north side of Mato Grosso state.

Approved with a few changes by a special senate committee, the matter will be voted on
next year in the Senate and then by the full Congress. The Fernando Henrique Cardoso
administration likes the idea; the Ministry of Defense approves of it. Despite the odds in
his favor, Cavalcanti is not overly optimistic. He says, "This is a long and
difficult struggle, but this is the only way we will be able to prevent the risk of
foreign interference in the region."

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