This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

South American Defense Council

Speaking from the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Venezuela on 14 April, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim was confident the South American Defense Council (CDS) could be organized by the end of 2008.

“I believe the council can be installed by the end of the year,” he said.

Since 14 April, Jobim has moved on to visit Suriname, with visits planned for Guyana, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, and Argentina.

The formation of the CDS would be the headstone of a region-wide military alliance that, according to Jobim, would not be the classical military alliance as it would not involve operational units.

Yet the formation of this alliance has caused concern in Washington as it is the region’s first military alliance that explicitly does not want the involvement of the United States. This concern, however is unfounded, and if Washington tries to get involved, it would find itself undercutting Brazilian leadership, allowing Chavez room to proselytize his message and anti-American position within the military alliance.

Many observers from inside the beltway do not take two important truths into account.

Despite photo opportunities and many hugs, Lula and Chavez are not friends. Lula's administration is populated with old-school revolutionaries who share some of Chavez’s vision but have little respect for his implementation process. Lula, after years of trying and failing to be president of Brazil learned the hard way that being a die-hard Socialist is no path to power in Brazil. As a lame-duck president, he is more interested now in his legacy and in passing the torch of leadership to a hand picked successor.

Keeping Brazil at the top of the region’s geopolitical totum pole is a top priority as voters in the next election will likely remember Lula’s often stated promises to make Brazil a global player. The first step up that ladder is regional dominance. Checking Chavez is essential to that goal.

The idea for this military alliance was born in Brasilia and appeases the Brazilian military voices who have been calling out for a check on Chavez and his military spending. Bringing Chavez under the reigns of a regional military alliance, in theory, gives the Brazilians room to exert some control over Chavez in a multilateral forum of regional friends where he is least likely to employ his unsavory acts of public outrage to spark nationalist tension at home.

This alliance also allows Lula to quietly remind Chavez who is the real power house on the continent. The Venezuelan military has shiny new toys, but neither Chavez nor his generals have the persuasive pull enjoyed by Brazilian military leaders, backed up by Brazilian military factories and years of service for militaries around the region.

The Bolivian army, for example, could not mobilize without Brazilian vehicles, parts, and service. The Colombian Air Force recently used Brazilian built Supertucano aircraft to bomb the FARC camp in Ecuador. Supertucanos were used on nearly all the major bombing missions against FARC encampments in 2007. They have had a major impact on the Colombian Military's increased in air raids. Brazil has the region’s largest arms and ammunition industry in the region and is region’s leader in nuclear technology, followed closely behind by Argentina.

With Lula calling the shots for his representative at the South American Defense Council, he remains in a position to apply pressure on Chavez to keep him quiet and involved in Venezuelan domestic matters, a focus that would benefit the Venezuelan president.

The region’s other military leaders are more likely to fall into step behind Brazil and if Chavez were to pull out of the alliance, he would remain more isolated within his own region than he is today – a stated goal of US foreign policy for Venezuela.

Washington frets about a military alliance in South America, but if Washington leaders can be objective about Brazil’s goals, they would see therein an ally that can do far better in controlling Chavez. If Washington meddles in the South American Defense Council, it would find a loud voice in Chavez and the Brazilians would be forced to join in, cursing Washington all the while for not letting them take the lead.

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