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Brazil engages in controversial wargame as Venezuela tension rises

. Oct 18, 2020
amazon military army venezuela Brazilian troops heading to the Amazon. Photo: EB

Midway through September, the Brazilian government hosted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a meeting at the country’s northern border with Venezuela. The move was lambasted by politicians and career diplomats alike as a major diplomatic faux pas. A group of six former Foreign Ministers published a statement repudiating what they called “the spurious utilization of Brazilian soil by a foreign power as a platform for provocation and hostility towards a neighboring nation.”

Apparently, however, there was even more to the story than meets the eye.

While Mr. Pompeo

<a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/10/16/exclusive-biden-win-could-lead-to-cabinet-reshuffle-in-brazil/">accompanied Brazil&#8217;s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo</a> on a visit to a soup kitchen serving poor migrants, calling Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro a &#8220;drug trafficker&#8221; in the process, the Brazilian Army was running an unprecedented hush-hush military exercise in the Amazon — with references that seemed to be a little too on-the-nose. </p> <p>Between September 8 and 22, platoons from a fictitious &#8220;Blue Country&#8221; were tasked with repelling an invasion by a &#8220;Red Country&#8221; —&nbsp;in an exercise that involved 3,600 troops (including some which are stationed in the Venezuelan border) and was observed by members of the U.S. Southern Command.</p> <p>The Brazilian Army doesn&#8217;t normally hold exercises of this magnitude. According to a government statement to newspaper O Globo, the Blue v. Red battle simulation involved the use of special vehicles, planes, helicopters, ferries, and heavy artillery —&nbsp;including three types of mortars and an 80-kilometer range missile. Even Army Commander Edson Leal Pujol and Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva observed this rare occasion.</p> <p>In Brazil, the exercise raised eyebrows for another reason: the Army spent BRL 6 million (USD 1.1 million) in fuel and transportation alone to quell the threat of the imaginary Red Country — while the federal administration struggles for funds to launch a cash-transfer program for Brazilians to cope with <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/08/06/unemployment-makes-social-security-solutions-imperative-in-brazil/">record-high unemployment rates</a>, already affecting 14 million people.</p> <p>While BRL 6 million is a drop in the ocean as far as the federal budget is concerned, it sends all the wrong messages about the administration&#8217;s priorities.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="768" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/military-exercise-amazon-1024x768.jpeg" alt="military exercise amazon" class="wp-image-51310" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/military-exercise-amazon-1024x768.jpeg 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/military-exercise-amazon-300x225.jpeg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/military-exercise-amazon-768x576.jpeg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/military-exercise-amazon-610x458.jpeg 610w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/military-exercise-amazon-600x450.jpeg 600w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/military-exercise-amazon.jpeg 1280w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>War against the imaginary Red Country: special vehicles and heavy artillery. Photo: EB</figcaption></figure> <h2>Brazil-Venezuela relations at a low point</h2> <p>Engulfed by a full-scale crisis for the best part of the last decade, Venezuela has become something of a bogeyman for the Brazilian right —&nbsp;repeated to exhaustion as a <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2018/07/27/ortega-maduro-brazilian-left/">cautionary tale</a> of what could happen to Brazil if the left returns to power, regardless of the huge cultural, economic, and political differences between the two nations.</p> <p>More than 3 million people have <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/05/02/failed-coup-venezuela-questions-brazil/">fled the country</a> amid the crisis, escaping rising violence, food shortages, political persecution, and a crippling 1,370,000-percent inflation that makes any amount of money people may have worthless.&nbsp;</p> <p>Things are so dire that, according to a <a href="https://www.marketwatch.com/story/infant-mortality-soaring-in-venezuela-at-a-rate-higher-than-in-syria-2016-10-18">2016 report</a> from the Organization of American States, newborns have a better chance of survival in war-torn Syria than they do in Venezuela.&nbsp;</p> <p>And as the far-right Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil, relations between the two countries quickly deteriorated. Last year, opponents of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2019/05/03/south-america-risks-venezuela-brazil/">increasingly authoritarian Nicolás Maduro</a> staged a botched coup — and proclaimed the then-head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the country&#8217;s legitimate leader.</p> <p>Brazil was quick to recognize Mr. Guaidó as president — before nearly all South American countries followed suit. At one point, the Bolsonaro administration pondered whether Brazil could participate in a possible U.S.-backed military intervention in Venezuela — something military officers strongly opposed, while the president&#8217;s ideological zealots defended.</p> <p>Still, while no military action took place, Brazil and Colombia joined the U.S. early in 2019 in trying to send humanitarian aid to Venezuela —&nbsp;something Mr. Maduro called a Trojan horse ploy meant to undermine his rule. In reaction, Caracas closed its borders with Brazil.</p> <p>In the latest installment of the Bolsonaro-Maduro feud, the Brazilian government moved to make all of the Venezuelan left-wing leader’s <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/10/07/venezuelan-embassy-big-enough-both-brasilia/">diplomats <em>personae non gratae</em> in the country</a>.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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