LATIN AMERICA

Brazil sends 9,000 soldiers to southern borders to combat drug smugglers

Analysts believe move is a menacing warning to the Paraguayan government

Juan Arias
Río de Janeiro -
U.M. (Reuters)

In what is being billed as a deterrent message to criminal elements pouring in from Brazil's neighbors, President Dilma Rousseff has ordered 9,000 troops to the country's southern border with Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay. The deployment is expected to increase in the coming days.

Called Operation Ágata5, its mission is to "suppress border crime, such as drug trafficking and smuggling," said Defense Minister Celso Amorim on Monday.

But there are some, like Samuel Alves, a professor at Estadual Paulista University (UNESP) and president of the Association of Brazilian Defense Studies, who believe that Operation Ágata5 is actually a symbolic "show of force," particularly at a time when the government's current relationship with Paraguay is rocky. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay punished Paraguay and suspended its membership in Mercosur until 2013 following the controversial impeachment of President Fernando Lugo, which the three nations considered a blow to democracy.

The contingents sent to the southern borders by Rousseff include members of the army, navy and air force. The 9,000 personnel arrived equipped with helicopters, patrol ships, fighters and tanks.

The navy sent in 30 boats to the rivers of the Plata basin, including three warships and a hospital ship. The air force fighter squadrons include F5s and Super Tucanos, as well as radar aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The army has mobilized the infantry with Black Hawk and Pantera helicopters to transport troops and to be used in attack missions.

The operation also has the support of 30 government agencies, including the Federal police force. Accordingly, the area that will be closely monitored will be the region between the cities of Foz do Iguacu, in Parana state, and Corumbá, in Mato Grosso state - a stretch where drug traffickers are most active, according to General Carlos Bolivar Goellner, who spoke to BBC-Brasil.

Brazilian diplomats assured that the three neighboring countries - Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay - had been previously alerted about the operation and maintain that the relationship among the South American countries is one of "cooperation in the area of defense."

According to Minister Amorim, Brazil's real military threat could come in the future if any international power in conflict decides to "appropriate" the country's natural resources such as water, energy and food supplies.

"Brazil must develop credibility to demonstrate that it has a deterrent capacity that would make the prospect of an attack on our country something that could prove very expensive," Amorim said recently during a news conference.

In Paraguay, the increased Brazilian presence is already having an effect on businesses along the border. Commerce in Ciudad del Este, in Alto Paraná department, has fallen by 60 percent after the troops were dispatched on Monday, according to Alí Abou Saleh, a member of the local trade chamber, reported the Asunción daily Última Hora on Wednesday.

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