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By Nestor Bailly, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In early 2010, President Lula deemed relations with the U.S. of “enormous unexploited potential” according to diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, a sentiment now echoed by President-Elect Dilma Rousseff. Ms. Rousseff recently said one of her top priorities after taking office on January 1st will be to visit U.S. President Obama to build closer ties between Brazil and the U.S., particularly on trade and human rights.

F-16s Fighter Jets, photo by Amn Silva Lopes/Brazilian Air Force Agency.

However, military ties between the two nations are already good and improving, a result of President Lula’s personal rapport with former U.S. President Bush and increasing trade across the equator. Last month, the U.S. participated for the first time in Brazil’s CRUZEX 5 or “Southern Cross,” South America’s largest simulated air warfare exercise.

Held in Natal, CRUZEX is usually a participation of 3,000 airmen from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, France and Uruguay. This year, Colorado Air National Guard Airmen were also invited to work alongside pilots and crews from Latin America and France.

“We now have personal contacts with the participating countries,” said Brig. Gen. Trulan A. Eyre, the commander of the American forces. “If another partner country is in need, we now have face-to-face contacts with (representatives) from these countries…. We now have the type of partnership that whatever is needed, we will be there to support each other.”

Cooperation across a wide range of areas has seen quiet improvement since 2001 and is set to continue developing, according to other leaked cables. Military and law enforcement agencies from both nations now work closely together on counter-narcotics issues, intelligence sharing, human trafficking and shipping container security.

While collaboration in technical and operational areas such as these have progressed well, public acknowledgment and cooperation by the Brazilian government of the U.S.’s strategic concerns, such as Iran, nuclear proliferation and terrorism, has been lagging.

“Officially, Brazil does not have terrorism inside its borders,” reads a cable from late 2009. “In reality, several Islamic groups with known or suspected ties to extremist organizations have branches in Brazil and are suspected of carrying out financing activities. Although there is good working-level law enforcement cooperation between the U.S. and Brazil on terrorism related activities, the official position of the government is to deny that Brazil has any terrorist activity.”

Covering up potential links to terrorism might have links to what the American embassy in Brasilia called an “extreme sensitivity on sovereignty” on the part of Brazilian elite. New fears that the U.S. will prey on the enormous oil reserves off Brazil’s coast prompted efforts to increase federal control of mineral resources and have mixed with old anxieties that foreigners want to “internationalize the Amazon.”

Map of the Santos Basin oil producing region off the coast of Brazil, image by WikiMedia Creative Commons License.

These fears pop up in Brazilian media and official statements, most strongly demonstrated when President Lula asserted, “the world needs to understand that the Amazon has an owner, and that is the Brazilian people.”

The re-establishment of the U.S. Fourth Fleet, with and area of focus that encompasses the Caribbean, and Central and South America, also caused Brazilians anxiety, prompting an official inquiry by the Brazilian government. While such concerns might be political theater, they do have the potential to disrupt future cooperation.

However, a meeting between U.S. Ambassador Sobel and the Chiefs of the three Brazilian Armed Services in early 2009 indicated that behind the scenes, sections of the Brazilian military are willing to work extensively with the U.S.

The fact that Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet is the Brazilian military’s favored choice for the FX2 jet fighter competition despite speculation that the French Rafale will win for political reasons, indicates that ties between the U.S. and Brazilian military will continue to strengthen.

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