Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO – As this is written, Presidents Lula and Obama are to sign a framework agreement on military defense between Brazil and the US. It’s the first such agreement since 1977, when President Jimmy Carter, showing his displeasure with the Brazilian military, canceled it unilaterally.
Since that time, of course, the military of the two countries have continued to have interchanges and work with each other, but without any formal agreement.
Before the signing, the acting secretary of UNASUR’s South American Defense Council demanded that Brazil explain itself to UNASUR, and to say just what was going to be included in the agreement, whose terms had not been publicly announced. Brazil’s reply was a curt “we already told you some time ago”.
So, you ask, what is UNASUR, and why does it have a Defense Council? UNASUR the newly-fledged (2008) political grouping called the Union of South American Nations, merging the Andean Pact and Mercosur, and expanding to encompass all South American countries. Its Defense Council is designed be a NATO-like organization promoting peace and mutual defense. Defense against whom? The US, of course.
UNASUR in 2009 entered into most high dudgeon after member Colombia accepted Uncle Sam’s proposal to sign an agreement permitting a slightly greater military presence in its Amazon region. UNASUR even held an emergency summit to debate the topic. Things quieted down a bit thereafter, but most UNASUR nations profess to be worried about US military bases and personnel on the continent.
This leads us back to the Brazil/US framework agreement. Both sides have been very coy (meaning uncommunicative) about what’s in the agreement, but both have been very vocal about what it does NOT contain. It does NOT contain permission for the US to set up bases on Brazilian soil, or even to send troops to Brazilian bases. It does NOT call for the establishment of a permanent branch of the DEA in Brazil.
Beside preaching the inviolability of sovereign territory, it will map out joint military maneuvers and traditional educational exchange programs, and will encourage industrial and economic cooperation, which means better access for each country’s defense industries to the other’s military markets.
Why is UNASUR concerned? The Curmudgeon holds that the true reason is the Monroe Doctrine, which is alive and well in the political memories of ALL of South America. And we must admit it’s hard to forget 200 years of interventionist history when you’ve always been the interventee and the US has been the only interventor.
In this context, allowing US troops into South America is seen as the functional equivalent of allowing the fox into the hen-house. For instance, when US sent more troops to Haiti than most UNASUR members thought necessary, there was a bit of a tizzy that only ended when they left.
But not to worry! The Curmudgeon knows that the Monroe Doctrine fell terminally ill 50 years ago at the Bay of Pigs debacle, was left for dead when Venezuela invited the Russian navy in for joint maneuvers, and had another nail put in its coffin when President Obama criticized the Honduras coup in the same terms as Chavez.
For the Curmudgeon also knows that in order for the Monroe Doctrine to subsist there must be valid political or economic reasons for it, and the fact is that Latin America today is just not terribly important, either politically or economically, to the USA.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)