Civil-military relations and security sector reform in the Caribbean and Latin America face distinct challenges. During Spanish and Portuguese colonialism, the conqueror’s military forces used a strategy of pacification to put down rebellions and to control or even to destroy native peoples. Afterwards, this repressive attitude toward society continued, defining most of the history of military-civil society relations in Latin America. Yet in general, since the 1980s, there has been a transition away from military-led governments toward greater democracy and citizen participation in all aspects of public life. Latin American governments are increasingly working together on regional issues, particularly in response to regional challenges of trafficking in drugs, weapons and people.
Civil-military relations in the Caribbean and Latin America are distinct from Western countries in a variety of ways, due to a different historical evolution of the security forces and different governance arrangements. Since 2012, there has been an effort to build up a civil society network of university scholars and NGOs to work with military officers to improve civil-military relations in the Caribbean and Latin America. This “Military and Security in Latin America and the Caribbean” network aims to produce an overview on the recent experience of safety, different reports, and possibilities to create a human security/human rights oriented policy. It has been mostly a joint effort spread among military and scholars.
Brazilian efforts to use universities as an intermediary to provide a safe space for civil-military-police dialogue on issues of public safety and national security could eventually spread throughout the region. Formulas that connect civilian scholars, civilian graduate programmes and military graduate courses – or even hybrid graduate programmes – have been part of this recent Brazilian experience. If analysed in its first outcomes, and adapted respecting local dynamics and expertise, this model could be translated more widely in Latin America, using this kind of cooperation established with military schools.
Brazil itself has assisted in SSR/D efforts in other countries such as Haiti, Guinea-Bissau, and Timor-Leste, both bilaterally and through organizations such as the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP). Yet as with other countries assisting with SSR, civil-military relations within Brazil and internal SSR/D efforts still need attention.
Within Brazil, the history of military interventions and military rule has created lasting mistrust between the military, police, and civil society. Historically, the military viewed political opposition as “the internal enemy” that must be “eliminated” rather than addressed through democratic processes. While democratization occurred within the government’s political sector, the military and police sector still run based on a model established during the authoritarian regime (1964-1985). This model gives to the military police a primary repressive task in ordinary law enforcement activities and a secondary competence as National Army´s auxiliary troops (exactly the same as during the dictatorship period). In Brazil, each state federal unity in Brazil has its own military police corps. These police corps are militarized in a gendarmerie-like corporation under state Governor’s authority.
On the other hand, the National Army has a contradictory history. Officially, the Army main prerogative is to protect national sovereignty, and as a second level of competence, to act in internal issues such as law enforcement. It means that training and weaponry is geared toward identifying and fighting enemies and not as much on protecting and serving the population.
Nevertheless, Brazil’s military has had a significant role in responding to internal humanitarian crises, such as floods or the recurrent support to minimize desertification effects on vulnerable populations. This degree of competence has increased since the beginning of the deployment of Brazilian troops to lead the security work in UN missions, especially in Haiti (2004 onwards). In preparation for this mission, Brazilian forces trained in urban combat simulations in order to act in Port-au-Prince slums. This experience exposed Brazilian forces to training on UN values and concepts on Protection of Civilians and related concepts.
The Brazilian military experience of policing operations in Haiti could lead to a shift in how the Brazilian military operates side by side in public safety issues within Brazil, particularly in favelas (slums). The Brazilian Ministry of Defence, answering to a formal request by Rio de Janeiro’s Governor, formed two “Pacification Forces” that occupied three sets of slums in two phases, the first one from December 2010 to July 2012, and the second between May 2014 and April 2015. Part of the Army’s troops operating in Rio’s slums included former UN troops in Haiti. Besides that, the operations were connected to a state Military Police programme called Police Pacification Units (UPP) aimed to occupy communities where drug trafficking takes place. There are many questions stemming from this kind of collaboration between the Armed Forces and the Military Police. The memory of the military participation in the so-called “dirty war” against political opposition during the 1960’s and 1970’s ignites a difficult debate among scholars, military staff, politicians, and civil society organizations.
If it is true that the move toward civilian governments in Brazil has opened the door to new conversations on security, Brazilian society has not had practice in participating in security discussions. Brazilian academics point out that in a democratic country, society must think about these issues and provide oversight to ensure that the military is accountable to civilian leadership and the civilian population. On June 20th, 2013, close to 1.5 million people marched in over eighty cities across Brazil in the largest public demonstrations since redemocratization in 1985. Then, state Military Police used extreme force on the protestors, indiscriminately using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. Political leaders and media portrayed the protests as illegal acts, while civil society perceived the protests as legitimate acts of political opposition. After the Military Police brutality even traditional political parties and the major media turned against the security forces.
In such a context, Brazilian academics and NGOs are trying to build bridges of communication between the military, police and civil society to offer forums for dialogue on the emphasis on public safety versus national security. However, there is an increasing consensus of the importance to discuss these issues more openly among Brazilian society, not only in silos of those directly involved. The educational field seems to be a respected intermediary to provide forums for civil-military-police dialogue. In Brazil, universities can provide a safe space for civil society and the military to interact, and therefore serve as an entry point, whilst overcoming stigma from talking to the military.
The Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS) of the Fluminense Federal University, in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro is the first academic institute in Brazil devoted to civil-military relations. ISS opened its doors in 2012 after a ten-year process of consolidation within the Political Sciences Department. Scholars engaged in its creation had a historical involvement with civilian-military issues and had helped to establish organizations such as the Brazilian Association for Defence Studies (ABED), in 2008. ISS has cooperation agreements with high-level military schools in Brazil (Army, Navy, Air Force), with special attention to their graduate courses. Besides that, ISS offers an undergraduate course in International Relations and a postgraduate course devoted to civil-military relations. There are around 20 military officers in the institute, under civilian supervision, and among its professors there are forms military officers.
Following ISS experience, other Universities in Brazil started their own graduate programmes on Strategic Studies or Defence Studies, including the Army’s and Navy’s high-level schools based in Rio de Janeiro. The Institute is establishing connections between these two separate worlds in Brazil – the world of the military and police’ and their perspectives on security and the world of civil society and their perspectives on public safety.
Excerpt from the book Local Ownership in Security: Case Studies of Peacebuilding Approaches edited by Lisa Schirch with Deborah Mancini-Griffoli and published by The Alliance for Peacebuilding, The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
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