US and Brazil build ties as Venezuela struggles
In the shadow of the Venezuela crisis, the US and Brazil are improving bilateral relations in several areas in terms of strategic space and its use. The idea is to improve bilateral relations that will bring strategic benefits to America at a time of change in Latin America’s northern cone region, which includes Colombia, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro met US President Donald Trump, and although the Brazilian delegation did not get all that they asked for, the White House and Bolsonaro moved their personality-driven relationship closer with a few deals, and with more to come later. The presidents condemned Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and sought to cooperate on public security and military development.
The US gave Brazil immediate concessions in trade matters in return for granting a unilateral visa waiver for US visitors, a tariff-free quota for wheat imports and easier access for American space launches from Brazil. Future negotiations are to focus on America selling Brazil nuclear reactors, investing in Brazil’s now-halted Angra 3 nuclear power plant, and also entering Brazil’s emerging uranium mining market.
There is more. In terms of energy, the US is going to participate in the next rounds of oil bloc auctions in the pre-salt area off the coast of Brazil known as the transfer-of-rights zone. The pre-salt area, where billions of barrels of oil and natural gas are trapped beneath a layer of salt under the ocean floor, is one of the world’s largest oil finds of recent decades. The US is also interested in investing in Brazil’s natural gas sector, which is being opened to private investment. The country’s gas market is currently dominated by Petroleo Brasileiro SA and state distribution companies.
That is not all. The US and Brazil signed a deal that opens Brazil’s Alcantara Launch Center space port to satellite launches. The deal being worked out is to salvage Brazil’s once-promising space program, which is also in disrepair. US representatives from Boeing and Lockheed Martin are visiting the site, and with the entrance into the market of small launch companies, the space port may attract more investment by an equatorial spin that produces 30 percent fuel savings. That type of advertising helps Brazil to project its image as a forward-looking country.
The above is indicative of strategic space in Latin America as the transfer of power continues in Venezuela. Brazil’s strategic framework is committed to defending the territorial sovereignty of its 26 states and nearly 17,000 km of borders with 10 neighbors. Brazil’s multidimensional view of security is now seeking investment and technology transfer as a way to promote the largest country on the continent with a global profile.
When Venezuela closed its border with Brazil, Sao Paulo responded by beefing up border security after clashes between the indigenous Pemon people and the Venezuelan National Guard as the latter moved tanks to shut down the border with Brazil.
Dr. Theodore Karasik
What is happening in Venezuela is part of the current security landscape for Brazil as these deals between the US and Sao Paolo proceed. Importantly, the US and Brazil have an important military-to-military relationship that focuses on disaster relief and other humanitarian missions. This military relationship furthers opportunities for possible operations in Venezuela in non-traditional security environments but also delivers aid where necessary and in coordination with the US and Colombia. Colombia is prepared for the operations necessary in conjunction with the US and SOUTHCOM (the US Southern Command, under the US Department of Defense) to push further into the indigenous people’s zones of western Venezuela with humanitarian aid.
Last month, when Venezuela closed its border with Brazil, Sao Paulo responded by beefing up border security after clashes between the indigenous Pemon people and the Venezuelan National Guard as the latter moved tanks to shut down the border with Brazil. Brazil’s immediate security concerns of course remain focused on what happens next to their northern neighbor.
The fact that neighboring nations Brazil and Colombia have said that they would not permit a US “invasion” across their borders or allow their territories to be used for such operations is on record. Nevertheless, humanitarian aid augmented by force is continuing. Beyond this level of tactical operations, military options by the US are being based on 1989’s Operation Just Cause (Panama). This US operation featured a swift and violent attack aimed at stunning enemy forces into submission immediately followed by political removal. Strategic airdrops would seize the airport, to provide an aerial hub to bring in heavier troops. US forces also would seek to take over government offices, communication facilities and other critical points. Nice in theory, different in an active war zone, and especially in today’s hypermedia environment.
Venezuela is already suffering from increasing power cuts, and a barrage of information operations to include messaging to those who support Maduro to defect to the Lima Group supporting President Juan Guaido are meant to further weaken Maduro’s hold on power.
Now, with Guiado’s Chief of Staff Robert Marrero detained by Maduro’s forces, the stakes have gone up considerably. For Brazil, the contingency of contending with America’s next act in Venezuela is to hold the border and assist in the transition while maintaining Brazil’s traditional values under a president who has an affinity for the US president in the hope of future lucrative deals from the US.
• Dr. Theodore Karasik is a non-resident senior fellow at the Lexington Institute and a national security expert, specializing in Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East. He worked for the RAND Corporation and publishes widely in the US and international media.