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SIVAM and Brazilian extremist nationalism

April 10, 2009
A Brazilian nationalist street stall in Rio

A Brazilian nationalist street stall in Rio

Whilst finishing up my work in Rio de Janeiro yesterday, I came across this interesting bunch of people, mv-brasil, who appear to be a Brazilian nationalist movement, with much in common with organisations like the British National Party or the various right-wing groups in the USA. Their website contains the usual odd mixture of anti-globalisation, evangelical Christian (they campaign against Halloween) and anti-United Nations / New World Order stuff with the added anti-Americanism. There of course is the usual rather uncomfortable fact of the ‘Brazilian Christian’ nationalist being a representative of a colonial power that invaded the country and took it from the indigenous people, but they roll over this one with some nods to Indian rights when it suits their cause, most notably when it comes to the Amazon.

A t-shirt with anti-internationalisation and privatisation of the Amazon slogan

A t-shirt with anti-internationalisation and privatisation of the Amazon slogan

One of the T-shirts for sale makes reference to this, being against ‘internationalisation and privatisation’ of the Amazon by the USA. It is a conspiracy theory I’ve come across before when I was doing some research on the SIVAM program – which provides some actual evidence for contentions that there is a secret American program to control the rainforest. I had someone tell me here in complete good faith that it was a ‘fact’ that several Amazonian tribes already thought that they were part of the USA and flew the US flag! This is combined with the fact the UN and international environmental organisations are very concerned about the destruction of the rainforest and the perceived lack of effort by successive Brazilian administrations to stop it. Put all this together and you have the ingredients for nationalist paranoia.

sivam_logoSo what is SIVAM? And why would I be interested in it anyway? The reason is that SIVAM is a surveillance system. Announced at the Earth Summit in 1992, and finally completed in 2002 and fully operationial from 2004, the Sistema de Vigilância da Amazônia (SIVAM) is a multipurpose, multi-agency network of satellite, aerial and ground surveillance and response that aims to monitor the illegal traffic of drugs and forest animals and plants, control national borders and those of indigenous peoples’ lands, and prevent the further destruction of protected areas of forest. A good technical account in English can be found in Aviation Today from 2002, and there is an interesting article on its construction here.

Donald Rumsefld visits the SIVAM control centre, 23 March 2005 (Wikimeda Commons)

Donald Rumsefld visits the SIVAM control centre, 23 March 2005 (Wikimeda Commons)

The problem is that, although an initiative of various Brazilian government agencies including the environment and Indian affairs ministries, the federal police and the army, SIVAM is supported and funded by the USA – most of the initial $1.39Bn US cost came through a grant from the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and the consortium that supplies the equipment includes giant US military supplier, Raytheon – amongst many others from Brazil to Sweden. The visit of former President George W. Bush’s right-hand man and then Secretary of State for Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, to the SIVAM control centre in 2005, was widely reported in Bazil. It was of course interpreted by many as further evidence of Brazil’s ceding of control of the Amazon to the USA, or even presaging a US invasion of the Amazon, as Senator Norm Coleman discovered on a fact-finding mission later that year.

Latin American countries have every right to be suspicious of US motives: the Monroe Doctrine; George Kennan’s Cold War ‘grand area’ vision; the support for dictators like Augosto Pinochet; the invasions of Panama and Grenada; Plan Columbia and the widespread use of military ‘advisors’… the list goes on. And it is certainly the case that US strategic surveillance plans for ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ and the like, have have long included ‘leveraging’ any system in which they are involved from the International Space Station to things like SIVAM. So of course they will have a strategic interest, and no doubt SIVAM data will find its way to US military C4ISR centres, but this does not amount to a plan to invade Brazil or take control of the Amazon.

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