Austin Bay

Brazil's various Amazon defense initiatives have strengthened it domestically and regionally. Brazil has 11,000 kilometers of Amazonian border facing seven different countries. Various military journals have reported that Brazil is constructing an "advanced military belt" in Amazon regions facing Colombia, Guyana, Venezuela and Bolivia. Government control in many of these regions is weak. Drug traffickers, gold miners, landowners and criminal organizations operate outside of Brazilian law. Brazil intends to end that anarchy and exert control.

Stabilizing shaky governments in the western hemisphere is another Brazilian interest. This used to mean controlling Castroite insurgents; now it means blunting the likes of Chavez and fighting drug gangs. This has an internal security dimension. Defense officials are concerned that links between former leftists and the gangs in Brazil's violent urban slums could produce a new series of insurgencies. The "favelas" (slums) of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are already plagued by gang warfare, crime and political turmoil.

As for the larger world? Some Brazilian futurists see their nation, with its modern armaments industry, multiracial democracy and burgeoning population, as the potential leader of a group of modernized Third World nations, with South Korea and South Africa as members of this theoretical group. It would offer an alternative economic and political alignment to Western European-, American- or Chinese-led alliances. Though grandiose, the centerpiece of the concept is mutual economic interests without historical baggage.

An alternative model for securing Brazilian power internationally, however, relies on historical and cultural connections: a Portuguese-speaking "Commonwealth" consisting of a loose confederation of former Portuguese colonies, with Brazil supplying the leadership. The commonwealth would include Angola and Mozambique, and essentially re-establish the "band of the Portuguese" that once stretched from Guinea Bisseau to Macau. Please avoid the term "neo-colonialism," especially in front of the Angolans.

Many Brazilians scoff that both notions are grandiose. Unless Brazil reduces poverty, solves its problem of endemic political corruption and continues to shrink its debt, the scoffers joke that their nation will perpetually remain the world's "future superpower."

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Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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