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Brazil country overview

Brazil Government

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Brazil Armed forces and security

Brazil possesses the most formidable military forces in South America, comprising the largest army, air force, and navy in the region. The nation’s military personnel exceed 300,000, representing approximately one-third of South America’s total armed forces. A significant portion of Brazil’s military arsenal is domestically produced, including diesel-electric submarines, combat aircraft, transport planes, and small arms. During the latter half of the 20th century, Brazil emerged as a prominent exporter of arms. Nevertheless, its export activities saw a decline in the late 1980s following the end of the Iran-Iraq War and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, leading to Brazil becoming a net importer of military equipment by the mid-1990s.

Despite the Brazilian president holding the title of commander-in-chief, there is not a deeply entrenched tradition of civilian oversight of the military. A number of high-ranking officers, whose service dates back to the military government of 1964–1985, still view the military as the ultimate arbiter in political matters and the staunchest protector of national interests. Conversely, the current generation of officers is more receptive to adhering to constitutional restraints. Since the restoration of democracy in 1985, Brazil has enjoyed a period of stability and peace, with successive democratic governments successfully curtailing the military’s role in politics. Furthermore, the historical concerns regarding the defense of Brazil’s southern borders have diminished as the country has fortified its economic partnership with Argentina.

Historically, Brazil’s defense strategy was concentrated on its densely populated southern frontier with Argentina and Uruguay. This focus shifted in the 1990s as the perceived threat from Argentina receded due to strengthened economic relations between the two nations. Consequently, the military has redirected its attention to the less populated northern and western frontiers, which face challenges from Colombian insurgent groups and international narcotics traffickers, particularly those transporting cocaine from Bolivia and Peru to Colombia. Since 1994, Brazil has made significant investments in the surveillance and management of air traffic and other movements within the Amazon basin. This effort includes the deployment of satellites, radar (both ground-based and airborne), meteorological sensors, and other technologies that serve dual civilian and military purposes. Additionally, the construction of new airstrips, enhancement of garrison and river patrol capabilities, and establishment of outposts have been undertaken. However, due to the vastness of the Amazon region, the military’s presence there is still relatively symbolic.

The majority of Brazil’s law enforcement personnel serve within the ranks of the Military Police, an entity that is governed at the state level and has functioned autonomously from the armed forces since the year 1988. In contrast, the Civil Police, who are not uniformed, are tasked with conducting investigations. Meanwhile, the Federal Police, which is comprised of a relatively small force, is charged with the daunting responsibility of securing the nation’s extensive maritime, aerial, and terrestrial borders. Historically, they have depended on support from the military to fulfill this role.

Brazil is grappling with significant issues of violence and corruption within its police forces, issues that are further complicated by the challenges of inadequate remuneration and limited educational opportunities for officers. Notably, in major urban centers such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, there are numerous instances each year where police officers are implicated in extrajudicial killings, as well as involvement in illicit activities such as drug trafficking, abduction, theft, and other criminal offenses.

Efforts to implement reforms within the police institutions have been hindered by the overwhelming frequency of such incidents, as well as by the recurrent confrontations that arise between different police agencies. Addressing these deep-rooted challenges remains a critical concern for the Brazilian law enforcement system.

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