Bolivia: Brazil's Geopolitical Prisoner

September 25, 2007

Mutun, located in Southeastern Bolivia, is a stone's throw from Brazil. Its mines contain the largest deposits of iron and manganese-an estimated 40,000 million tons-in Latin America, and the third largest in the world. Yet the deposits are Bolivian only because they fall within its borders. The nation which controls Mutun, though, can have a decisive effect on all countries which need its products. On August 5, 1971, a small delegation of Brazilian businessmen arrived in Bolivia to negotiate trade agreements with the popular government of General Juan J. Torres. They also hoped to win sweeping concessions over exploitation and development of the Mutun mines. Five days after President Torres refused to grant such con- cessions, he was overthrown by right-wing military units carrying Brazilian machine guns and flying Brazilian bombers painted with the Bolivian flag. Before the battle for control was settled, Brazil had recognized the reactionary leader of the coup, Col. Hugo Banzer, as head of a new military government. And it wasted no time pumping money, credit and more arms into Bolivia. 1 Brazil and the Southern Cone. Mutun is only one of a number of reasons why Brazil moved in mid-1971 to consolidate its power in Bolivia; but it is an important one. The enormous deposits of Mutun are a natural source on which to build a complete iron-steel industry. Nevertheless, Brazil does not actually need the iron of Mutun. In fact, Brazil already possesses 12 percent of the world's known reserves of iron ore. The Mutun deposits in Bolivia stretch over to the fabulously rich mines or Urutun in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Aside from this, Brazil owns virtually inexhaustible iron ore deposits in the "iron quadrangle" of Minas Gerais. 2 Finally, there are the tremendous deposits in the Amazon's Serra dos Carajas where U.S. Steel and a Brazilian government company are planning to invest up to $600 million to develop its iron mines. 3 In reality, Brazil's interest in Mutun stems from its concern for Argentina, not the iron ore. The reasoning behind this is fairly clear. Historically, Brazil has searched for dominance in the South American sub-continent. Its principal rival in this quest has been Argentina. Brazil, then, is continually on the look-out for methods to dominate Argentina both economically and politically. Mutun is one method. Unlike Brazil, Argentina does not produce enough iron ore .for its own needs. In fact, it must import much of its requirements from Brazil. So great is Argentina's need for Brazilian metals that it now spends approximately 40 percent of its total Brazilian purchases on mineral and industrial imports. Argentine control of Mutun would therefore lessen its dependence on Brazil. And Mutun is particularly attractive to Argentina since it is located only 30 kilometers from Puerto Suarez, an inland Bolivian port on the Paraguay River which flows past the Argentine steel complex of San Nicolas. 4 So Brazil seeks control of the Bolivian mines not so much for their iron deposits as to prevent Argentina from gaining access to them. But Brazil's interest in Bolivia in 1971 went further than Mutun. As Bolivia's Foreign Minister Mario Gutierrez sees it. ". .. Bolivia is the geopolitical center of South America and our country is summoned, by its position, to be the knot of (South) American integration."5 Brazil's search for hegemony in the sub-continent, therefore, would logically begin with Bolivia. In the first place, Bolivia could provide Brazil with access to Pacific coast countries. Brazilian strategist, always stress that U.S. development in many respects was determined by its possession of both Atlantic and Pacific ports. Secondly, Bolivia borders on both Peru and Chile. In 1971 both countries had popular and nationalistic governments and were therefore viewed by Brazil as national security threats. Finally, Brazil's economic "miracle" needed new markets for its manufactured goods and new commercial frontiers to maintain its high rate of industrial expansion. The Andean Common Market, which developed rapidly in 1971, threatened to isolate Brazil from such markets. Although Brazilian investment analysts were outwardly pleased with the Andean pact, claiming that it would bring them mining capital which would normally have gone to Chile and Peru, it is clear that Brazil was feeling the pinch25 for markets. That same year, the Nixon administration announced a cutback on imports of Brazilian manufactured goods as well as the imposition of new tariff barriers due to the crisis in the U.S. balance of payments. Clearly unsatisfied with the course of events in 1971, Brazil was determined to change them. By helping to topple the government of Torres in Bolivia, it thus made an im- portant move in its complex game of geopolitics. Geopolitics and Ideological Borders. Geopolitics is a science of imperialism: the mapping out of a strategy for dominance and control. Although the word has many roots in the old German theories of realpolitik (much admired by Henry Kissinger), the Nazis adapted it to give a theoretical veneer to their plans for expansion. Since then, it has been picked up by the U.S. Pentagon and, more recently, the Brazilian Advanced War College (Escuela Superior de Guerra). Marshal Cordeiro de Farias, founder of the ESG, explained the origins of the school: "War with the Axis revealed the necessity for the United States to prepare for a warlike mentality not only in the Pentagon but also in the allied powers. The people and the elites of these countries ought to be prepared for the formation of what is known as the Military-Industrial Complex." Brazil's leading theoretician of geopolitics, connected to the ESG and presently serving as president of Dow Chemical Company of Brazil, is Golbery Couto e Silva. He sees the "inevitability of war" as the guiding principle of the War College. "There is no way," he writes, "to avoid the necessity of sacrificing well-being for national security when the security of a nation is threatened. A people who refuses to accept this will learn a well-deserved lesson in the dust of defeat. . . . War is inevitable. It is our duty, therefore, to prepare for it with determination, foresight and faith." According to ESG experts, Bolivia is a geopolitical "prisoner" because it is presently landlocked. On the other hand, the Brazilian military considers Bolivia the geographical key to control of the Southern Cone since it borders on Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and Peru. Through Bolivia access is also gained to the Amazon River from the south and to the Rio de la Plata from the north. And, of course, there is Mutun as well as enormous gas deposits which lie parallel to Brazil's largest industrial zone, Sao Paulo. Bolivia's geographical position and its "internal friction," according to Golbery, constitute a continual threat to Brazilian national security. He concludes: "Like it or not, Bolivia will have to subordinate itself to the interests of Brazil or Argentina." The choice, though, will not be left to Bolivia. A document of the ESG maintains that the Brazilian military could "use its armed might in any Latin American country," but two strategic zones are particularly subject to such an intervention: the border with Uruguay, and the border with Bolivia, especially the Corumba- Caceres region (where the Mutun deposits are located). Related to the doctrine of geopolitics is the notion of "ideological borders." In 1965 the president of Brazil, Marshal Castello Branco, declared that the current Brazilian conception of National Security was not restricted to patrolling the physical borders of the nation, but ex- tended to the ideological borders of the Western world as well. This policy was put into practice in that year when Brazil sent troops to support the U.S. invasion of Santo Domingo. A Brazilian general nominally directed the operations. The following year Brazilian troops carried out joint"excercises" on the Bolivian and Uruguayan borders, bringing up charges of intent to invade if the political situation in either country turned ideologically unfavorable to Brazil. At the 1%6 OAS meeting of foreign ministers, Brazil was the only Latin American country to support the creation of a standing "Permanent Peace Force" to be used against "Communist threats" in the hemisphere. But, while Brazil was isolated in its belief in geopolitics and ideological borders in the mid-1960's, there is no reason to believe that it ever abandoned these notions. The Brazilian participation in the Bolivian coup of 1971 is proof this. The Plot Unfolds. In January 1971, General Hugo Bethelen, former Brazilian ambassador to Bolivia, was arrested in La Paz for financing a plot against the Torres government. It was proven that some $60,000 had already been turned over to the conspirators, led by Banzer, and General Edmundo Balencia, and Bethelen was convicted. Five months later, the Brazilian weekly news magazine, Visao, published excerpts from a conversation with Bethelen in which he proposed that protectorates be set up over countries like Bolivia which maintained relations with countries outside the hemisphere which might pose a security threat. 6 The Bolivian Minister of Foreign Relations called the statement "provocative and im- perialist." Despite efforts of the Brazilian government to cover up for Bethelen, the general met the press a few days later and affirmed, "I am in favor of a form of intervention which the Brazilian imagination, creative in developing new forms of co-existence among men, can discover in the realm of international relations, principally among Latin American nations which I consider one family."l Then, on August 15, the Brazilian delegation arrived, anxious to lay claim to Mutun. Not only did Torres turn them down, but he announced two days later a $200 million credit from the Soviet Union for the construction of a metallurgical processing plant in the Mutun region. From then on, events began to move swiftly. On August 17, the Brazilian-Bolivian Chamber of Integration of Private Companies (CIBRABOL) was formed in Sao Paulo with an initial capital of $20 million to operate companies located in Bolivia. Its first president: Hugo Bethelen. That same day two planes from the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) unloaded a cargo of arms in Santa Cruz consisting of "INA"-stamped machine guns which were manufactured in Brazil for the exclusive use of the FAB. Another FAB plane unloaded additional cargoes of arms and munitions in Santa Cruz the following day. A written denunciation of Brazil was sent to Bolivian Interior Minister Jorge Gallardo, but by then it was already too late. As the Bolivian Rangers (Special Forces) unit under the command of Col. Andres Selich occupied Santa Cruz on August 20, Brazil ordered troop mobilization on the Bolivian border and prepared a squadron of bombers with freshly-painted Bolivian insignias. Armed civilians surrounded the university building in Cochabamba early that same day. Their machine guns bore the characteristic "INA" markings of the Brazilian Air Force.26 Meanwhile, a bomb went off in the mayor's office in Santa Cruz where the coup's high command directed operations. Mysteriously, the Brazilian consul, Mario Amorin, was injured in the explosion. Jornada. a La Paz daily, carried strong denunciations of Brazilian backing for the coup, and pointed to the training-in Brazil and Paraguay-of military and paramilitary mercenary forces. 8 In Argentina, a right-wing leader announced on the morning of August 21 that some 8,000 men trained in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil were fighting to overthrow the Torres government. 9 On August 22, the Brazilian government, modeling itself on US government actions of earlier years, raced to recognize the new regime. The Post Coup Story. In his first public press statement, the new Bolivian president, Col. Hugo Banzer, explained that Bolivia had an "interest in Brazilian investments," and that he was "aware that Bolivia offered various investment opportunities." And, as time has shown, Brazil had an interest in those investments as well. Loans, long and short term credits, arms transfers and technology transfers increased im- mediately after the coup, and within a year Brazil had wedged Argentina out of the Bolivian picture. Bolivia, on the other hand, had begun to make aggressive moves against Chile, thus establishing its position as a Brazilian satellite. The post-coup story is one of a consolidation of Brazilian hegemony, what has been termed the sub-imperialist strategy for Latin America. 1 0 One week after the coup, the Bolivian Agricultural Bank received $5 million from the Brazilian Investexport for loans to large landholders in the Stanta Cruz area, the heart of the reactionary zone. The loans were earmarked for the purchase from Brazil of heavy machinery. An identical amount from the Banco do Brasil went directly to the Bolivian government along with thousands of match boxes carrying the slogan: "Bolivia can count on us." On September 25, $10 million in credits was awarded to Bolivia for the importation of heavy machinery and equipment for building a rail line between Corumba (Brazil) and Santa Cruz (Bolivia), as well as for highway con- struction in the same region. This was the first of many agreements set up to facilitate commercial exchange between Brazil and Bolivia. From Bolivia, the exchange entailed a continual flow of petroleum products, especially gasoline, diesel oil, kerosene, fuel oil, natural gas, am- monium nitrates and rubber derivatives. From Brazil, Bolivia received heavy machinery, manufactured goods and technical assistance. One by one agreements and concessions previously in the hands of Argentina were transferred to Brazil. Two- hundred kilometers of railway tram lines to be built by Argentina will now be constructed by Brazil. ALFONSECA, a large Brazilian construction firm, arranged to build 900 kilometers of asphalt highway in October 1971, offering $50 million in order to link the interior of Bolivia with the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Brazil has also replaced Argentina as a source of imports and a market for exports. And, in terms of aid, Brazil provides the Andean nation with $46 million a year, a sum second only to that provided by the United States.ll The political price of Bolivian dependence on Brazil has been high. Ultimately, it has forced the breakdown of Banzer's MNR-FSB ruling coalition since the MNR has traditionally been pro- Argentina and the FSB, pro-Brazil. (See "Bolivia: The War Goes On" in this issue). The pattern of Brazilian intervention in Bolivia-from arms and advice to machinery and credits--has been and is being repeated today in Chile.1 2 Chile, too, was an integral part of the Brazilian geopolitical framework, since Brazil has always sought an alliance with Chile in order to surround its tranditional rival, Argentina. 1 3 The Brazilian government (along with that of its client state, Uruguay), the first to recognize the Chilean junta, immediately flew in military personnel to facilitate the "round-up" of Brazilian exiles and refugees, and awarded huge sums of money in loans and credits to keep the Chilean military junta afloat. And Brazilian money, influence and arms are concentrating around the borders of Peru and Argentina should a threat to national security be deemed sufficient to carry on the game of geopolitics. -- Ruth Needleman FOOTNOTES 1. Ramiro Sanchez. Brasil en Bolivia: lecciones de un golpe militar (Santiago de Chile: Ediciones Letras, 1972), 33. Much of the information in this article is taken from this pamphlet written with the help of the Frente Brasileno de Informaciones in Santiago. 2. Chile Hoy (Santiago), Vol. II, no. 59 (July 27-August 2,1973), 20. 3. Business Week (September 25, 1971), 51. 4. Bernabe Vargas, "Bolivia: centro de unificacion latinoamericano o nudo de discordias geopoliticas,"Inter Press Service release NR 1704/972 (February 1972). 5. Ibid. 6. Visao, May 24, 1971. 7. Jornal do Brasil, July 6, 1971. 8. Jornada (La Paz), August 20, 1971. 9. La Opinion (Buenos Aires), August 21, 1971. 10. See Rui Mauro Marini, "Brazilian Sub-Imperialism," Monthly Review, Vol. 23, no. 2 (February 1972), 14-24. 11. Newsweek, August 20, 1973. 12. For documentation of Brazil's participation in the Chilean coup, see Marlise Simon, "The Brazilian Connection," The Washington Post (January 6, 1974). 13. "Chilean Coup: Brazil Goes Over the Andes," Brazilian Information Bulletin, No. 11 (Fall 1973), 2-3.

Tags: Bolivia, Brazil, Mutun iron mine, Hugo Bánzer

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