Eyes in the Rainforest


| September 8, 2003


A controversial Brazilian project called SIVAM enables surveillance and rapid military response in the Amazon jungle -- an area half the size of the United States (including Alaska). But what is really behind the new plan? It seems that there are no easy answers in what has become a hot topic around the world because of the Amazon's importance ecologically and economically, reports Marcello Ballve in the e-zine El Andar. Added controversy has come from the fact that SIVAM -- with a price tag of $1.4 billion -- is mostly funded by U.S. sources, with heavy backing from the U.S. government. For the U.S. and the Brazilian military, the Amazon region is often seen as a completely barbarous area, with Mafia-type groups, secret landing strips, and massive drug trafficking.

SIVAM attempts to exert governmental control with a complex network of radar stations and jets -- flying around the clock -- with infrared technology for night patrols. The military response to unauthorized flights or movement on SIVAM's real-time monitoring would include 25 fighter jets, flying out of jungle bases, armed with air-to-air missiles. More than 3,000 jungle platoons also will be at the ready, along with Navy gun ships and armored amphibious vehicles.

Proponents of the project say that added control over this lawless area will provide for security and order. Opponents fear that SIVAM will lead to massive road building, human settlement, and development in this ecologically fragile region. One opponent said, 'It's a project that uses science to meet a pre-established military objective. I think the price to pay for that is the continuing destruction of the Amazon.' For the last hundred years the unsettled areas of the jungle have often been seen as a place that cried out for economic exploitation and a civilizing organization. As a Brazilian Navy admiral told Ballve, 'In Brazil we are 100 years behind the United States. The development of the Amazon is simply part of our national process, just as your governments populated the American West in the 19th century.' The jungle, however, is not as pristine as many imagine. The legacy of past military-led plans to exploit economic potential has left an estimated 17 percent of the rainforest destroyed. The effects of the controversial project remain to be seen.
-- Joel Stonington

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