Eyes in the Rainforest

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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Eyes in the Rainforest

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