Common Aspirations: Brazil and the U.S.

 Despite having minimal experience with terrorism, Brazil began collaborating extensively with the United States and other international partners to assess and mitigate potential terrorist risks in the run-up to hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Among other things, US officials trained Brazilian law enforcement on themes including combating international terrorism, preventing attacks on soft targets, and recognizing counterfeit documents. In 2016, the Brazilian government passed laws to punish terrorism and terrorist financing, bridging a legal loophole that has previously hampered counterterrorism efforts.83 In 2019, Brazil tightened its legislative framework to detect and freeze terrorist assets, addressing inadequacies noted by the Intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force.84


Brazilian officials have employed the new legislative framework on multiple occasions in recent years. During the 2016 Olympics, a loose online network of Islamic State sympathizers was dismantled. 12 individuals were detained, and 8 were convicted and sentenced to 5-15 years in prison for promoting terrorist attacks on social media.85 In 2018, Brazilian prosecutors charged 11 people with plotting to build an Islamic State cell in Brazil and recruiting warriors to deploy to Syria.86 Although some observers have commended such measures, others believe that Brazilian authorities are improperly surveilling and inciting prejudice against the country's small Muslim community.87
Brazil has generally been hesitant to enact specialized antiterrorism laws due to worries about criminalizing the activities of social movements and other groups that engage in political opposition. President Bolsonaro has fueled those worries by comparing Brazil's Landless Workers' Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, or MST) and Chilean demonstrators to terrorists.88 The Brazilian lawmakers limited financial intelligence's power to report on terrorist financing, apparently to prevent Bolsonaro from targeting activists. This ban may undermine Brazil's compliance with global anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing requirements.89
The US State Department provided $700,000 in FY2019 Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining, and Related Programs help to Brazil to enhance law enforcement's capabilities to prevent, identify, and respond to terrorist actions. The support would cover border security training and measures aimed at preventing suspected terrorists and facilitators from crossing the Tri-Border Area (TBA) comprising Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.90 The TBA has long been a sanctuary for smuggling, money laundering, and other illegal activity. In September 2018, for example, Brazilian authorities apprehended a suspected Hezbollah financier in the TBA, whose the US Treasury Department had previously sanctioned as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224. Brazil does not consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization, but the Bolsonaro administration is allegedly considering designating it as such.

Defense Cooperation

Military connections between the United States and Brazil have increased significantly over the last decade, despite periodic hiccups. Following a catastrophic January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, US and Brazilian military soldiers providing humanitarian aid conducted their greatest combined operations since World War II.91 In 2010, the countries inked the Defense Cooperation Agreement and the General Security of Military Information Agreement to share sensitive information. The Brazilian congress did not accept the accords until 2015. This was owing to a cooling of relations after public revelations showed that the US National Security Agency conducted substantial spying in Brazil. A Master Information Exchange Agreement, signed in 2017, formalized the previous two accords and allowed the countries to pursue bilateral defense-related technological collaborations.
In July 2019, President Trump designated Brazil as a key non-NATO ally under the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2751 et seq.).92 Among other advantages, this classification grants Brazil preferential access to the United States' defense sector as well as expanded joint military exchanges, exercises, and training.93 In FY2019, the US government awarded Brazil with approximately $666,000 in International Military Education and Training (IMET) support to improve military-to-military partnerships, professionalize Brazilian troops, and develop their capabilities. The US government provided Brazil with $11.2 million in excess defense articles and $96.7 million in equipment and services through the Foreign Military Sales program.94 The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94) does not directly allocate military assistance to Brazil, however the Trump Administration has requested $625,000 in IMET for Brazil in FY2020.95 The Trump administration's FY2021 budget plan contains $625,000 in IMET for Brazil.96

Although recent bilateral agreements and the United States' recognition of Brazil as a key non-NATO ally have created the groundwork for closer military ties, the future trajectory of the defense relationship may be determined by bigger geopolitical issues. 

According to reports, US officials have cautioned that allowing Chinese telecommunications company Huawei to join in Brazil's 5G cellular network could jeopardize bilateral military and intelligence collaboration.97 Brazil may be hesitant to exclude Huawei, however, because the financial and economic benefits of using the company's lower-cost components to deploy Brazil's 5G network faster may outweigh the less tangible benefits of stronger defense ties with the US. Furthermore, the Bolsonaro administration has generally sought to avoid clashes with China, Brazil's largest trading partner and a major source of foreign investment. During his first year in office, Bolsonaro shifted from expressing concern about China's control over key sectors of the Brazilian economy to praising the strategic partnership between the two countries and advocating for increased bilateral cooperation in science and technology.98 Brazil's military and foreign policy institutes are hesitant to become involved in global power struggles or rely on a single country for technological advancements.99


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