Armed forces, epidemics and national security

Image: Clara Figueiredo, blind goat, digital photomontage, 2020
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By PAULO CAPEL NARVAI*

Would the “lieutenants” of our times, with their “obsequious silence”, be satisfied with the march of national insecurity led by Bolsonaro?

More or less a century ago, in the years when the “Spanish flu” killed millions around the world and led to the death of around 350 Brazilians, lieutenants and captains were seen as “enemies” by the Armed Forces’ high officers, notably the of the Army. Politically organizing low and medium-ranking officers in the movement known as “tenentismo”, those officers radically rejected the support of the high-ranking military to the oligarchy that controlled the course of the then young Brazilian Republic.

With its military revolts (Fort of Copacabana, Paulista, Commune of Manaus and Coluna Prestes), the lieutenants intended to defend republican institutions in order to implement secret voting, mandatory public “primary education”, industrialize and modernize the country. as requirements for overcoming the appalling conditions that marked the lives of poor populations, in flourishing cities, but above all in the outlying areas. The process culminated in the Revolution of 1930.

The presence of officers of the Armed Forces, of different ranks, in political movements around the ideas of Republic and Democracy in Brazil is a fact. It is also undeniable that, throughout history, both progressive and conservative ideas have found shelter in the hearts and minds of uniforms. The participation of the “pracinhas” of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (FEB) in the fight against Nazi-fascism in the Second World War, in Italy, is an unequivocal example of progressivism; resistance to João Goulart's basic reforms, the 1964 coup and Institutional Act No. 5, show adherence to conservative causes, not to mention openly reactionary ones, such as tolerance of torturers.

National security

The idea of ​​national security is one of the strategic formulations as a theoretical reference in training schools for Army, Navy and Air Force officers.

Since the 1917th century generally defined the basic characteristics of the nation-state, it assumed the role of promoting and guaranteeing national security, a mission assigned to the armed forces, which is why the concept of security was restricted and reduced to military themes. After the Russian Revolution of XNUMX, with the emergence of the Welfare State (welfare state) in Western Europe, the notion of national security was expanded to include, in several countries, themes related to the strategic role of education, health and housing and the set of social protection actions, although always subordinated to the military logic. The end of the Soviet Union (USSR) and the neoliberal hegemony that marked the last decades of the XNUMXth century imposed, however, setbacks to the welfare state and constrained the concept of national security.

Despite the process of globalization and the notable intensification and internationalization of economic activities, with the emergence of financialized capitalism overcoming mercantilist and industrial forms, national security issues remain on the agenda of countries and mobilize the attention of officials and, above all, , of the commands of its armed forces.

The covid-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy, and all of social life, brought with it in 2020, in all countries, the need to reframe the concept of national security, which should not be seen as a scientific or technical matter , nor ideologically neutral. On the contrary, there are currently crucial issues involving, in each country, the idea of ​​national security. It is no different in Brazil.

With the advent of the “cold war”, after the end of World War II, the ideology of the “internal enemy” was consolidated from the military intelligence centers of the United States of America (USA) in the context of “armed peace”. marked by the military balance between the two superpowers at the time, the USA and the USSR. In that context, in the absence of an “external enemy” to threaten, the “internal enemy” occupied the center of the strategic concerns of the Brazilian senior officers, largely with training and complementary education in US military schools and, consequently, of plans to training courses for Army, Navy and Air Force officers. All this is expressed, even today, in the National Security Doctrine.

According to this doctrine, the “internal enemy” is the “subversive”, the “communist”, agent of “international communism”.

“Enemy Within”

The notion of the “internal enemy” continues to animate the formation of officers and, ideologically, the enemy is this “agent”, although it is not known very well what this means at this point in the XNUMXst century. The “anti-communism industry”, however, is consolidated, is well known and continues to move a lot of money and arousing the greed of many opportunists – those who sell “protection against ghosts”. This “industry” needs this “enemy”, without which its profitable business ceases. If he does not exist, or is politically inexpressive, it does not matter: the “enemy” is invented.

In the 1970s the “enemy” was real. But his strength too was, in good part, conveniently overrated. In certain situations, supposed threats were invented, such as those representing sectors of the left that were admittedly averse to armed struggle and critical of actions characterized as “subversive”.

In 1973, two years before the murder of journalist Vladimir Herzog in the premises of DOI-CODI in São Paulo, General Breno Borges Fortes, commander of the General Staff of the Brazilian Army, participated in the 10th Conference of American Armies in Caracas. Fortes did not distinguish apples from apples and his position, strongly influenced by General Robert Porter Jr., head of the US Army Southern Command (1965-69), did not include nuances, as can be seen from what he said in Caracas:

“The enemy [ie, the agent of “international communism”] uses mimicry, adapts to any environment and uses all means, licit and illicit, to achieve his objectives. He disguises himself as a priest or a teacher, a student or a peasant, a vigilante defender of democracy or an advanced intellectual, (…); he goes to the countryside and the schools, the factories and the churches, the professorship and the magistracy (...); in short, he will play whatever role he deems convenient to deceive, lie and win the good faith of the western peoples. That is why the Armies' concern in terms of security on the continent must consist in maintaining internal security against the main enemy; this enemy, for Brazil, continues to be the subversion provoked and fed by the international communist movement.”

The “cold war” ended, the civil-military dictatorship was defeated, the Berlin Wall fell, the world changed. But the national security doctrine remains intact in military training schools. Having passed the time for change and little having been changed, it is important to ask who this matters. The idea of ​​national security remains impervious to issues that effectively threaten it, such as, among others, racism, the precariousness of education and public safety, the chronic housing shortage, environmental aggressions and disorganized occupation of urban land, the concentration of income and rural properties, deep social inequalities.

What prevents the recognition, confrontation and overcoming of these structural problems and what constitutes, therefore, an enemy, internal or external, to be fought? A possible answer is precisely the ideology and political forces organized around the denial of these problems. The ideology that, by failing to recognize the pertinence of this agenda, imposes on the nation a set of themes identified as “flat earthism”. This ideology has a name: “Bolsonarism”.

Almost half a century later, I invite the reader to “turn the key” on General Breno Fortes' speech and admit an internal enemy opposed to the one he outlined in Caracas. An enemy whose features resemble the threat to Brazil represented by the ideology against which the FEB “pracinhas” went to fight in Italy, that is, a nazi-fascist enemy. The guidelines that make up Bolsonarist ideology (privatist, individualist, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-environmental, anti-indigenous, anti-state, false moralist) correspond to a set of beliefs and values ​​that, not yet being fascist, according to several analysts, closely guard relation to this ideology. Bolsonarism is, at present, the main threat to national security, understood beyond its military contours.

For this reason, a current text on the idea of ​​an internal enemy, in an adapted version, but maintaining the “literary style” of General Breno, could look like the following analogy: “The Bolsonarist enemy uses mimicry, adapts to any environment and uses all means, licit and illicit, to achieve its objectives. The Bolsonarist disguises himself as a pastor, priest or teacher, a student who does not want politics in the school environment or an indigenous blogger, a rural producer or agribusiness leader pretending to be a farmer, a vigilante defender of freedoms or an advanced intellectual. (…) The Bolsonarist goes to the fields, to the schools, to the factories and to the churches, to the professorship and the judiciary. He disdains deaths from epidemics, but is on duty to force a raped child not to have an abortion. (…) Anyway, Bolsonaristas will play any role they deem convenient to deceive, lie and win the good faith of the women and men of Brazil. That is why the concern of those who are effectively committed to National Security must consist in maintaining democratic freedoms, guaranteed by the three powers of the Republic, under the terms of the 1988 Constitution, ensuring internal security against the Bolsonarist enemy; this enemy, for Brazil, continues to be the industry of anti-communism, which defends land ownership and slave labor, subverting labor rights, destroying social security, education and public health, and preventing the Social Security instituted in 1988 from becoming consolidate and promote the well-being of the population. The Bolsonarist enemy, fed by international financial capitalism, who only cares about interest and dividends and does not plant a beanstalk, nor produce a pin is, currently, the internal enemy against which Brazil must be defended”.

Health insecurity and national security

Health conditions, especially epidemics, are in the interest of national security. In the episode of the meningitis epidemic, which took the Brazilian government by surprise in the mid-1970s, the first reaction was to censor the press. But soon, wisdom prevailed and the best specialists that the country had at the time were summoned to help the government deal with the problem, regardless of party affiliations and political preferences. It was in the interest of national security.

Having information and means to face epidemics is, therefore, an elementary condition to promote and guarantee national security. It is shocking to see the unpreparedness of graduates from officer training schools on such curricular contents.

Even when it comes to a disease with low relative lethality (between 0,5% and 1%), such as covid-19, the impact of more than two hundred thousand deaths is huge. But it is enough to project the consequences of epidemics with high lethality rates, such as Ebola, to estimate the dramatic potential of their effects. O zaire ebolavirus, for example, is a strain whose lethality can reach 90%.

The lethality of polio varies between 2% to 10% and about 90% of those infected by the virus do not have symptoms. Polio is one of the diseases that, as a result of lack of vaccine protection caused by the disorganization of the National Immunization Program (PNI), is, according to specialists, at risk of resurgence in Brazil, as its vaccination coverage plummeted from 84,52% in 2015 to 65,57 .2020% in XNUMX.

In 2019, after more than 18 cases and 15 deaths from measles were reported, Brazil lost its certification as a country free of the disease, conferred in 2016 by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The lethality rate for measles ranges from 4% to 10% and there is a vaccine, which is approximately 99% effective, available free of charge in the SUS network. In 2020, 5 more deaths were recorded by the Ministry of Health. Measles vaccine coverage (the triple viral vaccine, which also protects against mumps and rubella, and must be given in two doses) was 96,07% for the first dose in 2015 and 70,64% in 2020. Only 55,77 .2020% of the target population of the triple viral vaccine took the second dose in 95. In the coming years, measles will continue to claim thousands of victims and kill people in Brazil, as we are very far from the goal of XNUMX% vaccination coverage.

In order not to go on too long, I will stick to these examples to argue that it is not necessary to reflect a lot to understand the relevance and strategic value of public health actions for national security. In order to achieve and maintain a reasonable degree of health security, it is essential that the country has a good health system with well-organized epidemiological and environmental surveillance areas, with adequate resources and qualified personnel. Like the one that is sought, with great difficulty, to develop in the SUS.

It doesn't take much effort, either, to understand that hostility to the SUS, science and researchers, and the lack of control over the production in the country of goods and services of interest to the SUS, such as equipment medical-hospital services, and the production of serums, vaccines, medicines, individual protection equipment and inputs used in the provision of health care.

Bolsonaro as a threat to national security

As notable as it is worrying has been the silence of the Armed Forces’ senior officers regarding the way in which the federal government has behaved, with serious omissions and botched actions, in the face of the covid-19 pandemic. Not even the more than 9 million cases and 220 deaths have broken this “deafening silence”, especially – and perhaps for this very reason – when an active-duty general is at the head of the Ministry of Health, and in principle in charge of operations, which also involve state and municipal authorities. The dismal performance of the general-minister, and his direct assistants, many of them also military, has been involving and compromising the Armed Forces as a whole, dragged into a kind of “administrative swamp” in which negligence and incompetence are pontificated.

It is not possible, however, to know whether, during the development of the covid-19 pandemic, lieutenants, captains and sergeants showed any concern with what has been happening in the eyes of all. But it is not credible that they are being indifferent to the facts.

If those “at the top” are silent, given the health insecurity the country is being led to, the “lieutenants” of our times should not do so. These officers would do a lot of good if they developed critical thinking for the training obtained in military schools. The questioning, through the internal channels of the respective military institutions and, above all, within the framework of democratic coexistence guaranteed to them by the 1988 Constitution, of the directions given to the Republic and Democracy by the President of the Republic and his military supporters, would place the current lieutenants, captains and sergeants at the height of their colleagues in the lieutenant movement.

A century after the “Spanish flu”, the new coronavirus spreads around the world and the covid-19 pandemic worries the country, which is already considering similar problems in the future and which continues to live with endemic diseases, which do not relent and do more and more victims, in cities and in remote areas.

A century after the “tenente” revolts that shook barracks, there is silence in the barracks. It looks like that "obsequious silence” with which the Vatican condemned the theologian Leonardo Boff, in 1983. With ideas about Christianity conflicting with those emanating from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the ideological powerhouse of the Catholic Church born of the Inquisition, Boff was banned by his inquisitor, the cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), publishing and public speaking. Sitting, more than three centuries later, in the same chair where Galileo Galilei heard the sentence that forced him to ask for forgiveness, Boff was heard and condemned, but not forced to ask for forgiveness.

But why, when learning what is reported daily, would low and medium ranking officers of the Armed Forces be in this kind of “obsequious silence”?

Bolsonaro dragged all the Armed Forces into his government and claims that they are inseparable. The silence of the senior officers corresponds to the tacit acceptance of what the former captain, who was placed in reserve in 1988, says. Part of the nation, perplexed by the growing “national insecurity” and the directions given to the Republic, has been asking for Bolsonaro’s impeachment.

Would the “lieutenants” of our times, with their “obsequious silence”, be satisfied with the march of national insecurity led by Bolsonaro?

*Paulo Capel Narvai is senior professor of Public Health at USP.

 

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