Brazil’s Armed Forces are settling in Roraima state — on the border with Venezuela — on Thursday following President Michel Temer’s announcement Tuesday that he had authorized sending troops to keep the peace on the increasingly volatile border.
Roraima’s local government has been requesting more border security for over a year, citing the growing numbers of Venezuelan families crossing the border seeking food and medical care. Venezuela’s socialist government has triggered a humanitarian and migrant crisis that the United Nations recently declared was as dire as the European migrant crisis at its peak in 2015.
In addition to sending troops to Roraima, which is a deep Amazonian state already home to expansive drug networks and criminal enterprises before the influx of Venezuelans, Temer suggested that Brazil is considering quotas to limit the number of Venezuelans entering the country a day, though his presidential office denied that this was being considered shortly after he made his remarks.
The Brazilian military has limited experience in executing large-scale operations. The largest mission in the history of Brazil’s armed forces was the 2016 campaign to limit the spread of Zika virus, in which soldiers’ primary responsibilities were educating citizens on how to limit mosquito populations and distributing anti-virus supplies.
Issuing his announcement of troop movements on Twitter, Temer explained that, in his estimation, the move was necessary to “offer security to Brazilian citizens and Venezuelan immigrants fleeing their nation seeking refuge in Brazil.” In subsequent remarks Tuesday, Temer asserted that “Brazil respects the sovereignty of acting states, but they are only sovereign if they respect and care for their people,” an apparent attack against socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro.
“Venezuela’s problem is not just about internal politics, it is a threat to the harmony of our entire continent,” Temer added.
The decree sending troops to the border lasts two weeks, though Temer reserves the right to extend the order and keep the troops there for longer or increase their number.
Temer also suggested in an interview Wednesday that Brasilia may soon crack down on the number of Venezuelans allowed in the country. “They have thought, who knows, using passes to allow 100, 150, 200 a day and letting a few more in every day to organizing the entries,” Temer told a local radio station.
The presidential official issued an official clarification of Temer’s remarks after an initial panic that Brazil would not turn back any Venezuelans on the border, instead calling the issuing of passes a way to “provide humanitarian aid in Roraima, which cannot be confused in any way with limiting entry to Venezuelans in Brazil.”
Brazilian authorities are also considering establishing two different procedures for allowing Venezuelans in who wish to shop for food in Brazil and leave and those who want to leave Venezuela permanently, who are currently processed in the same way.
The Brazilian outlet Globo reports Thursday that the situation in Roraima does not appear significantly changed since the troop deployment, noting that 400 soldiers were already patrolling the border since February, though that number has been far too small to prevent large waves of Venezuelans from crossing.
Military officials explained to the outlet that the new troops will work to both process the migrants coming in and “combat cross-border illicit activities.” Some of the new troops, those who belong to the National Guard, will be stationed in Roraima’s cities, particularly Boa Vista, to keep the peace.
Roraima has particularly experienced a major population surge since Venezuelans began flooding the border. Boa Vista, the regional capital, is now home to 25,000 Venezuelans, or 7.5 percent of the city’s total population. Some estimates have found that around 99 percent of Venezuelan migrants in Brazil live in Roraima state.
The result of such a population change has been increasing instances of violence against Venezuelans by locals in Roraima. The most violent incident this month occurred in the border city of Pacaraima, where locals attempted to stone Venezuelan women and children living on the street and burned all their belongings, including their immigration documents.
The violence forced over one thousand Venezuelans to flee the city and fueled yet another call from Roraima officials for federal help in keeping cities secure.
Roraima’s local authorities were calling for troops to come to the border a year ago, complaining that the poor state did not have the resources to handle a migrant crisis.
Roraima began 2017 with a series of gruesome riots in its overpopulated prisons, fueled by a drug war between the nation’s two biggest gangs, the First Capital Command (PCC) and the Red Command (CV). Police were unable to stop prisoners from strangling, dismembering, and cooking and eating other inmates.