Category Archives: Latin America

Hospital Ships: A Vital Asset for SOUTHCOM and South American Navies

By Wilder Alejandro Sánchez

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“Whether [working] against COVID, transnational criminal organizations, the predatory actions of China, the malign influence of Russia, or natural disasters, there’s nothing we cannot overcome or achieve through an integrated response with our interagency allies and partners.” –General Laura J. Richardson, Commander, U.S. Southern Command

The hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) has returned to Latin American waters, as the vessel carried out a medical assistance mission across the Caribbean from October to December 2022. This is the first time in years Comfort has been in the region since the pandemic begun. Other South American navies also have hospital vessels that carry out similar missions, primarily for their domestic populations. Hospital ships are some of the region’s most vital yet underappreciated assets, while also being one of the most tangible elements of how many regional populations interact with navies. The U.S. and regional countries should consider the benefits of hospital ship operations with a view toward potentially investing in more of these valuable vessels.

Comfort Returns

As part of Operation Continuing Promise 2022 (CP2022), organized by U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet, the 1,000-bed hospital ship commissioned in 1986 visited Colombia, the Dominican Republic (DR), Guatemala, Haiti, and Honduras. The ship departed Naval Station Norfolk on October 19 and returned to Norfolk on December 21. As SOUTHCOM explained during the operation, “During these mission stops, Continuing Promise medical teams will focus on working alongside partner nation medical personnel to provide care on board and at land-based medical sites to increase medical readiness.”

Some medical services offered to Latin American and Caribbean citizens include preventive medicine, optometry screenings, general surgery, eye-wear distribution, and public health training. Comfort’s crew for CP2022 had military personnel from U.S. partners, including “Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and more than a dozen non-governmental organizations.”

General Laura Richardson, who took command of SOUTHCOM in 2021, personally participated in the humanitarian mission. She traveled to Colombia when Comfort was there and visited the Dominican Republic to observe “the #USNSComfort’s #ContinuingPromise humanitarian mission & meet with security officials to discuss the USUS-#DominicanRepublic partnership,” SOUTHCOM tweeted on November 29.

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Nov. 27, 2022) – The hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) sits anchored in the harbor of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on Nov. 27, 2022. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Deven Fernandez)

The CP2022 was Comfort’s eighth deployment to the region since 2007. Since 2007, Continuing Promise medical personnel have treated more than 582,000 people, and conducted more than 7,000 surgeries, SOUTHCOM notes.

Hospital Ships in South America

Comfort is not the only hospital vessel that operates in Latin American waters. A quick perusal finds several of these invaluable assets across regional navies.

Peru is a good example. The country’s shipyard SIMA has built a fleet of medical and social service ships (Plataformas Itinerantes de Acción Social: PIAS) that operate throughout Peru’s various rivers, with one platform, PIAS Lago Titicaca I, exclusively assigned to sail in Lake Titicaca, which Peru shares with Bolivia. The ships provide medical and state services, like issuing national IDs, and bank services. For example, Lago Titicaca set sail on November 14 from Puno port to assist the populations of Moho, Yunguyo, and Puno with 14 stops. This was the ship’s fourth tour in 2022 alone. 

The vessel PIAS Lake Titicaca I. (Photo via Peru Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion)

The Brazilian Navy operates several hospital ships (Navios de Assistência Hospitalar: NAsH): Doutor Montenegro (U16), Oswaldo Cruz (U19), Carlos Chagas (U19), Soares de Meirelles (U21), and Tenente Maximiano (U28). A new vessel, Anna Nery (U170), is currently in construction. Like Peru’s PIAS, these ships regularly sail through Brazilian rivers, providing medical assistance to isolated riverine communities.

Andrea Resende, Ph.D., an Associate Professor at the University Center of Belo Horizonte (UNIBH), explained to the author, four vessels operate in the Amazonian region, comprised by the 4th and 9th naval districts, and the NAsH Tenente Maximiano operates in the 6th District, the pantanal region. Doutor Montenegro carried out Operation Acre XXII in 2022, visiting indigenous and riverine communities in Acre and Amazonas states. With a crew of 85 military personnel and 29 health experts, the vessel provided a variety of services, like X-ray tests, surgeries, mammograms, testing for HIV, dengue, and malaria, and also providing vaccines.

Resende highlighted the importance of this fleet – “They are the main source of medical support for indigenous people and the ‘Riberinhos,’ a traditional population in Brazil… Considering that the Pantanal and the Amazonian region have large masses of water but low demographic distribution, the NAsH fleet is the only source of medical assistance that can reach those populations.” Helicopters can reach these communities with vital equipment and supplies, but the ships carry more personnel and capacity to provide services aboard.

The Brazilian Navy Hospital Assistance Ship Soares de Meirelles (U21) on the Rio Negro. The name is a tribute to Joaquim Cândido Xavier Soares de Meirelles, patron of the Health Corps of the Brazilian Navy. (Brazilian Navy photo by Cabo Jhonatan)

Resende noted that humanitarian operations carried out by the Brazilian Navy also rely on partnerships: “The Navy performs operations with the Unified Health System (SUS – the public health care system) and NGOs. For example, in November 2022, the NAsH Carlos Chagas operated with the NGO Operation Smile, bringing a multidisciplinary crew to treat patients with cleft lips/palate in the Amazonian Region,” she explained.

Another example is the Chilean Navy, which operates a medical patrol boat (Patrullero Médico Dental-74), Cirujano Videla. The vessel was commissioned in 1994 as a patrol vessel but was modified by the Chilean state-run shipyard ASMAR. In 2006, it was renamed and tasked with carrying out medical duties, in addition to other missions. From November 15-19, Videla assisted communities in Quellón and Queilen, Southern Chile. Since its recommissioning over a decade and a half ago, the vessel has provided “over 80,000 medical services ” to assist the population of Chile’s Chiloé archipelago.

Mario Pedreros, a retired officer of the Chilean Navy and vice president of the Washington DC-based The Georgetown Consulting Group, explained to this author that the Chilean Navy and the Chiloé health service signed a cooperation agreement via which Videla sails the archipelago composed of some 50 islands to assist local communities that can range from 20 to 200 people each. “The medical services provided in the Chiloé archipelago by PMD Videla are the only option residents have” to access medical services, Pedreros noted. Hence Videla’s deployments are “essential and an operation only the Navy can provide, and that is recognized and appreciated by residents.”

Chilean Navy Dental Medical Patrolman Cirujano Videla (PMD-74) (Chilean Navy photo)

Sailing Forward

Having hospital ships in a fleet brings obvious advantages during times of war. However, the navies of Brazil, Chile, and Peru utilize their hospital ships to routinely assist their fellow citizens. Similarly, Comfort is a significant expression of the U.S. desire to help people in need throughout the hemisphere. But more can be done to leverage these platforms and capitalize on the goodwill they have earned.

In a previous commentary, this author argued that SOUTHCOM should have a permanently-assigned hospital vessel. A similar argument can be made for Latin American navies. For Brazil and Peru, more riverine hospital ships are certainly welcome. It is a positive development that the PIAS fleet in Peru is fairly modern, as it was built over the past decade (an idea of former President Ollanta Humala), while Brazil is building Anna Nery – the first of the active fleet to have a female name, another positive development. Therefore, it is not unthinkable that Peru’s SIMA and a Brazilian shipyard could team in a joint venture to design a new model of riverine hospital ships. Similarly, as the Chilean Navy looks to upgrade its fleet of transportation vessels by domestically building new platforms at the Chilean state-run shipyard ASMAR, constructing an additional hospital ship is an idea that should not be overlooked. 

That said, regional navies indeed have multipurpose vessels that can be utilized for HA/DR operations or medical assistance. Peru has the Landing Platform Dock BAP Pisco (AMP-156), and its sister ship BAP Paita was launched on December 9. Similarly, Chile has other logistical platforms like transport vessel Aquiles (AP-41), Sargento Aldea (LSDH-91), Chacabuco (LST-95), and Rancagua (LST-92); “these are all logistical vessels with medical capabilities of varying degrees,” Pedreros noted. “Even the icebreaker [which local shipyard ASMAR is currently building] also has medical facilities,” the retired naval officer added.

When asked by the author if the Chilean Navy should invest in another hospital vessel like Videla, Pedreros noted, “nowadays, logistical vessels have various roles… and the new vessels of project Escotillón IV [a shipbuilding project also carried out by ASMAR] will have the capacity to carry medical beds for patients, and also medical equipment onboard, therefore increasing their [medical] capabilities.”

Building a hospital vessel is a complicated matter from a budgetary standpoint. Each Latin American Navy must consider its area of responsibilities and debate the requirements for hospital ships, including whether a single vessel is sufficient for distant operations. For Peru, having a fleet of PIAS is beneficial to cover the country’s vast Amazonian territory and Lake Titicaca, but multipurpose vessels are arguably sufficient for coastal HA/DR operations. The Brazilian Navy is in a similar situation. Nevertheless, acquiring at least one single but modern hospital ship that is capable of open-water operations could be vastly beneficial for several countries and fleets.

The work carried out by hospital ships throughout the Western Hemisphere has proven invaluable and delivered tangible humanitarian benefit. SOUTHCOM and Latin American navies should consider supporting the construction of more of these assets. The many civilians whose ailments will be addressed by the medical personnel aboard these vital maritime assets will undoubtedly thank them.

Wilder Alejandro Sánchez is an analyst who focuses on international security and geopolitics. He is the President of the new consulting firm Second Floor Strategies. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.

Featured Image: Brazilian Navy Hospital Assistance Vessel Doutor Montenegro (U16) (Photo via Wikimedia Commons).

China Next Door: How the CCP is Reshaping Latin America

By Captain Steven Arango, USMC

Americans hear about countries such as China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran on a frequent basis, and for good reason. All have been intertwined in global affairs, politics at home, or both for most of this century so far. But in stark contrast, the United States has treated Latin America with “benign neglect.”1

Although Russia and Iran have exploited Latin America for their purposes and to the United States’ detriment—China’s inroads into the region are among the most significant threats to U.S. national security.2 China’s actions in the region reveal short and long-term plans to become the predominant superpower in the region.3 To do so, China’s influence has sowed its roots in two main areas: military and economic.4 But most importantly, this influence is not superficial—China’s actions seep through all levels of Latin American governments, even down to city halls.5 China is not simply a regional challenge; it is a global challenge as demonstrated in Latin America.6 To ignore Latin America is to ignore the critical inroads being developed by the United States’ chief competitor in its own backyard.

Military Influence

China’s military influence in Latin America is mainly through soft power, not physical presence.7 China has fostered significant military relationships through arms sales, exchange programs, and training engagements.8 China has found a fruitful market for arm’s sales in Latin America; in roughly the last eight years China has sold more than $615 million in weapons to Venezuela.9 Military sales may have started as simply small arms, but China’s expansion in this market now includes “aircraft, armored vehicles, and radars.”10 But these sales are not simply about the equipment; the sale is just the beginning of a relationship. Opportunities for training and maintenance follow each transaction—leading to greater interaction between these countries, their militaries, and China.11 As these deals continue to grow, Chinese personnel and military bases in the region could follow.

China has also made major inroads with Latin American militaries through professional military education (PME) programs and exchange officer programs of significant scale. These programs steep Latin American servicemembers in Chinese military and political doctrine and anti-U.S. sentiment, while creating stronger relationships between the respective country and China.12 To attract military talent to these programs, China has also offered perks to Latin American military personnel. China will pay for business-class travel for exchange students, provide five-star hotels, and pay for other expenses while they live in China.13 Since 2015, China has “trained more Latin American military officers than the United States, and the difference has grown every year since.”14

Venezuela’s Chinese-made, light-armored VN-4 “Rhinoceros” personnel carriers drive 5 March 2014 in a parade commemorating the death of Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photo by Xavier Granja Cedeño, Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry)

Recent SOUTHCOM commander Adm. Craig Faller noted in Congressional testimony that China was sending five times as many Latin American military officers to its war colleges compared to the United States.15 According to John Kreul, who was acting deputy secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere, the feedback on these professional military exchange programs suggested they were “straight up recruitment and propaganda 24/7.”16 Once these personnel are educated in China and establish professional connections with China’s military, the United States may have to be weary of working with these personnel because of the potential operational security risks.17

Chinese Influence—Economic

Economic influence in Latin America is China’s main focus in the region. In 2000, China’s total trade value with Latin America was $12 billion. Today it is roughly $450 billion, and economists predict it could exceed $700 billion within the next 15 years.18 China is South America’s top trading partner and second only to the United States for all of Latin America.19 Underlying this trade is the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s ambitious $1 trillion trade and infrastructure program spanning across the globe.20 One portion of this program is a proposed transcontinental railway that can link South America’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts from Brazil to Chile.21

As it does elsewhere, trade naturally builds relationships and influence in the countries China builds in.22 China can then use its powerful economic leverage in pursuit of political goals, such as persuading regional countries to withhold recognition of Taiwan—which it has.23

China also engages in debt-trap diplomacy. Through deceptive trade and loan practices, China can manipulate and coerce countries that are unable to repay their loans.24 For example, China uses contractual language that allows it to cancel and demand repayment on one loan when a country defaults on a separate loan from a “different lender,” which is unusual for government loans.25 These contracts also allow China to cancel the loan if the “debtor country undertakes policy changes adverse” to China’s preferences.26

Loans from China have penetrated significant sectors of Latin America, including energy and mineral sectors, port infrastructure, and telecommunications.27 China is also willing to offer cheaper credit even to countries with poor track records of paying off debt, raising the likelihood that Latin American countries choose Chinese loans over competing loans from other countries.28 And with the acute economic and domestic pressures in the region, many developing countries may not effectively consider the long-term consequences that may stem from these loans.29

China has used these practices around the globe. Similar contracts forced Sri Lanka to hand over a major port to Beijing in 2017 when it could not pay off its debts.30 There is also concern that countries with Chinese debt could be pressured into denying support to U.S. forces, including logistical infrastructure, staging areas, and ports.31 In fact, China has loans attached to “three [of the] largest projects of port construction by cost” in Latin America.32

China’s focus and investment in telecommunication technologies in Latin America poses a major issue, too. Chinese companies, such as Huawei and ZTE, have created networks for governments and private sector telecommunications companies, while integrating local government staffs with Chinese personnel who have ties to the Chinese government.33 These companies are willing to accept lower profits for greater access in Latin America because of the access it provides the Chinese government and vice versa.34

To be sure, these countries do receive the benefit of modern technology and creating networks that can reach underserved rural citizens. However, China may use this new infrastructure to surveil and undermine Latin American citizens and apply its authoritarian philosophies on personal privacy against populations outside of China.35 Indeed, one nation has asked the United States “for assistance in disassembling and disinvesting in the Huawei Smart City program because of excessive Chinese monitoring.”36 But the more Latin American governments adopt this technology, the more difficult it will be for the United States to engage with them on national security issues.37


Latin America is critical to U.S. national security and great power competition. Not only is it the geographic neighbor of the U.S., but the U.S. also has strong economic, political, and cultural ties to the region. According to the White House’s recently released National Security Strategy, the “Western Hemisphere directly impacts the United States more than any other region,” which is predominately Latin America.38 But China is in Latin America to pursue long-term interests, and to ignore this reality threatens the stability of the region and the United States.

The Middle East has attracted most of the United States’ attention for the past two decades. Now, Eastern Europe and the Indo-Pacific have its attention. But the chief competitors in those regions are moving in next door. The muscular policies and military engagements that have been the hallmark of recent U.S. operations in the Middle East will not effectively compete in Latin America. The U.S. must use multifaceted soft power to combat China’s influence for the purposes of ensuring strong democratic governments and stability in the region.

Captain Steven Arango is a deputy staff judge advocate at Training and Education Command and currently working toward his LL.M. in national security and cybersecurity from the George Washington University School of Law. He was selected as a Regional Affairs Officer for Latin America. Prior to his time on active duty, Steven worked for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Department of Defense in the Office of General Counsel, International Affairs, and served as a federal law clerk for U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez, who presides on the southern border.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Marine Corps, Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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Featured Image: Army commander of the Lanzhou Military Region of China Liu Yuejun shakes hands with Venezuelan defense minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino 17 April 2015 during a visit in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photo by Boris Vergara/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

Naval Operations Across South American Rivers: The “Other” Theater of Operations

By Wilder Alejandro Sánchez

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“Whether [working] against COVID, transnational criminal organizations, the predatory actions of China, the malign influence of Russia, or natural disasters, there’s nothing we cannot overcome or achieve through an integrated response with our interagency allies and partners.” – General Laura J. Richardson, Commander, U.S. Southern Command

When thinking about navies, there is a natural tendency to focus on operations in the open sea and the role of carriers, frigates, and submarines. However, aside from protecting their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones, South American navies have another equally important theater of operation: inland water bodies like lakes and rivers.

The recently concluded riverine exercises ACRUX X and BRACOLPER and even last year’s UNITAS 2021 demonstrate the importance that regional navies place on inland bodies of water and riverine populations. Activities carried out by local navies, not to mention other armed services, including defense/security operations, combating crimes (illegal mining and smuggling are significant problems in the region), search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations. In South America, the armed forces help extend the reach of the state to areas where civilian agencies do not operate; navies utilize rivers as a system of complex highways via which they can move and operate just as efficiently as in the open sea.

Inland Water Bodies in South America

South America is home to many rivers like the Amazon, Orinoco, Parana, and Uruguay, not to mention lakes like Lake Titicaca. In several areas where roads are non-existent, rivers are vital for the movement of people and goods. Landlocked nations Bolivia and Paraguay also have navies tasked with protecting their rivers and lakes.

Given the dense web of rivers and tributaries blanketing South America, it is unsurprising that these bodies of water are used to determine borders between countries. For example, the Putumayo River creates a natural border between Colombia and Peru; the Uruguay River separates Argentina and Uruguay; while Parana and Iguazu Rivers make the famous “Triple Border” that unites Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Finally, Lake Titicaca is shared between Bolivia and Peru.

In an interview with the author, Rear-Admiral (ret.) Máximo Pérez-León-Barreto, from the Argentine Navy, and current Director of Strategic Affairs for Fundación Argentina Global, explained how the maritime highway created by the Paraguay, Parana, and Uruguay rivers are a “free area of travel” along the border between Argentina and its neighbors. “For Argentina, this area is a prime source of resources [including water], a source of electricity, and where a significant part of our population lives.” Similarly, Andrea Resende, an Associate Professor at the University Center of Belo Horizonte (UNIBH) and Ph.D. candidate at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais (PUC MINAS), explained to CIMSEC that in Brazil, there is about 60,000 km of waterways with 12 different drainage basins.

Like gold, oil, or land, waterways were previously a reason to go to war. In the case of Brazil, “the waterways were so important that the Imperial Brazilian Navy sent gunboats by the Paraná River to fight in the Paraguayan War (1864 – 1870), which resulted in the Riachuelo Battle (1865),” Resende explained. Anecdotally, the battle lends its name to Brazil’s first domestically manufactured submarine, the Riachuelo (S-40). While the Brazilian Navy is much more focused on its blue water capabilities these days, under its “Blue Amazon” initiative, rivers and lakes should not be overlooked by strategic planners. Resende noted that “with the publication of the White Book of Defense (2012) and the Navy’s Strategic Plan for 2040 (PEM 2040), released in 2020, the waterways have regained relevance in the strategic thought.” 

Operations across Rivers and Lakes

Listing all recent operations that South American navies have performed would be problematic due to space considerations. In recent months, several activities demonstrate the plethora of activities navies carry out across these inland bodies of water. For example, the Peruvian Navy, alongside the Army, Air Force, and Police, are combating illegal mining in the Madre de Dios region.

To crack down on crimes along the border with Brazil, the Bolivian Navy has deployed its special task force Diablos Azules (Blue Devils), including riverine ships Cf. Adrian Cuellar Claure (TM-247) and Ing. Alfonso Gumucio (TM-341), in addition to smaller craft. The platforms patrol the Ibare, Mamoré, Iténez, Machupo, and Blanco Rivers, routinely stopping and searching vessels on said rivers to locate potential contraband.

Similarly, Resende explains that “all kinds of illegal trafficking are present in the Brazilian Rivers,” including the trafficking of drugs, animals, people, illegal fishing, illegal logging, and illegal mining (gold, ore, and other minerals). In recent months there have been reports of illegal logging in the North of the country. “This is not a surprise since official reports from the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (IMAZON), which coordinates programs to surveil the Amazon rain forest, claims that the illegal logging in the region is the highest in 15 years,” the Brazilian academic explained.

Navies are also involved in humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations. The Brazilian and Peruvian navies regularly deploy hospital ships across their rivers (and Lake Titicaca, in the case of Peru) to reach isolated coastal communities and provide medical services. The Bolivian Navy also has a hospital ship utilized for similar purposes.

Resende also added the vital work the Brazilian Navy has carried out during the COVID-19 pandemic. “They continuously delivered food, health care, and educational support for [riverine] communities. When the city of Manaus, capital of the Amazonia state, suffered an oxygen crisis in the middle of the pandemic… the Navy quickly established a mission to bring oxygen cylinders to the city with the help of the Air Force.” The service also took the lead in delivering vaccines when they became available across the country. A similar situation has occurred in Argentina; as Rear Admiral Pérez-León-Barreto explained, the Argentine Navy assists “communities that have limited connectivity [to the rest of the country] due to the geography, via sanitation campaigns” in coordination with other agencies.

Rivers can be used to transport equipment for social activities too. For example, the Colombian Navy’s riverine gunboat ARC Leticia recently concluded a trip through the Amazon River; the goal was to set up a portable projector to show a movie to the children of Puerto Narino municipality. This social initiative is called “Cine 90.”

Riverine Exercises

Brazil, Colombia, and Peru border each other, with the Amazon River crossing them all. Their navies carry out BRACOLPER, one of the oldest joint multinational exercises in the region, dating back to 1974.

This exercise is a critical confidence-building mechanism by which vessels from the three countries travel the Amazon, crossing international borders, providing medical assistance to local inhabitants, and carrying out joint maneuvers and security operations. BRACOLPER 2022 lasted 35 days, according to Brazilian Vice Admiral Thadeu Marcos Orosco Coelho Lobo, commander of the Navy’s 9th Naval District. He explained “annually we cover around five thousand kilometers, across the Maranõn, Negro, and Solimões Rivers [and we perform] tactical naval exercises for riverine operations, with a focus on command, control, and communications.”

The 2022 maneuvers were divided into three phases: phases I and II along the Maranõn River in Peru between Leticia (Colombia) and Iquitos (Peru), while phase III occurred in Amazonas (Brazil) along the Negro and Solimões Rivers. Around 400 military personnel from the three countries participated, including Brazil’s riverine patrol ships Raposo Tavares, Rondonia, and the hospital ship Oswaldo Cruz. Peru deployed the riverine vessel BAP Clavero (CF-15).

Multinational Exercise BRACOLPER took place across three countries. Photo credit: Peruvian Navy

The other major riverine exercise in South America is ACRUX. Its latest iteration took place along the Uruguay River, which separates Argentina and Uruguay, with Montevideo hosting the exercises, which lasted from 16-24 August 2022. Around 500 military personnel and naval and aerial platforms participated from Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, while Bolivia and Paraguay sent observers.

According to information provided to the author, the platforms deployed included three Uruguayan ships, Río Negro (ROU 11), scientific vessel Maldonado (ROU 23), and support vessel Banco Ortiz (ROU 27); two Argentine ships, multipurpose ship ARA Ciudad de Zárate (Q-61) and patrol vessel Río Santiago (P-66), and two Brazilian platforms, the riverine patrol ship Parnaíba (U 17) and riverine support vessel Pontengi (G 17). As for aerial platforms, Brazil sent one Ecureuil/Esquilo helicopter, while Uruguay deployed one Bell 412 helicopter and four fixed-wing aircraft from its naval aviation: two Beechcraft B-200 Super King Air, one Cessna O-2 Skymaster, and one Beechcraft T-34 Mentor.

The exercises took place in Fray Bentos, Uruguay. They included marine traffic control, in which the naval command from the three nations, plus assets in the water, worked together during simulated emergency alerts, issuing meteorological bulletins, and classifying vessels that passed through the River, among other activities.

Multinational Exercise ACRUX X in the Uruguay River. Photo credit: Ministry of Defense of Uruguay

Rear Adm Pérez-León-Barreto stressed the importance of riverine exercises like ACRUX, “they allow [navies] to maintain a high degree of coordination to understand risks, prevent them and mitigate the effects” of potential disasters or other incidents. Resende had a similar opinion about the importance of BRACOLPER and ACRUX, adding, “those exercises are an essential part not only of the Brazilian Navy but expresses the sentiment of the whole continent: cooperation is always the key.”

The United States military understands the importance of riverine operations for its South American partners. Case in point, in 2021, the famous multinational exercise UNITAS included an Amazon phase for the first time. UNITAS LXII-Amazon included naval personnel from Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, the United States, and Peru, which hosted the exercises. The Amazon phase took place in the Peruvian Amazon, close to Iquitos. It included fast rope insertion from helicopters, riverine patrols, river-crossing in improvised craft, and insertion and extraction on riverine combat craft, among other maneuvers.


Lakes and rivers across South America require the same protection that navies provide to the open ocean, as riverine crimes are vast. The recent exercises BRACOLPER, ACRUX, and UNITAS-Amazon 2021 highlight how South America’s militaries, particularly the navies, train to patrol and defend inland water bodies.

Wilder Alejandro Sánchez is an analyst who focuses on international security and geopolitics. He is the President of the new consulting firm Second Floor Strategies. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez

Featured Image: A Peruvian MI-8T conducts fastrope operations to the BAP Clavero during BRACOLPER2022. Photo credit: Peruvian Navy.

Brazilian Navy Participates in Exercise Obangame Express 2022

By Wilder Alejandro Sánchez

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“Whether [working] against COVID, transnational criminal organizations, the predatory actions of China, the malign influence of Russia, or natural disasters, there’s nothing we cannot overcome or achieve through an integrated response with our interagency allies and partners.” – General Laura J. Richardson, Commander, U.S. Southern Command”  

Exercise Obangame Express 2022, the largest multinational maritime exercise in Western Africa, concluded its 11th iteration in Dakar, Senegal, on March 18. A total of 32 nations participated, including regional countries like Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, extra-regional nations like France and the United States, and multinational agencies including the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central African States.

One extra-continental participant was the Brazilian Navy (Marinha do Brasil), via oceanic patrol vessel (OPV) Amazonas (P120). Brazil’s participation is neither an oddity nor a development that should be overlooked in Washington; the Brazilian military, particularly the navy, has a long history of close relations with many African militaries to increase the Portuguese-speaking nation’s presence and image across the South Atlantic, as well as strengthen military-to-military relations.

Amazonas in Obangame Express

A good place to begin this analysis, and to properly explain Brazil’s military relations with African partners, is by listing recent developments. During its voyage to Africa, Amazonas docked in Walvis Bay, Namibia. Two officers from the Namibian navy came aboard and were observers during Obangame Express 2022. As part of its activities throughout the exercises, Amazonas reportedly carried out maneuvers with the navies of Angola, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Namibia. Amazonas’ mission “contributed to maintaining maritime security in the South Atlantic,” the Brazilian navy explained in a Tweet.

OPV Amazonas carried out maneuvers with the navies of Angola, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Namibia as part of Obangame Express 2022. Photo Credit: Marinha do Brasil / Twitter Account, April 2, 2022

Moreover, personnel assigned to the Brazilian navy’s assistance commission (Missão de Assessoria Naval do Brasil) in Sao Tome and Principe assisted local forces as part of the Exercise. The Brazilian officers reportedly helped the local coast guard and also served as translators between the military personnel from Sao Tome and Principe and the United States.

The Brazilian navy is a constant participant of Obangame Express; OPV Araguari participated in the 2021 iteration, while Amazonas was also present in the 2020 version. Amazonas is assigned to the navy’s Southeastern naval group (Comando do Grupamento de Patrulha Naval do Sudeste). The Amazonas-class OPV (in Portuguese, NavioPatrulha Oceânico: NpaOc) was commissioned in 2012 and has two sister ships, Apa (P121) and Araguari (P122).

By participating regularly in Obagame Express the Brazilian Navy can maintain a balanced level of interoperability with African Navies. In an interview with the author, Andrea Resende, Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at Brazil’s Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais (PUC MINAS), who also monitors maritime security, explained that “the interoperability between the South Atlantic Navies is fundamental to not only send a message of power projection across the South Atlantic but to keep the gears of cooperation and understanding between South Atlantic powers.”

A summary of Brazil-Africa Defense Relations

Apart from strong diplomatic and commercial relations between Brazil and Africa, particularly during the Lula da Silva presidency, defense relations and weapons transfers should not be overlooked.

For example, personnel from the Brazilian Marine Advisory Training Team (BRAZMATT) traveled to Namibia in late February to help train local naval personnel. The Brazilian navy has had a permanent mission in Namibia since 2009 to promote cordial defense relations. Also in February, the Brazilian Defense Attache to Senegal, navy Captain Raphael Gustavo Frischgesell, met with a high-ranking official of the Senegalese military, Div General  Mamadou Gaye. Resende noted that Namibia is a key ally of the Brazilian navy, but the Brazilian armed forces also have, or recently had, “military agreements with Benin, Gabon, South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal, [and] Angola.”

Officers from the Namibian navy participated in Obangame Express 2022 aboard OPV Amazonas. Photo Credit: Marinha do Brasil.

For the period of 2022-2023, the Brazilian association of defense and security industries (ABIMDE) identified several potential customers for Brazilian military technology. In the African continent, the two countries mentioned were Egypt and Mauritania. Brazil has already sold equipment to other regional states. Resende added that “one of the most successful initiatives, in my opinion, was the A-Darter [short-range air-to-air] missile, to be integrated with the [Saab] Gripen fighters, that was developed by a cooperation between Brazil and South Africa.”

These developments are not new. Brazil’s relations with Africa, not just from a defense perspective, go back decades. As Resende notes, during the Brazilian Military Dictatorship (1964-1985), “there was an interest in strengthening the South Atlantic sea powers and keeping the extra-regional powers (and its conflicts) out of the region. This proximity was expanded in 1986 when the Zone of Peace and Cooperation of the South Atlantic (ZPCSA or ZOPACAS) was created, and solidified in the early 2000s with another main interest: to protect our natural resources through cooperation and maintain the area as a peaceful zone.”

A similar opinion is shared by Scott Morgan, a long-time African analyst and president of the Washington DC-based consulting firm Red Eagle Enterprises. Morgan explained to CIMSEC that Brazil has the most comprehensive foreign policy and “the best relations with the African continent,” when compared to other Latin American nations. Even though Brasilia’s African strategy has changed during the years, depending on who is president, Brazil is “engaging in Africa where traditional powers like France keep receiving black eyes on a strategic level.”

During incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro’s government, the relations with African nations indeed lost the same importance they had during the presidencies of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. The COVID-19 pandemic, the global economic crises, and new missions also negatively affected the strength of South Atlantic relations between Brazil and Africa; however, entities like the Brazilian navy continue to regard African states as key partners. For example, as Resende explained, in October 2021 the Brazilian Navy organized the First Maritime Symposium of ZPCSA, which was “incredibly successful,” as it promoted “pertinent discussions about common threats and challenges, as well [as] reinforced civilian-military relations. In my opinion, this was a very important step for ZPCSA to regain its relevance as a regional institution.”


As for the maneuvers themselves, they generally received positive reviews. “Obangame Express is about the motivation of our people to dig into some wicked problems together and unearth ways to make our waters safer,” said Lt. Gen. Kirk Smith, deputy commander, U.S. Africa Command.

Morgan, from Red Eagle Enterprises, explained to the author one important fact about Obangame Express 2022: “this year’s exercise ranged from the Gulf of Guinea down to Angola. That is a large area to cover and shows how the concerns about piracy are spreading.” Morgan also noted a side meeting that occurred during the maneuvers, the Senior Leadership Symposium. The meeting, held at the Senegalese Naval Headquarters in Dakar, “brought African Naval leaders together with counterparts from Europe, North America, and South America to exchange ideas regarding security concerns. Communications on this level will be vital to address any regional threat,” he explained. As for the future of Brazilian-African naval relations, Andrea Resende of PUC MINAS noted that “the South Atlantic, as the main strategic theater of Brazil, is a permanent feature in Brazil’s national defense and the Brazilian Navy still manages to strengthen ties with African Navies at every opportunity.”

Obangame Express 2022 was a general success, as its objective was achieved: to promote interoperability and strengthen relations between the participant navies and other services. Hopefully, the Gulf of Guinea, West African waters, and the African side of the South Atlantic will become more peaceful and secure in the immediate future. Moreover, these maneuvers are also helpful to increase a navy’s image, display its capabilities, and carry out effective power projection. This is the case of the Marinha do Brasil. Brazil-Africa relations are not a new topic, but it is noteworthy that, regardless of health pandemics or new civilian leaders with different foreign policy priorities, the Brazilian navy continues to regard African states as key allies. The Brazilian navy only deployed one ship to Obangame Express, OPV Amazonas, but the significance of the Brazilian flag flying high in West African waters among partners and allies has significant repercussions for South Atlantic naval and defense relations.

Wilder Alejandro Sánchez is an analyst who focuses on international security and geopolitics. The views expressed in this article belong to the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.

Featured Image: OPV Amazonas carried out maneuvers with the navies of Angola, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Namibia as part of Obangame Express 2022. Photo Credit: Marinha do Brasil / Twitter Account, April 2, 2022.