Washington Sends Military Ship to Patrol South American Coast
Thursday, January 21, 2021
by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
The American military is turning its attention to strategic points in the American continent and has already started carrying out operations on the Brazilian coast, under the justification of combating illegal fishing.
According to a statement from the American Embassy in Brazil, the Coast Guard ship USCGC Stone, left the state of Mississippi on December 22 last year, starting its first maritime patrol called Operation Cruzeiro do Sul, whose objective is supposedly to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the South Atlantic. According to the Embassy statement, this would be a way for the US to strengthen its cooperation ties with the southern nations, guaranteeing local maritime security. The ship arrived in Brazilian waters on January 11 and will remain until February 8, when it will dock in Salvador. Before coming to Brazil, the USCGC Stone was on the coast of Guyana. After completing its long mission on the Brazilian coast, the ship will leave for Uruguay and other South American countries.
Undoubtedly, illegal fishing is one of the biggest problems in the contemporary world and strongly threatens the environmental balance of the oceans and the food security of more than 40% of the world population, which depends on fish meat for subsistence. In Brazil – a country that has 10,959 kilometers of coastline – illegal fishing causes several problems and, since 2013, the fight against predatory and illegal collection of marine resources has become a priority, with a major offensive being launched against those who fail to comply with the rules for preserving the oceans – although, in practice, this type of fishing continues to occur on a large scale until today.
What is questioned is not the need to combat illegal fishing, which is evident, but the American boldness in sending military ships to “assist” the Southern States in an obligation that belongs only to them. Still, it is necessary to observe the subservience of such States, mainly the Brazilian one, which came to promote joint military exercises between the Brazilian Navy and the American Coast Guard in the state of Rio de Janeiro, even though Operation Cruzeiro do Sul was unilaterally decided by Washington, without any Brazilian requirement. Apparently, no expert has yet questioned the real intentions of the US when sending ships to patrol the Brazilian coast. The news channels talk about the case as an “example of international cooperation”, and not as a case of foreign imposition and passive acceptance by Brazil – and the other states visited by the USCGC Stone.
However, to understand the real nature of the problem we need to focus on two topics. First, it is necessary to clarify that the problem of illegal fishing in Brazil and South America is totally connected to the action of foreign powers in search of food resources in regions with less environmental supervision. Several countries send fishing vessels to South America and collect fish both on the seacoast and in the rivers of the Amazon Forest and return freely to their national ports without suffering any penalties.
Among the countries that practice such illegal fishing, we can call China, which sends several vessels daily to the South American coast. However, although the Chinese illegal fishing is a real problem, Beijing is far from being the only offender. On the Brazilian coast, illegal tuna fishing is dominated by Japanese vessels but, as part of the pro-alignment policy with Washington that has been adopted by several South American countries, the Chinese presence has been highlighted beyond its numbers, creating a discourse in favor of environmental protection against the “Chinese threat”. In this sense, we can note the banning of Chinese presence as a first American interest in patrolling the coast of South American countries, in addition to simply “fighting illegal fishing”.
There is yet another interest – closely linked to the previous one – that has connections with the new American naval strategy, announced by Washington at the end of last year: controlling strategic areas rich in natural resources. According to a document released by American strategists in December, the focus of Washington’s new naval policy will be to defend maritime zones rich in natural resources from the Russian and Chinese expansion. So, it is not by chance that the American Armed Forces begin to patrol the South and gain control of the vast resources available there, which include fish and oil (the coast of Rio de Janeiro is rich in oil and the American ship, before arriving in Brazil, was in Guyana, a country that currently has the largest untouched oil reserves in the world).
In addition, it is necessary to consider the fact that the US is gradually losing its global maritime power and that is why there is a need to conserve a zone of continental maritime influence, which strengthens measures like these to stop the presence of ships from other world powers on the American continent.
Currently, illegal fishing is part of the structure of the global food market. Virtually all countries practice illegal fishing or are complicit in it to some extent, nationally or abroad. This is a structural problem in international society and can only be tackled through internal inspection by countries that have their waters exploited. While talking about the Chinese and Japanese presence in South America, we should remember the predatory fishing practiced by Europeans in Africa. This problem requires strong legislation and efficient enforcement by the victimized states. It is not up to Washington to exercise the role of a global maritime police.
However, with the rise of Biden and his aggressive environmentalist speech, accompanied by his interest in recovering American hegemony, what we can expect is a future with more and more operations of this nature. In fact Washington wants to become “global environmental police” and will increasingly interfere in other countries with environmental justifications.
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