China, Russia and Iran have increased their relationship with needier Latin America due to Covid, which has also provided an opportunity for organised crime.

► Nicolás Maduro Guerra, after getting the Sputnik V vaccine, with the Russian ambassador in Caracas, in December 2020 [Russian Embassy].

report SRA 2021 / summary Executive [PDF version] [PDF version].

MAY 2021-The serious health and economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has accentuated Latin America's vulnerabilities, also in terms of regional security. On the one hand, it has increased dependence on external powers, whose influence has grown through the shipment of vaccines (China and Russia) or gasoline and food (Iran). On the other hand, it has reduced the means for states to combat organized crime, which has made some strategic moves, such as the consolidation of Paraguay as an important focus of drug trafficking. Although the status of prolonged confinements has allowed to reduce in some places the issue of homicides, as in the case of Colombia, the deterioration of regional stability has led to a greater attention of the United States towards the rest of the Western Hemisphere, with a clear alert given by the U.S. Southern Command.

The needs imposed by Covid-19 across the globe have made some security requirements more pressing in certain countries. With international trade disrupted by movement limitations, China's food security concerns have pushed its long-distance fishing fleets to adopt more aggressive behaviour. Although a growing influx of Chinese fishermen has been detected in the waters around South America for some years now, in 2020, status marked a qualitative leap. The presence of more than 500 vessels raised concerns about the continuous evasion of radars, the use of unauthorised extraction systems and disobedience to coastguards. The governments of Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru issued a joint statement calling for oversight of an activity that Beijing refuses to submit to international inspection. The intimidation is reminiscent of the use of Chinese fishermen as a "strike force" in the South China Sea, although here the goal is not about gaining sovereignty but about fishing. Washington has expressed concern about China's activity both around the Galapagos and in the South Atlantic.

The pandemic has been a propitious occasion for China and, to a lesser extent, Russia to consolidate their penetration of Latin America. Thanks to "vaccine diplomacy", Beijing is now a fully global partner : not only commercial and a provider of loans for infrastructure, but also on a par with the United States and Europe in terms of pharmaceutical excellence and health provider . While it is true that Latin America is getting more "Western" vaccines - only Peru, Chile and Argentina have contracted more Chinese and Russian doses - the export of injectables from China and Russia has allowed it to increase its influence in the region. Huawei has managed to enter Brazil's 5G tender in exchange for vaccines, and Beijing has offered them to Paraguay if it abandons its recognition of Taiwan. In addition to clinical trials in several Latin American nations in the second half of 2020, Argentina and Mexico will produce or package Sputnik V from June.

The worsening humanitarian crisis in Venezuela throughout 2020, on the other hand, made it easier for Iran to strengthen its ties with Nicolás Maduro's regime, resuming a special relationship already in place during the Chávez and Ahmadinejad presidencies. With no more credits from China or Russia, Venezuela looked to the Iranians to try to reactivate the country's crippled refineries. Not particularly successful in that endeavour, Iran eventually became a supplier of more than 5 million barrels of gasoline via cargo ships; it also delivered food to supply a supermarket opened by the Iranians in Caracas. With oil production at a record low, Maduro paid for Tehran's services with shipments of gold, worth at least $500 million.

All this activity by extra-hemispheric powers in the region is identified by the US Southern Command, the US military structure responsible for Latin America and the Caribbean, as a cause of serious concern for Washington. In his annual appearances before the congress, the head of SouthCom has progressively raised the threat level to Degree . In his last appearance, in early 2021, Admiral Craig Faller was particularly alarming about China's advance in the region: he referred to the controversy over Chinese fishermen - their alleged encroachment on exclusive economic zones and illegal activity - and the $1 billion credit announced by Beijing for financial aid on Covid-19 health equipment. Faller said the US is "losing its positional advantage" and called for "immediate action to reverse this trend".

Another of Washington's concerns relates to transnational crime, specifically that perpetrated by Latino gangs in the US. In the last year, US federal prosecutors have for the first time charged members of the Mara Salvatrucha with national security crimes. The US continues to classify the gangs as a criminal organisation, not as group terrorists, but in charges filed in July 2020 and January 2021 against the MS-13 leadership imprisoned in El Salvador, some of its leaders have been upgraded to terrorists. The department of Justice considers the connection between the decisions taken in Salvadoran prisons and crimes committed in the US to be proven. In the last five years, US courts have convicted 504 gang members, 73 of whom received life sentences.

In terms of citizen security, the prolonged confinements for Covid-19 have allowed for a slight reduction in violence figures in some countries, especially in the first half of 2020. In the case of Colombia, this conjunctural effect was combined with the trend towards leave in the issue homicide rate that has been observed in the country since the beginning of the peace process negotiations in 2012, so that the 2020 figures represented a historic low, with a rate of 24.3 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest leave since 1975. Several programs of study consider that there is a link between the demobilisation of the FARC and the consistent decrease in the level of violence that the country is experiencing. This is a positive development that is overshadowed by the murder of social leaders and ex-guerrillas, which at the beginning of 2021 had already risen to more than a thousand since the signature of the agreement de Paz in 2016.

The drug trafficking chapter has seen two notable developments in the past year. One is the increase in "trial" coca cultivation in Honduras and Guatemala, which were previously only transit countries for cocaine. Both are consolidating their beginnings as producer countries, which is an important qualitative leap despite the fact that production is still very limited. After cocaine processing laboratories were located in both countries, the first plantations were discovered in 2017 in Honduras and in 2018 in Guatemala; since then, more than 100 hectares of coca bush have been detected, a very small number for the time being. Over the course of 2020, Honduras eradicated 40 hectares of cultivation and Guatemala 19. Part of this own-production infrastructure came to light in the US trial of Tony Hernández, brother of the Honduran president, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2021.

For its part, Paraguay is on the rise on the drug trafficking map, as the largest producer of marijuana in South America and a distributor of cocaine from Peru and Bolivia. Most marijuana cultivation takes place around Pedro Juan Caballero, near the border with Brazil, which is the country's criminal centre. The plantations cover some 8,000 hectares, with production reaching 30,000 tonnes, 77% of which goes to Brazil and 20% to Argentina. At the beginning of 2021, more than 30 tonnes of cocaine shipped from Paraguay were located in northern European ports, making it a decisive distribution hub for the drug.

More blog entries

Publicador de contenidos

Carrera por los recursos espaciales: de la minería al control de rutas

▲ proposal of lunar base for obtaining helium, taken from [Christopher Barnatt]. GLOBAL AFFAIRS JOURNAL / Emili J. Blasco [8-page document.... ReadmoreAboutRace for space resources: from mining to route control "

Ecuador desaprovecha su salida de la OPEP y pierde producción petrolera

The country left the cartel in order to expand its pumping, but the Covid-19 crisis has cut extraction volumes by 10.8%. Construction of a variant of the pipeline that crosses the... ReadmoreAboutEcuador misses out on OPEC exit and loses oil production "

Argentina ve en Vaca Muerta una tabla de salvación, pero falta más capital para su desarrollo

The hydrocarbon field is the central axis of the Gas 2020-2023 Plan of President Alberto Fernández, which subsidizes part of the investment Activity of YPF, Argentina's state-owned oil and gas... ReadmoreAboutArgentina sees Vaca Muerta as a lifeline, but more capital is needed for its development "

El gas natural licuado cambia el juego en el hemisferio americano

U.S. LNG sales to its neighbors and exports from Latin American and Caribbean countries to Europe and Asia open new perspectives Not to depend on gas pipelines, but to be able to buy or sell... ReadmoreAboutLiquefied natural gas is a game changer in the American hemisphere "

Could Spain partner up with Morocco in the field of solar energy?

The two countries are greatly exposed to solar radiation and they already share electricity interconnectors Spain was an early developer of solar energy, but it didn't keep the pace with the... ReadmoreAboutCould Spain partner up with Morocco in the field of solar energy? "

Surinam sigue a Guyana en el ‘milagro’ petrolero

The finding of a "significant" amount of oil in off-shore wells places the former Dutch colony in the footsteps of neighboring Guyana. The intuition has proved to be right and the... ReadmoreAboutSuriname follows Guyana in the oil 'miracle' "

Climate Refugees will raise, nations should find the way for shelter them

▲ Flood rescue in the Afghan village of Jalalabad, in 2010 [NATO]. ESSAY / Alejandro J. Alfonso In December of 2019, Madrid hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP25,... ReadmoreAboutClimate Refugees will raise, nations should find the way for shelter them "

La nueva guerra de precios petroleros

March and April 2020 will be remembered in the oil industry as the months in which the perfect storm occurred: a drop of more than 20% in global demand at the same time that the oil industry... ReadmoreAboutThe new oil price war "

Was the Madrid COP25 useful?

The UN Conference did little to increase international commitment to climate change action, but did at least boost the assertiveness of the EU In recent years, the temperature of the Earth has... ReadmoreAboutWas the Madrid COP25 useful? "

La minería ilegal, la otra destrucción de la Amazonía

Gold mining and oil transport pollute Amazonian rivers It is not only the fires that are negatively affecting the Amazon, which is undergoing an accelerated reduction of... ReadmoreAboutIllegal mining, the other destruction of the Amazon "

Centroamérica aprovecha sus volcanes para generación eléctrica

Geothermal energy already accounts for 7.5% of the Central American electricity mix, with installed capacity still far below the estimated potential. Volcanic activity and tectonic movement... ReadmoreAboutCentral America harnesses its volcanoes for power generation "

Jordan River Basin: Hydropolitics as an arena for regional cooperation

▲Satellite imagery of the Jordan River [NASA]. ANALYSIS / Marina Díaz Escudero Water is an essential natural resource, not only for individual survival on Earth, but also for nation-states... Read moreAboutJordan River Basin: Hydropolitics as an arena for regional cooperation "

Qué hará Bolivia con su gas natural cuando Brasil y Argentina ya no lo necesiten

The upcoming gas self-sufficiency of its two major gas-buying neighbors forces the Bolivian government to seek alternative markets Yacimientos Pretrolíferos Fiscales gas plant in... ReadmoreAboutWhat Bolivia will do with its natural gas when Brazil and Argentina no longer need it "

Blood diamonds keep going through Antwerp

The Belgian city, the world's capital of diamonds, has applied more regulations, sanctions and scrutiny on the industry, but still there are some bad practices ▲ The diamond industry has... ReadmoreAboutBlood diamonds keep going through Antwerp "

Cumbre del Clima 2018, un paso hacia adelante

The meeting COP24 made progress in regulating the Paris agreement , but "carbon markets" remained blocked. Mobilizations in favor of governments taking more drastic measures... ReadmoreAboutClimate Summit 2018, a step forward "

La nueva Guyana petrolera y su proyección internacional

One of the poorest countries in the Americas may become the world's largest oil producer per capita, disrupting the relationship with its neighbors. The promising oil discoveries... ReadmoreAboutThe new oil Guyana and its international projection "

Acuífero Guaraní: mejor que otros, pero pervivencia no asegurada

Geopolitical misgivings about perceived foreign interests should not distract beneficiary countries from implementing sustainable use. The Guarani Aquifer has given rise to a... ReadmoreAboutAquifer Guarani: better than others, but survival not assured "

El 'boom' de la quinoa

Global interest in this fashionable grain has brought additional income to Andean communities. The localization of quinoa production, especially in Peru and Bolivia (together they account for... ReadmoreAboutThe quinoa boom "

Impulso a la conexión gasística de los países de la Iniciativa de los Tres Mares

Poland-Germany struggle for influence in the European region between the Baltic, the Adriatic and the Black Sea The latest summit of the Three Seas Initiative (TMI) was attended by the... ReadmoreAboutBoosting the gas connection of the Three Seas Initiative countries "

'Guerras del agua' en Asia Central

Central Asian republics dispute scarce water resources in the Aral Sea Basin The lack of effective cooperation between the republics through which the two main water resources of the... Read moreAbout'Water Wars' in Central Asia "