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15 June, 2021
essay / Paula Mora Brito [English version].
Terrorism in the Sahel is a neglected reality that affects millions of people. Not surprisingly, the region is one of the most afflicted by it internship. Its complex geographical features make it difficult to control borders (especially those of the Sahara desert), and the lack of cultural and religious homogeneity, coupled with continuing economic and social challenges, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, make the region a fragile and convenient scenario for terrorist groups. In addition, Western countries (mainly France) are present in the area, provoking a certain rejection of their intervention in the eyes of the Sahelian population. Although data is scarce on this issue, which makes it difficult to study, this article will attempt to broaden the concepts and knowledge of terrorism in the Sahel, extending its geographical scope to show the daily life of its inhabitants over the last few years. The focus of the analysis will be on Western intervention in the fight against terrorism.
The terrorist phenomenon
Terrorism is a controversial concept, as it is subject to individual interpretation: while some condemn a group for the use of indiscriminate violence under a political/social/economic goal , others consider its members to be heroes of freedom. Only its purpose defines this activity: to coerce and intimidate the general intention on an issue. It takes different forms: by geographical scope (regional, national or international) or by its goal (ethno-nationalist, political and/or economic ideology, religious or specific issues). This is why each has different characteristics.
Religious terrorism, as Charles Townshend highlighted in his book Terrorism: A Very Short Introduction, has its own unique characteristics. Quoting Hoffman, he explains that goal transcends politics because it is seen as a theological demand. It is a bilateral relationship between fanatics and God, in which there is no possibility of dialogue or understanding, only the establishment of the demand. This conception leads to international terrorism, even if it starts at the regional or national level, as the group of "enemies" is broader. Messianism is the driving force behind this activity, and martyrdom its most potent weapon. The death that comes from fighting is presented as a sacred act and reflects the certainty of the members of these groups to their ideology.
The West finds it difficult to address these threats because it understands the world in a secular way. However, in the states in which these groups develop, religion represents nationhood, values and lifestyle: the individual is religion and vice versa. As Edward Said said: "The entrenched West is blind to nuance and change in the Islamic world". Indeed, Islamic religious terrorism emerges as a response to colonialism and the internship of soft power in Arab and Islamic cultures, which has been reinforced through the current of Islamic fundamentalism.
Terrorism in the Sahel
The Sahel ("edge, coast" in Arabic) is an ecoregion that transitions between the north and south of the African continent, as well as from west to east, with a total area of 3,053,200 km², constituting a belt of 5,000 km. It is made up of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Burkina-Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is a privileged area, as the desert is understood as a pathway to speech.
The area has 150 million inhabitants, 64% of whom are under 25 years old and mostly Sunni Islamic. In 2018, the last year there is data on these countries, the annual mortality rate per 1,000 people was 8.05, a very high rate compared to Spain's 2.59 in 2019. The adult literacy rate (15+), for which there is only data for seven of the ten countries, is 56.06 %. In reality, it is very unequal: while Algeria has 81.40%, Niger or Mali have 35%. The poverty incidence rate based on the national poverty line is 41.15% (only four countries have data from 2018). Life expectancy is 63 years.
The territory faces an economic, political and social crisis. The Sahel is one of the poorest regions in the world, with northern Nigeria as one of the territories with the largest number of extremely poor people in the world. The status worsened this year with a historic drop in the price of raw materials (more than 20%), which account for 89% of its exports. The environmental crisis is hampering the economic development .
Climate change has caused temperatures to rise 1.5 times faster than the global average rate, which has multiplied droughts (from one every ten years to one every two). Political instability in some countries, such as the 2012 coup d'état in Mali, is hampering their economic development development .
In this context, insecurity has increased since the 2004 attacks in Borno, a Nigerian state bordering Cameroon and Chad, by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram group . Terrorist activity has spread through the leadership of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), present in northern Mali, eastern Mauritania, Niger and western Chad. This has led to a demographic crisis, with 4.2 million people displaced and more than a million unable to find homes work. The UN programme development estimates that between now and 2050, more than 85 million Sahelians will be forced to migrate.
Most attacks take place on the tri-border areas of Mali, Burkina-Faso and Niger; and Niger, Nigeria and Chad. Since the Treaty of Berlin in 1885, African borders have been a serious problem because they were a European imposition that did not respect the tribal and ethnic reality of many regions, forcing and creating a nation that its inhabitants do not feel part of. This reality was reflected in the case of Mali, showing the pre-existing fragility of the region.
AQIM has divided the Sahel into katibas (branches): the Yahia Abou Ammar Abid Hammadu, which is established between southern Algeria and Tunisia and northern Niger; and Tarik Ben Ziyad, active in Mauritania, southern Algeria and northern Mali. The former is known to be more "terrorist", while the latter is more "criminal". This is due to the greater Degree cruelty employee by the Hammadu, as they follow the takfirism (war against "infidel" Muslims) of Zarqawi (ISIS).
They take over territories through negotiations, where they establish a market for illegal trafficking. Once they have acquired a area, they set up their settlements, training camps and prepare their next attacks. Another means of financing is kidnapping. It is a way to subjugate, humiliate and extract revenue from the West. The need for money, unlike in a criminal organisation, is not for the enrichment staff of the components, but to continue financing the activity: buying loyalties, weapons, etc. There is no recruitment data development , no conditions, no age, class or gender targeting.
The geographical and socio-political characteristics of the ecoregion have forced AQIM to develop its capacity to adapt, such as the subdivision of group (Boko Haram), which sample no longer needs a fixed physical base as in the 1990s (AQ in Afghanistan). In addition, there has been a change in strategy, as these groups are increasing their attacks on international organisations or government infrastructure by 250%, and decreasing attacks on civilians. This may be a new way of attracting locals as they promote themselves as protectors against state abuse.
In 2019 there was an average of 69.5 attacks per month in the Sahel and Maghreb, and 438 deaths were recorded last March. In 2020, activity has decreased due to COVID-19. Terrorism brings political and social insecurity, as well as economic insecurity, as investors are not attracted to do business in an unstable area, leading to continued precariousness. This causes and/or maintains the underdevelopment of a state, leading to a large influx of migration. A vicious circle of underdevelopment and poverty then ensues.
For Spain, the most recent and shocking event took place on 28 April 2021, when journalists David Beriain and Roberto Fraile were murdered in Burkina-Faso by the Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin, group de Apoyo al Islam y a los Musulmanes en español; a terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda.
The recent sudden death of Chadian President Idris Déby Itno on 19 April 2021 at the hands of the Fighters of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) has further increased instability in the region. The president of the last three decades was fighting against this rebel group , created in 2016 in Libya, which sought to oust Déby and the dynastic regime from Chad. Since this event, massive protests have covered the streets of Chad, calling for a democratic transition in the country, to which the army has responded by killing some of the protesters. This uprising is due to what Chadians see as a repetition of their history and a violation of the nation's constitution. The Chadian army had announced the training of an 18-month transitional committee under the leadership of Mahamat Idriss Déby, the son of the former president. The problem is that his father, in 1999, created the same political body and promised the same. However, his promises were not kept. The transitional military committee suspended the constitution, which states at degree scroll Fifteenth that the transnational president must be the president of the National Assembly.
Chad's status is core topic in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. The country lies between the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. The withdrawal or weakening of troops on the country's borders poses a great risk not only to Chad, but also to its neighbours. Countries bordering Chad will be exposed to violent attacks by terrorist groups, as Chad has the largest combined force in the G5 Sahel. Chad is the stabiliser of the region. To the east, it prevents Sudanese political instability from spilling over the borders. To the south, Chad has been the new home to more than 500,000 refugees from the Central African Republic and its massive migration crisis. To the west, it mainly counters Boko Haram, which is now a major player in Niger and Nigeria. To the north, it counters Libyan rebel groups. It is important to understand that although Libya is not part of the Sahel, its instability resonates strongly in the region, as the country is the new hub for terrorist groups in the Sahel, as the death of the former president seems to demonstrate. The country has become the launching pad for Africa's terrorist groups seeking to impose their will across the continent. What happens in Chad remains to be seen, as it will completely change the current Sahelian paradigm.
The West's fight against terrorism
There are institutional initiatives to address these regional issues jointly, such as the group G5 Sahel, composed of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, with the support of the African Union, the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank, among others.
There is also financial aid international support to the region, mainly from France and the European Union. Since 2013, at the request of the Malian government, the French government launched Operation 'Serval' with the goal aim of expelling terrorist groups in northern Mali and other Sahel nations. It was followed a year later by Operation Barkhan, which focuses on attendance to the G5 Sahel member states, seeking to provide the resources and training necessary for these countries to manage their own security independently. Spain, Germany, Estonia and the UK also participate in this Operation. Last year, 2020, Task Force "Takuba", composed of French and Estonian special forces, was launched in the Sahara-Sahel belt. To date, France has deployed 5,100 military personnel, trained more than 7,000 G5 Sahel soldiers, deployed 750 training or combat support activities and has 75 cooperation officers in the region.
France has also been at the forefront of international intervention in the Sahel. In 2012, at the UN Security committee it promoted Resolution 2085 to underline the need for international attendance intervention in the region. In 2017, France was the precursor of the mission statement United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), created under Resolution 2391 to provide attendance to the Malian government in the stabilisation of its country. It has more than 15,000 civilian and military personnel providing logistical and operational support.
The EU has also been involved through three main missions in the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) framework : mission statement of training of the European Union (EUTM) Mali, EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger. The first was created in 2013 to train and advise the Malian armed forces. It also cooperates with the G5 Sahel member states to improve border control. The other two are civilian missions whose goal is to train the police, gendarmerie and national guard, as well as to advise on security reforms at government. EUCAP Sahel Niger was created in 2012 and is still in force. As for EUCAP Sahel Mali, it was created in 2014 and has been extended until 2023. In addition, France and the European Union also contribute financially to the region. Last year, the EU contributed €189.4 million to the region. France contributed around €3.97 billion during 2019-2020.
However, the uncertainty over Déby's death has reshaped local perceptions of Western, mainly French, intervention. The protests that have taken place in Chad in recent weeks have also led to an indictment of France for backing the military committee against the will of the people. Together with the African Union and the European Union, Macron declared at Déby's funeral that "France will never be able to make anyone question (...) and threaten, today or tomorrow, the stability and integrity of Chad", following Mahamat's promises to "remain faithful to his father's report". These statements were understood by Chadians to mean that Mahamat will follow his father's style of leadership and that France does not care about the oppression the people have suffered for decades. It is at this point that France risks only caring about the stability that Chad brought to the region, especially in its geopolitical interests regarding Libya and West Africa in particular. Perhaps this is why Macron felt the need to clarify his words a week later: "I will be very clear: I supported the stability and integrity of Chad when I was in N'Djamena. I am in favour of a peaceful, democratic and inclusive transition, I am not in favour of a succession," he said. However, Sahelians are getting tired of being the puppets of Western games, as demonstrated this year in Mali by the protests of the inhabitants against the French military presence in the country. The West must show its real commitment to promoting human rights by pushing for a democratic transition while maintaining its fight against terrorism.
In conclusion, Islamist religious terrorism has been on the rise in recent years as a counterpoint to US power in the Cold War. The Sahel is one of the predominant theatres of these activities, as it is an area with pre-existing political-economic instability that terrorists have taken advantage of. Terrorism is changing its modus operandi, showing its adaptability in terms of geography, methods of operation and resource acquisition. France has shown itself to be the leader of the Western initiative in the region and has made progress in the region. However, the West, especially European countries, must begin to pay more attention to the causes of the region's problems by gathering data and understanding the realities of the region. Only then will they be able to address these problems effectively, assisting existing regional institutions, looking for long-term solutions deadline that satisfy the population.
COMMENTARY / Jairo Císcar
Since the end of the Second World War, collective security on the European continent and with it, peace, has been a priority. The founding fathers of the European Union themselves, aware of the tensions that resulted from the First and Second World Wars, devised and created security structures to prevent future conflicts and strengthen relations between former enemies. The first structure, although not purely military, obeys this logic: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), essential for the creation and maintenance of industry and armies, was created by the Treaty of Paris in 1951, introducing a concept as widely used today as "energy security". This was arguably the first major step towards effective integration of European countries.
However, for the issue at hand, the path has been much more complicated. In the same period in which the ECSC was born, French Prime Minister René Pleven, with the encouragement of Robert Schuman and Jean Monet, wanted to promote the European Defence Community. This ambitious plan aimed to merge the armed forces of the six founding countries (including the Federal Republic of Germany) into a European Armed Forces that would keep the continent together and prevent the possibility of a new conflict between states. Ambitious as it was, the project failed in 1954, when the deeply nationalist Gaullist deputies of the French National Assembly refused to ratify the agreement. European integration at the military level thus suffered a setback from which it would not begin to recover until the present century, although it continues to face many of the reluctances it once did.
Why did the European Defence Community fail, and what makes the European Armed Forces still a difficult discussion today? This is a question that needs to be analysed and understood, for while political and economic integration has advanced with a large consensus, the military problem, which should go hand in hand with the two previous issues, has always been the Achilles' tendon of the common European project.
There are basically two factors to take into account. The first is the existence of a larger defence community, NATO. Since 1948, NATO has been the principal military alliance of Western countries. Born to counter Soviet expansionism, the Alliance has evolved in size and objectives to its current configuration of 30 member states and a multitude of other states in the form of strategic alliances. Although NATO's primary purpose was diluted after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it has evolved with the times, remaining alert and operational all around the globe. The existence of this common, powerful and ambitious project under U.S. leadership largely obscured efforts and intentions to create a common European defence project. Why create one, overlapping, structure if the objectives were practically the same and NATO guaranteed greater logistical, military superiority and a nuclear arsenal? For decades, this has been the major argument against further European integration in the field of defence - as protection was secured but delegated.
Another issue was the nationalism still prevalent among European states, especially in the aforementioned Gaullist France. Even today, with an ongoing and deep political, economic and, at a certain level, judicial integration, military affairs are still often seen as the last bastion of national sovereignty. In Schengen Europe, they remain for many the guarantee of those borders that fell long ago.
Other issues to take into account are the progressive detachment of the population from the armed forces (a Europe that has not seen war on its own territory in 70 years, except for the Balkans, has tended to settle into peace, nearly oblivious to wars) and its progressive ageing, with a future with fewer people of military age, and who, as we have mentioned, often have an ideological and motivational gap with previous generations with respect to the concept and utility of the military.
It was not until relatively recently, with the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999, that the embryonic mechanisms of the current Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), supervised by the European Defence Agency, began to be implemented. In the 2010s, with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, these mechanisms were established. The Military Staff of the European Union (EUMS) is one of them. It constitutes the EU's first permanent strategic headquarters. The final impetus came in 2015, with the European Union Global Strategy. This led to the creation of various far-reaching initiatives, most notably the Permanent Structured Cooperation(PESCO), which since 2017 has been pursuing the structural integration of the Armed Forces of all EU countries except Denmark and Malta. It is not only limited to proper integration, but also leads capability development projects such as the EU Collaborative Warfare Capabilities (ECOWAR) or the Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA), as well as defence industry endeavors such as the MUSAS project, or the CYBER-C4ISR capabilities level.
Although it is too early to say for sure, Europe may be as close as it can get to René Pleven's distant dream. The EU's geopolitical situation is changing, and so is its own language and motivation. If we used to talk about Europe delegating its protection for years, now Emmanuel Macron advocates 'strategic autonomy" for the EU. It should be recalled that just over a year ago he claimed that "NATO is brain-dead". Some voices in the EU's political arena claim and have realised that it can no longer delegate the European protection and defence of its interests, and they are starting to take steps towards doing so. Despite these advances, it is true that it is not a shared interest, at least, as a whole. France and other Mediterranean member states are pushing towards it, but those in the East, as Poland or Latvia, are far more concerned about the rise of Russia, and are comfortable enough for U.S. troops to be established in their terrain.
Having said that, I truly believe that the advantages of the European Armed Forces project outweigh its negative aspects. First of all, a Europe united in defence policies would not imply the disappearance of NATO, or the breaking of agreements with third countries. In fact, these alliances could even be strengthened and fully adapted to the 21st century and to the war of the future. As an example, in 2018 the EU and NATO signed collaboration agreements on issues such as cybersecurity, defence industry and military mobility.
While NATO works, Europe is now facing a dissociation between U.S. interests and those of the other Allies, especially the European ones. In particular, countries such as France, Spain and Italy are shifting their defence policies from the Middle East, or the current peace process in Afghanistan (which, despite 20 years of war, sounds like a long way off), to sub-Saharan Africa (Operation "Barkhane" or EUTM Mali), a much closer region with a greater impact on the lives of the European citizens. This does not detract from the fact that NATO faces global terrorism in a new era that is set to surpass asymmetric warfare and other 4th generation wars: the era of hybrid warfare. Russia's military build-up on the EU's eastern flank and China's penetration into Africa do not invite a loosening of ties with the United States, but European countries need to prioritise their own threats over those of the U.S., although it is true that the needs of countries to the west of the EU are not the same as those to the east. This could be the main stumbling block for a joint European Army, as weighting the different strategic priorities could be really arduous.
It is true that this idea of differing policies is not shared in the EU as a whole. Countries such as Poland, those in the Balkans or the Baltic have different approaches and necessities when talking about a European Union common security strategy. The EU is a 27 country-wide body that often is extremely difficult to navigate within. Consensus is only reached after very long discussions (see the soap opera on the COVID relief package negotiations), and being defence as important as it is, and in need of fast, executive decision making, the intricate bureaucracy of the EU could not help with it. But if well managed, it could be an opportunity to develop new strategies for decision-making and reforming the European system as a whole, fostering a new, more effective Europe.
Another discussion, probably outdated, is the one who claims that the EU is not capable of planning, organising and conducting operations outside the NATO umbrella. In this case, apart from the aforementioned guidelines and policies, one simply has to look at the facts: the EU today leads six active (and 18 completed) military missions with close to 5,000 troops deployed. The "Althea" (Bosnia & Herzegovina) and "Atalanta" (in the Indian Ocean) missions are particularly noteworthy. It is true that these examples are of low-intensity conflicts but, given the combat experience of EU nations under NATO or in other missions (French and Portuguese in Africa, etc.) combat-pace could be quickly achieved. The NATO certification system under which most European armed forces operate guarantees standardisation in tactics, logistics and procedures, so that standardisation at the European level would be extremely simple if existing models are taken into account.
Another issue is the question of whether the EU could politically and economically engage in a long, high-intensity operation without getting drowned by the public opinion, financial administration, and, obviously, with the planning and carrying out of a whole campaign. This is one of the other main problems with future European armed forces because, as mentioned earlier, Europeans are not prepared in any way to be confronted with the reality of a situation of war. What rules of engagement will be used? How to cope with casualties? And even more, how to create an effective chain of command and control among 27 countries? And what will happen if one does not agree with a particular intervention or action? How could it be argued that the EU, world's leading beacon of human rights, democracy and peace, gets engaged in a war? Undoubtedly, these questions have rational and objective answers, but in an era of social average, populism, empty discourses, and fake news, it would be difficult to engage with the public (and voters) to support the idea.
Having said that, there is room for optimism. Another reason pointing towards Europe's armed forces is the collaboration that exists at the military industrial level. PESCO and the European Defence Fund encourage this, and projects such as the FCAS and EURODRONE lay the foundations for the future of European armed forces capabilities. It should not be forgotten that the European defence industry is the world leader behind that of the United States and is an increasingly tough competitor for the latter.
In addition, the use of military forces in European countries during the current coronavirus pandemic has served to reinforce the message of their utility and need for collaboration beyond the purely military. While the militarisation of emergencies must be avoided and the soldier must not be reduced to a mere "Swiss army knife" at disposition of the government trying to make up their own lack of planning or capacity to deal with the situation, it has brought the military closer to the streets, and to some extent may have helped to counteract the disaffection with the armed forces that exists in many European countries (due to the factors mentioned above).
Finally, I believe that European-level integration of the armed forces will not be merely beneficial, but necessary for Europe. If the EU wants to maintain its diplomacy, its economic power, it needs its own strategic project, an "area of control" over its interests and, above all, military independence. This does not preclude maintaining and promoting the alliances already created, but this is a unique and necessary opportunity to fully establish the common European project. The political and economic framework cannot be completed without the military one; and the military one cannot function without the former. All that remains is to look at the direction the EU is taking and hope that it will be realised. It is more than possible and doable, and the reality is that work is being done towards it.
COMMENTARY / Marina G. Reina
After weeks of rockets being fired from Gaza and the West Bank to Israel and Israeli air strikes, Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire in a no less heated environment. The conflict of the last days between Israel and Palestine has spread like powder in a spiral of violence whose origin and direct reasons are difficult to draw. As a result, hundreds have been killed or injured on both sides.
What at first sight seemed like a Palestinian protest against the eviction of Palestinian families in the Jerusalem's neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, is connected to the pro-Hamas demonstrations held days before at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. And even before that, at the beginning of Ramadan, Lehava, a Jewish far-right extremist organisation, carried out inflammatory anti-Arab protests at the same Damascus Gate. Additionally, the upcoming Palestinian legislative elections that Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas indefinitely postponed must be added to this cocktail of factors. To add fuel to the flames, social average have played a significant role in catapulting the conflict to the international arena-especially due to the attack in Al-Aqsa mosque that shocked Muslims worldwide-, and Hamas' campaign encouraging Palestinian youth to throw into the streets at point of rocks and makeshift bombs.
Sheikh Jarrah was just the last straw
At this point in the story, it has become clear that the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah have been just another drop of water in a glass that has been overflowing for decades. The Palestinian side attributes this to an Israeli state strategy to expand Jewish control over East Jerusalem and includes claims of ethnic cleansing. However, the issue is actually a private matter between Jews who have property documents over those lands dating the 1800s, substantiated in a 1970 law that enables Jews to reclaim Jewish-owned property in East Jerusalem from before 1948, and a group of Palestinians, not favoured by that same law.
The sentence ruled in favour of the right-wing Jewish Israeli association that was claiming the property. This is not new, as such nationalist Jews have been working for years to expand Jewish presence in East Jerusalem's Palestinian neighbourhoods. Far from being individuals acting for purely private purposes, they are radical Zionist Jews who see their ambitions protected by the law. This is clearly portrayed by the presence of the leader of the Jewish supremacist Lehava group-also defined as opposed to the Christian presence in Israel-during the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. This same group marched through Jerusalem's downtown to the cry of "Death to Arabs" and looking for attacking Palestinians. The fact is that Israel does not condemn or repress the movements of the extreme Jewish right as it does the Islamic extremist movements. Sheikh Jarrah is one, among other examples, of how, rather, he gives them legal space.
Clashes in the streets of Israel between Jews and Palestinians
Real pitched battles were fought in the streets of different cities of Israel between Jewish and Palestinians youth. This is the case in places such as Jerusalem, Acre, Lod and Ashkelon -where the sky was filled with the missiles coming from Gaza, that were blocked by the Israeli anti-missile "Iron Dome" system. Palestinian neighbors were harassed and even killed, synagogues were attacked, and endless fights between Palestinians and Israeli Jews happened in every moment on the streets, blinded by ethnic and religious hatred. This is shifting dramatically the narrative of the conflict, as it is taking place in two planes: one militarised, starring Hamas and the Israeli military; and the other one held in the streets by the youth of both factions. Nonetheless, it cannot be omitted the fact that all Israeli Jews receive military training and are conscripted from the age of 18, a reality that sets the distance in such street fights between Palestinians and Israelis.
Tiktok, Instagram and Telegram groups have served as political loudspeakers of the conflict, bombarding images and videos and minute-by-minute updates of the situation. On many occasions accused of being fake news, the truth is that they have achieved an unprecedented mobilization, both within Israel and Palestine, and throughout the world. So much so that pro-Palestinian demonstrations have already been held and will continue in the coming days in different European and US cities. Here, then, there is another factor, which, while informative and necessary, also stokes the flames of fire by promoting even more hatred. Something that has also been denounced in social networks is the removal by the service of review of the videos in favour of the Palestinian cause which, far from serving anything, increases the majority argument that they want to silence the voice of the Palestinians and hide what is happening.
Hamas propaganda, with videos circulating on social average about the launch of the missiles and the bloodthirsty speeches of its leader, added to the Friday's sermons in mosques encouraging young Muslims to fight, and to sacrifice their lives as martyrs protecting the land stolen from them, do nothing but promote hatred and radicalization. In fact,
It may be rash to say that this is a lost war for the Palestinians, but the facts suggest that it is. The only militarized Palestinian faction is Hamas, the only possible opposition to Israel, and Israel has already hinted to Qatari and Egyptian mediators that it will not stop military deployment and attacks until the military wing of Hamas surrenders its weapons. The US President denied the idea of Israel being overreacting.
Hamas' political upside in violence and Israel's catastrophic counter-offensive
Experts declare that it seems like Hamas was seeking to overload or saturate Israel's interception system, which can only stand a certain number of attacks at once. Indeed, the group has significantly increased the rate of fire, meaning that it has not only replenished its arsenal in spite of the blockade imposed by Israel, but that it has also improved its capabilities. Iran has played a major role in this, supplying technology in order to boost Palestinian self-production of weapons, extend the range of rockets and improve their accuracy. A reality that has been recognised by both Hamas and Iran, as Hamas attributes to the Persian country its success.
This translates into the bloodshed of unarmed civilians to be continued. If we start from the basis that Israeli action is defensive, it must also be said that air strikes do not discriminate against targets. Although the IDF has declared that the targets are instructions of Hamas, it has been documented how buildings of civilians have been destroyed in Gaza, as already counted by 243 the numbers of dead and those of injured are more than 1,700 then the ceasefire entered into effect. On the Israeli side, the wounded reported were 200 and the dead were counted as 12. In an attempt to wipe out senior Hamas officials, the Israeli army was taking over residential buildings, shops and the lives of Palestinian civilians. In the last movement, Israel was focusing on destroying Hamas' tunnels and entering Gaza with a large military deployment of tanks and military to do so.
Blood has been shed from whatever ethnical and religious background, because Hamas has seen a political upside in violence, and because Israel has failed to punish extremist Jewish movements as it does with Islamist terrorism and uses disproportionate defensive action against any Palestinian uprising. A sea of factors that converge in hatred and violence because both sides obstinately and collectively refuse to recognize and legitimate the existence of the other.
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].
The severe 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 delivery of vaccines (China and Russia) or petrol and food (Iran). On the other hand, it has taken away the means for states to combat organised crime, which has made some strategic moves, such as the consolidation of Paraguay as an important focus of drug trafficking. issue Although the status of prolonged confinement has made it possible to reduce homicides in some places, as in the case of Colombia, the deterioration of regional stability has led to greater US attention being paid to the rest of the Western Hemisphere, with a clear warning given by the US 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.
Most of the cultivation takes place in the area around Pedro Juan Caballero, near the Brazilian border, which is the country's criminal centre.
° Marijuana plantations cover some 8,000 hectares, with a production of 30,000 tonnes, 77% of which goes to Brazil and 20% to Argentina.
As a transit point for cocaine from Peru and Bolivia, Paraguay has seen a leap in the volume of shipments to Europe, with a record shipment of 23 tonnes at the beginning of 2021.
° The Paraguayan congress has C the medicinal use of marijuana; for the moment it is not following in the footsteps of Mexico, the leading producer in the Americas, which discussion its full legalisation.
Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez and the then Argentinean Minister of Security, eradicating marijuana plants in PJC [Gov. of Paraguay].
Paraguay is on the rise on the drug trafficking map, as the largest producer of marijuana in South America and as a distributor of cocaine from Peru and Bolivia. With an estimated cannabis cultivation area of almost 8,000 hectares and an annual production of close to 30,000 tons, Paraguay exports the drug to Brazil and Argentina. finding The cocaine that passes through the country is destined for these two large neighbours and, above all, for Europe: in February 2021, the German authorities intercepted a 16-tonne cocaine shipment, the largest ever sent from Paraguay, an amount that rose to 23 tonnes in February 2021, including a shipment located two days earlier in Antwerp. A further 11 tonnes were found in Antwerp at the beginning of April.
While, in the case of Paraguay, the most surprising development in the last year has been this leap in the capacity to generate large cocaine shipments, the rapidly evolving international context in relation to marijuana - for example, the UN reclassified it in December 2020, noting its therapeutic potential - makes this other lucrative illicit trade particularly topical.
The growing legalisation of hemp leaf, which is beginning to take place in some countries, generating its own production (unlike coca, which due to its specific conditions is cultivated almost exclusively in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, marijuana can be grown in different places, even in greenhouses) offers business prospects for the farmers who are currently involved in its illegal cultivation in Paraguay, This offers business prospects for the farmers who currently grow it illegally in Paraguay (not so much for the mafia structure of Brazilian origin, since in order to compete in Uruguay, the only nearby country that has legalised national production for open use, Paraguayan marijuana would have to be sold more cheaply than Uruguayan marijuana). Mexico, which is the largest producer in the Americas, is in the process of decriminalising recreational use; Paraguay is not there yet, but the law passed in August 2020 to allow medicinal use allows individual cultivation if there is medical certificate .
Production and eradication
Marijuana production is linked to organised crime, especially in the border areas with Brazil. According to figures provided by the administrative office National Anti-Drugs Office (SENAD), the largest operations against the cultivation of this drug take place in the department of Amambay, whose capital, Juan Pedro Caballero, is the country's criminal centre. This city is adjacent to the Brazilian border and shares an urban mass with the Brazilian town of Punta Porá. The adjacent department of Canindeyú, also bordering Brazil, is also home to extensive plantations.
In the decade 2009-2019, SENAD destroyed 9,838 hectares of marijuana plant cultivation in Amambay and 2,432 in Canindeyú, together accounting for about 90 per cent of the 15,045 hectares eradicated nationwide. In 2019, the latest damage referenced by SENAD, authorities eradicated 1,468.5 hectares, the highest figure of the decade, which not only indicates an increase in the anti-narcotics effort, but also suggests an increase in cultivated areas.
Paraguay is estimated to have between 6,000 and 8,000 hectares of marijuana plants. An improved seed introduced a few years ago has made it possible to expand the usual two harvests per year to three or even four harvests, raising productivity to between two and three tonnes of marijuana herb per hectare, bringing total production to as much as 20,000 tonnes per year. These figures may have been underestimated, as SENAD has estimated that up to 30,000 tons of weed could have left the country in the last year.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2020 ranks Paraguay as the country with the largest marijuana seizures, at over 1,000 tonnes per year. The report also indicates that hemp resin production is minimal (1.1 tons in 2016) and that 77% of the marijuana generated in Paraguay is destined for the Brazilian market and 20% for the Argentinean market.
In the Americas, Paraguay's production is surpassed only by Mexico, which has an estimated 12,000 hectares of plantations, according to the US government's 2021 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), agreement . The amount of cultivated area eradicated by the Mexican authorities is also higher, although this effort has fallen in recent years (5,478 hectares in 2016, 4,193 in 2017 and 2,263 in 2018), as indicated by the UNODC's report , which at the same time points out that in Mexico some 200 tonnes of marijuana were seized in 2018, compared to 400 tonnes in 2017.
Paraguay is a fertile ground for the establishment of criminal networks. Its strategic position is a determining factor and a fundamental condition for it to be chosen by organised crime as a focal point for its criminal activities. Situated between the coca production centres of Peru and Bolivia and the growing markets of Argentina and above all Brazil, which are also a destination for Paraguayan marijuana, the country is a place of operation for mafias, especially Brazilian ones. The conditions of the Triple Border - the conurbation formed by Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), Foz de Iguaçú (Brazil) and Puerto Iguazú (Argentina) - also encourage smuggling, product counterfeiting and money laundering, as well as the financing of terrorist groups(such as Hezbollah).
Economic factors also play a role. Economic and social marginalisation is an element that these organised crime gangs resort to in order to recruit "employees". However, this factor can only partly explain the particular development of these networks. The scale of these networks depends fundamentally on the level of acceptance and tolerance of corruption. In this sense, Paraguay has the ideal conditions for the development of these networks. This is due to its high levels of state corruption, as indicated in the Corruption Perceptions Index.
Highlighting the obstacle that corruption in Paraguay poses to the fight against drug trafficking, in January 2020 a mass escape from a prison in Pedro Juan Caballero of 75 prisoners, mostly members of a Brazilian criminal gang First Capital Command (CCP), took place. The escape was facilitated by the collusion of officials and highlighted the impunity with which many of the drug traffickers operate.
Both are consolidating their beginnings as producer countries, which is an important qualitative leap despite the fact that production is still very limited.
° 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 located.
° During 2020, Honduras eradicated 40 hectares of coca cultivation and Guatemala 19 hectares; in addition, almost twenty cocaine processing laboratories were destroyed.
° The expansion of coca production into Central America is the work of Mexican cartels, which employ Colombian experts in locating the best areas for cultivation.
Honduran counter-narcotics action in a coca plantation in October 2020 [Gov. of Honduras].
Cocaine production has begun to spread to countries in Central America, which until recently were only transit points for cocaine coming mainly from Colombia, which is the world's largest producer, along with Peru and Bolivia.
The finding of drug processing laboratories in Honduras in 2009 already suggested the beginning of a shift, confirmed by the location of coca bush cultivation itself in 2017 in Honduras and in 2018 in Guatemala. Since then, more than 100 hectares have been located in both countries: some 50 hectares were counted together in those first two years, a figure that was doubled in 2020 in what appears to be an acceleration of the process.
In any case, these are very small areas, compared to those estimated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in its 2020 report for Colombia (around 180,000 hectares), Peru (almost 50,000) and Bolivia (around 25,000). Furthermore, the United States has so far claimed that it has no record of cocaine generated in the Central American Northern Triangle being found on its territory. entrance .
Everything indicates that for now we are in a stage of experimentation or essay by Mexican cartels, who are testing the aptitude terrain and climate of different areas and the quality of the product, with the help of Colombian experts, financial aid . Changes in the drug trafficking chain since most of the FARC left the illicit business in Colombia and the desire to reduce the complex logistics of transporting drugs to the United States explain these attempts in the Northern Triangle.
In Honduras, the location of crops has increased in the last two years. The latest report of the International Narcotics Control Strategy (INCSR), from March 2021, prepared by the US State Department's department , includes official Honduran information that 40 hectares of coca bushes were eradicated in the first ten months of 2020. This represents an increase in the number of cultivation areas compared to previous years, which estimated the accumulation of 50 hectares throughout 2017 and 2018 in Honduras and Guatemala combined.
The first evidence in Honduras that drug trafficking was not only using its territory as a transit point was the finding in 2009 in the province of Cortés of a laboratory for the transformation of coca leaves into cocaine hydrochloride. In ten years, twelve laboratories were discovered and in 2020 alone the authorities proceeded to destroy at least another eleven, as indicated by the INCSR. Although some had the capacity to produce up to 3.6 tons of cocaine per year, their facilities were rather "rudimentary", according to Honduran law enforcement agencies.
The existence of these laboratories led to the conclusion that some amount of coca leaf may have been cultivated in the country since at least 2012, but it was not until 2017 that a cultivated area was found, in the province of Orlando, with some 10,000 plants. In 2018, three other farms were located, one of them 20 hectares in size. Cultivation activity and laboratory is not concentrated in a specific area, although half of the findings have been made in the aforementioned provinces of Orlando and Colón.
The last particularly noteworthy location, in an increasingly visible process of locating coca fields, was carried out by the National Directorate for the Fight against Drug Trafficking (DLCN) in March 2020, which corresponded to a field of some 4.2 hectares of cultivation and narco-laboratory in the Nueva Santa Bárbara community. In 2020, at least 15 coca fields were seized, with a total of 346,500 plants.
The DLCN believes that Mexican cartels, such as the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels, are behind this penetration, although they do not operate directly, with a deployment of armed individuals, but on several occasions through growers of Colombian origin, who know how to take care of the coca plant.
Recent convictions in the US, such as that of the brother of Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández, have provided details of the drug trafficking corridor that is Honduras, but also the country's incipient homegrown production. As exposed in his trial, Tony Hernández, sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2021, had a direct relationship with a local cocaine laboratory .
In the case of Guatemala, the first finding of coca leaf cultivation took place in 2018. Although it was only one hectare in size, with 75,000 plants, it also marked the country's emergence as an incipient producer. In addition to having been, like Honduras, a transit channel for cocaine from Colombia, Guatemala had already distinguished itself for its moderate production of marijuana and for having begun to grow poppy, as an extension of the activity of Mexican cartels involved in the heroin market, of which Mexico is the leading producer in the Americas. Now Guatemala, where narco-laboratories have also appeared, included coca among its illicit narcotics crops.
In 2019, Guatemalan authorities made an effort to combat this activity. On 4 September of that year, they declared a 30-day state of siege in 22 municipalities in the north of the country. Police operations led to a number of seizures, especially in the Departments municipalities of Izabal, Alta Verapaz, Petén and Zacapa. Some 23 cultivation areas were located, eight of them in Izabal.
Following these findings, Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart admitted that Guatemala had become a cocaine-producing nation.
In the first ten months of 2020, 19 hectares of coca cultivation were eradicated and seven laboratories were destroyed, according to the latest INCSR, pointing out, in any case, that coca production in Guatemala is on a "limited scale" (as in Honduras, but even lower than in neighbouring Guatemala), at a distance from that of the largest South American producers.
Increased role for gangs
The Honduran and Guatemalan authorities fear, due to the increase in drug production activity, that some areas of their countries will become the new "Medellín of Pablo Escobar". The existence of areas that are difficult to access and the lack of resources for monitoring and combating organised crime complicate counter-narcotics efforts.
There is also a risk that the gangs or maras will gain even more power, entrenching or even aggravating the problem they pose. Because of their spatial dominance, they have so far collected tolls for the passage of drugs throughout the territory, but with production in the Northern Triangle itself, they could also come to control the very origin of the drugs, giving them the prerogatives of the cartels.
At the same time, international coordination against drug trafficking becomes more complicated, as it becomes more difficult to locate production sites and identify the actors involved.
The high issue of murdered social leaders continues to dismay the country: 904 assassinations since the 2016 Peace agreement
° In 2020 there were 24.3 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in Colombia, the most leave since 1975, when there was a similar rate, and below that of other countries in the region.
° The issue homicide rate in 2020 was 12,018, following the progressive decline recorded since 2002, only openly broken in 2012, when 16,033 murders were committed.
° programs of study concludes 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.
Religious ceremony in Dabeiba in February 2020, after recovering the remains of a man who disappeared in 2002 [JEP]g
Colombia is gradually reducing its levels of violence, at least in terms of the homicide rate, which in 2020 fell to 24.3 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, the lowest figure leave since 1975. Although the drama of the murder of social leaders has overwhelmed Colombian society in the post-conflict management , the objectivity of the overall figures speaks of a reduction in violent deaths. This decrease has been driven in recent years by the FARC's withdrawal cessation of armed struggle and has presumably been favoured in 2020 by the prolonged confinements established to deal with the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The country closed 2020 with 12,018 homicides, the most leave in decades, less than half the number in the early 1990s, during the worst period of the armed conflict. At that time, issue homicides exceeded 28,000 per year, or around 80 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Since then, with slight upturns in 2002 and 2012, Colombia has been reducing its levels of violence and today its homicide rate is far from the records being set by other countries in the region: although in some cases the health emergency has also helped to lower the figures, in 2020 the highest fees were those of Jamaica (46.5 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants), Venezuela (45.6), Honduras (37.6), Trinidad and Tobago (28.2) and Mexico (27).
(In the case of Colombia, the authorities spoke at the end of 2020 of a rate of 23.79, although later homicide figures from the National Police and data population figures give as result the estimate of 24.3 that has been chosen here).
Conflict and post-conflict
While ELN guerrillas remain active and several FARC dissidents continue to engage in criminal activities, around 8,000 ex-combatants were incorporated into civilian life as a result of the agreement peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC, which began negotiations in 2012 and was signed in 2016.
The years prior to the beginning of the contacts saw an increase in violence, and then a steady decrease since then, not only in violence related to the political conflict, but also in violence related to crime in general. When investigating the homicide fees during the years of the peace talks with the FARC, the Directorate of research Criminal and Interpol in Colombia revealed a close relationship: when the armed confrontation increased or decreased, depending on the interests of the negotiators, so did the total number of homicides. The good progress of the negotiation marked a dynamic of de-escalation of the armed conflict, with a reduction of 8.57% in the homicide rate between 2012 and 2015.
In 2017, after the signing of the peace agreement agreement , violence in Colombia reached its lowest levels in 30 years, with 12,079 homicides and a rate of 25.02 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. However, in 2018 the trend changed slightly (12,130 homicides), something that was pronounced in 2019 (12,667), which alerted to the need to rapidly implement the conditions for the reintegration of ex-combatants, improve security in demilitarised zones and increase state presence in the territory.
The high school of Medicina Legal concluded that the homicide figures for 2018 seemed to show a reactivation of the Colombian armed conflict. status For its part, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights presented in 2019 a report evaluating the human rights situation in Colombia, with emphasis on the implementation of the contents of agreement de Paz: the highest homicide figures were in Antioquia, Cauca and Norte de Santander, where the clashes for the control of illicit economies were most violent.
Effect of Covid
Post-conflict measures and the arrival of the pandemic, with its restrictions on movement, again led to a drop in homicides in 2020. In the period from 20 March to 17 August 2020, when the strictest confinements were in place, daily homicides per municipality fell, on average, by 16% from their pre-social distancing trend. In the weeks of full quarantine, the daily homicide issue even fell by around 40% from the pre-quarantine trend. From June 2020 onwards, the homicide issue returned to pre-emergency trends. Crime dropped in the first months due to fear of contagion, but quickly returned to the usual figures, especially in terms of robbery and theft, as the economic status worsened and the need for food among the poor increased. However, because of what happened in the first semester of the year, Colombia closed 2020 with thehighest homicide rate leave in the last 46 years.
A clear negative of 2020, however, was the continuation of violence directed against social leaders and ex-combatants. Last year, 297 local leaders were killed, bringing the total number of social actors killed from 2016 to February 2021 to 904. In the same period, 276 former guerrillas were killed, most of them involved in appearances before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.
Federal prosecutors charge El Salvador's mara leadership with national security offences
° The US still classifies gangs as a criminal organisation, not as group terrorists, but in the last year it has come to consider some of their leaders as terrorists.
° The department of Justice considers the connection between the decisions taken by the MS-13 leadership from Salvadoran prisons and crimes committed in the USA to be proven.
° In the past five years, US courts have convicted 504 gang members, 73 of whom received life sentences.
Inmates of the maras in Salvadoran prisons, in April 2020 [Gov. of El Salvador].
US authorities have in the past year taken a significant leap in their reaction to the violence of the main Latino street gang, the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. For the first time, federal prosecutors filed terrorism charges against the gang's leaders, opening the door to a review of the classification of MS-13, which has been considered an international criminal organisation in the US since 2012 and could be designated group terrorist, as is already the case in El Salvador.
The focus of the Justice department on violence with a Central American connection, however, may have been due to the Trump administration's prioritisation of the fight against illegal immigration. It is not yet known whether the Biden administration, which is less interested in criminalising immigration, will insist on the category of terrorism. However, police and judicial pressure on gang members responsible for crimes on US soil does not seem likely to diminish for the time being.
In July 2020, the US Justice department released terrorism charges against Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz, alias Gangster Blue, sealed since the previous May in the Eastern District Court of Virginia. The charges included conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, committing cross-border acts of terrorism, financing terrorist actions and conducting narco-terrorist operations. Melgar had lived in Virginia, with some absences, between 2003 and 2016, when he was deported. In November 2018, he was arrested and detained in El Salvador. Prosecutors believe he directed MS-13 criminal activity on the East Coast from El Salvador, apparently ordering and approving assassinations, overseeing drug trafficking businesses, and collecting money for local cliques or organisations.
Having opened this avenue of terrorism charges, which carry heavier penalties, against leaders who allegedly ordered the commission of crimes from El Salvador, the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York proceeded a few months later with the broadest and most far-reaching indictment against MS-13 and its command and control structure in the history of the United States, alleging crimes "against national security". Thus, in January 2021, the U.S. Attorney's Office made public an indictment, secretly formalised the previous month, with indictments against fourteen MS-13 leaders, all of them members of the Ranfla Nacional or gang leadership, which was headed, according to the Public Prosecutor's Office, by Borromeo Enrique Henríquez, aka Diablito de Hollywood. Eleven of them are in Salvadoran prisons and three are fugitives. The charges were similar to those brought against Melgar, but the indictment does not provide details of specific actions. The crimes of different cliques of the MS-19 are attributed to them, since, as part of its leadership, they were ultimately responsible for ordering the commission of many of the crimes. According to the prosecutor announcing the case, "MS-13 is manager of a wave of death and violence that has terrorised communities, leaving neighbourhoods awash in bloodshed". The US proceeded to prepare the respective extradition requests.
In addition to these two cases, which would fit into a conceptual framework that appears to seek to prosecute group terrorist leadership (even though terrorist status has not been applied by the United States to any gang, nor is there consensus on a narrow centralisation of criminal decision-making), several prosecutions of MS-13 members were launched in 2020 for crimes strictly related to murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking, weapons possession, and other organised crime activities. On the same day in July 2020 that the Melgar indictment was announced, the Eastern District Court of New York filed a case against eight members of the organisation and the District Court of Nevada against thirteen others; in August, the Eastern District of Virginia proceeded to arrest eleven more individuals associated with the gang.
These actions showed a commitment to enforce the investigations that had recently intensified, at the end of a presidential mandate that had made the fight against gangs one of the priorities of department Justice. Precisely at the end of 2020, this department published a report taking stock of the "efforts" carried out in this field between 2016 and 2020, graduate "Large-scale response". The report, which estimates that there are some 10,000 gang members in the United States, counts that 749 gang members were charged in US courts during this period; of these, 74% were in the country illegally, 8% were US citizens and 3% were legal residents. These prosecutions led to the conviction of at least 504 individuals, of whom 37 received life sentences.
The Attorney General also opened procedure to apply for the death penalty for two defendants involved in crimes that had a special social resonance. They are Alexi Sáenz, who is accused of seven murders, almost all of them using a machete or a baseball bat, and Elmer Zelaya, accused of coordinating the stabbing of two young men; most of the victims were teenagers. This extreme violence was highlighted by Donald Trump at several points during his term in office and he referred to it last July when the aforementioned terrorism cases were announced. He called the gang members "monsters who murder children", and indicated that the US authorities would not rest until "every member of MS-13" was brought to justice.
For its part, the FBI has formed Transnational Anti-Gang Units (TAGs) with security forces from several Central American countries, which since 2016 have been responsible for hundreds of arrests and have assisted in the extradition to the US of 68 defendants, 35 from Guatemala, 20 from Honduras and 13 from El Salvador.
Barack Obama's 2011 provisions empowering consideration of gangs as international criminal organisations, in the framework of a new National Strategy to Combat Transnational Organised Crime, were used by the Treasury'sdepartment in 2012 to apply that consideration to MS-13. The same categorisation was used in 2017 by the department Justice Department as the basis for the "war on gangs" launched by Trump. In 2018, the congress itself highlighted the dangerousness and incidence of gangs, in actions decided from El Salvador.
In 2019, Attorney General William Barr travelled to El Salvador, where he gathered information from the Salvadoran authorities, whose Supreme Court had already designated the maras as group terrorists in 2015. Alleged evidence of the chain of command, which connects orders for assassinations and other crimes given from Salvadoran prisons and their execution in the United States, reportedly underpinned the 2020 decision to open terrorism cases against gang members in US federal courts.
This change in the subject offence can be core topic in the future of the fight against gangs by offering a number of advantages, as there is no statute of limitations on terrorism charges and they have harsher penalties associated with them. International law also provides a greater arc and leeway for countries fighting terrorism, so cooperation between countries could be greatly enhanced; indeed, making charges comparable in the US and El Salvador could speed up extradition requests.
However, the move is not Exempt controversial. In the same way that international drug trafficking charges against the gang members have been of little use, since they do not properly constitute a transnational drug cartel, it remains to be seen how effective it would be to invoke terrorism charges in this case, given that the maras, at least in the US, do not have the range of features of a terrorist organisation: there is certainly not the element of wanting to be a political actor. In any case, as Steven Dudley, co-director of Insight Crime and author of MS-13: The Making of America's Most Notorious Gang, has said, the US government's decision to charge the visible leaders of MS-13 in El Salvador with terrorism "may be a sign of how poorly they understand this gang or how well they understand their judicial system".
The USSOUTHCOM chief's appearance on Capitol Hill raises the annual Degree alert to Chinese influence and US pushback.
° In his latest appearance, Admiral Craig Faller warned that the US "is losing its positional advantage' and called for "immediate action to reverse this trend".
° In recent years the Southern Command's speech at congress has highlighted the penetration of China, Russia and Iran, hand in hand with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
° Analysis of the Pentagon chief's interventions in the region sample the growing involvement of the Maduro regime in criminal activities.
► visit of the head of the US Southern Command to Montevideo in April 2021 [SouthCom].
The US Southern Command - the military structure within the US Armed Forces responsible for Latin America and the Caribbean - has been progressively raising the alarm about the growing influence of Russia and especially China in the Western Hemisphere, to the detriment of the US position. This, combined with the threat posed by organised crime organisations, especially those involved in drug trafficking, led USSOUTHCOM chief Admiral Craig Faller to confess in March to feeling "an incredible sense of urgency": "the hemisphere we live in is under attack", he said in his annual appearance before the US congress , dedicated to analysing the threats and opportunities the region presents in terms of security.
In his third "posture statement" to the congress since heading Southern Command, Faller warned that the US is losing its "edge" in the hemisphere and argued that "immediate action is needed to reverse the trend". Analysing his 2019 and 2020 speeches, as well as that of his predecessor, Admiral Kurt Tidd, in 2018, there is a worsening perception of the rivalry with China. Increasingly, the reference letter to the Chinese threat is more explicit and occupies more space. What was first seen as economic leverage, through increased trade and credit allocation, is now presented as more global and strategically more dangerous. According to Faller, China is seeking to 'establish a global logistics and infrastructure base in our hemisphere to project and sustain military power over greater distances'.
The change of Administration has not brought about any change in this worsening perception of the risks being generated in Latin America. Although Joe Biden's presidency has meant a change in tone from that of his predecessor, hostility towards Beijing and the desire to closely monitor other authoritarian regimes such as Russia and Venezuela have been maintained. Hence, the "posture statement" presented this year by the head of the Southern Command is consistent with previous ones in pointing to the growing activity of Russia and China in the region (and of Iran, in coordination with Hezbollah), as well as its partnership with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, countries that Faller called "malign regional state actors".
The use of Cuba
One of the constant and recurring threats that is gradually increasing is China's economic diplomacy strategy in several countries in the region: through loans and investments, Beijing incorporates these countries into its international trade network , sometimes integrating them into the New Silk Road initiative. The 2018 statement did not mention the issue number of Latin American nations participating in the initiative; the 2019 statement counted 16, and the 2020 statement spoke of 19, indicating a clear trend that China is gradually increasing its activities and influence in the hemisphere. The 2020 strategy also stated that 25 of the 31 countries in the region have Chinese infrastructure projects, which, as the head of the Southern Command expressly points out, could be used in the future to support Chinese military interests. Added to all this is the COVID-19 crisis, which China has used to increase its regional influence through its potential for medical supplies and vaccines.
Venezuela features prominently in the last four statements. Over the years, the situation progressively worsens and the Southern Command's stance towards Maduro's regime hardens: it goes from not calling him illegitimate to calling him illegitimate, and then openly accuses him of involvement in drug trafficking activities. It underlines its close military collaboration with Russia and with Colombian narco-terrorist groups - the ELN and FARC dissidents - which it hosts on its territory.
Another aspect that is reiterated is the emphasis on Cuba's destabilising role: how Havana interferes in internal affairs in Venezuela and Nicaragua, instructing these oppressive regimes on how to repress opposition movements and demonstrations, sometimes sending its own agents to fulfil this repressive function. In addition, the strategy also addresses the fact that Russia uses Cuba as a base for its intelligence operations towards the US and to project its power in the region.
The Southern Command's statements are in line with the concerns expressed in the document framework Strategic for the Western Hemisphere, produced by the National Security committee in 2020. Although the Trump Administration will have to formulate its own strategic plan for the region, no substantial changes can be expected, given that there is the same interest in restoring democracy for Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba; in promote transparency and fighting corruption; in combating illicit activities, such as drug trafficking and human smuggling; and in addressing China's growing presence in the region.
China's growing fishing fleet sparks complaints of alleged encroachment into exclusive economic zones and illegal activity
° The presence of more than 500 vessels raises concerns about continued radar evasion, use of unauthorised extraction systems and disobedience to coastguards.
° The governments of Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru issued a statement calling for the supervision of an activity that Beijing refuses to submit to international inspection.
° Intimidation is reminiscent of the use of Chinese fishermen as a "strike force" in the South China Sea; here the goal is not about gaining sovereignty, but about fishing.
► The Chinese ship Hong Pu 16, followed by the Argentine patrol vessel ARA Bouchard, in May 2020 [Argentine Navy].
Over the last year, several Latin American countries have complained about Chinese economic predation, due to the massive presence of Chinese fishing boats in the vicinity of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the poaching that is taking place there. They have also denounced the use by Chinese fishing vessels of unauthorised fishing techniques that deplete key fishing grounds and erode marine sustainability.
issue The arrival from China of fishing vessels of what is normally categorised as the Distant Water Fleet (DWF) began to occur in the Latin American maritime contour in 2001 with around twenty vessels; since then their number has been rapidly increasing and the most recent figures speak of some 500 ships. The unease of the most affected countries is not new, but in 2020 the complaints were louder and more formal. Moreover, in the open era of confrontation with Beijing, Washington came out in defence of the interests of its hemispheric neighbours.
China has the world's largest deep-sea fishing fleet, which is expanding as the fleets of other fishing nations are shrinking. Its size is unclear, as it often operates through small front companies that blur its national origin, but it has been estimated to total 17,000 vessels. In this activity far from China itself, the fleet catches two million tonnes of fish, accounting for 40 per cent of the world total in distant waters. Some of its catch is result illegal fishing; China has the worst record in the world for illegal fishing practices, according to Global Initiative's evaluation .
The strategic Galapagos
Fishing is one of the most important resources for several Latin American countries, which is why the massive Chinese presence in the vicinity of their exploitation waters, if there has been no penetration of these waters, has generated concern. In the last year, there have been many reports of Chinese fishing off Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina, mostly linked to the capture of squid, but also of other species such as horse mackerel, mackerel, tuna and southern hake. These countries believe that overfishing and the capture of endangered species such as the giant squid are taking place, threatening the preservation of fish stocks and biodiversity, as well as the possession of false licences and the violation of the sovereignty of coastal states by allegedly illegally entering their EEZs. Fishermen from these coastal states increasingly report the presence of Chinese vessels in an intimidating attitude, carrying out acts that threaten not only their natural resources but also their security.
The main accusations came from July onwards in Ecuador. Earlier that month, the Ecuadorian navy warned of the presence of a Chinese fishing fleet of some 260 vessels fishing just outside the EEZ of the Galapagos Islands, which are under Ecuadorian sovereignty. By the end of the month, the fleet had increased to more than 342 vessels. The Galapagos archipelago was declared by Unesco as reservation of the biosphere, because it is home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna unique in the world. For this reason, exploitation in this area implies very large losses in terms of marine biodiversity.
In addition, half of the Chinese fleet behaved suspiciously, turning off the tracking and identification system. It was an evasion of marine radars that lasted for almost three weeks, as denounced by the Ecuadorian defence minister, Oswaldo Jarrín. The minister implied that this attitude was intended to conceal illegal fishing and perhaps also incursion into waters under Ecuadorian protection in order to fish there. In any case, he specified that the Ecuadorian navy was only able to find a couple of vessels within the Galapagos EEZ, which claimed to be using "innocent passage".
The country's president, Lenín Moreno, formally raised the complaints with the Beijing authorities, informing them that Ecuador would strongly assert its maritime rights over its EEZ, and announced a coordinated position with other Latin American governments. In fact, other countries in the region soon saw the Chinese fleet arrive in the vicinity of their waters. The ships left the corridor of international waters that exists between the Galapagos EEZ and the Ecuadorian coast, where they spent some time to catch the fish that migrate from one side to the other, and then moved south, first in the vicinity of the waters of Peru and Chile, and then, passing from the Pacific to the Atlantic, of Argentina.
These countries were backed by the United States, whose department of state said in August that the massive presence of Chinese fishing vessels and their internship to disable tracking systems, rename vessels and dispose of marine debris was "very troubling". President Donald Trump also spoke negatively on the occasion of his September speech to the United Nations. Washington has long been attentive to China's growing presence on the continent, not only commercially, but also in the management of strategic infrastructure such as port terminals. The Galapagos, specifically, have a special strategic value due to their status access routes to the Panama Canal.
Request for inspections
After Ecuador, due to the threat off their waters, Peru and Chile activated Global Fisheries Surveillance and mobilised air and naval patrols to closely monitor the advance of the Chinese fishing fleet. When the Chinese fishing fleet moved into the Atlantic in December 2020, the Argentine naval force also deployed naval and air units to ensure control over its maritime spaces.
In November, the governments of Ecuador, Chile, Peru and Colombia (the latter's EEZ borders the corridor between the two Ecuadorian maritime areas) issued a joint statement, in which they expressed their concern over the presence "of a large fleet of foreign-flagged vessels that have been carrying out fishing activities in recent months in international waters close to our jurisdictional waters". The grade chose not to explicitly mention China (moreover, several vessels in the fleet were flagged differently, although they were Chinese for all intents and purposes), but it was clear in which direction they were directing their denunciation of "fishing activities not subject to control or reporting".
Latin American countries are demanding that China agree to inspections, in the presence of staff if necessary, of suspicious vessels, even if they have remained in international waters. Beijing responds that it has already established moratoriums at certain times of the year on squid fishing in the region. However, the lack of cooperation so far and the growing demand from the Chinese market suggests that this subject of activities will continue to increase.
As it has done in the Pacific, the United States has sent Coast Guard vessels to the South Atlantic to confront Chinese incursions, in this case in joint exercises with Brazil and Uruguay. It is precisely with the latter country that Washington is trying to arrange some kind of subject of partnership that would allow for greater inspection of the maritime area , as it considers that Argentina could lend itself excessively to Chinese requirements.