For decades, the US closed its doors to Mexican avocados; today it needs them to meet its growing demand.
2019 will see record imports of Mexican avocados into the United States: almost 90% of the one million tonnes of avocados consumed by Americans will come from the neighbouring country, which leads world production. After being banned for decades in the US - citing phytosanitary issues, mainly invoked by California producers - the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement opened the doors of the US market to this Mexican product, first with reservations and since 2007 without restrictions. The arrival of Trump to the presidency marked a drop in imports, but they have continued to rise since then.
▲ Interest in healthy food has led to an increase in avocado consumption worldwide.
article / Silvia Goya
Social trends such as veganism and "real fooding" have led to an increase in the worldwide production of avocado, a fruit valued for its healthy fat and vitamin content, which is a good accompaniment to a multitude of dishes. In the United States, moreover, the food tradition of millions of Hispanics - the avocado comes from a tree native to Central and South America(Persea americana) - has encouraged the consumption of a product that, like few others, marks the relations between the United States and Mexico.
department The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts that to meet the growing domestic consumption of avocados (which has increased 5.4 times since 2000, from 226,000 tonnes to 1.2 million tonnes in 2018), in 2019 the country will have to increase its imports significantly, from 87% to 93% of the availability product. This will mean an increase in imports from Mexico, which in 2018 already supplied 87% of the avocado from abroad. This need for imports is partly due to production problems in California, the state with the largest production in the US (around 80%), well ahead of the second largest, Florida, and a major litigator in the past to prevent the skill of Mexican avocados.
Donald Trump's first year in the White House saw a slight drop in Mexican avocado imports, which in 2017 fell to 774,626 tonnes. However, in 2018 a new record was reached, with 904,205 tonnes, an increase of 17%, in a context of non-materialisation of the trade threats launched by the Trump Administration, which finally agreed to the renewal of the free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. Last year, imports from Mexico accounted for 87% of total avocado purchases abroad; the rest, up to 1.04 million tonnes, came from Peru (8%), Chile (2.5%) and the Dominican Republic (2.5%).
History of a veto
The B rise in avocado sales in the US has attracted the attention of drug cartels, which have clashed for control of the business in some Mexican states such as Michoacán - the largest producer of avocados, especially of the Hass variety, which is the most widely marketed - giving rise to a "new drug trade". However, the history of controversy between the two countries over the berry goes back a long way. It was in 1914 when the then US Secretary of Agriculture signed a quarantine notice declaring the need to prohibit the importation of avocado seeds from Mexico because of a weevil that the seed carried. In 1919, the "Quarantine of nurseries, plants and seeds" was enacted. This regulatory framework remained in force for decades.
During the period of the 1970s, the discussion about the entrance of Mexican avocados in the US market remained in the political limelight due to the insistence of Mexican Plant Health Service officials. Investigations in several Mexican avocado-producing states, however, found weevils in some of the seeds, which did not allow for a change in the regulatory policy of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the US Department of Agriculture department . Therefore, in 1976, the USDA, in a letter to its Mexican counterpart, stated that it should continue "as in the past, against the issuance of permits for the importation of avocados from Mexico".
Following these events, US policy towards avocados from its neighbouring country remained restrictive until trade liberalisation and harmonisation of sanitary and phytosanitary measures began to change the context in which governments considered plant health problems and imports. For most of the 20th century, the policy of protection had been to deny access to products that could harbour pests; in the last decade, however, the rules began to change.
The creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 and the World Trade Organisation in 1995 paved the way for new Mexican requests for access to the US avocado market. Although NAFTA's main goal was the elimination of tariffs by 2004, it also provided for the harmonisation of sanitary and phytosanitary measures between the trading partners. However, this free trade agreement explicitly recognises that each country can establish regulations to protect human, animal and plant life and health, so that when the risk of pest infestation is high, the country has the legitimacy to place restrictions on trade.
With the implementation of NAFTA in 1994, the US government came under increased pressure to facilitate the importation of agricultural products from Mexico, including avocados. This led to a shift in USDA phytosanitary policy towards a new policy of "mitigation or technological solutions". APHIS is the branch of government charged with implementing the phytosanitary provisions of NAFTA in the case of the US. APHIS considered that fruit flies - present in a wide variety of species - could also be found in Mexican avocados, so Mexican Plant Health Service officials had the difficult task of proving that the insect was not present in their avocados and that Hass avocados were not susceptible to Mexican fruit fly attack. Between 1992 and 1994, Mexico submitted two plans to work with their respective research. The first was rejected while the second, despite pressure from the California Avocado Commission (CAC), was accepted.
This second plan called for access of Mexican avocados to 19 of the 50 US states during the months of October to February. At the end of June 1995, the USDA issued a proposal of rule describing the conditions under which Hass avocados grown in approved plantations in Michoacán could enter the US. It was in late 1997 that the USDA issued a final rule authorising the importation of such avocados into the US. This was the first time that the USDA used the so-called "approach of systems" to manage the risks posed by quarantine pests.
At the end of the second shipping season in February 1999, Mexico requested an expansion of the programme to increase the number of US states to which it could export to issue and to allow the shipping season to start one month earlier (September) and end one month later (March). In 2001, the USDA met with the Mexican Plant Health Service and agreed to consider expanding the importing states to 31 and the import dates from 15 October to 15 April. The good relationship established between Presidents George W. Bush and Vicente Fox had a clear influence on this expansionary move.
Imports in tonnes. In 2018, imports of 1.04 million tonnes (87% from Mexico) [source: USDA].
For five years, Mexican avocados had been shipped to the US without a single pest being detected. Although the expansion of Mexican avocado imports seemed inevitable, the CAC filed a lawsuit against the USDA from California, claiming that Mexican avocados did have pests. In response, the USDA carried out a research and published in 2003 an "assessment pest risk" draft confirming that Mexican avocados did not carry the fruit fly.
The USDA had shifted from its previous position of domestic protection to a new position that benefited importation. Thus, in 2004 the USDA issued a new rule to expand the import programme to all 50 states for 12 months of the year. This rule provided for California, Florida and Hawaii to delay the importation of avocados for up to one year in order to test the effectiveness of the proposed regulations. Therefore, Mexico was not allowed to export avocados to California and Florida until January 2007; since then it has been allowed to export to all states all year round, thus quickly making the US the world's largest importer of Mexican avocados.
Until 2017, imports of Mexican avocados remained stable; however, as previously indicated, with Trump's arrival in the White House, relations between the US and Mexico once again faltered over various issues, one of them being food exports from Mexico to the US, with avocados as an emblematic case. The new US president threatened a 20% tariff on Mexican avocados to finance the wall he intended to build on the border.
In March 2019, in the wake of the wave of immigration, the US president threatened to close the border with Mexico and subsequently withdrew his decision, but the mere fact that Trump threatened to close the border has already pushed up the price of avocados by 34%.
US-Mexico avocado relations remain unstable. Although much progress has been made since the implementation of NAFTA, various interests are still at stake that could lead the US to reduce imports of Mexican avocados. Avocados can hardly escape the uncertainty inherent in the US-Mexico link.
US agreements with the Northern Triangle may have had a deterrent effect before entering into force
In the first month following the extension of the Asylum Cooperation Agreements (ACA) to the three Northern Triangle countries, apprehensions at the US border have fallen below the levels of recent years. The actual reduction in migrant inflows that this evidences has to do with Mexico's increased control over its border with Guatemala, but may also be due to the deterrent effect of advertisement of the agreements, whose implementation has not yet fully begun and therefore has yet to demonstrate whether they will be directly effective.
▲ Honduran migrants held by Guatemalan border guards, October 2018 [Wikimedia Commons].
article / María del Pilar Cazali
Attempts to entrance attempt to enter the United States through its border with Mexico have not only returned to the levels of the beginning of the year, before the number of migrants soared and each month set a new record high, reaching 144,116 apprehensions and inadmissions in May( USBorder Guard figures that provide an indirect assessment of migration trends), but have continued to fall to below several previous years.
In October (the first month of the US fiscal year 2020), there were 45,250 apprehensions and inadmissions at the US southern border, down from October 2018, 2015 and 2016 (but not 2017). This suggests that the total number of apprehensions and inadmissions in the new fiscal year will be well below the record of 977,509 recorded in 2019. This boom had to do with the caravans of migrants that began at the end of 2018 in the Central American Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala), following a migratory flow that, with different intensities, began in the 1980s due to political and economic instabilities in those countries.
This migration crisis led President Trump's US administration to implement tougher deportation policies, including changing conditions for expedited deportations. In addition, the White House pressured Mexico with the threat of tariffs on its products if it did not help reduce the flow of migrants crossing Mexican soil, prompting President López Obrador to deploy the newly created National Guard to the border with Guatemala. Trump combined these measures with the negotiation of Asylum Cooperation Agreements (ACAs) with the Northern Triangle countries, which were initially improperly referred to as "safe third countries", adding to the controversy they generated.
agreement with Guatemala
Due to US threats to impose tariffs on Guatemala if it failed to reduce the issue of migrants from or through Guatemala on their way to the US, the Guatemalan government accepted the terms of a attention announced by Trump on 26 July 2019. The agreement foresees that those who apply for asylum in the US but have previously passed through Guatemala will be brought back to the US so that they can remain there as asylum seekers if they qualify. The US sees this as a safe third country agreement .
A safe third countryagreement is an international mechanism that makes it possible to host in one country those seeking asylum in another. The agreement signed in July prevents asylum seekers from receiving US protection if they passed through Guatemala and did not first apply for asylum there. The US goal is intended to prevent migrants from Honduras and El Salvador from seeking asylum in the US. Responsibility for processing protection claims will fall to Washington in only three cases: unaccompanied minors, persons with a US-issued visa or document Admissions Office , or persons who are not required to obtain a visa. Those who do not comply with requirements will be sent to Guatemala to await the resolution of their case, which could take years. On the other hand, the agreement does not prevent Guatemalan and Mexican applicants from seeking asylum in the US.
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales had previously announced that a similar agreement could become part of the migration negotiations with the US. In Guatemala, after advertisement of what had been agreed, multiple criticisms arose, because the security conditions in both countries are incomparable. This was compounded by rumours about the true content of the agreement that Morales had signed, as it was not immediately revealed to the public. Faced with this uncertainty, Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart declared that the agreement was only for Hondurans and Salvadorans, not for nationals of other Latin American countries, and that the text did not explicitly mention the term "safe third country".
In the week following the advertisement, three appeals for amparo against the agreement were lodged with Guatemala's Constitutional Court, arguing that the country is not in a position to provide the protection it supposedly offers and that the resulting expense would undermine the economic status of the population itself. However, Degenhart defended agreement by saying that the economic repercussions would have been worse if the pact with Washington had not been reached, because with the US tariffs, half of Guatemala's exports and the jobs that accompany these sectors would be at risk.
These criticisms came not only from Guatemalan citizens, but also from public figures such as Guatemala's Human Rights Ombudsman, Jordán Rodas, citing a lack of transparency on the part of the government. Rodas insisted that Guatemala is not fit to be a safe third country because of its low indicators of production, Education, public health and security. Similar ideas have also been expressed by organisations such as Amnesty International, for whom Guatemala is not safe and cannot be considered a safe haven.
In its pronouncement, Guatemala's Constitutional Court affirmed that the Guatemalan government needs to submit the agreement to congress for it to become effective. This has been rejected by the government, which considers that international policy is skill directly the responsibility of the country's president and will therefore begin to implement what has been decided with Washington without further delay.
Apprehensions and inadmissibilities by US Border Guard, broken down by month over the last fiscal years (FY) [Taken from CBP].
Also with El Salvador and Honduras
Despite all the controversy generated since July as a result of the pact with Guatemala, the US developed similar efforts with El Salvador and Honduras. On 20 September 2019, El Salvador's president, Nayib Bukele, signed a agreement similar to the safe third country figure, although it was not explicitly called that either. It commits El Salvador to receive asylum seekers who cannot yet enter the US, similar to the agreement with Guatemala. El Salvador's agreement has the same three assumptions in which the US will have to make position of migrant protection.
The Salvadoran government has received similar criticism, including a lack of transparency in the negotiation and denial of the reality that the country is unsafe. Bukele justified signature by saying it would mean the extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for the more than 190,000 Salvadorans living in the US. In October 2019, the Salvadoran Foreign Ministry said that this agreement is not a safe third country because El Salvador is not in the serious migratory situations in which Guatemala and Honduras are in terms of the flow of people, so it is only a agreement of non-violation of rights to minimise the number of migrants.
On 21 September 2019 the Honduran government also made public the advertisement of a agreement very similar to the one accepted by its two neighbours. It states that the US will be able to deport to Honduras asylum seekers who have passed through Honduras. Like the other two countries, the Honduran government was criticised as not being a safe destination for migrants as it is one of the countries with fees highest homicide rates in the world.
Despite criticism of the three agreements, in late October 2019 the Trump administration announced that it was in final preparations to begin sending asylum seekers to Guatemala. However, by the end of November, no non-Guatemalan asylum seekers had yet been sent. The inauguration in early January of President-elect Alejandro Giammattei, who announced his desire to rescind certain terms of agreement, may introduce some variation, though perhaps his purpose will be to wring some more concessions from Trump, in addition to the agricultural visas that Morales negotiated for Guatemalan seasonal workers.
The flood of unaccompanied foreign minors suffered by the Obama Administration in 2014 has been surpassed in a 2019 with a new migration peak.
In the summer of 2014, the United States suffered a migration crisis due to an unexpected increase in the issue of unaccompanied foreign minors, mostly Central American, arriving at its border with Mexico. What has happened since then? Although fluctuating, the volume of this immigration subject dropped, but in 2019 a new record has been set, with the caravan˝crisis˝ driving up total apprehensions at the border once again.
▲ US border agents search unaccompanied minors at the Texas-Mexico border in 2014 [Hector Silva, USCBP-Wikimedia Commons].
article / Marcelina Kropiwnicka [English version].
The United States hosts more immigrants than any other country in the world, with more than one million people arriving each year, whether as legal permanent residents, asylum seekers and refugees, or in other immigration categories. While there is no exact figure for how many people cross the border illegally, US Customs and Border Control authorities measure changes in illegal immigration by the number of apprehensions made at the border; these apprehensions serve as an indicator of the total number of attempts to enter the country illegally issue . As for data, it can be concluded that there have been notable changes in the demographics of illegal migration at the border with Mexico (southwest border, in official US terms) in recent years.
The peak of apprehensions at the Mexican border was during 2000, when 1.64 million people were apprehended trying to enter the United States illegally. Numbers have generally declined since then. In recent years there have been more apprehensions of non-Mexicans than Mexicans at the border with the neighbouring country, reflecting a decrease in the issue of unauthorised Mexican immigrants arriving in the United States in the last decade. The increase, in fact, was largely due to those fleeing violence, gang activity and poverty in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the region known as the Central American Northern Triangle.
The nations included in the Northern Triangle are among the poorest in Latin America - a high percentage of the population still lives on less than $2 a day (the international poverty line is $1.90) - and there has been little progress in poverty reduction in recent years. Within Latin America and the Caribbean, Honduras has the second highest percentage of the population living below the poverty line (17%), after Haiti, according to the World Bank's latest data .
Unaccompanied foreign minors
While fewer adults, unaccompanied by family, have attempted to cross the border without authorisation in the last decade, there has instead been a surge of unaccompanied alien minors (UACM) attempting to enter the United States from Mexico. The migration of minors without accompanying adults is not new; what is new now is its volume and the need to implement policies in response to this problem. The increase in apprehensions of MENAs in FY2014 caused alarm and prompted both intense media scrutiny and policy responses; attention was sustained even as the phenomenon declined. Numbers fell again to just under 40,000 apprehensions of minors the following year.
The international community defines an unaccompanied migrant minor as a person, "who is under the age of eighteen" and who is "separated from both parents and is not being cared for by an adult who by law or custom has the responsibility to do so". Many of these unaccompanied minors immediately present themselves to US border security, while others enter the country unnoticed and undocumented. Not only this, but the children have no parents or legal guardians available to provide care or physical custody, which quickly overwhelms the services of local border patrols.
In 2014 many of the unaccompanied children claimed that they were under the false impression that the Obama administration was granting "permits" to children who had relatives in the US, as long as they arrived by June at the latest. These false beliefs and propagated hoaxes have become even more potent in the past year, especially as President Trump continues to reinforce the idea of restricting migrants' access to the US. The cartels have continued to transport an ever-increasing issue of Central American migrants from their home countries to the US.
Critical moments in 2014 and 2019
In 2014, during Obama's second term, total apprehensions along the border with Mexico reached 569,237 (this figure includes "non-admissible" persons), a record only surpassed now. While the increase over the previous year was 13%, the increase was much more B in terms of apprehensions of MENAs; these went from 38,759 in FY 2013 to 68,541 in FY 2014 (in the US the fiscal year runs from October of one year to September of the next), an increase of almost 80%, more than four times those recorded in FY 2011. In the case of minors from Honduras, the figure rose in one year from 6,747 to 18,244; those from Guatemala rose from 8,068 to 17,057, and those from El Salvador from 5,990 to 16,404 (those from Mexico, on the other hand, fell from 17,240 to 15,634). The highest issue of apprehensions occurred in May, when arrests of MENAs accounted for 17% of the total number of apprehensions.
Since 2014, apprehensions of unaccompanied minors, although fluctuating, decreased at issue. But 2019 has seen a new record of 76,020 apprehensions, with a peak in May. However, they accounted for only 9% of total apprehensions that month, as this time it was not a crisis of MENAs per se, but was inserted into a B peak in total apprehensions. While overall apprehensions dropped significantly during the first six months of Trump's presidency, they then rose, reaching a total of 851,508 in 2019 (with "non-admissible" the figure reached 977,509), more than doubling compared to 2018. The issue of total apprehensions increased by 72% from 2014 to 2019 (in the case of MENAs the increase was 11%).
Apprehensions of unaccompanied alien minors at the US-Mexico border, between 2012 and 2019 (figure 1), and comparison of 2014 and 2019 by month (figure 2). source US Customs and Border Patrol.
The US had a number of domestic policies aimed at addressing the massive increase in immigration. However, with the overwhelming spike in 2014, Obama requested funding for a programme to "repatriate and reintegrate migrants to Central American countries and to address the root causes of migration from these countries". While funding for the programme has been fairly consistent in recent years, President Trump 's proposed budget for 2018 reduced the financial aid to these countries by approximately 30 per cent.
The Trump Administration has made progress in implementing its diary on immigration, from beginning construction of the wall on the border with Mexico to launching new programmes, but the hard line already promised by Trump on his degree program to the White House has proven ineffective in stopping thousands of Central American families from crossing the southwest border into the United States. With extreme gang violence being rampant and technicalities in the US immigration system, the motivation for migrants to leave their countries will remain.
Some U.S. and Canadian diplomats who were in Havana between 2016 and 2018 are still not fully recovered from ailments they suffered
▲ Building of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba [department de Estado].
ANALYSIS / Eduardo Villa Corta
Three years ago, staff U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba began to feel physical discomfort supposedly caused by strange sounds to which they had apparently been exposed; Washington spoke of a "sonic attack. However, although the symptoms suffered by those affected have been determined to be anomalous, it has not been possible to establish what caused them. Was it really an attack? Who was behind it? We review here the main hypotheses and conjectures that have been made, and point out their weaknesses.
In late 2016 and early 2017, several U.S. diplomats stationed in Havana, as well as members of their families, reported suffering from dizziness, vertigo and sharp pains in their ears that could be caused by strange sounds to which they had been exposed. According to their testimonies, the sounds came from a specific direction, and they had heard them in their own residences or, in some cases, in hotel rooms, while people staying in neighboring houses or adjoining rooms had not heard any special sounds. The phenomenon also affected Canadian diplomats in the Cuban capital. In all, some forty people were treated for these symptoms.
Echoing the facts reported by its staff in Cuba, in mid-2017 the U.S. State department stated that the symptoms could have been caused by a sonic attack by the Cuban government directed against diplomats and their families. In October 2017, President Donald Trump directly accused Havana: "I believe Cuba is manager; yes, I do."
At the beginning of 2018 the department of State issued a statement alert not to travel to Cuba due to a possible health crisis and withdrew a good part of the staff of the mission statement diplomatic in Havana, reducing the activity of this to the minimum possible. At that time, a total of 24 Americans had been affected.
At the time, the Canadian government also indicated that its diplomats had experienced similar discomfort. Ottawa decided to evacuate the families of its employees in Cuba and in early 2019 proceeded to reduce the staff of the embassy in the face of what appeared to be the appearance of a fourteenth case.
The Cuban government denied from the outset being involved in any harassment operation against the U.S. or Canada. ˝There is no test about the cause of the reported ailments, nor is there any evidence to suggest that these health problems have been caused by an attack of any kind˝, Havana assured. Raul Castro's government offered its cooperation in the research of the facts, with nothing coming to light that could explain the case. No devices that could have provoked the sounds appeared.
Adding confusion to the status, at least two US diplomats stationed in China, busy at the consulate general in Guangzhou, the largest that the US has in the country, presented in early 2018 also the symptoms already described. Washington evacuated them and issued a health warning about missions in mainland China.
The Associated Press published in October 2017 a recording of the alleged sounds causing the reported ailment, and indicated that government agencies had been unable to determine the nature of the noise and explain its relationship to the bodily disorders caused. Months later, he noted that internal FBI reports did not even establish that there had been an "attack". Other media highlighted the poor cooperation in the research, due to jurisdictional zeal, between the department of State, the FBI and the CIA.
Symptoms of "Havana syndrome".
A medical team from the University of Pennsylvania, at the request of the U.S. Government, examined 21 people affected by what the press began to call "Havana syndrome". The research, initially published in March 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), indicated that most of the patients reported problems with report, concentration, and balance, and determined that they appeared to have suffered injuries to extensive brain networks.
data Further MRI scans of the same team extended to 40 patients, released in July 2019, led to the conclusion that the diplomats had experienced some craniocerebral trauma. The results of the MRI scans, compared with those of a group of healthy people, showed differences in the volume of the white and gray substances of the brain, in the integrity of the cerebellar microstructures and in the functional connectivity of the subnetworks for hearing and spatial vision, but not for executive functions.
This report concluded that the staff diplomat had been physically injured, although it could not determine the cause. He also noted that patients do not experience a usual recovery, as they are not recovering quickly from symptoms, as is the case in other cases of similar "concussions" or ear problems.
IF IT WASN'T AN ATTACK, WHAT WAS IT?
As no clear cause has been established as to what caused the ailments suffered by the US and Canadian diplomatic staff and some members of their families, the very reality of an attack has been called into question. Although various alternative explanations have been put forward, none of them are fully convincing.
1) Collective hysteria
Formulation. Some neurologists and sociologists, such as Robert Bartholomew, have suggested that it could be a case of mass hysteria. Given the pressure to which some of the diplomats working in very unfriendly environments are subjected, and the endogamic relationship in which they live, living almost exclusively among themselves, it could explain a mutual conviction of an external attack that even has somatic consequences.
Weak spot. Both the research of the University of Pennsylvania and the doctor of the department of State, Charles Rosenfarb, who appeared before the committee of Foreign Relations of the Senate, came to rule out that the symptoms suffered by the diplomats were due to a mere mental mechanism. It is very difficult that about sixty people, including Americans and Canadians, convinced each other of an aggression of this kind subject and then almost all of them developed the same brain lesions.
Formulation. The researcher team at the University of Pennsylvania, while not pointing to any possible cause of the ailments, did not rule out certain assumptions, such as that of microwave affectation. This aspect was insisted upon by a research published in 2018 in the journal Neural Computation, which considered the symptoms consistent with exhibition to electromagnetic microwave (RF/MW) radiation.
Weak point. Not all the symptoms shown by patients could be a consequence of the exhibition of such a radiation subject, which also has a diverging literature on its effects on the human body. In addition, there is no known microwave weapon that can affect the brain.
Formulation. A team of computer experts at the University of Michigan suggested in 2018 that it could be a case of exhibition to some subject ultrasound, perhaps coming from malfunctioning listening equipment mixing multiple ultrasonic signals.
Weak point. The recording of one of the sound episodes - the sample broadcast by AP - is not sufficient to be able to determine its nature. It is also possible that the sound was somewhat different in other cases.
Formulation. A research from the Universities of California-Berkeley and Lincoln, from the existing sound sample , considered in January 2019 that the possible cause of the attacks was made by cricketsThe study, specifically crickets Anurogryllus muticus. The research was a comparative study between the sound emitted by that variant of crickets and the sample of one of the Havana acoustic episodes.
Weak point. The sound perceived by the diplomats was directional, so it was not heard by neighboring people. If they had been crickets in their natural environment, the sound would have spread around.
Formulation. A joint study by two Canadian research centers in May 2019 attributed the symptoms suffered by diplomats to exhibition to neurotoxins from pesticides used to spray mosquitoes, a internship common occurrence in embassy buildings.
Weak point. The diplomats affected related the beginning of their physical discomfort to situations experienced in their own residences or in hotel rooms, where there was no fumigation.
IF IT WAS AN ATTACK, WHO DID IT?
Given that the previous explanations do not seem entirely solid, the US Government maintains the hypothesis of an attack. If it really happened, who was behind it? Here, too, there are various conjectures.
1) Castro regime
The first option considered, assumed in principle by the US given the public accusations made from Washington, has been to attribute the alleged attacks to the Cuban regime itself. With them, Havana would try to maintain pressure on the Americans, in spite of the formal reestablishment of diplomatic relations, with the goal to mark each other's territory.
Weak point. The incidents began to occur during the Obama Administration, in a context of a ˝honeymoon˝ marked by the reopening of embassies and the visit of Barack Obama to Havana. The normal thing is that at the end of 2016, in view of the U.S. elections, the Castro regime would not want to give reasons to the next U.S. president to twist the diplomatic line opened by Obama. It could make sense that after Donald Tump's later revocation of the previous openness measures, Cuba would want to punish the new Administration, but not before seeing the direction it would take; in any case, the attacks would only justify the hard line followed by Trump, which does not benefit the island.
2) A sector of Castroism
Fidel Castro was attributed with an unaccommodating attitude towards his brother Raul's decision to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States. Although he died in November 2016, people around him might have tried to torpedo that rapprochement, convinced that hostility with Washington was the best way to ensure the survival of the regime as conceived by its founder.
Weak point. Although Fidel Castro's reluctance towards rapprochement with the U.S. is true, it is difficult to think that the most conservative sector within Castroism would dare to boycott so directly Raul Castro's fundamental political line. It is another thing that, after he handed over the presidency of Cuba to Miguel Díaz-Canel in April 2018, some sectors within the regime could make internal movements to send certain messages, but the changeover occurred when most of the acoustic episodes had already taken place.
3) A third country (Russia, China)
The third option would be that a third country generated the attacks. American intelligence indicates that the most viable option in this case would be Russia. Moscow has been keen to return to operating in the Caribbean, as in the Cold War, and aggression against U.S. diplomats in Cuba would fit in with its strategy. It has also been suggested that China might want to repay Washington in its backyard with the same harassment that the Chinese believe they feel from the US in their nearest seas.
Weak point. The return of Russia to the Caribbean is certainly documented, and it is conceivable that Moscow could have promoted a punctual action against some specific goal , but it seems difficult that it would have sustained over time an operation that harms Cuba's sovereignty. As for China's presence in the US neighborhood, it is a less confrontational move than the one carried out by Russia. Moreover, if Beijing had chosen foreign soil in order to better erase the traces of an action against US diplomats, then the cases recorded in Guangzhou would not have occurred.
With its mega-city and technology zone project , the Saudis are seeking to consolidate an economic alternative to oil.
NEOM, an acronym for New Future, is the name of the new economic-technological city and area , with an area three times the size of Cyprus, which Saudi Arabia is promoting in the north-west of the country, opposite the Sinai Peninsula. In addition to seeking alternatives to oil, with NEOM the Saudis aim to rival the urban innovations of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha. The project also involves shifting Saudi interest from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea and closer neighbourhoods with Egypt, Jordan and Israel.
▲ The appearance of the future NEOM megacity, from agreement with the vision of its promoters [NEOM Project].
article / Sebastián Bruzzone Martínez
Middle Eastern states are seeking to diversify their revenues and avoid potential collapse of their economies in order to counteract the end-of-oil crisis expected in the mid-21st century. Arabs' preferred sectors are renewable energy, luxury tourism, modern infrastructure and technology. Governments in the region have found ways to unify these four sectors, and Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, seems to want to position itself at the forefront of the Arab technology degree program .
While the world looks towards Sillicon Valley in California, Shenzhen in China or Bangalore in India, the Saudi government has begun preparations for the creation of its first independent economic and technological zone: NEOM (short for the Arabic term Neo-Mustaqbal, New Future). The project was until recently headed by Klaus Kleinfeld, former CEO of Siemens AG, who has been replaced by Nadhmi Al Nasr as CEO of NEOM since his appointment as an advisor to the Saudi Crown.
On 24 October 2017, at the Future Investment Initiative lecture in Riyadh, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the $500 billionproject , part of the Saudi Vision 2030 policy programme. average The territory where NEOM will be located is in the border area between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, on the shores of the Red Sea, through which almost ten percent of world trade flows, has a temperature 10ºC lower than that of the rest of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation committee , and is located less than eight hours' flight from 70% of the world's population, so it could become a major passenger transport hub.
As announced by the Saudi government, NEOM will be a special economic city, with its own civil and tax laws and Western social customs, covering 26,500 square kilometres (the size of Cyprus multiplied by three). The main objectives are to attract foreign investment from multinational companies, diversify the oil-dependent Saudi Economics , create a free market space and home to millionaires, "a land for free and stress-free people; a start-up the size of a country: a blank sheet of paper on which to write the new era of human progress", says a promotional video on project. All this under the slogan: "The world's most ambitious project: an entire new land, purpose-built for a new way of living". According to the website and official accounts of project, the 16 sectors of energy, mobility, water, biotechnology, food, manufacturing, communication, entertainment and fashion, technology, tourism, sport, services, health and wellness, Education, and livability will generate 100 billion dollars a year.
Thanks to a report published by The Wall Street Journal and prepared by the consulting firms Oliver Wyman, Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Co., which, according to them, had access to more than 2,300 confidential planning documents, some of the ambitions and luxuries that the futuristic city will have have have have come to light. These include flying cars, holograms, a Jurassic Park-style robot dinosaur theme park and edition Genetics , never-before-seen technologies and infrastructure, luxury hotels, resorts and restaurants, cloud-creating mechanisms to cause rainfall in arid areas, glow-in-the-dark sandy beaches, and even an artificial moon.
Another aim of project is to make NEOM the safest city on the planet, through state-of-the-art surveillance systems including drones, automated cameras, facial and biometric recognition machines and AI capable of reporting crimes without the need for citizens to report them. Similarly, the leaders of the urban development initiative themselves predict that the city will be an ecological centre of great projection, basing its power supply system solely on solar and wind energy obtained from panels and windmills, as they have a whole desert to install them in.
At the moment, NEOM is only a project in its infancy. The land on which the big city will be located is a desert terrain, mountains up to 2,500 metres high and 468 kilometres of pristine coastline of turquoise blue water, with a palace and a small airport. NEOM is being built from scratch, with an initial outlay of $9 billion from the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund Saudi Arabia Monetary Authority (SAMA). Apart from foreign business investment, the Saudi government is looking for workers from all professional sectors to help in their respective fields: Jurists to draft a civil, criminal and tax code; engineers and architects to design a modern, efficient and technological infrastructure and energy plan; diplomats to collaborate in its promotion and cultural coexistence; scientists and doctors to encourage clinical and biotechnological research and welfare; academics to promote Education; economists to make income and expenditure profitable; personalities specialising in tourism, fashion and telecommunications... But, above all, people and families to inhabit and give life to the city.
As reported by the Arabic daily Rai Al Youm, Mohammed bin Salman has C a proposal prepared by a joint Saudi legal committee with the UK, which consists of providing a VIP document that will offer special visas, residency programrights to investors, senior officials and workers in the future city. Contracts business have already been awarded to the US engineering firm Aecom and construction contracts to the UK's Arup Group, Canada's WSP, and the Netherlands' Fugro NV.
However, not everything is as ideal and straightforward as it seems. Despite the strong interest of 400 foreign companies in project, according to the local government, there is uncertainty about its profitability. Problems and scandals related to the Saudi crown, such as the imprisonment of family members and dissidents, corruption, unequal rights, the military intervention in Yemen, the case of the murder of journalist Khashoggi and the possible political crisis following the future death of King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Mohammed's father, have caused investors to tread carefully. Moreover, in the region where the city is to be built there are villages of locals who would be relocated, and "compensated and supported by social programmes", according to the Saudi government, which will be criticised by human rights groups.
In conclusion, NEOM is a unique project and a match for the Arab sheikhs themselves, who have adopted a far-sighted economic vision. It is expected that by 2030 it will be possible to live in the city, even if construction is still underway and not yet fully completed. According to the markets, the project, still far from completion, seems to be on track. It already has a structural financing commitment with BlackStone of 20 billion euros, and a technology financing commitment with SoftBank of 45 billion euros. Because such a project has never been seen before and therefore there are no references, it is difficult to determine whether the visionary plan will be successfully consolidated or whether it will remain just smoke and mirrors and a huge loss of money.
In the largest countries in the region, private guards outnumber police officers four to one and have ten times more weapons than in Europe.
The high rates of violence in Latin America and the deficient presence of state authorities in parts of the territory have led to the proliferation of private security companies throughout the region. Their issue now exceeds 16,000 companies, in an industry that involves more than 2.4 million people. The sector faces important challenges, such as imprecise legality in many cases, a deficit of experience, forms incompatible with civil and human rights in certain places and the risk of escalation of arsenals.
article / Martín Biera Muriel
The proliferation of private security companies in Latin America is linked to crime and violence statistics in the region. It is estimated that 19 out of every 20 violent crimes that occur in the world take place in Latin America, where 17 of the 20 most violent cities in the world and four of the five most violent countries are located.
The status has given rise to an "explosive growth" in the privatization of security in Latin America, as described by the Inter-American Dialogue's report "Security for Sale". The increase of the issue of Private Defense and Security Companies (PMSCs) has occurred not only in countries with marked conflicts, such as Colombia, where in the last ten years there has been an increase of 126%, but also in countries with greater social peace and institutionalism, such as Chile, which in five years has seen an increase of 50%. The total number of companies dedicated to this function in Latin America reached 16,174 in 2017, as specified at the time by the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF).
The PMSC sector
The term PMSCs includes both the security companies used in developed countries, normally dedicated to guarding establishments or individuals, as well as defense companies that can replace functions usually reserved to the State. The latter developed after the end of the Cold War and have become an important actor in the International Office, with participation in conflicts of leave and even high intensity.
These defense companies operate in a framework of complicated legality, whose regulation attempted to be standardized in 2008 with the Montreaux Document, a compilation of legal obligations and best practices aimed at guaranteeing the sovereignty of States and protecting Human Rights. Although the text applies more directly to situations of armed conflict, it also provides a regulatory framework for security companies in general, given the tenuous border between one subject of companies and others, especially in Latin America, where the authority of the State often does not reach the entire national territory, some civil conflicts are particularly virulent and some use the Armed Forces in the fight against criminal violence and the maintenance of public order.
More guards than policemen
The more than 16,000 PMSCs in Latin America employ around 2.4 million people. issue Although security guards outnumber police officers worldwide at issue , in many Latin American countries there is a particular imbalance between the number of police officers and private agents: in Colombia, Brazil and Mexico the ratio is one police officer to four PMSC members; in countries of extreme violence such as Honduras and Guatemala the ratio is even one to seven. It is also the case that many members of the police resort to moonlighting, working as police officers during the day and becoming security agents at night in a neighborhood, business or building.
The largest companies are those dedicated to surveillance and escorting VIP clients. The largest are of European and U.S. origin and specialize in one part of the sector, especially in the protection of private property. Most of them operate in cities or in natural resource extraction centers isolated from urban areas. In relation to the frequent criticisms that these companies receive, for allegedly supplanting the functions of the legally constituted authority, it is necessary to point out that the legal framework in which the large companies operate is strict and supervised.
degree program of armament
It can be argued that skill among operators has generated a kind of arms degree program in which each business wants to offer more efficient services. In turn, as there are more agents issue and more modern weapons, criminals also tend to increase their firepower and capabilities to meet their objectives, which consequently leads companies to also increase the caliber of their weaponry, in a spiral that is difficult to control. Statistics show that Latin America has the highest ratio of firearms per security guard in the world outside those areas affected by conflict. This ratio is ten times higher than the ratio of small arms in Europe.
This has led to criticism of certain PMSCs in Latin America for having contributed, directly or indirectly, to illegal arms trafficking and the growth of armed gangs, generating a vicious circle. For example, in 2015 ninety people were arrested in San Francisco (some of them linked to PMSCs) for belonging to an arms trafficking network linked to Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). There have also been cases of theft and misplacement of weapons imported from the region, both by individual private security contractors and by the military itself; these weapons then enter the black market. Thus, more than 40% of illegal arms in El Salvador are linked to some 460 private security companies, despite the obligation to have an official registry for their identification.
Reducing the high levels of insecurity is one of the main challenges facing many Latin American countries. The reasons for the persistent violence in their societies are manifold; among them are political corruption and economic inequality. The wealthier classes may consider themselves targets of attempted robbery or kidnapping, but the lower classes also suffer from high crime rates, in their case without the possibility of resorting to private security.
Private security in Latin America faces two major challenges. One is the illegality of part of the sector: illegal companies are growing faster than in the legal sector; in Brazil, for example, issue of informally employed guards outnumber the formal ones. The other is the lack of training or experience of a certain number of private guards. Addressing the need for greater legal regulation, and for regulation more adjusted to national specificities, and the convenience of greater training will help to reduce the gray zone in which in many cases they operate and the violations of Human Rights.
The deterioration of recent years seems to have been corrected in several indicators on democratic health and economic environment.
Costa Rica has traditionally been a model of democratic functioning in a region with serious institutional deficits, which has earned it a mediating role in different conflicts. The increase of internal problems -strikes, citizen protests, bipartisan crisis...- have seemed to have diminished Costa Rica's international prestige in recent years. Is Costa Rica suffering from democratic and institutional deterioration?
▲ Facade of the National Theater of Costa Rica, in San José [Pixabay].
article / Ramón Barba
The political unrest of recent years in Costa Rica, in a regional context of the "angry vote" and the consequent "outsider phenomenon", has given the impression of a setback in the country's institutional virtues. The goal of this article is to determine, based on different indicators on democratic health and economic and political satisfaction, if there are objective data that ratify this perception.
For this purpose we will first analyze a set of indicators, elaborated by the World Bank, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and The Economist magazine, and then we will also take into account some results of the survey Latinobarómetro. We will compare the values recorded in 2010, 2013, 2016 and, when possible, 2018.
Regarding the Democracy Index elaborated by The Economist, although Costa Rica maintains its second place among Latin American democracies, behind Uruguay and ahead of Chile (these are the three countries that usually obtain better grade in the different institutional parameters of the region), in the last decade a Costa Rican democratic decline is observed, apparently overcome in the most recent report. From a score of 8.04 achieved in the 2010 Democracy Index, Costa Rica dropped to 8.03 in 2013 and 7.88 in 2016, to regain ground in 2018 with an 8.07. The country remains the best democracy in Central America, followed at a distance by a stable Panama.
The deterioration of recent years has also been picked up by the Index of development of Democracies in Latin America (IDD-LAT), of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which has not yet published data referring to 2018, so this index cannot endorse whether there has been a recent recovery. In 2010, Costa Rica had a score average of 9.252; it barely varied in 2013, with a figure of 9.277, but dropped clearly in 2016, with 8.539 points. The components of the index that suffered the most were welfare policy creation and economic efficiency, where it dropped from 1st and 5th place, respectively, to 8th and 12th. The fact that Costa Rica remained between 1st and 3rd place in civil and political rights and in institutional and political efficiency in those years sample shows that the social concern of those years was more in the economic sphere than in the institutional sphere.
The World Bank's Good Governanceindicators also registera small regression in the case of Costa Rica between the years 2013 and 2016 (data more recent ones have not yet been published). Regarding the Rule of Law and Government Effectiveness scales the score dropped from 0.6 and 0.5, respectively, to 0.5 and 0.4. There has been little change in the Control of Corruption scale.
The above indicators are prepared by experts who, by applying standardized criteria, seek to offer an objective estimate. But we also wanted to take into account the opinion of the citizens themselves, as expressed in the survey Latinobarómetro. These can be useful to indicate the perception that exists among the population regarding the institutional health of the country: the satisfaction that exists regarding the government system and the economic system.
The value of democracy is maintained in high percentages in Costa Rica, despite a negative trend in the region as a whole. Attending to four values that Latinobarómetro has included in its surveys corresponding to the years here chosen for our comparison, we see that indeed in 2016 the citizen perception was that of a worsening of status, but in 2018 an improvement is observed, reaching even more positive levels than in 2013. As for the evaluation of democracy, its consideration as the best system of government dropped from 77% to 72% and then has risen again to 77%, while its cataloging as a preferable system has been increasing: 53%, 60% and 63%.
The perception of the economic environment, for its part, had a blip in 2013, but today it is in better condition. The statement "progress is being made" fell from 15% to 12%, but in 2018 it reached 22%, while satisfaction with future personal economic prospects fell from 45% to 20% to stand in 2018 at 52%.
Costa Rica is a country that retains strong institutions, although the political landscape is more divided. test of this is the end of the two-party system (1953-2014), brought about by less support for the National Liberation Party (PLN) and the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) and the emergence of the Citizen Action Party (PAC), to which the country's current president, Carlos Alvarado, belongs.
Corruption issues such as the "cimentazo case", the high public debt that has forced cutbacks in a country with certain well-established social benefits and a regional and international environment prone to populist solutions may be behind the political unrest observed in Costa Rica in recent years.
This occurs in a context of the "angry vote" in Latin America, which arises as a consequence of the political actions of the last twenty years in the region and a strengthening of the middle classes. Citizen dissatisfaction has led to the emergence of outsider politicians: people with relative popularity, short degree program political, without a determined strategy and with an "anti-political" speech . This is a patron saint that, although it is in the emergence of the PAC, in any case does not fully correspond to the personality of President Alvarado, who actually seems to have contributed to redirect the Costa Rican restlessness.
Thus, from the analysis of the data observed here, it can be concluded that there was indeed a slight deterioration in both institutional circumstances and especially in economic conditions or expectations between 2013 and 2016, but the different scales have returned in 2018 to previous values, even improving in some cases to levels of ten years ago. This is something that can be observed both in the indicators at position of experts that follow standardized objective procedures and in the surveys of subjective citizen perception.
The sample used and the temporal tastings carried out have not been exhaustive, so it is not possible to specify whether the variations noted here are circumstantial fluctuations or part of a trend pointing in a certain direction.
The management given to a Chinese business prompts US threat not to sell technology to Israel.
The Trump administration's protests over the awarding of management of the port of Haifa to a Chinese business have so far not prompted the Netanyahu government to review the contract, which was dealt with at ministerial level without plenary session of the Executive Council knowledge of its geopolitical implications. China's penetration of Israel - in the wider Middle East context - as well as the US reaction, highlights a complicated triangle of relations: Israel wants Chinese investment, but fears losing US favour.
▲ management of containers in the port of Haifa in northern Israel [Wikipedia].
article / María Martín Andrade
The port of Haifa is one of the main ports in Israel in terms of volume of goods handled. It also has a strategic character: the port, in the north of the country, hosts the US Sixth Fleet in its movements. The latter could be altered following the announcement of Israel's contract with the Chinese business Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) to operate the port for the next 25 years from 2021, which has not been very well received by Washington. management The company, which has pledged to invest $2 billion to expand the facility into Israel's largest port, describes its functions as including the construction and installation of equipment and the day-to-day running of port activities, classifying this project as part of the One Belt, One Road initiative.
This initiative has its origins in the Silk Road, a trade pathway linking China with various Asian countries all the way to Europe, dating back to the first centuries BC. The new version is based on the early schemes and aims to boost China by creating a network of infrastructure, investment and trade, and by establishing multilateral and bilateral ties with the various states along the Silk Road, as well as with international companies.
All of the above, added to the growing industrial and transport expansion that China is experiencing, also justifies the Asian country's interest in some of the natural resources that the Middle East offers, such as oil, the import of which amounts to 50%, constituting another of the reasons why China wants to gain a presence in different parts of the region and which is manifested in, among other ways, investment in canals and ports such as those of Haifa and Ashdad in Israel, Cherchell in Algeria, Said and Alexandria in Egypt, and Kumport in Turkey. Specifically, its commitment to the port of Haifa is also contributing to the development of what is known as the Israel-Gulf Economic Corridor (IGEC), whose goal is to create a railway line running from the port of Haifa to the Jordanian-Israeli border, linking up with the Jordanian railway system.
However, China's ambitions to gain a greater presence in the Middle East collide with the pretensions of another "robust rival", the United States, which is also driven by economic and security interests and has no intention of sharing it. Thus, after learning of the plans in the port of Haifa, the US response is manifested in threats that it might stop sharing data intelligence with Israel and reconsider holding future long deadline exercises by the US navy in that port.
It is important to note that this is not the first time that the US has intervened to hinder relations between China and Israel. The conditions under which the latter country was established, coupled with the hostile environment surrounding it and the need to possess weapons to maintain and protect it, have contributed to the development of its technology, especially in subject defence, whose broad scope is due in part to the United States, which has been supplying the country with the latest military technology since the 1960s. This has contributed to Israel's exports of subject technology, mainly defence subject technology, becoming the source main source of revenue for its industry.
During the 1970s, China's Economics began to modernise, and the next step was to extend this modernisation to the military domain, and China began importing defence developments from Israel. These relations continued to expand until 2000, when the Middle Eastern country, due to US pressure, decided to cancel the agreement that allowed China to obtain four Phalcon radar systems. The reason given by the US at the time for opposing the agreement was the possibility that China would benefit from the technology in a military conflict in Taiwan. However, China is not the only country with which Israel has had difficulties exporting its technology. In 2008 Washington denied that it could submit Heron drones to Russia.
Despite all this, Sino-Israeli relations have managed to survive, with China becoming Israel's second largest trading partner in 2012, partner and developing new partnership R&D ties, consisting of a series of agreements and collaborations between academic institutions and companies in both countries.
However, considering the US reaction to China's involvement in the port of Haifa, it is not unthinkable to envisage a scenario in which American pressure would be repeated and in this case would succeed in abolishing the existing agreement with the business Shanghai International Port. If this happens, Israel would lose an important part of the investments it receives and trade relations with China would cool, while Beijing could see one of its plans to create its ambitious Silk Road frustrated, although this would not mean its decline in the Middle East.
What is unquestionable is that the United States no longer enjoys hegemony in this part of the world and has to come to terms with the idea that it will have to share influence with other great powers. It may therefore make more sense to engage in new forms of cooperation with China in order to establish mutually favourable terms.
In conclusion, this new Chinese investment affirms what was already known: China's international presence is growing and increasing in volume, and it is wiser to adapt to the new changes than to get involved in love triangles that never have a happy ending for anyone.
The arrest of Barakat, a major financial operator of group, was made possible thanks to the partnership of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.
In January 2018 the Trump Administration reconstituted a research unit on Hezbollah and in October labeled group a transnational criminal organization
The arrival to the presidency of Abdo Benítez in Asunción and Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia has activated action against drug trafficking, money laundering and smuggling in the country. area
Assad Ahmad Barakat and some 15 members of his clan were arrested throughout 2018, in a "significant milestone" in the action against Hezbollah in Latin America
Friendship Bridge, linking the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este with the Brazilian city of Foz de Iguazú [BienvenidoaParaguay.com].
report SRA 2019 / Lisa Cubías[PDF Version].
Pressure on Hezbollah has increased significantly in the Western Hemisphere in the last year. Both the United States and the countries of the Triple Border - border area between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, which shelters a dense network of financing of the organization - have taken some measures that, with different Degree of governmental commitment, have led to the arrest of several people and the disruption of their money laundering Structures .
In the case of the US, the change in the Administration entailed a change in policy. Some testimonies of Obama-era officials have suggested that the previous presidency had a soft attention regarding the activities in the continent by Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite organization with a double political and military facet. The purpose of this would have been to avoid inconveniences in the denuclearization negotiation with Iran, one of the most notorious pillars of support of the organization. Thus, the Obama Administration would have hindered efforts to implement the "project Cassandra", developed by the DEA, the US anti-narcotics agency, to discover the sources of financing that Hezbollah obtains in Latin America for its illicit activities.
The "project Cassandra", widely exposed by Politico in late 2017, bore some fruit despite that alleged interference, denied by other Obama Administration officials. In March 2017, Kassim Tajideen, a major financier of the terrorist organization, was captured and pleaded guilty in December 2018. In June 2017, Paraguayan national, Ali Issa Chamas, was extradited to the U.S. to face charges of conspiracy to traffic drugs.
The change in the White House, in any case, led to the fact that after the dismantling of some research teams that had taken place the Trump Administration reinstated the effort against Hezbollah. Thus, in January 2018 the department of Justice announced the creation of a specific research unit called the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team, and later, in October, it designated Hezbollah as a transnational criminal organization, considering its drug trafficking and money laundering activities, beyond the label of terrorist organization that the US already granted it.
For its part, throughout 2018 the Treasury department proceeded with the inclusion of 31 individuals and entities related to Hezbollah on its sanctions list, including Lebanese financier Adham Tabaja, while the State department designated Jawad Nasrallah, son of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, as a terrorist in November and imposed sanctions on several Iraqi members of the organization.
These actions have basically affected operatives residing in the Middle East, but have had little impact on Hezbollah's structure in the Triple Frontier or in Venezuela, places indicated by the Administration as sites of implantation of that organization. Thus, the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing, Marshall Billingslea, spoke in late October of a "deep and substantial footprint" of Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere, with a "very robust presence" in the TBA, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has repeatedly stressed the relationship between the regime of Nicolás Maduro and Hezbollah, stating in February 2019 that in Venezuela there are "active cells" of that group.
Action in the Triple Frontier
However, the efforts of both the Trump Administration and the governments of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, to different extents, led to a major operation in 2018 in the TBA, the most significant in a long time: the arrest of Assad Ahmad Barakat, considered one of Hezbollah's main operatives in the area, who had already been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury in 2004. For expert Joseph Humire, this constituted "a significant milestone in the regional effort against terrorism and transnational crimes practiced by Hezbollah in Latin America".
According to experts Emanuelle Ottolenghi and José Luis Stein, three factors have led to this new emphasis on the risk posed by Hezbollah. Firstly, there are indications that the funds that the group obtains from its financing networks in Latin America have grown notably, both because its needs have increased and because US sanctions on Iran may be restricting the economic support provided by the Iranian regime. Second, Washington is acting on the increased use of its financial system by the amounts generated for Hezbollah in Latin America. And thirdly, the greater reaction of Brasilia, Asunción and Paraguay is due to the changes of government that have taken place: April 2018 Abdo Benítez was elected president of Paraguay and in October Jair Bolsonaro won the Brazilian elections (previously Mauricio Macri had already replaced Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the Casa Rosada).
The beginnings of Hezbollah in Latin America are directly related to the civil war in Lebanon, which in the 1980s caused a wave of migration to the American continent, particularly South America and especially in areas of easy trade, such as the Triple Border, where one of the largest free trade zones of the continent is located. Family and origin connections were used by group, through infiltrated elements, to develop recruitment, fundraising and money laundering activities.
It was not until 1994, however, that Hezbollah's presence in Latin America became notorious. That year saw the attack on the headquarters of the association Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed. Although it was initially claimed by an unknown Islamic group , investigations soon led to the Triple Frontier and pointed to Hezbollah. It was also then suspected that this organization may have been behind the attack two years earlier against the Israeli embassy in the Argentine capital, where 22 people were killed. Everything indicates that in both cases the Triple Border was used for the logistics of the attacks and as a shelter for the perpetrators.
Hence, the latest security operations carried out in that area are of particular importance. At the request of the US, Paraguayan police arrested in May 2018 Nader Mohamad Fahrat and a month later Mahmoud Ali Barakat, both for drug trafficking and money laundering, in what would be a year especially focused on the clan led by Assad Ahmad Barakat. In July, the Financial Information Unit of Argentina froze the assets of 14 Lebanese (eleven with residency program in Brazil and three in Paraguay), all of them belonging to the clan. That network would have laundered money and evaded foreign currency to the value of US$10 million in a casino in the Argentine border city of Puerto Iguazú. In August, Paraguay's Public Prosecutor's Office issued an arrest warrant for the head of the clan, alleging the use of a false Paraguayan passport. Assad Ahmad Barakat was arrested in September by Brazilian police. In Paraguay and Argentina members of the clan were arrested, tried and convicted for crimes of money laundering, smuggling, product evasion and drug trafficking.
Panamanian authorities recorded the transit of 2,100 people of "interest" to Washington in 2018.
Of the 8,445 illegal migrants located in Darien (an increase of 20% in two years), 91% were from Asia and Africa, with goal mostly from reaching the US.
The US Southern Command deployed helicopters in January and February 2019 to improve surveillance capabilities in the dense jungle area.
Washington's awareness of the presence of AIS in the Central American migrant caravans last autumn prompts it to focus on the Darien Gap.
report SRA 2019 / Alex Puigrefagut[PDF version].
One of the best-known icons on the American continent is the Pan-American Highway: network of roads that runs from Argentina to the United States and even goes as far as Alaska. Between one end and the other, there is only one point where you have to get out of your car: 130 kilometres of dense vegetation between Panama and Colombia, which is truly impassable, even difficult to cross on foot. It is the Darién jungle, which is known as the Darién Gap.
Precisely because it blocks land transit between South America and Central America, it has traditionally been a area with little surveillance of migratory flows. This lack of monitoring, however, has led in recent years to a call effect of illegal immigration, mainly from Asia and Africa, which is of concern to the United States. Many of these immigrants are classified by Washington as Special Interest Aliens (SIAs), as they come from countries that, according to the US, show a tendency to promote, produce or protect criminal organisations, mostly terrorist organisations. If they emerge in Panama, they can easily use Central American migratory routes to the US, as has been denounced in the recent crisis of the caravans that departed from Honduras.
Panama' s National Migration Service recorded the passage through Darién of 8,445 illegal immigrants in 2018 (with December still to be counted), of which 5,400 were from Asia and 2,287 from Africa, which together accounted for 91 per cent of the entire contingent. This is an increase of 20 per cent in two years. Of these, 2,123 were nationals from countries the US sees as a potential terrorist threat: most were from Bangladesh (1,440), but also from Eritrea (418), Pakistan (151), Yemen (34), Somalia (32), Afghanistan (10), Iraq (10), Mauritania (10), Syria (7) and Egypt (2). At the end of 2017, the Panamanian National Border Service detained 26 Yemeni nationals with suspected links to terrorist groups.
This migration flow of people labelled as SIAs by Washington was already alerted in 2016 by the US Homeland Securitydepartment , which sent a memo to US border authorities to be vigilant.
With a focus on Darién, in June 2018 the US and Panama agreed to establish a Joint Migration Task Force (JMTF), goal to ensure more effective and comprehensive coordination to address illegal and uncontrolled immigration in the region. Security authorities from both administrations prioritised action against drug trafficking and other types of organised crime that could pose a threat to the security of both Panama and the US, as well as the region as a whole. In January and February 2019, the US Southern Command used helicopters for transports to improve surveillance facilities in Darién.
USA and Colombia
The main purpose of the JMTF created between the two States is that there can be exchange of information and resources to establish strategic border points and thus combat all subject of organised crime on the southern border of Panama, such as drug trafficking, arms trafficking, human trafficking and above all for the comprehensive monitoring of the possible penetration of illegal migrants considered CIS that may be effectively related to international terrorist organisations. In addition, for the proper functioning of the JMTF, the two governments agreed to meet bilaterally twice a year to effectively supervise and coordinate the border security groups.
Already in 2016, the governments of Panama and Colombia implemented further measures in the Binational Border Security Commission (COMBIFRON) to strengthen the fight against drug trafficking and organised crime, as well as illegal migration. These measures included the creation of two shared surveillance points between the two navies in order to control migratory flows along the border of both countries, especially in the Darién region. The area had historically been a place of influence for Colombian cartels and a rearguard for guerrilla forces, so the peace process with the FARC was an opportunity to seek greater state control.
The main problem in the Darién challenge in recent decades, according to some observers, was the passivity shown by Colombia, which gradually decreased patrolling and land control of its part of the border, leaving Panama with limited resources in the face of criminal groups, which led to a considerable increase in the illegal trafficking of drugs, arms and people along the border. This Colombian passivity was mainly due to the fact that the transit of illegal migrants did not create migratory pressure on Colombia, as the flows were towards the northern part of the continent. Although today both countries pay attention to the Darién, control of the area is still deficient, partly because maritime security is prioritised over land security, especially in the case of Colombia.
Central American caravans
The illegal passage through the Darién of people Washington considers "of interest" because they come from countries that may foment terrorism is part of international routes to the southern border of the United States. Ample evidence sample that the Darién Gap has become a strategic point for regional and US security.
The presence of individuals labelled as SIAs was at the centre of the discussion on the various migrant caravans that in autumn 2018 departed from Central America - emerging in Honduras and increasing in size as they passed through El Salvador and Guatemala - and headed for the US-Mexico border. According to the US think-tank Center for a Secure and Free Society (SFS), these caravans involved individuals from outside Central America, from the Middle East, Asia and Africa, some of whom entered the label of SIA. According to agreement with SFS, these individuals had a privileged attention in the development of the convoys, which could even indicate collusion between SIA networks and certain Central American migration channels. The same centre found that Guatemalan officials detected no less than 157 irregular migrants from other continents, at least 17 of whom were of "special interest" to the US because they came from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Eritrea.
It is difficult to establish how many people with profile SIAs actually transit through Central America to the US, as their identities are falsified in order to go unnoticed during their journey. On the other hand, the US president exaggerated the state of alarm over the large Central American caravans, because even if there were grounds for the alert, it should not be forgotten that the vast majority of Special Interest Aliens who enter the US and who are highly dangerous because of their direct connections to terrorism arrive by air and not by land. According to an explanatorystatement of the US Homeland Security department , average of ten people on the "terrorist watch list" are apprehended every day (3,700 in the last fiscal year), although few of them enter through the US-Mexico border.