After a record production of opium poppies in Mexico and overdose deaths in the US the problem has stopped growing
Less amount of heroin is reaching the US market: Mexican authorites eradicated 29,207 hectares of poppy crops in 2017, and 17,288 hectares in the first half of 2018
US President Trump signed in October 2018 the Opioid Crisis Response Act; a National Drug Control Strategy was published in January 2019.
Mexico is the main transit route into the US for fentanyl originating from China; Mexican anti-narcotics operations try to exert more control over this trade
▲ Cultivation of opium poppies (Papaver somniferum), the variety of poppies (Papaver) with the highest concentration of narcotics [DEA].
ARS 2019 Report / Marcelina Kropiwnicka[PDF version] [PDF version].
The severe opioid crisis experienced by the United States in recent years, with a record number of deaths by drug overdoses in 2017, apparently began to remit in 2018, according to the first available data. Both the efforts of the United States to confront the epidemic and of Mexico in eradicating opium poppy crops seem to be bearing fruit.
The dramatic increase in opium cultivation and heroin production in Mexico in the last years triggered drug consumption in the US. Besides, Mexico is the main route into the US for fentanyl, an opioid narcotic which is behind the US opioid epidemic as well.
After four years of sharp increase, the number of deaths in the United States due to opioid overdose rise in 2017 to 47,600, twice as many as in 2010. The main part of those deaths was due to the consumption of prescription opioids (17,029), followed by overdose deaths involving heroin (15,482). In both cases, the increase was mainly due to the use of synthetic narcotics, basically fentanyl, as prescription drug or mixed with heroin.
The first data referring to 2018 provided by the US health authorities seem to reflect a stabilization in the number of deaths due to opioid overdoses, which would at least indicate that the problem has stopped growing. Along with the efforts of the US administration to put in place a stricter regulation for the prescription of certain medicines, especially affecting synthetic opiates, there is a greater eradication of illicit crops in Mexico, with special emphasis on the cultivation of opioid poppies.
In 2017 the Mexican authorities proceeded to eradicate 29,207 hectares of this crop, thus limiting the heroin that in 2018 could reach the US domestic market. In 2018 eradication accelerated: in the first half of the year, the crop of 17,288 hectares was eliminated. This is a progress highlighted by the latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), published in Mach 2019 by the US Department of State.
Illicit heroin and fentanyl have been infecting US neighborhoods for years. Initially, the source for almost all heroin found in the US was from Southern Asia. Over the past few decades, however, the trade for heroin has changed drastically. Most of the heroin found in US communities comes from South America, and namely Mexico. This has been fueled by a number of factors, including increased production and trafficking by criminal organizations. These current trends in drug trafficking lead to opioid abuse, and represent a considerable shift in outcomes. This has obliged the governments in both countries to instill and coordinate new law enforcement responses.
The United States is home to the largest heroin market in the Americas. Created from the milky sap scraped from the seedpod of an opium poppy, heroin can be transformed into multiple forms. These include powder, viscous tar, pills, a rock-like black substance and more. In addition to this, the substance has different degrees of purity, with white powder heroin being the purest and black tar-like heroin being the most impure. Heroin can also be administered through a number of means, but most commonly is smoked, injected or snorted.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), most of the heroin trafficked into the US comes from Mexico. Along with this, Mexican poppy cultivation and heroin production have been on the rise, especially over the past decade, contributing to the ever-increasing threat to the United States. In fact, 2017 was the year Mexican poppy cultivation and heroin production reached a record high, as the Office of National Drug Control Policy of the White House reaffirmed in August 2018: poppy cultivation in Mexico rose 38 percent, from 32,000 hectares in 2016 to 44,100 hectares in 2017; it went from 685 tons to 944 tons of potential opium production, and from 81 tons to 111 tons of potential pure heroin elaboration, almost five times 2012 levels.
Evaluations carried out by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in its October 2018 report National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) stated that Mexico accounts for 91 percent (by weight) of heroin found in the US. A similar figure is given by the World Drug Report (WDR) published by the UNODC in June 2018: "Analysis of heroin samples in the United States over the past decade shows the increasing predominance of Mexico (90 percent of samples analysed in 2015) as a source country of the drug". According to the INCSR, the Department of State report already mentioned, Mexico is especially focused on producing heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine that is destined for the US; it is also a main transit route- originating from China-for another important triger of the opioid crisis in the US: fentanyl.
Fentanyl's availability is widespread and surging. While there are licit forms of the opioid, such as painkillers and anaesthetics, illicit production and trafficking of it are on the rise. The new trend is rooted toward mixing synthetic opiate fentanyl in Mexico's tarry black heroin, without the consumer's knowledge. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is approximately 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. The opioid is much cheaper when it comes to production, mainly because rather than being grown on a farm it is manufactured in a laboratory. The decreased cost for the traffickers and increased high for users signifies that drug producers have begun to cut their heroin with fentanyl.
The DEA warns that Mexican cartels present an intense threat to US neighborhoods mainly given their dominance in heroin and fentanyl exports). It also noted that a majority of the samples that were seized and analyzed involved fentanyl in its powder form. The concern arising from this is that fentanyl could be pressed into counterfeit pills, mainly because most drug abusers use prescription pain pills rather than heroin. This means that the creation of such counterfeit pills could ultimately affect a larger population of individuals.
The increase in heroin related deaths has been primarily linked to heroin being combined with fentanyl. The counterfeit pills could increase deaths due to fentanyl and white powder heroin looking alike. Consequently, users are unaware that the heroin they have purchased contains fentanyl, thus removing the user's ability to know the potency of the drug and preventing them from correctly dosing in respect to their tolerance level.
Solving the problem
The opioid epidemic suffered by the US in the last years was confronted in 2018 by the Trump administration with some special measures. In October 2018 President Trump signed the Opioid Crisis Response Act, which gave more powers to the US health authorities to monitor the situation and extended the controls on patient access to some specific drugs. In January 2019 a National Drug Control Strategy was published by the White House in order to take extra steps to protecting the public through effective drug abuse prevention, addiction treatment and use of law enforcement actions.
Apart from these new tools, the US relies on a long-standing relationship with Mexico regarding anti-narcotic matters. Both countries set up in 2008 the Merida Initiative, which allows the US to assist the Mexican authorities in different fields. It includes several measures in order to improve law enforcement operations: training and equipment to dismantle covert drug labs, cutting-edge airport security training, advanced inspection tools equipped along border crossings and checkpoints, and so forth in order to improve law enforcement operations, among others. Results have already been seen, as Mexican units trained by US officials have seized more than 300 illicit laboratories since 2015. In addition to this, canines donated by the initiative have helped detect a significant amount of illicit drugs attempting to pass the border.
Venezuela's worsening crisis reduces vigilance at sea, increases official corruption and pushes coastal villages to seek subsistence
April 2018 saw the attack with the highest death toll in recent years issue : 15 Guyanese fishermen died in Surinamese waters
Increased attacks prompted Trinidad and Tobago authorities to create an elite air unit to fight piracy
Coast-wide alert as news broke in 2018 that the previous year's incidents had risen from 27 to 71, up 167 percent
▲ Coast of Guyana, whose fishermen have been affected by increased piracy.
report SRA 2019 / Manuel Lamela[PDF Version].
The significant increase in piracy in the Atlantic waters between Colombia and Suriname, with Venezuela at the center of this criminal activity, has fueled media headlines about "the new pirates of the Caribbean".
Although far from the scale of piracy recorded in and around the Gulf of Aden between 2008 and 2012, and then in the Gulf of Guinea, the issue of attacks in these other waters increased markedly in 2017, and 2018 saw the highest issue casualty attack.
The deterioration of maritime security, which mainly harms local fishermen and some pleasure boats, from which pirates steal gasoline, engines, fish and whatever valuables they can find on board, has gone hand in hand with the worsening of the Venezuelan status and also affects neighboring countries.
Suriname and Guyana
The attack on four boats on which twenty Guyanese fishermen were fishing, which occurred between April 27-28, 2018, turned out to be the piracy incident with the highest issue death toll in recent years. Suriname authorities recovered five bodies and reported ten fishermen missing, whose bodies were possibly left at the bottom of the sea, as the perpetrators of the attack forced the crew members to throw themselves into the water with the anchor or other weights attached to their feet, from agreement with the official report. Only five occupants of the fishing boats were able to save themselves, with at least one of them freeing himself from the ballast to which he was tied, according to his own testimony. Subsequently, a thirty-man group was arrested for these events.
Despite the fact that the status is not unknown to Guyana or Suriname the increase in both issue and violence of this subject of incidents in the last year is remarkable. At the beginning of 2018, a report published by the NGO One Earth Future, within its Oceans Beyond Piracy program, indicated that the issue of attacks recorded in Latin American waters increased in 2017 from 27 in the previous year to 71, an increase of 167%. Most of them (64) occurred in territorial waters, without affecting international routes as was the case with Somali pirates or happens in the Gulf of Guinea. While on these routes the main targets were merchant ships or large fishing vessel owners, including the hijacking of vessels and crews, in the case of what is occurring mainly in the waters of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname it affects small boat owners.
Gulf of Paria, Trinidad and Tobago
Particularly thorny is status in the Gulf of Paria, located between the coasts of the Venezuelan state of Sucre and the island of Trinidad, separated by only 10 nautical miles at their closest point. The geographical peculiarity of the area is a perfect scenario for illicit activities. The area was already known for the existence of several gangs dedicated to smuggling and trafficking of basic necessities, such as diapers and other items in high demand among the Venezuelan population. Given the shortage suffered by Venezuela, this is a relief for the demand of certain products and injects dollars to the already large Economics submerged. To the ineffectiveness and passivity of the governments of both countries when it comes to combating piracy, as reflected in their failed bilateral negotiations in 2017, is joined by a more than presumable cooperative relationship between officials and criminal gangs, as pointed out by the Venezuelan NGO association civil de Gente de Mar.
Other areas of Trinidad and Tobago's territorial waters, in addition to those of the Gulf of Paria, are affected by piracy, which is contributed to by local gangs fed by the arrival of Venezuelans who find it difficult to find a job employment. In the last few years some 40,000 Venezuelans have migrated to the neighboring country, destabilizing the already precarious working conditions of Trinidadian society. With a population of just 1.3 million, the archipelago has a relatively high crime rate, which in 2018 manifested itself in the commission of close to 500 murders. These figures are starting to hurt tourism, which is one of the main economic assets. Trinidad and Tobago is at risk of being perceived as a successor to the infamous Tortuga Island, a haven for 17th century Caribbean pirates.
Faced with this status, the island authorities announced at the end of January 2019 the creation of an elite air unit within the Police to act against illegal migration, piracy, kidnapping and smuggling of weapons and drugs. The advertisement came immediately after six fishermen from Trinidad were kidnapped and taken to Venezuela by their kidnappers, who demanded a ransom of $200,000.
Venezuela: Sucre and Anzoátegui
The economic and social crisis in Venezuela is one of the main causes of the increase in piracy. This is carried out especially from the state of Sucre, which has already been mentioned, and from the coastal state of Anzoátegui.
The criminals operating in the area can be divided into two types. On the one hand, there are well-trained, well-armed attackers who are part of a criminal organization and related to the drug trafficking that controls the Paria peninsula (the eastern end of Sucre). Specifically, there are two different criminal gangs fighting for control of the area. These drug trafficking groups are based in the towns of San Juan de Unare and San Juan de las Galdonas, in the municipality of Arismendi. Through violence and extortion, they have managed to take over the most important maritime routes, driving away all fishermen who might witness their actions. Their activity is mainly focused on drug and arms trafficking. written request Regarding the former, the merchandise is obtained from Colombia and after crossing Venezuela is shipped to the coasts of Trinidad and Tobago to be transported to the European market, sometimes with a stopover in West Africa. As for the arms, the shipments are obtained in Venezuela itself, coming from theft and smuggling (corruption and lack of security also affect the national factories that produce armament; in 2019 it is foreseen the entrance operation of a factory with capacity to produce 25,000 AK 103 rifles per year).
On the other hand, piracy activity is also carried out by simple thugs, of a lesser criminal profile and with less equipment and resources. Despite this, they are the ones that create the greatest alarm, given their proliferation among a population with hardly any sources of income and coordinates of action that are less specific than those of organized crime, which makes their attacks more unpredictable.
Chavista mismanagement in the fishing industry is another of the main factors that have generated this increase of criminals coming from the local population, mostly dedicated to fishing. With the arrival of Hugo Chavez to power in 1999, a great process of nationalization of this sector was carried out, with the expropriation of shipyards, boats, ports... Following this process of reforms and further strengthening its relationship with Cuba, in 2008 a binational public business called business Joint Socialist Joint Industrial Fisheries of the Bolivarian Alliance (PESCALBA) was created with the goal to make the product more accessible to the social strata with less purchasing power. All this contributed to the fact that between Chávez's ascension to the presidency and 2017, the catch decreased by 60%, with a flight of ships to other countries, such as Panama or Ecuador, the cessation of activity of processing plants, the mooring of ships due to lack of maintenance and the increase of unemployment. As a result, the state of Sucre has result with a broken society, with no means of subsistence, which finds in crime its only way to survive.
Evolving US space strategy in the face of growing rivalry with China and Russia
The prospect of battles in space, as an extension of wars that may be fought on Earth, seeking to interfere with the capabilities provided by satellites, has led the Trump Administration to promote a specific division of the US Armed Forces dedicated to this domain, the US Space Force. Although its constitution has yet to be approved by the congress, the new Pentagon component will already have its own budget.
▲ The X-37B orbital vehicle in operations at test in 2017, at Kennedy Space [US Air Force].
article / Ane Gil
More than 1,300 active satellites encircle the globe today, providing global communications, GPS navigation, weather forecasting and planetary surveillance. The need to protect them from attack, which could seriously disrupt countries' national security, has become a priority for major powers.
Since he arrived at the White House, Donald Trump has insisted on his idea of creating a Space Force, giving it the same rank as the five existing branches of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard). Trump signed the directive for the creation of the US Space Force on 19 February, the final approval of which has yet to be given at congress. It would be the first military branch to be created in the United States since 1947, when the Air Force was launched. The Pentagon expects it to be operational by 2020.
As US Vice President Mike Pence announced almost a year ago, this new Space Force will have its own facilities, although for the time being it will draw on the support and resources of the Air Force. According to Pence, the Space Force's goal is intended to deal with alleged threats from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran in space. Although its ultimate aim is specifically to contain Russia and China, who for some years now have been developing their own methods of conquering space.
Obama-era strategy reports
The Trump Administration has called for such a military specialization in space in the face of China and Russia's skill in the same domain, which during the Obama Administration was still embryonic. However, while during Barack Obama's presidency the White House placed less emphasis on military developments in space capabilities, it also sought to promote the US presence in space.
In the 2010 National Space Policy of 2010, in a rather inclusive essay , the United States defended the right of all nations to explore space and called for all countries to be able to work together to ensure respectful space activity manager in an framework of international cooperation. The policy that was then being set looked primarily to the commercial and civilian dimension of space, where the US aspired to strengthen its leadership.
The document did, however, include a section on security. Thus, it made reference letter the need to develop and operate information systems and networks that provide national security coverage, facilitating defence and intelligence operations both in times of peace and in times of crisis and conflict. In addition, it called for the development and implementation of plans, procedures, techniques and capabilities to ensure critical national security missions, using space assets while taking advantage of non-space capabilities of allied countries or private companies.
What was presented there in a more generic way, the Obama Administration fleshed out in a subsequent strategy document, the 2011 National Security Space Strategy of 2011, in which space was presented as a vital area for US national security. The text warned that space is "increasingly congested, contested and competitive", which urged the US to try to maintain its leadership, but without neglecting the international partnership to make space a safe, stable and secure place.
The document then set out strategic objectives and approaches. Specifically, the US aimed to "provide enhanced space capabilities" in order to improve system procurement, reduce the risk of mission failure, increase launch success and system operability, and train national security professionals to support all these space activities.
Another stated objective was to "prevent and deter aggression against the space infrastructure that supports US national security", which at its core included denying adversaries the significant benefits of an attack by strengthening the resilience of their systems architecture. However, the document specified that the US retains the right to respond in self-defence if deterrence fails.
Precisely in the latter case, the strategic text called for preparing one's capabilities to "defeat attacks and operations in a degraded environment". It indicated that military and intelligence capabilities must be prepared to "combat" and defeat attacks on their space systems and support infrastructure.
China and Russia's rivalry in the Trump era
Donald Trump became US president with his motto "America First", which he has also applied to space strategy, prioritising US interests in a context of increased rivalry with Beijing and Moscow. His space policy emphasises the dynamic and cooperative interaction between the military, civilian and commercial interests, respectively, of the Pentagon, NASA and private companies interested in extra-atmospheric spaceflight.
The first national security strategy document of the Trump era is the National Security Strategy (NSS) of December 2017. National Security Strategy (NSS) of December 2017. reference letter Although report barely mentions space, the text declares China and Russia to be "rivals", giving the US an opportunity to confront the opposing interests of these countries, also outside the Earth. The NSS proclaims that the US must maintain its "leadership and freedom of action in space", and warns of the risk of "other actors" achieving the capability to attack US space assets and thus gaining an "asymmetric advantage". "Any harmful interference or attack against critical components of our space architecture that directly affects this vital US interest will be met with a deliberate response in a time, place, manner and domain of our choosing," the document warns.
Some of these military issues are further elaborated in the Pentagon's report . In the April 2018 Space Operations document, the military leadership notes that several nations are making significant advances in offensive space control capabilities, with the intention of challenging the use of space by the US and its allies by threatening their space assets. It therefore advocates the importance of off-ground operations, which have the goal purpose of securing and defending space capabilities against the aggressive activities of others.
"Our adversaries' progress in space technology," notes report, "not only threatens the space environment and our space assets, but may also deny us an advantage if we lose space superiority". To mitigate these risks and threats, the US is committed to "planning and conducting defensive and offensive operations".
The broad outlines of Trump's space policy are set out in the March 2018 National Space Strategy document. National Space Strategy of March 2018. It is a policy based on four pillars: reinforcing space architectures; strengthening deterrence and warfighting options; improving foundational capabilities, Structures and processes; and fostering enabling domestic and international environments.
Directives and budget
In addition to the security aspects already noted, the Trump Administration has also expressed a desire to "promote space commerce" by "simplifying and updating regulations for commercial space activity to strengthen competitiveness".
To oversee these activities, which open up the space business to US private companies and at the same time set a horizon for mineral exploitation of asteroids and planets, Trump revived the White House's National Space committee in June 2017, 24 years after it was disbanded. In December 2017 Trump signed Space Police Directive-1, which ordered NASA to send US astronauts to the Moon once again, and in June 2018 he signed a directive on the management of traffic in space (Space Policy Directive-3). The fourth directive is the one signed in February 2019 for the creation of the Space Force.
Trump's new policy has not been immune to criticism, as it is argued that erecting the Space Force as an additional division of the Armed Forces could weaken the resources of other divisions, putting the country at risk in the event of an attack or emergency on Earth. In fact, General James Mattis, secretary of defence during 2017 and 2018, publicly expressed some reluctance at first, although he later began to implement the president's plans.
agreement According to data provided at the recent presentation of the budgets for the next fiscal year, the Space Force could have a staff of 830 people (divided between the Headquarters, the Space Agency development and the Space Command, which will require 300 million dollars for its installation) and a budget of about 2 billion during the first five years. At the end of those five years it could have a payroll of 15,000 people.
Panama's place on the Silk Road and the break with Taiwan of new countries on area place Chinese interests on the doorstep of the United States.
U.S. alert for the Chinese management of terminals on both sides of the Panama Canal, of a possible port in El Salvador and of the space station opened in Patagonia.
Beijing maintains its support for Maduro with a new US$5 billion credit , the implementation of the Carnet de la Patria for social control and the sending of a hospital ship.
Chinese financial financial aid to Latin America exceeds $140 billion since 2005; some 150 infrastructure projects have been signed, half are underway in 2018
project Chinese port terminal at one of the mouths of the Panama Canal
report SRA 2019 / Jimena Villacorta[PDF Version].
The People's Republic of China strengthened its relationship with Latin America in 2018, especially with Central America. While its level of official lending decreased in the last two years, Beijing developed other actions in the region and especially improved its strategic position in Central America, to the concern of the United States.
Throughout 2018 two new countries ceased their diplomatic recognition of Taiwan to move to full relations with China. The Dominican Republic, a country integrated into some of the Central American agreements, did so in May, and El Salvador did so in August. Panama took the step the previous year, in June 2017 (and Costa Rica in 2007). While this leaves Taiwan still with four partners in Central America (of the 18 countries that continue to recognize Taiwan worldwide, four are in the American isthmus-Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Belize; and four others are in the Caribbean: Haiti and three micro-states), China already has sufficient space for its logistical operations.
Panama has become an interesting goal for Beijing. At the beginning of 2018 Panama received the designation of most favored nation by China, and in December Xi Jinping made the first visit of a Chinese president to the country. In the framework of that visit, Beijing announced that there are 20 Chinese companies carrying out operations in Panamanian territory, such as the construction of maritime terminals on both sides of the interoceanic canal, of which China is the world's second largest customer (30.7% of all traffic), after the United States. There are also another 70 companies installed in the Colon Free Zone, of which China is the main provider. Panama is a fundamental piece for the purpose suggested by the Chinese authorities to extend to Latin America the maritime route of the New Silk Road, for which both countries signed a memorandum, the first for that purpose in the region.
Beijing's influence in Panama has generated suspicions in Washington. In February 2018, Admiral Kurt Tidd, head of the US Southern Command, already indicated in his appearance before the Senate the concern about the Chinese positioning in the Canal environment. In September, the US called for consultations with the chargé d'affaires of its Panamanian embassy to analyze that activity, and in October the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, expressed his concern in a visit to the country. In February 2019, Admiral Craig Faller, the new head of the Southern Command, insisted before the Senate on how "particularly worrisome" is "China's effort to exercise control over infrastructures core topic associated with the Panama Canal". Faller also warned about China's construction of ports on the Latin American coast. "In the future," the admiral said, "China could use its control of deepwater ports in the Western Hemisphere to enhance its global operational position."
Precisely one of the ports that China could take control of was the subject of discussion political in El Salvador, where the government of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) promoted in July 2018 a law to designate the area around the port of La Union, in the Gulf of Fonseca, as a special economic zone. The US ambassador in El Salvador welcomed the initiative, warning that the interest shown by China towards La Unión, recognized by the Salvadoran authorities, could result in the use of the facilities as a Chinese military base.
The increase in China's activity in Latin America in 2018 was matched, as can be seen, with a parallel increase in alerts from the US. Another such signal was regarding the space tracking and observation station built and managed by China in Argentine Patagonia, to which in February the head of the Southern Command referred to in the framework of his visit to Capitol Hill. The fear is that, being managed by a business under the Chinese Army, the station could have a military use, although the Argentine government has requested Beijing's commitment that this will not happen.
Loans and Venezuela
In the financial chapter, China granted a total of 7.7 billion dollars in credits to the region in 2018, which represented a slight increase compared to 2017, after two years of decreases, although far from the amount of the exercises with the highest volume, from agreement with the China-Latin America financialdatabase of Inter-American Dialogue. Since 2005, Chinese direct investment has amounted to $141 billion, most of it coming from the development Bank of China (CDB) and almost half of it destined for Venezuela ($67.2 billion). Of the 7.7 billion granted in 2018, 5 billion corresponded to Venezuela, which thus obtained a attendance that since 2007 began it only lacked in 2008 and 2017.
If initially the investment was more aimed at the extractive industry, over time China has also been entering the infrastructure sector. Some 150 transport infrastructure projects have been signed since 2002, of which almost half had been started by 2018.
The special financial linkage with Caracas, basically in exchange for oil in the future, has led Beijing to act in defense of the government of Nicolás Maduro. In addition to denying recognition of the designation of Juan Guaidó as president in charge of the country, China denied in March 2019 the visa to the representative appointed by Guaidó in the directory of the Inter-American Bank of development (IDB), an entity that for the first time was going to hold its annual meeting on Chinese territory. This was seen as China's first intervention in American regional politics, using the growing weight of its credits and investments in various countries.
China has expressed its support to Maduro in different ways. In 2018, details of the technological financial aid provided by the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE to develop the Carnet de la Patria promoted by the Venezuelan government, in an implementation that seeks social control, became known.
There was also support for the Chavista regime with the dispatch of a hospital ship to Venezuela in September 2018. The Peace Ark spent a week in Venezuelan waters, a month after the Pentagon announced that it was scheduling to send the Comfort, a ship with several operating rooms and other medical facilities, to Colombia to treat Venezuelans who had fled the humanitarian crisis in the neighboring country.
The positive consequences of the free trade agreement will derive more from the end of uncertainty than from the new provisions introduced.
After a year and a half of negotiations, the new treaty between the United States, Canada and Mexico (this country has named it T-MEC, the other two speak of USMCA) is still pending approval by the legislative chambers of each country. In Washington, the political discussion should begin shortly; it will be important what effects are foreseen for the US Economics and that of its two neighbors. The first programs of study disagree on some aspects, although they agree that the changes introduced in the renegotiation of the agreement that existed since 1994 will not have a special impact.
▲ signature of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement at framework of the G-20 in November 2018 [Shealah Craighead-White House].
article / Ramón Barba
The renegotiation of the formerly North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, or NAFTA for its acronym in English) and now baptized as the Treaty of the United States, Mexico and Canada (T-MEC or, in its Anglo-Saxon version, USMCA), has been one of the main points on the Trump Administration's diary . C by the three negotiating parties at the end of 2018, now the treaty is pending ratification by the legislative chambers of each country.
Launched in 1994, the agreement had been described by Trump as "the worst trade agreement in history". From the beginning of his presidency, Trump set out to modify some aspects of agreement to reduce the large trade deficit with Mexico (some $80 billion, double the deficit the US has with Canada), and at the same time refund activity and jobs to the US Rust Belt, where the echo of his promises had been decisive for his electoral victory.
What has each country gained and what has each country lost in the renegotiation of the treaty? And, above all, what effects will it have on each country's Economics ? Will the United States improve its trade balance? Will Mexico or Canada be negatively affected by some of the modifications introduced? We will first examine how the claims of each of the partners were left at the end of the negotiations, and then we will look at the possible economic effect of the new version of the treaty in the light of two recent reports programs of study, one by an independent body of the U.S. Administration and the other by the IMF.
Tug of war
In the negotiations, which dragged on for nearly a year and a half, Mexico and Canada managed to "maintain the status quo in many important areas," but while the actual changes were modest, as analyzed by the Brookings Institution, they "went almost uniformly in the direction of what the United States wanted." "Trump's aggressive and threatening approach ," which challenged with breaking the treaty for good, "succeeded in obtaining modest concessions from his partners."
In the automotive industry core topic , the US managed to increase from 62.5% to 75% the proportion of the production of a car that must be made within the free trade area , to force 30% of the work needed to manufacture a car to have a wage of $16/hour (40% as of 2023) -a measure aimed at appeasing the US unions, since in Mexico the average wage of an automotive worker today is $4/hour-, and to set a tariff of 25% for cars coming from outside the country.
Mexico and Canada were granted their demand that an autonomous termination clause not be introduced after five years if there was no prior consensus for the renewal of the agreement, put on the table by Washington. Finally, the T-MEC will last for 16 years, renewable, with a review in the sixth year.
Justin Trudeau's government had to make some concessions to the U.S. dairy sector, but preserved what had been its main red line from the beginning: the validity of Chapter 19, concerning the settlement of disputes through independent binational arbitration.
Mexico, for its part, gained the peace of mind that comes with the survival of the agreement, avoiding future uncertainty and guaranteeing close trade relations with the large U.S. market. However, the labor conditions of Mexican workers can work as a double-edged sword for the Aztec Economics , since on the one hand it can favor an improvement in the standard of living and encourage consumption, but on the other hand it can affect the location of companies due to less competitive salaries.
Regardless of these changes in one direction or another, the update of the treaty was necessary after 25 years of a agreement that was signed before the Internet revolution and the digital Economics that it has brought. On the other hand, the change of name of the treaty was a "gimmick" devised by Trump to sell to his electorate the renewal of a agreement whose previous name was associated with criticisms made over the last two decades.
The discussion on the text will take place in the fall at the US congress , where Democrats will insist on strengthening assurances that Mexico will implement the committed labor measures. Prior to the vote the US must apply a exemption to Canada and Mexico of the steel and aluminum tariffs that the Trump Administration has imposed internationally.
The United States International Trade Commission (USITC), an independent body that has the status of a government agency, considers that the T-MEC will have a limited but positive impact on the US Economics . Thus, in a report published in April, it estimates that the entrance in force of the reformulated agreement will increase US production by 0.35%, with an increase in employment of 0.12%, figures somewhat lower than those predicted when NAFTA came into force in 1994, when the US expected a 0.5% increase in its Economics and a 1% rise in employment.
In any case, this timid impact would not be so much due to the content of the agreed text, but to its mere existence, since it eliminates uncertainties about US trade relations with its two neighbors.
The report believes that the T-MEC will lead to an increase in the production of automotive accessories in the US, dragging up the employment in that country, but making the products more expensive and, therefore, negatively affecting exports. The report also foresees that maintaining the current arbitration system, as demanded by Mexico and Canada, will discourage US investments in the Mexican market and boost them in the US.
These conclusions do not coincide with the assessment of the International Monetary Fund, although both bodies agree with agreement in ruling out major effects of agreement. Thus, an IMF study published in March believes that, at the aggregate level, the effects of the new wording "are relatively small". The new provisions "could lead to less economic integration of North America, reducing trade among the three North American partners by more than $4 billion (0.4%), while giving their members combined gains of $538 million". It adds that the real GDP effects of the free trade area are "negligible," and qualifies that many of the benefits "would come from trade facilitation measures that modernize and integrate customs procedures to further reduce trade costs and border inefficiencies."
The result of the study sample that the more demanding rules of origin in the automotive sector and labor value content requirements, issues that especially concern the US-Mexico relationship, "would not achieve their desired consequences". According to the IMF, "the new rules lead to a decline in vehicle and parts production in the three North American countries, with shifts toward increased sourcing of vehicles and parts from outside the region. Consumers will find higher vehicle prices and will respond with lower quantity demand".
As for Canada's dairy market, an issue of particular relevance in the US-Canada trade relationship, the effects of increased US access "would be very small and macroeconomically insignificant".
This disparity in forecasts between the USITC and the IMF is due to the fact that several variables are undetermined, such as the future of the trans-Pacific agreement , in which Canada and Mexico are involved, or the ongoing trade discussions between the US and China. One sample where the ground is especially shaky is the data that in January and February 2019 Mexico became the first trade partner of the US (a exchange of $97.4 billion), ahead of Canada ($92.4 billion) and China ($90.4 billion). That raised the US trade deficit with Mexico by $3 billion, just in the opposite direction of the Trump Administration's claims.
The group reaches 2,000 members, including demobilized elements returning to arms and new recruits.
Coordination between FARC remnants and ELN detected, with participation of "demobilized" members of the old guerrilla leadership such as Iván Márquez.
Iván Duque's government reacts to U.S. pressure with committed eradication of 70,000 hectares of coca crops
The highest concentration of coca production on the border with Ecuador pours violence on this country, where throughout 2018 "El Guacho", ex-FARC, was active.
▲ Walter Patricio Arizala, alias "el Guacho", before falling in a Colombian Army operation.
report SRA 2019 / María Gabriela Fajardo[PDF Version].
The doubt that existed when in December 2016 the Colombian peace agreement was signed, about whether the dissidence of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) would be something residual or rather would reach a certain entity, assuming a clear security problem, has been cleared. The dissidents have been growing in issue progressively and throughout 2018 they have consolidated in their criminal activity.
In the first half of 2017, some 6,800 FARC guerrillas were demobilized following the submission of nearly 9,000 weapons. The government estimated that of the total number of FARC troops, some 400 fighters (a residual 5%) would likely refuse to follow the instructions of the guerrilla leadership. In November 2017, on the first anniversary of the signature of the Havana agreement , the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation published a report estimating that the dissidence had reached around 700 members. In February 2018 the Ideas for Peace Foundation raised the figure to between 1,000 and 1,500. At the end of 2018 two intelligence reports, both disseminated by Colombian media that claimed to have had access to their contents, placed the dissident bulk between 1,750 and 3,000 troops.
The maximum figure in this range was established by a report released in October, of which hardly any details were given, while the lowest was provided by an alleged document from the Defense department sent to congress and revealed in December. The latter fixed the issue number of members of all illegal groups in the country at 7,260, of which 2,206 belonged to the ELN (National Liberal Army, the last guerrilla as such still active in Colombia), 1,749 to the FARC dissidence and 1,600 to the Clan del Golfo, an organized crime group . If both estimates on the size of the dissidence really come from government agencies, we would be facing a lack of contrasted information on the part of the State, although everything could be due to the fact that the reports were elaborated at different times, besides not corresponding to the time of their diffusion in the media.
In view of the evolution of the phenomenon, it would probably not be wrong to think that at the beginning of 2019 the issue number of FARC dissidents may be around 2,000. This volume includes both people who never demobilized, as well as former combatants who took up arms again in the face of the difficulties encountered in the transition to civilian life and also new recruits.
With the political banner transferred to the new Revolutionary Alternative Force of the Commons (which thus maintains the FARC acronym), the dissidents no longer have the narrative of social struggle that previously accompanied the activities they continue to carry out: drug trafficking, smuggling, extortion and other illicit businesses. So they have become another example of organized crime, articulated in different groups that, although they are converging, do not have the hierarchical structure of the old guerrilla leadership.
The leadership could be strengthened if some of the leaders who have expressed disagreement with the implementation of the peace process and have disappeared for some time, such as Iván Márquez, return to the guerrillas. For the moment, in any case, what is being observed is rather an organizational confluence with the ELN. Thus, several media outlets published in December 2018 about that coordination, aimed especially at getting cocaine shipments out through Venezuela, a country where the ELN has increased its activity. Army commanders have confirmed this cooperation. A high-level meeting would have involved, in addition to Iván Márquez, other FARC leaders who had supposedly laid down their arms, such as El Paisa and Romaña.
These contacts took place after the talks between the government and the ELN, opened on Ecuadorian soil to explore a peace agreement , were suspended in September by decision of President Iván Duque when no progress was made and it was understood that, in reality, the ELN were getting stronger, occupying territories formerly controlled by the FARC. The dialogue was broken off following the ELN attack against the General Santander National Police Cadet School in Bogota on January 17, 2019, which left 21 dead and 80 wounded.
On the other hand, the demobilization of the FARC, although incomplete as we can see, has given rise to the presence in Colombia of Mexican cartels, which are thus trying to extend their dominance to cocaine production sites as well, something that has been highlighted by the Attorney General of the nation.
Map 1: yellow, FARC front that did not accept the agreement peace agreement; pink, deserters who did not join agreement.
Map 2: blue, ELN presence in municipalities formerly controlled by FARC; red, municipalities formerly controlled by FARC.
Coca and domain disputes
Among the priorities of the new government of Iván Duque, who became position president of the country in August 2018, has been to try to reduce the high production of coca leaf and cocaine, which in recent years has seen a sharp increase. Between 2013 and 2017, the issue of hectares with coca bush rose from 48,000 to 171,000 hectares, according to The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The United States makes those estimates up ward for the same period: from 80,500 to 209,000 hectares (the latter figures would have meant a jump in potential cocaine production from 235 to 921 tons).
The outgoing government of Juan Manuel Santos committed in March 2018 to the eradication guide of 70,000 hectares of coca bush over the course of the year (compared to the 52,000 that, according to Colombian authorities, were eradicated in 2017), in the framework of a five-year plan agreed with the United States, whose Administration had complained about the substantial increase in cocaine production in the country in recent years. The Colombian Ministry of Defense announced that as of June 2018, 42,000 hectares had been voluntarily replaced, according to the latest report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which, for its part, certified that between May 2018 and January 2019, almost 35,000 hectares had been eradicated. These figures represent over 90% compliance with the Comprehensive National Program for the Substitution of Illicitly Used Crops (PNIS) at various Departments. However, the urgency to achieve the objectives of reducing production space could be leading to forced eradication, not followed by other plantings, which in the medium term deadline could mean a return to coca cultivation.
In 2018, the murders of social leaders and human rights defenders continued to increase, amounting to a record issue of 164. According to the Ombudsman's Office, from the beginning of 2016 to the end of 2018, more than 420 activists who developed a leadership role in different communities in the country were killed. This violence is related to the territorial reorganization of criminal groups. There was particular incidence in some Departments of access to the Pacific, such as Cauca and Nariño, where a higher concentration of cocaine production and the initial demobilization of the FARC caused tensions between criminal organizations to ensure dominance of the territory. These frictions caused casualties among community leaders who wanted to free themselves from the control that cartels and criminal groups had been exerting. Meanwhile, a total of 85 former FARC members were killed since the signature of the peace agreement , as recorded in the 2018report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia.
Increased criminal activity in the border area with Ecuador, with a cocaine export hub in the port of Tumaco, has led to violence spilling over to the other side of the border. In early 2018 several attacks on Ecuadorian police and army installations, as well as several kidnappings, were attributed to FARC dissidents led by "el Guacho." Colombia and Ecuador proceeded to increase the deployment of soldiers along the border to address status. In December 2018 "el Guacho" was killed in Nariño by a Colombian Army unit.
The change of government and its stricter vision have slowed down the implementation of agreement, but it is making progress in its application.
The implementation of the agreement peace agreement in Colombia is proceeding more slowly than those who signed it two years ago expected, but there has not been the paralysis or even the crisis predicted by those who opposed the election of Iván Duque as president of the country. The latest estimate speaks of a compliance with the stipulations of the peace agreement agreement close to 70%, although the remaining 30% is already not being complied with.
▲ Colombian President Iván Duque at a public event [Efraín Herrera-Presidencia].
article / María Gabriela Fajardo
Iván Duque arrived at the Casa de Nariño - the seat of the Colombian presidency - with the slogan "Peace with Legality", degree scroll that synthesized his commitment to implement the peace agreement , signed in November 2017, but reducing the margins of impunity that in his opinion and that of his party, the Democratic Center, existed for the former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). One year after his election as president, it is worth analyzing how the implementation of the peace agreement agreement is going.
agreement About 70% of the provisions of agreement have already been fulfilled, totally or partially, or will be fulfilled within the stipulated time, according to the estimate of high school Kroc, in charge of making the official estimate of the implementation of the peace process. According to its third report, published in April, 23% of the commitments have been completely fulfilled, 35% have reached advanced levels of implementation, and 12% are expected to be completely fulfilled by the stipulated time. However, almost 31% of the content of the agreement has not yet begun to be implemented, when it should have been underway.
The United Nations, to which the agreement grants a supervisory role, has underlined the efforts made by the new Government to activate the various instances provided for in the text. In his report to committee Security, the University Secretary of the UN, António Guterres, highlighted at the end of 2018 the launching of the Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final agreement (CSIVI) and of the committee National Commission for Reincorporation (CNR).
As indicated by Raúl Rosende, chief of staff of the UN Verification mission statement in Colombia, Guterres' report positively estimated that it had "obtained the approval of 20 collective projects and 29 individual projects of ex-combatants in the process of reincorporation, valued at 3.7 million dollars and which will benefit a total of 1,340 ex-combatants, including 366 women". These projects have involved the participation of the governments of Antioquia, Chocó, Cauca, goal, Santander, Sucre and Valle del Cauca, which have facilitated departmental reincorporation roundtables to coordinate local and regional efforts, thus involving Colombian civil society to a greater extent.
The UN has also expressed some concerns, shared by Colombian civil society. The main one has to do with security in some of the historical conflict zones where a high issue number of social leaders have been killed. The murders have been concentrated in Antioquia, Cauca, Caquetá, Nariño and Norte de Santander. Thus, throughout 2018 at least 226 social leaders and Human Rights defenders were killed, according to data of the high school of programs of study for development and Peace(Indepaz). The Ombudsman's Office put the figure at 164.
In addition, as Rosende has recalled, many of the indigenous communities have suffered assassinations, threats and forced displacement. This has occurred in ethnic territories of the Awá, Embera Chamí and Nasa peoples in Caldas, Cauca, Chocó, Nariño and Valle del Cauca.
Along with the successes and concerns, the UN also points to a series of challenges that lie ahead in the post-conflict period. On the one hand, there is the challenge of guaranteeing former combatants the necessary legal security, generating confidence and producing real progress in terms of social and political reintegration. Another great challenge is to achieve the autonomous and effective functioning of mechanisms core topic such as the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition or Truth Commission. In addition, there is also the social challenge to attend to the communities affected by the conflict, which demand security, Education, health, land, infrastructure and viable alternatives against illegal economies.
Issues related to the SJP have been the focus of Duque's most controversial actions. In March, the president presented formal objections to the law regulating the SJP, which he wants to modify six points of its 159 articles. Two of them refer to the extradition of former combatants, something that is not contemplated now if they collaborate with the transitional justice system, especially in the case of crimes committed after the signature of agreement. Duque also proposes a constitutional reform that excludes sexual crimes against minors from the JEP, determines the loss of all benefits if there is recidivism in a crime and transfers to the ordinary justice system the cases of illegal conducts started before the agreement and continued after. The objections were rejected in April by the House of Representatives and also by the Senate, although the validity of the result in the latter was left in question, thus lengthening the discussion.
A new controversy may arise when the Territorial Spaces of training and Reincorporation (ETCR) are to be closed in August. Around 5,000 ex-combatants are still in or around them. The High Counselor for the Post-Conflict, Emilio Archila, has stated that by that time, with the financial aid of the FARC (the political party that succeeded the guerrilla) and the Government, the ex-combatants must have work, be clear about what their residency program will be and be prepared for reincorporation into civilian life.
Within the reincorporation process, the lack of compliance by FARC leaders with their commitment, stipulated in the peace agreement agreement , to remain until the end in the ETCRs in order to contribute with their leadership to the smooth running of the process, is a cause for concern. However, in recent months, several leaders have left these territories, among them "El Paisa", who has not presented himself before the JEP, which has demanded his capture.
Nor is former ringleader Ivan Marquez cooperating with the transitional justice system, successively delaying his appearance before the JEP citing security concerns. Márquez has cited the murder of 85 former guerrillas since the signature of the peace agreement , and has accused the government of serious failures to comply.
There is also the case of Jesús Santrich, who like Márquez had acquired a seat in the congress thanks to the implementation of the peace process. Santrich has been detained since April 2018 based on an Interpol red notice at the request of the United States, which accuses him of the shipment of 10 tons of cocaine made after the signature of the agreement peace .
A topic quite addressed from the time of the negotiations has to do with forced eradication and crop spraying. The illicit crop substitution program began to yield results in 2018, resulting in thousands of peasant families agreeing with the government to replace their coca crops with other licit crops. Although in some Departments such as Guaviare there was voluntary crop eradication, this was not enough to offset the increase in plantings in 2016 and 2017. In 2018, close to 100,000 families - responsible for just over 51,000 hectares of coca - signed substitution agreements and this issue is expected to continue to increase throughout 2019. According to the Colombian government, citing figures from the U.S. State Department's department , more than 209,000 hectares of coca leaf have been planted, far more than in the era of Pablo Escobar, according to figures presented by President Iván Duque last month before the Constitutional Court.
The benefits of peace are indisputable and much remains to be done to consolidate it. It is a task that cannot be left in the hands of the Government alone, but requires the support of former combatants, their former leaders and civil society. The great challenge is to accelerate the implementation of agreement and reduce political polarization, all in the search for national reconciliation.
Moscow strengthens its relationship with Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, in the 'near abroad' of the U.S.
Putin's military display in Caracas: sending bombers (December 2018), special forces (January 2019) and a hundred military personnel (March 2019).
The head of the US Southern Command denounces "not benign" purposes of the Police School opened by Russia in Managua for the training Central American agents.
The agreement to install a Glonass station in Cuba revives suspicions that the Russians may again use the island for spying on the US as in the Cold War.
▲ Venezuelan defense minister's reception of two Russian bombers at Maiquetia airport, December 2018 [RT broadcast].
report SRA 2019 / Irene Isabel Maspons [PDF Version].
In recent years Latin America has become an increasingly strategic arena for Vladimir Putin's Russia. Although it is not the main focus of the Kremlin's attention area , its calculated moves in the area allow it to gain influence on the southern flank of the United States. Since 2006 Russia has increased its interests in the region, taking as an incentive the lesser attention of the US towards the rest of the continent due to the change of priorities implied by 9/11 in 2001 and taking advantage of the appearance since then of leftist populist governments, in a political cycle inaugurated with the arrival of Hugo Chavez to power.
Russia's relationship has been special with the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) countries -Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Bolivia-, particularly with the first three, as this allows it to geopolitically confront the United States in the Caribbean, as the USSR did in its day. Being one of the main arms producing countries, Russia has also sold arms to other Latin American countries, but in addition to a commercial attention , in the case of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba a strategic relationship has been established.
The ties with these three nations have grown closer in the last year: the latest major crisis in Venezuela has made this country even more dependent on Moscow; the presidential and constitutional change in Cuba has led Havana to secure the Russian sponsorship in this time of complicated transition, while Russia's activity in Nicaragua has raised the Pentagon's public alert.
The fact that since last fall the United States has been referring to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua as the "axis of evil" in the Western Hemisphere is precisely due to the perception in Washington of increased Russian activity in the region. If the last decade marked the "return" of Russia to the Caribbean, 2018 saw the "return" of the United States to a policy of priority attention to what is happening in that geographical area, precisely because of the increased activity of Russia, and also of China. Moscow is showing the US (and its allies) that it can be reciprocal in the face of the pressure it is receiving in its own near abroad, as highlighted by a recent report of high school Elcano, and Washington has begun to answer those moves.
On the other hand, 2018 was an election year in a good issue of countries. The White House warned of the possibility that Moscow wanted to interfere especially in Mexico, to propitiate the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, considering him uncomfortable for the US. Although in small volumes, Mexico is Russia's second largest commercial partner in Latin America, after Brazil, and the second largest buyer of Russian arms, far behind Venezuela (the third country is Peru). However, there was no evidence of particular Russian activity in these or other Latin American elections. There is evidence, however, that Russian capabilities for the dissemination of fake news in the Spanish-speaking globosphere have counted on the financial aid of Venezuelan networks.
Russia's influence in Venezuela in the last year has been visible in various aspects. To follow a temporal order, it is worth mentioning the launch of the Petro cryptocurrency, presented in February 2018 as a form of digital cash supposedly linked to the value of Venezuela's oil reserves. A research conducted by Time magazine revealed that Russian businessmen had acted as advisors to the Government of Nicolás Maduro for the launch of the Petro, although the Russian Ministry of Finance denied that Moscow authorities were involved in the initiative. With the creation of this virtual currency, Maduro hoped to have a mechanism to evade the sanctions decreed by the United States against Venezuelan bonds and PDVSA. If there was a Russian interest, it could have been to take advantage of the Petro to evade some of the sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and the European Union, although the Petro soon proved to be of little use as a financial vehicle.
With the worsening of the status in Venezuela -from the presidential elections advanced to May 2018, whose result was not recognized by a large issue of countries, to the consequences of the swearing-in of Juan Guairó in January 2019 as legitimate president of the country-, Russian military elements have staged a show of support for Maduro. In December, two Tupolev-160 strategic bombers landed at Maiquetia airport as part of alleged joint maneuvers between the two countries. The following month, Reuters reported the presence in Venezuela of private military contractors arrived from Russia, belonging to the private company Wagner, which has provided various services to the Kremlin. In March 2019, two cargo planes of the Russian Ministry of Defense unloaded in Maiquetia a hundred military personnel, with General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, head of staff of the Army, at the head and 35 tons of various unspecified military equipment, which allegedly could have been destined for the implementation of the anti-aircraft protection of the area of Caracas.
In 2018 Russia continued, with its credit policy, to take positions in the Venezuelan oil and mining sectors. Although the $17 billion that Russia has given in credit to Venezuela since 2006 - mostly for the purchase of Russian armaments - lag far behind the $67.2 million granted by China since 2007 in exchange for oil in the future, the fact is that the Kremlin has become in the last couple of years a major supporter of the Maduro regime: in 2016 China lowered to $2.200 million dollars its loans to Venezuela and granted none in 2017; only at the end of 2018 it returned to previous volumes, with a credit of 5 billion dollars. In contrast Russia has been very actively aiding the Venezuelan energy sector through Rosneft, which in 2016 took as collateral for a loan with 49% of the shares of Citgo, PDVSA's subsidiary and one of the Venezuelan state-owned company's major assets. In 2017 Russia agreed to refinance US$3.15 billion of the debt contracted by Venezuela, delaying almost all payments until 2023.
The last commitment took place in the meeting that Putin and Maduro held in December in Novo Ogaryovo, the Russian presidential residency program on the outskirts of Moscow. At its conclusion, Maduro announced that meeting had "guaranteed" an oil investment of more than 5 billion dollars and contracts for more than 1 billion dollars for the exploitation of gold", thus expanding the portfolio of Russian interests in the Caribbean country to that precious metal as well.
On the other hand, in March 2019 Maduro ordered the transfer of PDVSA's office for Europe from Lisbon to Moscow, with the goal to avoid its confiscation in view of the recognition progressively obtained by Juan Guaidó as president in European countries.
Part of the U.S. warning expressed in the last year about Russia's increasing activity in the region ran to position from the Pentagon. In his February 2018 appearance before the congress , the then head of the Southern Command, Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, already conveyed U.S. concern about the increased presence of Russia and China in areas of the Americas of strategic interest to Washington. That complaint took on greater specificity in the following annual appearance on Capitol Hill by his successor, Admiral Craig S. Faller, who in his February 2019 speech indicated that Russia is using the region "to disseminate information, gather intelligence on the United States and project power." In an interview then granted to Voice of America, Faller referred, among other specifics, to several Russian initiatives in Nicaragua.
The Southern Command chief placed special emphasis on the training Professional Police Center that Russia has built and runs in Nicaragua, inaugurated in October 2017 and intended for the training of Central American police officers in the fight against drugs and organized crime. "I don't know what other purposes that center might serve, but I'm sure they are not all naive and benign," Faller said.
Already in 2017 it was reported that around two hundred Russian military personnel rotate their presence in Nicaragua, garrisoned mostly at the Puerto Sandino military facility on the Pacific coast, which for all practical purposes functions as a Russian base.
Faller's warnings about intelligence gathering in the region by Russia have to do to some extent with a satellite station installed by Russia in Managua, a short distance from the U.S. Embassy. Since 2013, Russia has stationed four stations of its Glonass positioning system in Latin America: four stations are in Brazil and in 2017 one Nicaragua was installed. Unlike the stations in Brazil, which are managed with transparency and easy access, the one built in Managua is surrounded by secrecy and this has generated doubts about its real use, and it could be an installation intended for eavesdropping.
In May 2018, the scientific industrial corporation High Precision Equipment Manufacturing Systems (SPP, for its acronym in Russian) reported having signed a contract to locate a measurement station for the Glonass navigation system in Cuba.
That last advertisement gave rise to new rumors about the possibility of Russia reactivating the Lourdes base in Cuba, which during the Cold War had great resources as a signals intelligence center for U.S. espionage. Moscow has so far denied that there are any such projects. On the other hand, it has expressed the desire to have a military base in Cuba, Venezuela or Nicaragua, as the Russian Ministry of Defense itself has suggested on some occasions, but these plans have not been officially put into practice.
In 2018, relations between Havana and Moscow became institutionally closer, with the first visit of a Cuban president to Russia in almost a decade. The replacement of Raúl Castro by Miguel Díaz-Canel led both countries to stage their mutual commitment in the face of Western expectations about political changes on the island. A few months before that visit, both countries signed several agreements for the partnership in areas such as the steel industry, sports and customs services, while betting on strengthening the bilateral partnership , trade and investments of the Eurasian country in the island.
As a result of the serious Venezuelan crisis, in May 2017 Russia resumed the submission of significant quantities of oil to Cuba, as it had done decades ago, in order now to compensate for the reduction of crude oil sent by Venezuela. In a first agreement, Rosneft committed to supply 250,000 tons of oil and refined products, although it is not stated for how long and it was possibly a temporary or intermittent aid.
The Caribbean country, with only 2 million inhabitants and barely 100,000 Muslims, sent proportionally the most fighters to Syria: a total of 130 fighters.
Authorities in Trinidad and Tobago arrested four suspected jihadists on Feb. 8, 2018 for planning an attack on Carnival in Port of Spain
The U.S. Treasury department sanctioned two Trinidadian nationals in September for participating in Islamic State financing activities.
The insular government developed a new counterterrorism strategy in 2018, urged by White House fears of easy export of extremists to the U.S.
▲ T&T jihadists in Syria, in an image released by ISIS's Dabiq magazine.
report SRA 2019 / Ignacio Yárnoz[PDF Version].
Amidst Western concern over the unleashing of jihadists that is being brought about by the pacification of Syria, where radicalized elements from many other countries went to fight, the United States is taking a close look at a small neighbor. On February 8, 2018, four men were arrested in Mohammedville on suspicion of planning to commit a terrorist act. The place where the alleged attack was to happen may come as a surprise: the Caribbean carnival in the city of Port of Spain. Indeed, we are talking about a Caribbean nation that is also a victim - and exporter - of the globalized phenomenon of jihadist terrorism: Trinidad and Tobago. In recent years, Trinidad and Tobago has set off alarm bells among Western analysts, especially in the United States because of its geographic proximity to these islands and the possibility that this phenomenon could destabilize its backyard, the Caribbean.
The phenomenon of Islamist radicalism in Trinidad and Tobago is not new, considering that in 1990 there were already radical groups such as Jamaat Al Muslimeen, which even attempted to overthrow the government through a coup d'état. In addition, there were also known terrorists from this country such as Kareem Ibrahim, who in 2012 was sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States for planning an attack at JFK International Airport in New York.
However, the terrorist phenomenon on the island escalated in 2014 and 2015 with the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham, or Daesh for its acronym in Arabic). This small Caribbean country contributed at least 130 fighters to the jihadist cause, from agreement with its own authorities, according to data also endorsed by the yearbook anti-terrorist department of the US State Department. This makes Trinidad and Tobago the country that proportionally sent proportionally more fighters to Syria to join the Islamic State (the Trinidadian Muslim community is only 104,000 faithful, 5% of a population that can reach 2 million inhabitants, although the official census is 1.3 million). Although it is estimated that some 300 fighters joined ISIS from the USA and Canada, the per capita figure is higher in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, a country which in absolute numbers also contributed more jihadists than other Latin American and Caribbean nations.
According to a research by Simon Cottee, Professor of Criminology at the University of Kent. Of these 130 Trinidadians, 34% were male, 23% female, 9% teenagers and the remaining 34% under the age of 13. This indicates that it was not just young people, but entire families who traveled to the Islamic State.
Reaction and surveillance
These data alarmed the Government of Port of Spain as well as that of Washington and other neighboring nations. The very fact that Trinidad and Tobago had no law prohibiting travel to the "Caliphate" to join the holy war was considered by the United States as a threat to its own security, considering that a Trinidadian citizen could cross the entire Caribbean without a visa to the Bahamas and be only a hop, skip and a jump away from Florida.
Within a month of becoming U.S. president, Donald Trump reached out in February 2017 to Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley, with whom he met at the White House. Rowley committed to greater measures to combat the threat posed by the departure of so many Trinidadians to jihad.
First, an amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act was passed unanimously to improve the legal tools to detect, prevent and prosecute terrorism and its sources in Trinidad and Tobago. The measures also included a procedure called assessment, Comparison and Identification System staff (staff Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System, PISCES), agreed with the US and implemented at entrance posts in Trinidad and Tobago. Added to legislative action, in November 2017, the Trinidadian National Security committee approved a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy aimed at stopping those who support terrorism or glorify it. This strategy encourages close partnership between UK, Israeli and US intelligence agencies for information sharing.
As a fruit of that determined action and of the special partnership with Washington, in September 2018, the US Treasurydepartment placed sanctions on two Trinidadian nationals on the grounds that they were involved in procuring funding for the "Caliphate". In addition, the national authorities are vigilant about the return of fighters. The Supreme Court has authorized repatriating and taking custody of some minors.
Many of the fighters have died in battle and the few who have wanted to return have been arrested or placed under surveillance, but the threat is still latent. Also because with their return they can encourage a new radicalization of Trinidadian citizens who, given the impossibility of traveling to Syria due to the current status debacle of the Islamic State, decide to act within their borders or in neighboring countries. It should be noted that this has been the strategy of the Islamic State during the last few years, encouraging its followers in the West to commit "low cost" attacks with vehicles or with a knife.
What makes the status of Trinidad and Tobago an exceptional status is that there has not been a clear patron saint of recruitment, but rather in recent years there have been several different situations.
On page 64 of No. 15 of Dabiq, the propaganda magazine of the Islamic State, there was an extensive interview with a fighter of the "Caliphate" named Abu Sa'ad at-Trinidadi. This soldier of the "Caliphate", whose real name is Shane Crawford, was one of the first soldiers from Trinidad and Tobago to come to Daesh's call. It is curious that Dabiq dedicated several pages to him, but the fact is that the Trinidadian fighters were a valuable treasure for this organization, for two reasons:
-First, by speaking English, which improved the organization's outreach radius. As former U.S. Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago John L. Estrada told the New York Times, "Trinidadians do very well in ISIS. They are very high up in their ranks, they are well respected, and they speak English."
-Secondly, they are an attraction for young Caribbean people who are disenchanted with society, regardless of their religion.
As much as Dabiq magazine insists on the testimony of Sa'ad at-Trinidadi - a young man supposedly disenchanted with the Christian religion, who discovered in Islam the true answer to his questions - religion was not in fact the fundamental motive that led the young Trinidadians to join the "Caliphate". As Simon Cottee points out in the research cited above, most of the 130 enlisted Trinidadians had been born into Muslim families of class average Indo-Eastern origin.
The motives that may have affected the young men recruited in Trinidad and Tobago probably had more to do with the sociological need to belong to a group or gang. As Dylan Kerrigan of the University of the West Indiesresearcher told the British newspaper The Guardian, "A gang provides a family, male role models, a social order, and promises access to what many young men think they want: money, power, women, respect. One imam told me that, rather than joining a local gang, some see the trip to the Middle East as joining another gang." Likewise, joining Daesh provided a means of escape for those facing judicial charges. In fact, the idealized Sa'ad at-Trinidadi (Shane Crawford) had already been arrested several times by the authorities and the two companions with whom he traveled to Syria had spent time in jail.
Young people in Trinidad and Tobago could have been radicalized through their visits to local mosques, not forgetting that, as elsewhere in the world, radicalization could also have occurred through online propaganda, the "Cybercaliphate". As for possible agents of radicalization in the first place is who Sa'ad at-Trinidadi mentions as his mentor, Shaykh Ashmead Choate. This man was the head of the conspiracy that in 2011 planned the assassination of the prime minister and other authorities and was ultimately written request foiled. Ashmead Choate studied natural sciences in his native country, but later studied hadith (the behaviors stemming from Muhammad's teachings; they are one of the fundamental pillars of the Sunna) at the Islamic University of Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is estimated that he left the country in 2013 to join the ranks of Daesh, as Sa'ad at-Trinidadi mentions in his interview, "He made the hegira to the Islamic State and found martyrdom fighting in Ramadi." The reasons for his radicalization are not known, but they could be related to his trip to Saudi Arabia, where he might have been attracted by a more Salafist version of Islam.
Similarly, there are indications pointing in other directions. One of the names that surface is that of Yasin Abu Bakr, former leader of the group Jamaat Al Muslimeen, who, having been the precursor of violence in the 1990s and the author of the coup, may have indirectly created a model to follow, although today he does not broadcast a clear call for violence. Likewise, the Boos mosque in Rio Claro, south of Trinidad, run by Imam Nazim Mohammed, was a stopover for many of those who later went on to fight in the ranks of ISIS, such as Shane Crawford and Fareed Mustapha. In an interview with Al Jazeera, the imam himself denied being a precursor of the Daesh cause, although fifteen members of his family have emigrated to Syria and several witnesses to his sermons state that he has on occasion praised the Islamic State.
Also to be taken into account is Abdullah Al-Faisal, originally from Jamaica, who via the internet and social networks had engaged in Islamic State propaganda through Facebook groups and blogs such as Authentic Tauheed, where he distributed propaganda and posted videos of his sermons. His activity is suspected to have ranged from contact with Jesse Morton, an American citizen who worked with Zachary Chesser for apply for the murder of the South Park television show editors to the radicalization of Germaine Lindsay, one of the four Britons who perpetrated the July 7, 2007 London subway bombing. In September 2014, Faisal joined Mohammed Mizanur Rahman and other Islamist propagandists on an online platform where they urged their followers to join the ranks of ISIS. The U.S. government has linked Faisal to other terrorists such as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and suspects that he may also have been one of the instigators of radicalization in Trinidad and Tobago.
List compiled from the US Treasury's department sanctions and information from the British newspaper The Guardian and newspapers in Trinidad and Tobago.
Thierry Baudet's electoral surprise and the new Dutch right wing
The Netherlands has seen in recent years not only the decline of some of the traditional parties, but even the new party of the populist Geert Wilders has been overtaken by an even newer training , led by Thierry Baudet, also markedly right-wing but somewhat more sophisticated. The political earthquake of the March regional elections could sweep away the coalition government of the liberal Mark Rutte, who has provided continuity in Dutch politics over the past nine years.
▲ Thierry Baudet, in an advertising spot for his party, Forum for Democracy (FVD).
article / Jokin de Carlos Sola
On March 20, regional elections were held in the Netherlands. The parties that make up the coalition that keeps Mark Rutte in power suffered a strong punishment in all regions, and the same happened with the party of the famous and controversial Geert Wilders. The big winner of these elections was the Forum for Democracy (FvD) party, founded and led by Thierry Baudet, 36, the new star of Dutch politics. These results sow doubts about the future of Mark Rutte's government once the composition of the Senate is renewed next May.
Since World War II, three forces have been at the center of Dutch politics: the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), the Labor Party (PvA) and the liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). All three accounted for 83% of the Dutch electorate in 1982. Due to the Dutch system of proportional representation, no party has ever had an absolute majority, so there have always been coalition governments. The system also means that, because they are not punished, small parties always achieve representation, thus providing a great ideological variety in Parliament.
Over the years, the three main parties lost influence. In 2010, after eight years in government, the CDA went from 26% and first place in Parliament to 13% and fourth place. This fall brought the VVD to power for the first time under the leadership of Mark Rutte and triggered the entrance of Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV), a right-wing populist training , in Dutch politics. Shortly thereafter Rutte formed a Grand Coalition with the PvA. However, this decision caused Labour to drop from 24% to 5% in the 2017 elections. These results meant that both the VVD and Rutte were left as the last element of old Dutch politics.
These 2017 elections generated even greater diversity in Parliament. In them, parties such as the Reformed Party, of Calvinist Orthodox ideology; the baptized 50+, with the goal to defend the interests of retirees, or the DENK party, created to defend the interests of the Turkish minority in the country, achieved representation. However, none of these parties would later be as relevant as the Forum for Democracy and its leader Thierry Baudet.
Forum for Democracy
The Forum for Democracy was founded as a think tank in 2016, led by 33-year-old French-Dutchman Thierry Baudet. The following year the FvD became a party, presenting itself as a conservative or national conservativetraining , and won two MPs in regional elections. Since then it has been growing, mainly at the expense of Geert Wilders and his PVV. One of the main reasons for this is that Wilders is accused of having no program other than the rejection of immigration and the exit from the European Union. As celebrated as it was controversial was the fact that PVV presented its program on only one page. On the contrary, Baudet has created a broad program in which issues such as the introduction of direct democracy, the privatization of certain sectors, the end of military cuts and a rejection of multiculturalism in general are proposed. On the other hand, Baudet has created an image of greater intellectual stature and respectability than Wilders. However, the party has also suffered declines in popularity because of certain attitudes of Baudet, such as his climate change denialism, his relationship with Jean Marie Le Pen or Filip Dewinter, and his refusal to answer whether he linked IQ to race.
The Netherlands is divided into 12 regions, each region has a committee, which can have between 39 and 55 representatives. Each committee elects both the Royal Commissioner, who acts as the highest authority in the region, and the executive, usually formed through a coalition of parties. The regions have a number of powers granted to them by the central government.
In the provincial elections last March, the FvD became the leading party in 6 out of 12 regions, including North Holland and South Holland, where the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, which had been traditional VVD strongholds, are located. In addition to this, it became the party with the most representatives in the whole of the Netherlands. These gains were achieved mainly at the expense of the PVV. Although these results do not guarantee the FvD government in any region, they do give it influence and media coverage, something Baudet has been able to take advantage of.
Several media linked Baudet's victory to the murder a few days earlier in Utrecht of three Dutch nationals by a Turkish citizen, which authorities said was most likely terrorist motivated. However, the FvD had been growing and gaining ground for some time. The reasons for its rise are several: the decline of Wilders, the actions of Prime Minister Rutte in favor of Dutch companies such as Shell or Unilever (business where he previously worked), the erosion of the traditional parties, which in turn damages their allies, and the rejection of certain immigration policies that Baudet linked to the attack in Utrecht. The Dutch Greens have also experienced great growth, accumulating the young vote that previously supported Democrats 66.
result of the Dutch regional elections on March 20, 2019 [Wikipedia].
Impact on Dutch Policy
The victory of the Baudet party over Rutte's party directly affects the central government, the Dutch electoral system and the prime minister himself. First of all, many media welcomed the results as a evaluation of the Dutch people on Rutte's government. The biggest punishment was for Rutte's allies, the Democrats 66 and the Christian Democratic Appeal, which lost the most support in the regions. Since coming to power in 2010, Rutte has managed to maintain the loyalty of his electorate, but all his allies have ended up being punished by their voters. Therefore, it is possible that Rutte's government will not be able to finish its mandate, if his allies end up turning their backs on him.
The result of the March regionals may have a second impact on the Senate. The Dutch do not appoint their senators directly, but the regional councils elect the senators, so the results of the regional elections have a direct effect on the composition of the upper house. It is therefore very likely that the parties that make up Rutte's government will suffer a major setback in the Senate, which will make it difficult for the Prime Minister to pass his legislative initiatives.
The third consequence directly affects Rutte himself. In 2019 Donald Tusk finishes his second term as president of the European committee and Rutte had a good chance of succeeding him, but with him being the main electoral asset of his party, his departure could sink the VVD. It could then happen as it did with Tusk's departure from Poland, which resulted in a conservative victory a year later.
Whatever the outcome, Dutch politics has in recent years shown great volatility and a lot of movement. In 2016 it was believed that Wilders would win the election and previously that D66 would wrest the Liberal leadership from the VVD. It is difficult to predict which way the wind will turn the mill.