Posts tagged ‘Latin America’
Colombia is back in the news.
Vice President Joe Biden has announced that he is going to visit Colombia during a Latin America trip later this month. The trip, which is slated to begin the week of May 26, will include visits to Brazil and the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
“In Colombia, the vice president will meet with President [Juan Manuel] Santos to build on security relations and focus on ways to further the prosperity of our two countries,” the White House announced.
It was the latest development in the increasing cooperation between the United States and Colombia.
Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with his Colombian counterpart – Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon – to discuss the security partnership between the two countries. Speaking later at the National Defense University’s Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, Pinzon said ““Today, the average Colombian citizen lists street crime as a greater threat than terrorism.” Pinzón said, noting how far Colombia has come from the height of its nearly 50-year Marxist insurgency, when more than four terrorist attacks a day occurred.
For the last two decades the insurgency by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known by its Spanish acronym FARC, has been fueled by narcotics trafficking, according to the CIA.
At the height of the insurgency, 20-30 years ago, Colombia was “nearly a failed state,” Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly told a recent conference on transnational organized crime. But in the years since, said Kelly – the head of U.S. Southern Command – Colombia has done a “tremendous job” battling both the FARC and narcotics cartels — while reforming its military and legal system. “And they’ve done this almost entirely by themselves,” with relatively limited military assistance from the United States, Kelly said. “Once they stick a fork in the FARC, they’ll be even more effective in taking cocaine off the market,” Kelly told the gathering in Alexandria, Virginia, sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.
At an earlier IDGA conference on countering-improvised explosives devices, one speaker was a Colombian Army officer who described the skill in dealing with booby traps and roadside bombs that his military has developed during almost 50 years battling a Marxist insurgency. Colombia is considered second only to Afghanistan for the number IED attacks within its borders.
Meanwhile, a panel of Latin American experts on Colombia’s counter insurgency opined that the “military-centered approach has been good but not sufficient enough” to deal with problems within its borders and across the region. In a March panel discussion at George Washington University, experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Strategic Studies Institute and the National Defense University, cited the need for politicians and bureaucrats to show a governmental presence in rural areas once controlled by the rebels, the need for the military to coordinate operations with analysis of how FARC had changed tactics and areas of operation; and provide security and stability while dealing with new types of battlefields. Here’s a Synopsis
In the days since the March 5 death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, security analysts have speculated on whether regime change in Caracas will have any effect on transnational narcotics cartels operating in Latin America.
Since 1999, when Chavez began his 14-year rule, Venezuela has been considered a major hub for the shipment of illegal narcotics from neighboring Colombia to the United States and Europe. The U.S. Treasury Department has added several high-level Venezuelan military and intelligence officials to its Foreign Narcotics Kingpin list, for alleged “material assistance” to the Colombian rebel group known as FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) which Washington has labeled a “narco-terrorist organization.”
In the last decade, the battle against transnational criminal organizations has stretched from Central and South America across the Atlantic to West Africa and beyond. Officials say drug trafficking is destablizing, promotes corruption and other illegal activity including human trafficking and piracy. Increasingly, U.S. and other militaries are helping local and national law enforcement agencies with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to battle criminal cartels.
By law, the U.S. Defense Department is the lead agency for the detection and monitoring of aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs, although federal law also limits the military’s assistance in U.S. territory to civil support. However, the Coast Guard, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, has dual military and law enforcement authority.
But as authorities increase pressure on them in the Western Hemisphere, narco-cartels have been turning to Africa, especially the politically unstable countries of West Africa, to use as transit points for Europe-bound illicit drug shipments.
A United Nations report released Feb. 25 listed the growing influence of narco-cartels both foreign and home-grown in West Africa. Cocaine trafficking remains the most lucrative criminal activity of international groups operating in the region, but one “worrying development” is the emergence of methamphetamine production and related trafficking, according to the report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The report also discussed human trafficking between West Africa and Europe and arms trafficking across Africa.
Top government officials from the United States and other countries are slated to discuss the toll of trafficking in drugs, guns and humans at the Countering Transnational Organized Crime conference in Alexandria, Va. next month. To read the whole story, visit the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement site (http://www.idga.org) or click here.
A New Gold Rush
As it raises its defense spending as part of a strategy to secure its borders and offshore oil deposits, Brazil has become a big draw for foreign defense contractors like BAE Systems, Eurocopter, Boeing, Saab and Dassault, according to the Financial Times.
Brazil is building a fleet of five submarines — one of them nuclear-powered — with French contractor DCNS. And aircraft from France (Dassault’s Rafale), the United States (Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet) and Sweden (Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen) are all vying for Brazil’s much delayed selection of a contractor to build a new fleet of more than 30 multi-role jet fighters.
Brazil is Latin America’s largest country and the sixth-largest economy in the world.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute ranks Brazil 10th in military spending in 2011 — up from 11th in 2010. Brazil’s military budget was $35.4 billion, SIPRI calculated, or 1.5 percent of Brazil’s gross domestic product. it’s defense spending has risen 19 percent since 2002, even though it dropped 8.2 percent from 2010 to 2011.
Overall, Latin America’s defense spending dropped 3.3 percent in 2011. It was up 5.1 percent in 2010. The biggest increase was Mexico’s: up 5.7 percent in 2011 and up by 52 percent since 2002 — largely due to increased military involvement in the country’s war with drug cartels, SIPRI said in an April 2012 report.
Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer S.A. has signed an agreement with Anglo-Italian helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland establishing a joint venture to explore producing helicopters in Brazil, both companies announced recently.
Preliminary studies by Embraer and AgustaWestland indicate strong market potential for twin engine, medium lift helicopters — especially to meet the needs of the of the offshore oil and gas market. Other key market sectors, such as the military, “show promising potential as well,” the companies said.
Russia Considers New Naval Bases
As the United States military shifts attention to the Asia Pacific region and reaches agreements to base troops and ships in Australia, Singapore and possibly the Philippines, Russia is considering expanding its overseas naval bases.
Currently, Moscow has only one overseas military installation – a naval supply base at Tartus in civil war-wracked Syria. But the commander of the Russian navy recently said he is looking at opening bases in Cuba, Vietnam and on the Indian Ocean island chain of the Seychelles.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries the political and military jockeying – especially espionage – by Russia and Britain for influence in Central Asia was called “the Great Game.” But after World War II the United States replaced the British Empire and the Soviet Union succeeded the Russian Empire as players of the Great Game.
But now it appears the “Game” may be moving East and West and out to sea with Moscow suggesting it needs more naval bases around the world. “It is true, we are working on the deployment of Russian naval bases outside Russian territory,” Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov told the RIA Novosti news agency July 27, according to several western news accounts.
But a day later, Russia’s defense ministry, denied that it was trolling for new bases. In a statement the ministry called the reports a media “fantasy” and said Chirkov – who does not have the authority to make such deals with other governments – was misquoted, AFP reported.
Yesterday (August 1), Pravda reported that the base expansions were being planned for “rest and replenishment of the crews after the campaign in the area and not military bases.” But Russian warships could do both, if necessary, Pravda added “given the good attitudes of the leaders of these countries toward Russia.”
At the Pentagon, Defense Department spokesman George Little said last week that Russia is within its rights “to enter into military agreements and relationships” with other countries, Bloomberg Businessweek reported, noting that Russia has been building up its Navy since 2008.
Pundits and politicians around the world were quick to speculate about what it all means. Some thought Vietnam – nervous about China’s bullying behavior in the South China Sea, where massive deposits of oil and gas are thought to exist beneath the sea bed – is looking for a big partner to counter Beijing. Others believed Cuba and Venezuela might be looking for a champion as a buffer against the U.S.
Cuban leader Raul Castro met with Moscow officials last month and Vietnam’s President Truong Tan Sang met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Russia recently. The talks were said to include exploring closer military ties but no announcement was made. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also met with Sang in June and visited the Cam Ranh Bay facility. Sang previously said the naval base’s facilities would be open to all friendly navies.
The Soviet Union took over the massive naval base at Cam Ranh Bay in 1979 after the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in the mid 1970s. But after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russian officials decided the rent Vietnam wanted to charge for continued use of its facility was too high and withdrew its personnel in 2002. That was the same year Russia closed its radar facility in Lourdes, Cuba, where the Soviet Union had operated an intelligence-gathering base since the 1960s.
Bridge? What Bridge?
What’s wrong with this picture? Why are these guys crossing a bridge that has no floorboards?
Actually they’re special operations team members from the Dominican Republic’s military tackling their first obstacle during a special forces competition. Fuerzas Comando (commando forces) 2012 was held from June 6-14 at the Colombian National Training Center on Fort Tolemaida, Colombia. The goal is to promote military-to-military relationships and increasing familiarity with each others’ equipment, weapons and tactics while fostering improved regional security. There was also a separate leadership seminar running concurrently in Bogota, Colombia’s capital.
Capabilities tested during the special operations competition include: physical fitness, marksmanship, aquatic skills, close quarters combat and tactical skills.
Military and police teams from 21 nations across the Americas and Caribbean took part in the competition sponsored by U.S. Southern Command.
They came from the Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, the U.S. and Uruguay.
Colombia won the competition, followed by Ecuador in 2nd place and Uruguay in 3rd place. The full results are here.
More unrest in Mali. Earlier this week an angry mob stormed the presidential palace and attacked the interim president.
Interim President Dioncounda Traore suffered a head wound after Monday’s attack by protesters, the Associated Press reported. He was treated and released from a hospital a few hours later.
Now the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is threatening to impose sanctions on those responsible.
The political situation has been chaotic in the largely desert northwest African nation since a military coup on March 21 when the democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure, was forced from office. Soldiers blamed him for botching the response to a rebellion by Tuaregs in the north.
Rebels swept over the northern half of the country after the coup. A number of militant Islamists followed in their wake sparking the imposition of strict Muslim sharia law in some areas.
War on Drugs
The use of West Africa as a staging point for the shipment of narcotics to Europe by international drug cartels is getting more attention from U.S. And international organizations.
Officials in the Cape Verde islands seized 1.5 metric tons of cocaine with assistance of the new Counter narcotics and Maritime Interagency Operations Center there that U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) helped to support.
AFRICOM is also collaborating with the U.S. State Department and Drug Enforcement Agency to help Ghana establish a specialized counter drug unit.
In testimony before a Senate panel May 16, William Wechsler, deputy assistant secretary of defense for counter narcotics and global threats, said the drug cartels, increasingly under the gun in the Western Hemisphere, are turning to Africa – especially the politically unstable countries of West Africa.
“As they target the lucrative and growing European market for cocaine,” he said, “we are also concerned about trafficking of southwest Asian heroin, as well as other drugs, such as khat.”
Restoring the Rule of Law
One of the countries said to be most penetrated by Latin American drug lords in Guinea-Bissau, which also saw its government overthrown by an April military coup.
Now the military junta says it is handing back power to a civilian regime, the BBC reports, but foreign observers are skeptical.
ECOWAS brokered a deal with the junta to organize elections in a year. Meanwhile more than 600 peacekeeping troops are to be stationed in the former Portuguese colony – .about 70 soldiers from Burkina Faso have arrived so far.
High Tech Response
Two of the U.S. Navy’s top research labs are teaming with scientists in Chile to develop widget – or web-based applications – to help police the world’s oceans and combat piracy.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center Pacific have formed a research alliance – the International Collaborative Development for Enhanced Maritime Domain Awareness – to build the widgets that will analyze data and other information for sailors and maritime interests to combat pirates, drug smugglers, arms traffickers and other criminals on the high seas.
ONR will be working with researchers at the Technical University Federico Santa Maria, a top engineering school in Chile, to create web-based tools in an open source environment. The focus will be on software to improve automation, small-target detection and intent detection.
Ultimately, the software will be compatible with multiple maritime network systems so that navies around the world can use the tools and share information. John Stasny, an engineer in SPAWAR’s advanced systems analysis systems branch at Systems Center Pacific, says the plan calls for integrating the software tools into a widget framework accessible to coalition partners at a web portal.
The project with Chile is part of a larger collaboration that includes researchers at the University of Ghana, the University of Pretoria, the University of Mauritius and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa.
Don’t Mess With Me, Argentina
Argentina, South America’s second-largest country, has been making a lot of headlines lately: saber-rattling over the Falkland Islands as the 30th anniversary of that war with Britain nears … getting back into the arms business … and threatening to pick a fight with another European nation over a giant energy company.
You Say Falklands, I Say Malvinas
Thirty years ago this month, a Britsh battle group led by the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, sailed for the South Atlantic to reclaim the Falkland Islands, which Argentina had invaded a few days earlier and claimed as its own as Las Islas Mavinas – not Falkland Islands.
The Brits drove Argentina’s military junta to the peace table within a few months of fighting. The embarassing loss also drove the junta from office.
Now Argentina’s government is making noise about the windswept islands in the middle of almost nowhere, even threatening to invade them again. Most of Latin America is siding with Argentina, calling the UK’s position there since 1833 an occupation.
At a summit of Western Hemisphere leaders in Colombia over the weekend, the U.S. and Canada declined to join a declaration supporting Argentina’s rights to the islands.
The Planes of Argentina Are Called Pampas
Argentina is hoping to revive its defense manufacturing industry with the production of Pampa combat and training aircraft. According to UPI via Defense Industry Daily, Buenos Aires was inspired by Brazil’s resurgent arms industry.
For a start, production will be for the demands of the Argentine Air Force and Navy but analysts say government planners are looking to enter the export market.
Fadea, the government-controlled aircraft factory in Cordoba plans to build 100 Pampa II in association with German aerospace company Grob Aircraft AG, according to press reports. Grob Aircraft won a contract last year to build turbo prop-powered trainers for the Indonesian Air Force.
In addition to yanking the British Lion’s tail over the Falklands/Malvinas, Argentina is picking a fight with Spain over a huge energy company. The Argentine company, YPF, was privatized and sold to Spain’s Repsol in the 1990s. But Argentine President Cristina Fernandez decreed the seizure of Repsol’s 51 percent stake in the company, claiming that Argentina needed to reclaim sovereignty of its natural resources.
The move outraged the Spanish government, which vowed retaliation — both legal and economic, Reuters reported. Fernandez’s decision cheered voters who have grown disenchanted with her government in recent months. It also spooked international investors, according to the Associated Press.
Fernandez had been dropping in popularity polls before the saber-rattling and nationalization tactics, which reminds us of the moves taken by the military junta in 1982 when its popularity was waning. Stay tuned.
Updates with Dempsey visit to Brazil, adds background (in italics)
Colombia Rebels Killed
Government troops in Colombia killed 36 rebels Monday (March 26) in an airstrike on a training camp in the state of Metas south of Bogota, the capital.
It was the second such raid against Colmbia’s main guerilla force in less than a week. On March 21, the Colombian military killed 33 rebels in another air raid on Arauca state near the border with Venezuela, the British newspaper The Guardian reported. That raid followed an early March rebel attack that killed 11 Colombian soldiers.
The attacks come just as the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the Spanish acronym FARC, said it would release the last of its prisoners – some of them held for as long as 14 years – early next month.
FARC has been waging an insurgency against Bogota since the 1960s resulting in the deaths of thousands of soldiers, rebels and citizens. In recent years FARC has been battered by an increasingly professional and effective Colombian military with U.S. financial aid and military assistance, the Associated Press reported.
Recently FARC said it was halting kidnappings for ransom, a long-time source of income along with the illegal cocaine trade.
Veteran U.S. Officers to Assist Colombia
The United States is preparing to send Army brigade commanders with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan to Colombia to assist a joint task force aimed at defeating FARC guerillas.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Chiefs of Staff, on a tour of Colombia and Brazil, says the U.S. officers will visit commanders of Joint Task Force Vulcano for two weeks to help with leader development and share their experience fighting insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The task force is one of several created by the Colombian government to disrupt rebel organizations engaging in drug smuggling, arms trafficking, illegal mining and bomb manufacturing. The learning experience won’t be a one way street, Demsey says, adding that he fully expects U.S. leaders to learn from the Colombian counterparts.
On a two-day visit to Colombia to meet with high ranking political and defense officials, Dempsey said Colombia had a good strategy for combating FARC. That strategy calls for cutting FARC’s forces – now numbering 8,000-to-9,000 – by 2014.
During his meetings, Dempsey said the Colombians indicated ways to accelerate their efforts on the ground including: border security, protecting critical infrastructure, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, intelligence fusion, airlift and unmanned aircraft.
The Colombians also would like the U.S. to provide additional aircraft to transport cargo and troops, Dempsey told reporters traveling with him, the Associated Press reported.
Getting Closer to Brazil
Dempsey wound up his first trip to South America as chairman of the Joint Chiefs with a visit to Brazil, where he met with Brazilian military leaders and toured the country’s jungle warfare training center near Manaus in the Amazonia region. The world class training center has seen only a few U.S. troops among its students. In fact, it has graduated more officers and non-commissioned officers from France (86) than from the U.S. (25) in its 48-year history.
Dempsey said Brazil, the largest country and largest economy in South America, has a key role to play in the region. The Pentagon, as part of its new strategic guidance, is seeking to enlist the assistance of Brazil, Colombia and other countries in the region to block the spread of terrorist groups and transnational crime – particularly narcotics trafficking.
To protect its the offshore oil deposits and the water and agricultural resources of the Amazon region, Brazil is expanding its military acquisitions under a 2010 defense strategy. It is building five submarines – one them nuclear-powered – in an agreement with French shipbuilder DCNS. France also has a deal to sell Brazil 50 EC725 Cougar military transport helicopters. And Sao Paulo is said to be close to deciding from whom it will buy 36 next generation mult-role combat jet fighters.
Brazil is, itself, a military manufacturer and exporter. Recently it sold the Embraer’s Super Tucan turbo-prop plane, which can serve as a trainer or light attack counter insurgency weapon, to three African nations: Angola, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. In the past, when it was ruled by a military junta, Brazil was a leading manufacturer and exporter of armored vehicles, rocket launchers and small arms.
In addition to international drug cartels that move drug shipments by plane, boat and homemade submarines, U.S. security planners are also concerned about the activities of Iran, China and Russia in Latin America and the presence of businesses linked to international terrorist groups – particularly in the largely lawless Triple Frontier region where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay share borders.
Dempsey said he was concerned that transit routes used to smuggle drugs today could be used by terrorists to smuggle weapons of mass destruction in the future, the AP’s Robert Burns reported.
To see a 10-minute French television report on the Brazilian jungle warfare training center click here. (In French except where it’s in Brazilian Portuguese)
Black Hawk Over Guyana
The crew chief of an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter leans out a side door as the chopper prepares to land at Camp Stephenson, 25 miles outside Georgetown, the capital of Guyana on South America’s northern Atlantic Coast, during Exercise Fused Response 2012. If you click on the photo to enlarge it you’ll get a better look at the two GAU-17/A miniguns at either door.
The special operations forces exercise ran from March 1-9 in Guyana, the only country in South America where English is the official language. Organized by U.S. Southern Command, the bi-lateral exercise sought to improve military skills and practices for responding to challenges posed by transnational organized crime and the illicit trafficking of people, drugs and other contraband (See 4GWAR March 15). More than 200 soldiers from the Guyana Defence Force and 350 U.S. troops from all branches of the services — including Army and Navy special operations forces — participated in tactical exercises that ranged from room clearing and close-quarters battle training to air and amphibious assault.
The exercise is part of SOUTHCOM’s efforts to build and sustain partnerships in the region — a task that has grown in importance since the Obama administration’s strategy shift focusing on the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.
For more photos of Exercise Fueled Response, click here.