Posts filed under ‘BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China)’
Is Santa Canadian?
It was meant as a light-hearted public service message that obtaining a Canadian e-passport is quick and easy – but when Ottawa issued passports to Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus before Christmas, it was also driving home a point about who owns the North Pole.
The Canadian government is exploring ways to legally justify its territorial claims in the Arctic (see post below) which it says includes the waters around the North Pole. That claim – made by the government of conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper – has ruffled Russian feathers (Moscow also claims ownership of the Pole) and certainly gotten the attention of the other countries that make up the Arctic Council: Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the United States.
“Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander today presented Santa and Mrs. Claus with the 2,999,999th and 3,000,000th ePassports at a special ceremony in Vaughan, Ontario,” the government announced in a tongue-in-cheek news release – that also claimed the Clauses live at North Pole, Canada – the Toronto Globe and Mail reported December 20.
* * * *
Cold Rush to Cold War?
The “Cold Rush” to lay claim to the Arctic’s rich untapped mineral resources may be shifting to an arms race at the top of the world.
Canada and Russia could be at the start of an arms race in the Far North after the Canadian government announced December 9 their intentions to extend their territorial claims to include th waters – and the land beneath them – extending to North Pole.
Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird, said his government had asked scientists to work on a submission to the United Nations arguing that the outer limits of Canada’s territory include the north pole, which has yet to be claimed by any country, the Guardian reported.
That announcement prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to direct his defense leaders to start building up military force and infrastructure in the Arctic.
The Ottawa’s action and Moscow’s reaction confirms what many observers feared would happen as the global warming trend makes the Arctic and itys vast oil, gas and mineral resources more accessible, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Analysts predicted a “Cold Rush” of nations trying to stake a claim to the riches beneath Arctic waters and flood expected new ice-free sea lanes with cargo, naval and cruise vessels.
* * * *
Greenpeace Protestors Released
Russia has dropped charges against all 30 Greenpeace environmental activists involved in protests against Arctic oil drilling, the group says.
The first of the 30 to be released – Soviet-born Swedish activist Dima Litvinov – crossed the border into Finland after receiving an exit stamp on his passport, ITV reported. Thirteen other protestors – arrested in September and charged with hooliganism for a protest at an offshore Russian oil drilling rig – have also received the exit stamp which allows them to leave Russia. The rest of the so-called “Arctic 30,”” are expected to go through the process Friday (December 27).
The charges were dropped after Russia’s parliament passed an amnesty law that was seen as an attempt by the Kremlin to deflect criticism of its human rights record in advance of the Winter Olympic Games being held in Russia in February, according to the Guardian.
From a train bound for Helsinki, Litvinov said Russia owed him a medal rather than a pardon for his protest work. “The Arctic has still not been saved and there’s a lot to be done” he said.
ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the Arctic. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region, where we seek to meet our national security needs, protect the environment, responsibly manage resources, account for indigenous communities, support scientific research, and strengthen international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”
AROUND AFRICA: UPDATE — U.N. Drone Deployment Delayed; C.A.R. Militia Disbanded; China’s African Media Buys; Cassava Crop Threatened
U.N. Delays Congo Drone Deployment
U.N. peacekeepers’ plans to deploy an unarmed surveillance drone in the skies over the Democratic Republic of Congo have been delayed until December, Reuters reports.
The United Nations planned to deploy a Falco unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made by Italian defense electronics firm Selex ES (a unit of Finmeccanica) last month in eastern Congo, but unanticipated procurement procedures have caused a delay “until the first days of December,” U.N. Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told a news conference Thursday (Sept. 12).
Congo troops and U.N. peacekeepers have been battling an insurgency by a rebel group known as M23, in the rugged eastern part of the country for more than a year. The rebels defected from the DRC Army in 2012 over alleged mistreatment. Thick forests and few roads have made ground patrolling difficult in the area, which borders Uganda and Rwanda.
The Falco is a medium altitude, medium endurance surveillance platform capable of carrying a range of payloads including several types of high resolution sensors. It will be the first time the U.N. has used a drone for aerial surveillance. If successful, officials and diplomats hope UAVs could be used in peackeeping missions in Ivory Coast and South Sudan. The United States is mounting unarmed drone surveillance of Mali and other strife-torn areas of the Sahel from a base in Niger.
Central African Republic
The president of the Central African Republic says he is disbanding the Seleka rebel group that helped to bring him to power earlier this year, according to the Voice of America. President Michel Djotodia made the announcement Friday (Sept. 13) in the C.A.R. capital, Bangui, saying the rebel coalition “no longer exists.” But he provided no details about steps he would take to dissolve the group.
Recently, fighters from the rebel movement have been blamed for clashes with rival militias as well as a surge in robberies, auto thefts, rapes and murders. The violence has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.
China News in Africa
If there is an “information war” between China and the United States on an African battleground, as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested at a congressional committee hearing in 2011, it appears that China is beginning to win the war.
That’s the take away from Canada’s Globe and Mail in a story about Chinese media acquisitions in Africa.
“In South Africa, Chinese investors have teamed up with allies of the ruling African National Congress to purchase Independent News and Media, one of the most powerful media groups in the country, which owns daily newspapers in all of the major cities,” the Toronto-based newspaper reports.
China has been making big investments in African media from newspapers and magazines to satellite television and radio stations, and some observers believe that will allow the People’s Republic to promote its own agenda in the press and counter hostile coverage.
According to another South African newspaper, the Mail & Guardian, two Chinese companies — China International Television Corporation and China-Africa Development Fund — have acquired a 20 percent stake in Independent News and Media. The Mail & Guardian previously reported that the South African state-owned Public Investment Corporation (PIC) was buying 25 percent of the company, using Government Employee Pension Fund money.
Africa produces 60 percent of the world’s cassava crop, but it’s been drastically declining in East and Central Africa due to two plant diseases that have reduced production, according to the Voice of America.
Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and especially Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) pose an enormous threat to the food security of 135 million people in Central and East Africa, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). At least half of all plants in Africa are affected by one of these diseases.
The FAO says a minimum of $100 million is needed to support clean farm production, disease surveillance and research, and market and micro-finance development across the cassava production chain.
Billion Dollar Deal
China has agreed to provide $1.1 billion in low interest loans to oil-rich Nigeria to pay for much-needed infrastructure in Africa’s most populous country.
The money will help build roads, airport terminals in four cities and a light rail line for Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. China is investing heavily in Africa as a source of oil and other natural resources, according to the BBC. Chinese companies, under contracts worth $1.7 billion, are already building roads across Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer.
The agreement was signed Wednesday (July 10) by Nigerian Prersident Goodluck Jonathan and Chinese leader Xi Jinping during Jonathan’s four-day visit to Beijing.
The Associated Press reported that China’s demand for crude oil produced in Nigeria is expected to rise tenfold to 200,000 barrels a day by 2015, according to information provided by a team accompanying Jonathan.
Zang Chun, an expert on Africa at the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Studies, told the AP that Nigeria is important to China because it has the largest economy in West Africa and because it has oil.
* * * *
Obama in Africa
During his three-nation tour of Africa earlier this month, President Barack Obama pledged U.S. investment in a plan to double electrical capacity in sub-Saharan Africa.
Obama, who visited Senegal in West Africa, South Africa and finally the East African nation of Tanzania during his eight-day trip, spoke about food security and announced a $7 billion investment to double electrical capacity in sub-Saharan Africa.
On his last day in Tanzania, Obama visited the Ubungo Symbion Power Plant near Dar es Salaam, to focus on the lack of electrical power for most residents of sub-Saharan Africa. investing $7 billion in financial support for an initiative called “Power Africa.” Tanzania is one of the initial six participating countries where the government hopes to add 10,000 megawatts of generation capacity and reach 20 million households that lack electricity.
“Public and private resources will be matched with projects led by African countries that are taking the lead on reform,” Obama said. “In this case, African governments commit to energy reforms. And the U.S. is committing some $7 billion in support, and private sector companies have already committed more than $9 billion. And this is just the beginning,” he added “because we look forward to even more companies joining this effort.”
Speaking to U.S. and African business leaders in Dar Es Salaam, Obama announced that new U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker would lead a “major trade initiative” to Africa in her first year at the Commerce Department, the New York Times reported.
* * * *
Food Security Threat
A deteriorating food security situation in northeastern Uganda could affect an estimated 1.2 million people, according to reports from the government and aid agencies.
A June 2013 analysis, led by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, revealed that up to 975,000 people in the semi-arid Karamoja region face “stressed” levels of food insecurity, while 234,000 more cannot meet their minimum food needs, according to IRIN.
Food security – or the lack of it – is considered a potential security issue by U.S. Intelligence officials. In their 2013 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the U.S. Intelligence Community says “terrorists, militants and international crime organizations can use declining food security to promote their own legitimacy and undermine government authority. Growing food insecurity in weakly governed countries could lead to political violence and provide opportunities for existing insurgent groups to capitalize on poor conditions, exploit international food aid and discredit governments for their inability to address basic needs.”
Meanwhile, African leaders meeting in Ethiopia earlier this month pledged to make agriculture a higher priority in their national policies and increase spending witrh a goal of ending hunger across the continent by 2025, The Guardian reported.
At the conclusion of meeting at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, ministers committed to working with the private sector, farmers’ groups, civil society and academia to increaase productivity – while addressing the underlying causes of malnutrition.
Despite strong economic growth across many parts of Africa over the past 10 years, nearly a quarter of the population – about 240 million people – are undernourished, of whom more than 40 percent are children under five, according to the Guardian.
Of the 20 countries in the world suffering from prolonged food shortages, 17 are in Africa, according to José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
In an interview with the news agency Inter Press Service, da Silva said Africa is entering a new era “with greater investment in agriculture, and that stronger coordination between governments, civil society organizations and the private sector would make the goal of zero hunger in Africa realistic by 2025.”
In advance of the Confederationss Cup soccer (football) tournament going on now at stadiums across Brazil, Latin America’s biggest country launched its biggest military exercise to secure its enormous border.
Called Operation Agatha, the exercise sought to halt the flow of drugs and weapons into Brazil, which will see a papal visit next month, Soccer’s World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics in 2016, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
The Brazilian government called out 33,500 troops and police to secure the country’s 10,492-mile border, which it shares with 10 other nations. Unmanned aircraft as well as planes, helicopters, river patrol boats and all manner of ground vehicles were used in the effort to impede cross-border drug, weapon and human trafficking.
Up to 90 percent of the narcotics entering the world market are trafficked into Brazil from Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia, according to Brazil’s ministry of defense. Over 25,300 tons of marijuana and 1,448 pounds of cocaine, crack, and hashish were seized.
During Operation Agatha, the Brazilian Army seized almost five tons of explosives coming into the country from Paraguay. According the military, the dynamite would likely have been used in the Amazon region to extract gold in the remote areas of the jungle by illegal miners, according to the Monitor.
The focus of the $20 million exercise was “about the protection of our people, which benefits our country as a whole. It is also about building good relationships with our neighbours as we help to protect their citizens as well,” General José Carlos De Nardi, Brazil’s Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, told The Independent.
* * *
Meanwhile, massive demonstrations continued in several Brazilian cities where Confederations Cup games were held, the Associated Press reported.
Originally sparked by a planned rise in Sao Paulo bus fares, the protests have taken on a life of their own – much like protests in Turkey, although have mostly been peaceful – and have drawn students, urban poor and middle class liberals protesting government corruption and the billions being spent on sports venues instead of funding improvements to schools, hospitals and transit systems.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff – previously one of the country’s most popular leaders – has seen her government’s approval rating plunge by 27 percent, since the unrest started, to just 30 per cent according to an opinion poll published Saturday, the Irish Times reported.
* * *
Iran Influence Waning?
The U.S. State Department says Iran is not actively backing terrorist cells in South America and Iran’s influence in Latin America is waning, Bloomberg reported.
A State Department report says Iran’s interest in Latin America is a “concern,” but sanctions have undermined efforts by the Islamic republic to expand its economic and political toehold in the region.
But some Republicans in Congress were unimpressed by the report’s findings. “I believe the Administration has failed to consider the seriousness of Iran’s presence here at home,” said Congressman Jeff Duncan, a South Caroloina Republican who wrote the legislation requiring the State Department report, told Bloomberg He said he questioned “the methodology that was used in developing this report.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced in May that three surveillance drones built with Iran’s help had been launched as part of an initiative to curb drug trafficking, FOX News Latino reported.
LATIN AMERICA: (UPDATE) OAS-War on Drugs; Colombia on NATO; Brazil-U.S. Meeting; Ex-Guatemala Dictator
OAS Pushback on Drugs
The Organization of American States (OAS) is holding its annual general assembly meeting in Antigua, Guatemala and the War on Drugs will be Topic A.
According to the Los Angeles Times, several Latin American governments are expected to call on the United States to find “alternatives to what is seen as an approach to fighting drugs that leans heavily on law enforcement — a strategy that has cost tens of thousands of mostly Latin American lives.”
The hemispheric organization recently issued a report that urged governments to decriminalize some drug use. Latin American nations like Mexico, Honduras — and host nation Guatemala — have been battered by drug-related corruption and violence that has left thousands of civilians, soldiers and police dead.
While the OAS study calls for discussion on legalizing marijuana, it makes no specific proposals and found there is “no significant support” among the 35 OAS members for legalizing cocaine or other drugs, the Associated Press reported.
The U.S. delegation, headed by Secretary of State John Kerry, isn’t expected to accept the concept of decriminalizing marijuana use. At the Summit of the Americas last year, President Obama said he believed drug legalization was “not the answer” to the problem of drug-related violence and narco terrorism.
A senior State Department official in the U.S. delegation told reporters Tuesday (June 4) in a background briefing that Kerry “wants to contribute to a really good conversation” about counter narcotics strategy because “last year when this started, there was a lot of buzz about legalization, but there really wasn’t much behind it. There weren’t a whole lot of facts in that conversation.”
“No” to NATO
Colombia’s defense minister says the South American nation may sign a cooperation agreement on human rights, justice and troop training with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – but has not intention of joining NATO.
Juan Carolos Pinzon told a radio station that Colombia “cannot be a member, does not want to be a member of NATO.” His remarks came after President Juan Manuel Santos said his nation and NATO were going to sign an agreement “to start a whole process of reaching out, of cooperation, also with a look at entering that organization.”
That report caused an uproar among Colombia’s neighbors, especially leftist governments in Bolivia and Venezuela. But NATO officials, quoted by the AP said no membership deal is in the works. Colombia, which has been fighting a 60-year insurgency by leftist guerillas’ aligned with narcotics cartels, has been a key U.S. ally in the war on drugs.
Meeting in Brazil
Tom Kelly, the Acting U.S. Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs is in Brazil this week for the 2013 U.S.-Brazil Political Military Dialogue.
The meeting – which seeks to strengthen defense and security relations between the two countries comes in advance of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s visit to Washington with President Obama later this year.
Brazil, South America’s largest country by population and area, is also home to the continent’s largest economy. In recent years, Brazil has enlarged its military and military equipment – submarines, aircraft and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets – as part of a new security strategy to protect both its water resources in the Amazon and energy resources in the South Atlantic.
Last month, the former dictator of Guatemala was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in the Central American country. But just a few days later (May 21), the country’s highest court overturned the verdict. Because of a jurisdictional dispute in the case dating back to April 19, Reuters reported.
Efrain Rios Montt, 86, was convicted May 10 of overseeing the killings of more than 1,000 of the Maya Ixil population in the early 1980s. But the Constitutional Court threw out the verdict and ordered the proceeeding void going back to April 19 when a jurisdictional dispute arose after one of the presiding judges suspended the trial — because of a dispute with another judge over who should hear it.
It was unclear when the trial might restart.
Indian Army Private Anil Pawe and Spc. Henry Vaillancourt, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, partner up to fire an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Vaillancourt is familiarizing Pawe — an infantryman assigned to the Indian Army’s 99th Mountain Brigade — with the American machine gun prior to field training during the annual U.S. – India Yudh Abhyas training exercise, which ended May 17.
The joint exercise dates to 2004. Yudh Abhyas means “training for war,” in Hindi. About 200 Indian troops from units including the 50th Independent Para Brigade and the 5th Gurkha Rifles participated.
For more photos of this training exercise, click here.
Transnational Crime in Africa, Latin America
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – 4GWAR has reported in the past on how Latin American drug cartels are using countries in West Africa as transit points for drugs heading to Europe and points East. Now we learn from a federal official that small arms – particularly shotguns and shotgun shells – have become an illicit trading commodity in West Africa.
Many countries in West Africa have porous borders, weak law enforcement agencies or grinding poverty that makes government officials susceptible to bribes and corruption – and attractive for arms and drug smugglers. Officials in Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania and Sierra Leone have been implicated in drug trafficking in recent years, according to a United Nations report. Guinea-Bissau is considered to be virtually under the control of narco cartels.
Kevin O’Keefe, chief of the Criminal Intelligence Division at the U.S. ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) told a conference on transnational organized crime this week that the low tech, low maintenance weapons like shotguns are being shipped illegally to places like Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia. They are sought, not for military or terrorist use, but as a commodity to be bought and sold on the black market.
Shotguns are “not readily available in those countries, so anything you bring over, you’re going to make a profit on,” O’Keefe told 4GWAR after his presentation at the Countering Transnational Organized Crime conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).
“Nobody’s going to overthrow a country or command any big presence with shotguns,” O’Keefe said, “but we find 12-gauge shotguns being regularly trafficked back there because they’re easy to move and if you pay a couple hundred dollars here, there’s a big profit margin once you sell them in these countries.”
At the same conference, the head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) said drugs like cocaine were being shipped from several South American countries – including Brazil – to West Africa. But Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, who oversees U.S. Military interests in all of Central and South America – except Mexico – noted that nearly all the navies and maritime police operations in the region were helping in the war on drugs. The Brazilian Navy has taken it upon itself to patrol the South Atlantic looking for pirates and other criminal activities in the waters off West Africa, he noted.
“Brazil is oriented toward Africa,” said Kelly, noting it shares a common language – Portuguese – with several African nations that were once Portuguese colonies. “Brazil is starting to step out and wants to become a world power,” Kelly said, adding that it is concerned about piracy and sees counter-piracy as a “niche” operation it can perform. He noted that a Brazilian naval officer has served with the U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, which oversees U.S. counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Brazil’s Navy has also participated in patrol operations with the U.S. Navy off West Africa, he said.