Posts tagged ‘Latin America’
Fighting Illegal Amazon Logging.
Government officials in Brazil say fighting illegal logging of the Amazon rainforest is like battling illegal narcotics operations elsewhere.
Maria Luisa de Sousa has been co-ordinating a month-long operation to halt illegal logging in northern and eastern Mato Grosso state by the government-funded institute responsible for environmental protection. She says the fight to save the Amazon is increasingly a fight against organized crime. “You can compare it to the struggle against drugs trafficking. The crime and the criminals keep on adapting,” she tells the BBC in a piece today (July 9) on the battle to save the rainforest.
De Sousa’s organization, Ibama, uses helicopters to spot timber poachers from the air. But in the future, unmanned aircraft are expected to join the fight to preserve the Amazon region — which represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests and has been called the Lungs of the World. Last May in Atlanta, at the huge annual robotics conference of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), several unmanned aircraft manufacturers told 4GWAR that they expected the need to persistent aerial surveillance in the Amazon region and elsewhere in Brazil will heat up the Latin American market for drones — large and small. We’ll be writing more about this at 4GWAR in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, according to the BBC report byew monthly figures show that deforestation rates in some parts of Brazil have almost doubled compared to last year. Those statistics also show that increasing amounts of wood are illegally taken from protected indigenous reserves.
Back in 2010, Brazil announced a new strategic defense plan calling for increased military presence in the Amazon region to link national defense with national development by protecting and leveraging Brazil’s large water, agricultural and energy resources. That plan called for building up Air Force, Army and Navy capabilities including five new submarines and supplying its own satellite imagery — rather than but it from other countries.
Even though President Dilma Rousseff has cut government spending as the country staggers through a contracting economy, Brazil is still among the top 15 countries with the highest military spending in 2014, according to data gathered by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
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Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff visited Washington in late June and met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. And that seemed to signal that after two years of acrimony, the two countries were moving to reset their relations, according to an article in the World Politics Review.
Bilateral relations cooled significantly after revelations in 2013 by rogue National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden of U.S. eavesdropping on Brazilian officials — including Rousseff. The Brazilian president cancelled her state visit scheduled for that October, after the scandal broke.
In the intervening years, Russia has sought closer ties with Brazil — particularly in defense technology sales. Brazil is set to buy Russian Pantsir air defense systems in early 2016.
Last Fall, Brazil announced it was buying its next generation fighter jets from Swedish aircraft manufacturer Saab. Brazile will pay $5.4 billion (39.3 billion Swedish krona) for 36 new Saab Gripen NG jetfighter airplanes.
LAT AM REVIEW: Colombian Attack; Mexican Drug Lord Seized, U.S. Coast Guard Focus on Western Hemisphere, Rio Defense Expo
U.S. Condemns Rebel Attack.
Eleven Colombian soldiers were killed in fighting with Marxist guerrillas last week (April 14), prompting Colombia’s president to resume air attacks against rebel camps.
The attack and the government’s response have many observers worried they could jeopardize peace talks seeking to end a 50-year insurgency that has cost thousands of lives in Colombia.
A spokesman for the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — which has been trying to overthrow the government since the 1960s — claimed the soldiers initiated the fighting near Cauca in western Colombia. But President Juan Manuel Santos called it a deliberate attack by the FARC and ordered the resumption of bombing raids on rebel targets. Seventeen other soldiers were wounded in the skirmish and one guerrilla was also killed.
Despite the violence, the Voice of America reported the two-year-old peace talks resumed on Thursday (April 16) in Havana, Cuba where Colombian government officials and FARC commanders are trying to negotiate an end to a war that has killed 220,000 and displaced millions since 1964.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement April 17 condemning “the brutal attack in Cauca orchestrated by the FARC.” The brief statement called the attack a “direct violation of the unilateral ceasefire FARC committed to” last December. “We support President Santos’ decision to continue negotiations but also lift his halt of aerial bombardment of FARC,” the statement added.
The State Department said it reaffirms “our continuing support to the government of Colombia in its efforts to end the nation’s 50 year conflict.”
In February, the FARC said it would stop recruiting fighters younger than 17. Then in March, the two sides announced an initiative to work together to remove land mines, the New York Times reported. Soon afterward, Santos ordered a one-month halt to the aerial bombing of FARC encampments. Just a week prior to the latest attack, the president extended the bombing respite for another month.
Since the peace talks began, there have been other clashes with the FARC that resulted in a large number of casualties. In July 2013, the military reported that 15 soldiers died when the rebels attacked an oil pipeline, the Times added.
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Mexican Drug Lord Captured.
The head of another transnational drug cartel has been captured.
On Sunday (April 19) Mexican authorities said they have captured the man who has led the Juarez drug cartel since last year’s arrest of then-leader Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, the Associated Press reported.
National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said Jesus Salas Aguayo was caught Friday (April 17) about 130 kilometers south of the border metropolis of Ciudad Juarez. One of Salas’ bodyguards was killed and another was arrested.
Rubido said Salas Aguayo is linked to a 2010 car bombing in Ciudad Juarez, as well as a 2012 bar attack that killed 15, and the 2009 slaying of a protected witness in El Paso. The website of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says Salas Aguayo is wanted in the United States for possession and distribution of narcotics and for conspiracy.
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Coast Guard Focus.
The U.S. Coast Guard says it’s not enough to seize thousands of pounds of cocaine at sea or even arrest the people transporting illegal drugs by boat.
Instead, it’s crucial to defeat the transnational organized crime (TOC) networks behind the illicit commerce in narcotics and people, according to the Coast Guard’s Western Hemisphere Strategy.
“Last year alone. the Coast Guard took 91 metric tons of cocaine out of the [trafficking] stream,” Lieutenant Commander. Devon Brennan told a briefing on the first day of the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition. He noted that seizure figure is three times the amount of drugs seized by all U.S. law enforcement agencies “including along the southwestern border.”
But going after transnational cartels is only part of the Coast Guard’s regional strategy. “In the next decade, the Coast Guard must confront significant challenges to maritime safety, efficiency and security in the Western Hemisphere,” the Strategy states, identifying three priorities over the next 10 years: combatting [criminal] networks, Securing Borders and Safeguarding Commerce.
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Brazil Defense Expo.
One of the biggest defense conferences in the Americas, Latin America Aero & Defense (LAAD 2015), just ended in Rio de Janeiro.
“Despite budgetary uncertainties, the Brazilian Army remains steadfast in the pursuit of its key strategic projects,” according to IHS Jane’s website.
The army’s seven key strategic projects include the SISFRON border-monitoring system; a cyber defense project; the Guarani Strategic Project for (PEE Guarani) for a family of wheeled amphibious armored personnel carriers (APCs); and the Attainment of Full Operational Capability (OCOP) project, which aims to equip the army at a minimum level of readiness to guarantee the homeland defense mission.
Brazil’s defense strategy includes air and naval asset acquisitions to assert Brazilian control over its deepwater offshore oil reserves and to secure the waters of the Amazon Basin, which Brasilia considers a natural resources commodity as valuable as oil.
Eleven Soldiers Killed.
Eleven Colombian soldiers were killed in fighting with Marxist guerrillas Tuesday (April 14), prompting Colombia’s president to resume a bombing campaign on rebel camps — jeopardizing peace talks seeking to end a 60-year insurgency that has cost thousands of lives.
The government blamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for an attack with guns and grenades on an army platoon late Tuesday night. The rebels said government troops initiated the skirmish, which occurred in the Andean state of Cauca and injured at least 17 other soldiers, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Meanwhile, FARC rebels blamed the Bogota government on Thursday (April 16) for the renewed violence but they declined to say whether they had broken their own ceasefire. President Juan Manuel Santos called it a deliberate attack and ordered the resumption of bombing raids on FARC targets, the Voice of America reported. Santos halted the aerial bombings after the FARC’s called a unilateral truce on December 20.
Despite the violence, VoA said the two-year-old peace talks resumed on Thursday (April 16) in Havana, where Colombian government officials and FARC commanders are trying to negotiate an end to a war that has killed 220,000 and displaced millions since 1964.
More on this later in LA AM REVIEW.
The Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland draws to a close Wednesday (April 15).
Here’s a sample of what we’ve been seeing.
The Navy’s unmanned demonstrator aircraft for showing how drones could be integrated into the busy flight deck of an American aircraft carrier is facing its last challenge.
Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) says that unmanned aircraft system (UAS), known as the X-47B, (see photo above) will soon start testing its ability to refuel in the air.
To see the full story, click here.
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Here are some other stories on the Seapower website:
Electromagnetic Railgun’s First at-Sea Test Set for Summer 2016
The first at-sea test firing of the Navy’s electromagnetic railgun is slated for late summer 2016, a Naval Sea Systems Command official said April 14.
The rail gun, which uses high-powered electromagnetic pulses instead of chemical propellants to fire projectiles that can move at seven times the speed of sound, will be mounted on a joint high-speed vessel to fire over the horizon at a target anchored in the water, said Capt. Mike Ziv, program manager for Directed Energy and Electric Weapons Systems.
To read the rest of the story, click here.
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Larger Fire Scout a ‘Great Fit’ for the Navy
The larger version of the MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned helicopter has completed 297 test sorties and is slated to begin initial operational testing and evaluation in 2016, the Navy program manager said April 13.
The Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout, is larger, faster, longer and farther-flying than the MQ-8B, with increased endurance and will reduce the burden of manned aircraft, Capt. Jeff Dodge told a briefing at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition.
To read the rest of the story, click here.
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Coast Guard Sees Combatting Crime Networks as Key to Hemispheric Security
The U.S. Coast Guard says it’s not enough to seize thousands of pounds of cocaine at sea or even arrest the people transporting illegal drugs by boat. Instead, it’s crucial to defeat the transnational organized crime (TOC) networks behind the illicit commerce in narcotics and people, according to the Coast Guard’s Western Hemisphere Strategy.
“Last year alone. the Coast Guard took 91 metric tons of cocaine out of the [trafficking] stream,” Lt. Cmdr. Devon Brennan told a briefing on the first day of the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition. He noted that is three times the amount of drugs seized by all U.S. law enforcement agencies “including along the southwestern border.”
To read more of this story, click here.
LATIN AMERICA: Mexico Arrests Drug Kingpin; Brazil’s Navy; Brazil-Indonesia Chill; Colombia Stops Chinese Ship; Chinese Investment [UPDATE]
UPDATES WITH new stories on Brazil, Chinese investment in Latin America (in italics)
Nabbed: Zetas Cartel Chief.
Mexican police and soldiers on Wednesday (March 4) captured the man widely considered to be the most important remaining leader of the brutal Zetas drug cartel.
The Associated Press reports that Omar Trevino Morales – alias Z-42 – was arrested – without a shot fired – in a pre-dawn raid in a wealthy suburb of the northern Mexican city of Monterrey. Morales is the younger brother of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales – described as the most bloodthirsty leader of Mexico’s most violent drug gang, the Zetas. The gang originally was formed by deserters from an elite army unit who provided security for another narcotics ring, the Gulf Cartel, based along the Texas border.
The elder Trevino Morales was captured in 2013. Nearly a year earlier, Mexican marines killed the Zetas’ other leader, Herberto Lazcano, known as “El Lazca.”
It was the second high-profile capture of a drug lord in the last week, Reuters reported (via the Voice of America). Servando Gomez, leader of the Knights Templar drug gang, that operates in Michoacan state. The back-to-back arrests lend a boost to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s efforts to battle organized crime. A wave of violence, spurred by battles between authorities and drug gangs — and in-fighting among the gangs themselves — has claimed more than 100,000 lives in Mexico since 2007.
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Brazil’s Naval Maneuvers.
The Brazilian Navy is in the midst of its biggest operation ever — including 250 vessels, 10 aircraft and 15,000 service members — to police the country’s lakes, rivers and 5,250 miles (8,500 kilometers) of Atlantic coastline.
Operation Amazonia Azul (Blue Amazonia) reflects the strategic importance Brzil’s leaders have placed on enforcing jurisdiction over the country’s territorial waters, according to EFE, the Spanish language news service. Brazil is South America’s largest country in area and population (and fifth worldwide in both categories).
Blue Amazonia is he second operation of its kind in a year, a naval spokesman told EFE, adding that it is the largest to date and includes all Brazil’s naval resources.
Brazil’s national defense strategy focuses on protection of its natural resources — both the fresh water supplies of Amazon River basin and massive undersea oil reserves. In addition to helping the navy prepare for its role as defender of Brazil’s oil reserves off the Atlantic coast, the exercise serves as a test run of security measures for the 2016 Olympic Games to be held in Rio.
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Diplomatic relations are strained between Brazil and potential arms customer Indonesia after the world’s most populous Muslim country, executed six convicts, including a Brazilian citizen, for drug trafficking in January.
Since then, Brazil has withdrawn its ambassador to Indonesia (as has the Netherlands, which also saw one of its citizens executed). A second Brazilian national remains on death row in Indonesia.
But Brazil’s defense minister say the tension between the two countries will soon be overcome and are unlikely to affect their potential weapon purchase deal. Defense Minister Jacques Wagner said Tuesday (March 3) that there is no “crisis” between the two nations. Wagner added that the momentary strain in the relationship will not influence Indonesia’s purchase of rocket launchers and 16 fighter jets from Brazil, according to China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua.
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China Boat Seized
Columbia authorities have detained the captain of a Chinese cargo ship bound for Cuba when investigators discovered a shipment of explosives and other arms on board.
The ship was stopped over the weekend in the Caribbean port of Cartegena, officials said Wednesday (March 4). About 100 tons of gunpowder, almost three million detonators and some 3,000 artillery shells were found on board the Da Dan Xia, but the ship’s manifest said it was carrying grain products, the BBC reported.
Wu Hong, the ship’s captain. Would be charged with weapons trafficking, the Colombian attorney general’s office said. The Chinese foreign ministry said the captain had no violated any international rules. A ministry spokeswoman said China was “communicating with the parties on this matter.” No immediate comment from Cuban authorities.
The incident comes nearly two years after a North Korean ship was detained in Panama for illegally transporting war material from Cuba to North Korea through the Panama Canal.
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China’s Latin American Play.
China is fast overtaking the United States as a lender and investor in Latin America.
Chinese banks increased investments in Latin America by 71 percent last year, to $22 billion, and the country plans to double its trade volume with the Central and South American region over the next decade. This comes as U.S. power in the Americas is starting to erode. U.S. cash is actually fleeing the region as investors see better deals at home or elsewhere, according to CNN Money.
“What we’re looking at is not simply an economic play. It’s an economic play that also has political and strategic undertones,” Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington tells the CNN website. Outside of economic ties, Berman points out that China has helped fund Argentina’s nuclear power plant, launched Bolivia’s first satellite and is rumored to be helping Venezuela start its own drone program.
According to estimates published by the China-Latin America Finance Database, Chinese loans exceed the combined worth of those by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, the BBC reported.
But as China’s economic boom slows, the effects are being felt in countries around the world that have seen their economies rise on commodity sales to China. Latin America delivered iron ore and copper to build Chinese office and apartment buildings, oil to fuel trucks and cars as well as soybeans and meat to feed a growing middle class. China’s share of Latin American exports grew tenfold between 2000 and 2013, according to The Financialist website.
But as the world’s second-largest economy shifts away from manufacturing and exports and toward domestic consumption, it has helped pull the bottom out from under what was effectively a decade-long commodities supercycle. The spot price of iron ore sits at just over half what it was a year ago at $68 a ton (down from $128) while copper spot prices have plummeted from above $3.20 a pound to $2.68, reported The Financialist — a digital magazine sponsored by Credit Suisse.
As Nouriel Roubini, Chairman of Roubini Global Economics said at Credit Suisse’s recent Latin American Investment Conference in Sao Paulo, “Most of the economies in Latin America were not ready to adjust to this change in commodity prices.” GDP growth in Latin America has fallen steadily, from 6.3 in 2010 to 1.2 percent in 2014. The World Bank’s statistical models predict that if Chinese GDP growth drops 1 percentage point over the course of two years, Latin American output would shrink by 0.6 percentage point as a result, the website reported.
Redefining “Secure Border”
More than a dozen years after the 9/11 attacks showed that America needed to do a better job securing its borders, a debate continues over the best ways to manage who gets in and out of the country.
The number of U.S. Border Patrol agents has mushroomed to more than 20,000 since 2001. There have been numerous border enforcement programs like teaming Border Patrol agents with National Guard troops, flooding areas reporting high levels of illegal border entries with large numbers of Border Patrol personnel and equipment. There was even a failed program to build a physical and virtual fence along the border with Mexico — to the tune of $3.5 billion.
Now law enforcement officials are worried abou radicalized U.S.-citizens-turned jihadis coming back from fighting in the Middle East — with skills that could be used for terrorism. And Congress and the White House are embroiled in a political battle over millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States, a battle that threatens to shut down the Department of Homeland Security.
Meanwhile, Border Patrol leaders say it is time to rethink what we mean when we talk about securing the border. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher told a Washington think tank gathering last month that a secure border — where no one can cross illegally at any time — is virtually impossible, without doubling the number of Border Patrol agents and boosting the agency’s budget by $97 billion.
Since late 2013, the agency had moved away from determining its effectiveness by counting every person it apprehends trying to cross the border illegally. Instead it has re-evaluated “what it means to secure the border,” Fisher told a border security discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Rather, the Border Patrol characterizes a secure border as one of low risk – where there is a high probability of detection coupled with a high probability of interdiction.
“Border security is not an end state to be achieved and revisited every five years,” Assistant Chief Michael Schroeder told the audience. “It’s a continuous struggle,” he added. Schroeder is the author of an explanatory paper, published by the Border Patrol, detailing how and why it developed the low-risk idea in its 2012-2016 U.S. Border Patrol Strategic Plan. Instead of arrest statistics or measuring resources like number of agents or the size of the agency’s budget, the Border Patrol had to develop “a preliminary set of risk indicators” to analyze risk along U.S. borders.
Fisher is slated to be one of the government and industry speakers this week at a Border Management Summit in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday (February 24-25). You can learn more at the website of the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement, the conference sponsor.
The Border Patrol is using technologies like moveable ground radar, biometric identification obtained from first-time illegal border crossers and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to acquire more data on border activity and shifts from past patterns. The situational awareness provided by UAS “is something we’ve never had before. It’s led us to the metrics we have today,” according to Schroeder.
Apprehensions of people trying to cross into the United States illegally are down to 1970 levels. So the Border Patrol is using intelligence and analysis to predict where the high risk areas are — and when and where to move law enforcement resources when drug, gun and people smugglers change tactics.
But a recent report by the DHS inspector general’s office (OIG) casts doubt on the value of border surveillance by unmanned aircraft — and the information they gather.
For starters, the report contends CBP has yet to prove the value of its UAS program while drastically understating the costs. The OIG’s second audit of the program since 2012, found the effort by CBP’s Air and Marine Office “still has no reliable method of measuring its performance” and that its impact on stemming illegal immigration has been minimal.
“We see no evidence that the drones contribute to a more secure border , and there is no reason to invest additional taxpayer funds at this time,” said DHS Inspector General John Roth.
Cold War Frozen?
The United States and Cuba are ending more than 50 years of suspicion and hostility with both countries agreeing to resume diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday (December 17).
There are many angles to this story, good news for banks and maybe American automakers and U.S. antique car collectors and connoisseurs of fine rum and Cuban cigars — and baseball, don’t forget baseball.
But here we’re wondering what the security implications are. Will Venezuela lose another supporter in Latin America? Will Russia? And will this aid the war on drugs? Last year, at a Countering Transnational Organized Crime conference in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. Marine Corps General John F. Kelly, the head of U.S. Southern Command, said one of the biggest ideological opponents of the United States in the Western Hemisphere was also one of the biggest allies in the war against illegal narcotics.
Kelly noted that nearly all the navies and maritime police units of U.S.-friendly nations in the region are cooperating in the battle against drug trafficking “but of all the partners we deal with, the Nicaraguans are probably our most effective allies in Central America,” even though “we don’t like them and they don’t like us.”
Despite the political and ideological differences between the two countries, Kelly said he wanted to “give a shout out” to the Nicaraguan Coast Guard and Navy for their aggressive policing of the littoral (shallow) waters, which forces drug dealers out on to the open sea where they are more vulnerable to U.S. surveillance.