Posts tagged ‘Venezuela’
Marching to the Right?
Is populism on the wane in Latin America’s larger economies?
On Thursday (December 9), Argentina’s new business-friendly conservative President Maurico Macri took office after 12 years of left wing government.
Voters recently dealt an electoral blow to the populist legacy of the late Hugo Chavez and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela — electing an opposition majority to the National Assembly.
Meanwhile lawmakers in Brazil are trying to impeach another populist, President Dilma Rousseff, who is is grappling with a severe economic downturn and a massive corruption scandal in her Workers Party government.
But bad news for leftists is good news to foreign investors, according to Bloomberg News (via the Tico Times).
Venezuelan bonds climbed after the opposition won a majority in Congress for the first time in 16 years, Bloomberg reported, adding that the Global X MSCI Argentina exchange-traded fund has seen asses under management climb since polls showed Macri was likely o win the presidency. Investors have also piled into the biggest Brazil stock, ET< since impeachment proceedings against Rousseff were initiated, the business news site said.
The Venezuelan elections could also have significant consequences for Russian oil development contracts and a slowdown of arms sales to Venezuela, according to RBC Daily (via Russia Beyond the Headlines).
Today Venezuela is Russia’s second largest American trading partner after Brazil. Trade relations between the two countries is largely focused on oil and defense. Russia’s state oil enterprise Rosneft is collaborating on five joint oil production projects in Venezuela, including developing oil deposits in the Orinoco River Valley, according to RBC.
Russia has supplied much of Venezuela’s military weaponry including Su-30 fighter jets, T-72 tanks and Grad multiple rocket launchers, according to RBC.
While Chavez’s hand-picked successor, Nicola Maduro, remains president, his party’s capability to influence decisions has been significantly reduced, RBC said. The assembly voting is the worst-ever defeat for the leftist movement founded by Chavez in 1999, according to the BBC.
Argentina’s economy isstuck in a prolonged slowdown and facing a recession next year, according to International Monetary Fund forecasts. But Macri’s room to maneuver will be limited by Congress, where the coalition loyal to his predecessor Cristina Kirchner and her husband Nestor — also a former president — will be the largest party in the lower house and have an absolute majority in the Senate, according to AFP.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s Supreme Court has suspended impeachment proceedings against Rousseff until it rules on a secret vote that apparently stacked a congressional committee with opponents trying to oust her, according to The Independent website.
National Guard, Immigration Bill.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has ordered up to 1,000 National Guardsmen to the border with Mexico to help deal with the crisis of thousands of children crossing over from Mexico.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors — mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — have crossed illegally since October, reports USA Today, noting the influx of children has overwhelmed federal detention centers and Border Patrol offices.
The state acion is estimated to cost Texas taxpayers $12 million a month once it gets underway. No starting date has been set yet. Most of the children are reportedly fleeing drug trafficking and gang violence in their home countries.
Meanwhile, at immigration bill meant to deal with the illegal child immigrant issue is on life suport on Capitol Hill. On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner called off a vote on a border assistance bill until Friday (August 1). The day Congress was supposed to take off for a month-long recess, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. And a vote on the Senate version of the bill was blocked until after August.
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Gaza Fallout in Latin America
The fighting in Gaza beween the Israel Defense Force and Hamas may be a world away, but it is starting to have diplomatic repercussions in Latin America.
This week El Salvador became the fifth Latin American country to recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv and not because of safety and security fears. San Salvador recaled its envoy to protest the IDF’s continued operations in Gaza and the disastrous effect it is having on civilians.
Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru have previously called their ambassadors, according to the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. Israel’s Foreign Ministry expressed deep disappointment with what it called with their “hasty decision” to call diplomats hom for consultation. Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the ministry, told Haaretz that such actions “constitutes encouragement for Hamas, a group recognized as a terrorist organization by many countries around the world.”
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Argentina’s rocky economy may be in for another shock as the country is on the verge of defaulting on billions of dollars of government bonds. If Buenos Aires doesn’t pay up, it will be country’s second default in 13 years.
Argentina has been battling a group of hedge funds since it defaulted on its bond obligations in 2001. Argentina offered new bonds worth much less than the orginal ones but has been its obligations on them. A small group of bondholders want to be paid in full and the Argentine government has resisted. But a judge in New York has ruled that banks using Argentina’s money to pay the holders of the lesser bonds would be in violation of a previous court order.
The dispute, which weighs heavilly on the Argentine economy, has most likely “pushed up borrowing costs for Argentine companies and depleted economic confidence in a country that is already facing high inflation and sagging growth,” the New York Times explains.
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Venezuelan Official Faces Drug Charges
The former head of Venezuela’s military intelligence is accused of corruption and drug dealing by the United States. Hugo Carvajal was arrested on request
of the U.S. State Department when he got off a plane in Aruba last week.
But officials in the Caribbean Island nation had to let him go — because he had diplomatic immunity — and sent him back to Venezuela even though the U.S. wanted to extradite him. Indictments unsealed after his arrest accused him of being on the payroll of drug traffickers and coordinating massive cocaine shipments, the New York Times reported.
The indictments “open a window onto accusations of ties between Venezuelan military and law enforcement officers and Colombian drug traffickers, a connection that officials in Washington have long warned about and that has been roundly dismissed by authorities” in Venezuela, according to the Times.
Carvajal was traveling on a diplomatic passport as Venezuela’s new consul in Aruba. He was a long-time confidant of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune.
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
Sweden: Terror Blasts in Downtown Stockholm
The threat of terrorist car bombings has now stretched to Scandinavia. One man was killed and two people were injured in a pair of bombings over the weekend in the Swedish capital Stockholm.
Swedish police are investigating e-mails, sent shortly before the blasts, threatening attacks because Sweden has sent troops to Afghanistan, the BBC reports. The dead man, said to be an Iraqi-born British resident, sent the e-mails, officials say. Sweden has sent some 500 soldiers to Afghanistan as part of the international military force.
For a video report of the blasts and their aftermath, click here.
SUDAN: Vote on Splitting Country Next Month
A referendum is scheduled next month to determine if Southern Sudan will split from the rest of the civil war-wracked country. NPR takes a look at an oil-rich county that sits along the border that could spark additional strife.
Abyei is considered largely within Arab-dominated, mostly Muslim northern Sudan but most of the area’s inhabitants are black Africans who practice Christianity or Animism – and are loyal to the south. Some have threatened to secede at the risk or war.
AFGHANISTAN: Small Arms Attacks Up, Six U.S. Troops Killed by Blast
Small arms attacks by the Taliban against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan are on the rise – nearly twice what they were a year ago – reports USA Today. Tom Vaden Brook’s story says there have been more than 18,000 attacks by Taliban fighters armed with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, compared to about 10,600 in 2009. Officials say the rise in attacks is a result of the coalition’s push into Taliban strongholds – and the insurgency’s resilience.
Meanwhile, a massive vehicle bomb in southern Afghanistan has killed six and U.S. and two Afghanistan soldiers. The Associated Press reports two Afghans have been arrested in connection with Sunday’s suicide attack in the Zahari district of Kandahar Province.
The blast comes just days before the Obama administration releases its comprehensive review of the strategy that sent an additional 30,000 U.S. Troops to Afghanistan this year.
NATURAL SECURITY: Where the Next Conflicts Could Arise
The quest for oil, minerals and other natural resources could spark conflicts around the world from the Arctic to Africa’s Niger Delta in the not-too-distant future . More and more, the military and security planners are coming to grips with the effects the natural world will have on defense and foreign policy. The New York Times recently had an interesting analysis on some potential hot spots in 2011 and beyond.
We at 4GWAR must admit feeling pleased that all of the places mentioned – Brazil, China, Yemen and the Horn of Africa, the Niger Delta, and the High North – are areas we have written about in the last year. Please click on the links to see what we mean.
We would also list the Congo and Africa’s Great Lakes Region, Mexico and Central America, the India-Pakistan border and Central Asia as other places to keep an eye on because of water, food, or oil shortages — or human migration due to those shortages.
Pairing Defense and Development
Brazil’s defense minister says his country’s new strategic plan – which calls for increased military presence in the Amazon region – is not aimed at international terrorists, drug cartels or any of Brazil’s neighbors.
Instead, says Nelson Jobim, the strategy seeks to link national defense with national development by protecting and leveraging Brazil’s large water, agricultural and energy resources.
Speaking at George Washington University Wednesday (Oct. 20), Jobim said Brazil intends to beef up Army, Navy and Air Force capabilities along its northern and western perimeters, which border the Amazon River Basin and its enormous rainforest areas. Jobim stressed the plan is not a reaction to Brazil’s restive neighbors: Venezuela, Colombia or Bolivia. There are also plans to increase monitoring the waters more than 100 miles offshore, beneath which are believed to contain vast petroleum deposits.
Overall, the strategy calls for increased attention to space, cyberspace and nuclear security. A nuclear submarine is included in a five-sub manufacturing deal with France. Brazil wants to monitor the Amazon with satellites. The largest country in South America and the world’s eighth largest economy, Brazil also wants to launch its own satellites rather than pay other countries for their imagery, Jobim said.
The strategy calls for the creation of a second naval fleet in the north to protect the Amazon region. There are also plans to base a second Marine division near the Amazon’s mouth.
The Army has 21 frontier platoons patroling along the rivers that flow into Brazil from neighboring countries. The strategic plan calls for creating 28 more platoons, who will live among the natives of the region with their families.
More unmanned aircraft and – after the Oct. 31 presidential runoff election – more jet fighters are also in the plan. The selection of the F-X2, the next generation of Brazilian fighter aircraft is being delayed to give the new president a say in the matter. The three aircraft under consideration are Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet, Sweden’s Gripen from Saab AB and the Rafale made by France’s Dassault.
A deciding factor will be technology transfer. Brazil doesn’t want to just buy somebody else’s airplanes, but wants to acquire all the internal technology as well as the aircraft so it can build and service follow-on models in Brazil. Technology acquisition is part of the cyberspace segment of the strategic plan.
It has been reported that France is the front-runner in the fighter competition because it has agreed to sell all the aircraft’s technology to Brazil. U.S. law limits the transfer of technology deemed crucial to national security and Sweden’s Gripen is made from parts manufactured in other countries which would each have to approve the information transfer.
“Brazil uses the purchase of military equipment for the transfer of technology,” Jobim said, adding: “I don’t want to buy any thing. If they [aircraft makers] reply ‘It’s difficult,’ we’re out.”
Brazil is also buying 50 EC-7250 military transport helicopters from France and developing – with Colombia, Chile, the Czech Republic and Portugal – a new large transport plane, the Embraer KC-390, that can land on a small (1,200 meter) airstrip. Both aircraft are to be manufactured, at least in part, in Brazil. Jobim estimated that hundreds of U.S.-made Hercules heavy lift aircraft will be retired between 2018 and 2020. That’s the time when the KC-390 will be ready for market, Jobim said.
Despite the drug gang violence embroiling Mexico, Colombia and other neighbors to the north, Jobim said narcotics interdiction was a police matter, not a defense security issue. Using the army as a police force can be a touchy subject in Brazil, which was ruled for much of the 20th century by military dictatorships.
Jobim also discounted the concerns that the so-called Triple Frontier – where Brazil’s border intersects with Paraguay and Argentina – is an ungoverned and lawless area.
The area has a large immigrant Arab population – mostly Palestinians and Syrians – and U.S. officials have expressed concern that while the majority are law abiding, international terror groups, like Hezbollah an al Qaeda, could use the area’s business climate to raise money legally or illegally.
Jobim attributed those concerns to ignorance and prejudice. “The mistake the West makes is in thinking our structures are the only ones,” he said, claiming that Brazil was a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society that did not pigeonhole people.
“There are no problems on the Triple Frontier, only some American commentators are concerned,” Jobim said.
Outside opinions about the area could be affected by a new motion picture being planned about the Triple Frontier. Entertainment industry blogs are full of news about “Sleeping Dogs.” The film project depicting the Triple Frontier as an organized crime haven is being developed by Kathryn Bigelow, the director of “The Hurt Locker,” which won the Academy Award for best picture last year. Tim Hanks and Johnny Depp are reportedly interested in appearing in the film.