Thursday, February 11, 2010

List of Published Journal Articles (so far!)

Rebirth of Insurgency in Peru. Small Wars and Insurgencies.14/3.

A Central Asian Security Paradigm: Russia and Uzbekistan. Small Wars and Insurgencies. 18/1.

Cuba and Russia: Love is Better the Second Time Around. Cuban Affairs: Quarterly Electronic Journal. 2/2. April 2007.

Corsica: France’s Petite Security Problem. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. July 2008 Vol. 31 (7).

A War of Attrition: Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers. Small Wars & Insurgencies. 19/4 (December 2008)

A Drop in the Ocean: A Discussion of Bulgaria’s NATO Membership and Black Sea Geopolitics. European Security. December 2008. (Vol.17, No. 4).

Tunisia: Trading Freedom for Stability may not Last – An International Security Perspective. Defence Studies. for 19/1 issue (March 2009).

The “Frozen” Southeast: How the Moldova-Transnistria Question has Become
a European Geo-Security Issue. Journal of Slavic Military Studies. June 2009. 22/2

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Letter to the Editor - Int'l Herald Tribune - Abkhazia and Taiwan

International Herald Tribune
Published: December 22, 2009

Letters to the International Herald Tribune

Abkhazia and Taiwan

Published: December 22, 2009

It seems that Abkhazia (and probably South Ossetia) is becoming the new Taiwan (“Georgian region gets 21 square kilometers of support,” news article, Dec., 17). Without drawing comparisons between the histories and raison d’être of each “state,” there are some superficial similarities that make the situation ironic. Both are recognized by only a handful of countries, usually small and by means of financial stimulus, and are protected by a military power — Russia for Abkhazia and the United States for Taiwan — without which they could not survive.

Certainly, Taiwan is regarded as a free state that is standing up to the oppressive mainland, which wants to re-annex it. Abkhazia, meanwhile, inspires a mixed bag of feelings. Some of its people see themselves as separate from Georgia and its corrupt government. However, it may never be able to fully shake off the fact that its independence came about via Russian military intervention against Tbilisi (whether justified or not).

Alex Sanchez,Washington

Letter to the Editor - Latin America is a true melting pot - Miami Herald

Latin America is a true Melting Pot
Miami Herald
Posted on Sunday, 01.10.10

Luis Andres Henaos' Dec. 12 article African immigrants in Latin America -- For Africans seeking better lives, Latin America is the new grail did a good job describing the situation of these new inhabitants (legal or illegal) of the Americas. One could make the argument that Latin America, more than the United States, is the real melting pot of the continent.

Since pre-Spaniard times our region has been a mix of cultures and civilizations, with (thankfully) some native customs and languages surviving today. Surely the combination of indigenous populations, individuals of (mixed) European descent, new African immigrants, plus those of African descent who were brought in significant numbers to mainland countries like Peru, Colombia and Brazil, among other ethnic groups living in our region, make us the undeclared melting pot of the world.

It would appear that the term Latino is increasingly becoming more difficult to adequately define.

ALEX SANCHEZ, research fellow, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Washington, D.C.

South America and Its Likelihood of a Season of Splendid Little Wars: An Analysis of Arms Races and Regional Geopolitics

by COHA Research Fellow Alex Sanchez
08 Oct 2009
Council on Hemispheric Affairs

In mid-September, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton critiqued Venezuela’s leader Hugo Chavez for his ongoing purchases of mostly Russian military equipment, arguing that this could trigger an arms race in South America. The statement has added fuel to the ongoing discussions about what form South America’s rearmament is taking and what this could come to mean for the security of the region.

The aim of this paper is to discuss the major arms purchases now going on in South America and the likelihood of inter-state war breaking out as the result.Ongoing reports about major purchases by Venezuela, Brazil and Chile tend to blur the actual geo-security situation in the region, as several countries, with Argentina as the most prominent example, have carried out only limited military acquisitions. The common perception is that an arms race raises the possibility of inter-state war; however, the reality in South America (and Central America as well) is that inter-state warfare has seldom occurred since World War II. Additionally, regarding the arms race in South America, it is misleading to assume that all South American countries are carrying out their arm purchases with the same gusto as Brazil, Chile and Venezuela.

It is generally assumed that South America is either already engaged in an arms race or is about to enter one. This is somewhat inconsistent because the start of an arms race is not easily defined. It could also be argued that what is occurring is not so much a general arms race as it is a product of certain militaries capitalizing on weak civilian governments (an updated version of former Uruguayan President Bordaberry in 1973) to increase their defense budgets. Furthermore, in spite of domestic security issues in several South American countries, most notably the insurgent movements in Colombia and Peru as well as occasional inter-state tensions, the reality is that inter-state wars in the region have been notably scarce in the past few decades, which raises the question: is interstate warfare necessarily the future of South America? The final section of this article will discuss whether an arms race could lead to general warfare.

An Arms Race of Levels

When discussing the current purchase of weaponry throughout South America, there seems to be a universal, if misguided conclusion that all purchases are occurring at the same level, and that they are all potentially of an offensive nature. In terms of methodology, South American countries will be separated into contrasting levels of the intensity of weapons’ purchases in order to better portray which countries are buying the most military equipment, and which might arguably constitute more of a security threat for the region than others.

Major spenders: Brazil, Chile, Venezuela

Without a doubt, the major military purchases by these three countries are generally providing the axis around which statements concerning a South American arms’ race are being made.

Brazil, the regional powerhouse, has embarked on an ambitious military program in recent years. Its defense officials have announced that the country will buy 250 Leopard 1 battle tanks, which will become the cornerstone of its domestic protection system. In addition, as part of its growing relations with France, Brazil recently announced that it will purchase 36 Rafale warplanes; France will also provide Brasilia with technological aid to build four Scorpene-type diesel-electric submarines, as well as one nuclear-powered submarine, which will be Brazil’s first. Issues continue to arise concerning the country’s aviation inventory. According to reports, Brazil’s air fleet amounts to over 720 planes, however, around 37% of them are grounded. A September 2009 report stated that Brazil has also agreed to purchase Eurocopters, which will become the country’s new medium-lift helicopter (according to Defense Industry Daily, the Navy and Army will each acquire 16, while the Air Force will be receiving 18).

Chile has made aggressive military purchases in the past decade. Because of its geographic separation from Brazil and Venezuela, along with its close political ties to Washington, it is not regarded as a major security threat by the international media, though its immediate neighbors, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, might argue differently. The numerous purchases made by the Chilean military include: 12 Super Tucano planes from Brazil, dozens of F-16 planes from the U.S. and Holland, two Scorpene-type submarines from France and 200 American Humvee from General Motors.

Venezuela is regarded by American policymakers as the center of development of a regional arms race. Hugo Chavez has made some of the most public purchases of military equipment in recent months, particularly from Russia and China. From China, Caracas has obtained radar equipment (10 JYL-1 radars), and from Russia, Chavez has purchased Sukhoi fighter jets, helicopters (models Mi-26, Mi-35, Mi-17 and Mi-28N) and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles. In addition, Russia is buying a Kalashnikov rifle factory in Venezuela, along with an additional facility to produce ammunition. from China. Chavez’s most recent world tour included a stop in Moscow where, during a meeting with President Medvedev, the Venezuelan leader announced his intention to purchase up to 92 Russian heavy battle tanks type T-72.

However, not all of this is new. Caracas’ plans for buying a Russian S-300 air-missile system have been around for several years. In a 2008 article in the Russian news agency Ria Novosti, former Air Force commander General Anatoly Kornukov explained that “needless to say, should S-300s be delivered to Venezuela, they would effectively strengthen its defense capability, and it would not be easy for its possible adversaries to punish the country by striking at its oil fields.”

Medium spenders with simmering armed conflicts: Colombia and Peru

Colombia has carried out a number of military acquisitions, most notably the Black Hawk helicopters from the U.S., as well as 25 Super Tucanos. An April 2009 press release by the Colombian army mentions the visit of then-Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos to a cadet school to present 5 new Black Hawks to the Army’s air force brigade, a portion of the 15 helicopters of that model that Bogota has acquired from Washington. According to the press release, the Army alone possesses 50 Black Hawk helicopters and 23 Russian MI-17 helicopters. In June, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) delivered a first batch of four upgraded Kfir fighter jets to the Colombian Air Force. Nine others will be delivered by years’ end as part of a 2007 contract that cost $150 million. The seven bases where the U.S. will base its forces within Colombia will add a further deterrent against any country wishing to attack it.

Peru’s major purchases in the last several years have been four Lupo-class Italian frigates to upgrade its navy. The country has also has obtained a number of Sea King helicopters from the U.S. to use for spare parts and emergency operations. The deal was part of Washington’s surplus program and cost Peru $6 million. In addition, Russia has repaired and upgraded 13 of the country’s Mi-17 helicopters.

Colombia and Peru are placed in a unique mid level category of the region’s arms race, as both countries have ongoing internal armed conflicts. Colombia’s war against the FARC and ELN continues, as well as its far-less vigorously pursued struggles against the powerful rightist drug cartels (now, fortunately, somewhat smaller than their predecessors from the 1980s), and the activities of rogue rightist paramilitary squads like the Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles). Similarly, in Peru, the September 1st attack on a Mi-17 Peruvian Air Force helicopter by members of the Andean terrorist movement Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), proved that the terrorist group’s remnant factions in the VRAE (Valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers) are far from defeated, even if their current force consists of merely around 200 combat troops. A brigade of Peruvian special forces has joined regular troops in military operations in the VRAE region.
Peru’s purchases of the Lupo frigates can certainly be viewed as part of the general South American arms race, especially when compared to Chile’s aggressive purchases. The same can be said for Colombia’s Kfir warplanes. Nevertheless, before Colombia and Peru can be regarded as regional security threats, like Chile or arguably Venezuela, they first need to deal with their internal security conflicts. A common argument among militaries is that they are reluctant to be involved in two-front wars due to the incredible drain on resources and other complications that they bring; therefore, it is illogical to foresee Bogota or Lima triggering external strife while fighting their own internal battles against the FARC and ELN, and a resurgent Shining Path, respectively. It is for these reasons that both Colombia and Peru represent special circumstances in South America, as their militaries and military purchases are generally aimed inwards to deal with the insurgent movements, and not so much to guard their respective borders.

Medium spenders: Bolivia and Ecuador

Both Bolivia and Ecuador have carried out, or are planning to carry out, some significant military purchases. Ecuador’s major acquisitions have been a fleet of 24 Super Tucanos from Brazil’s Embraer. In addition, the country has acquired six unmanned Israeli surveillance drones for patrolling purposes. From the point of view of the Peruvian military, Quito poses a significant threat to Lima, due to its growing relationship with Chile. In 2008, there were reports that Asmar, one of Chile’s shipping companies, was upgrading two Ecuadorian Type 209-1300 submarines, while Ecuador had purchased two Chilean frigates.

La Paz, Bolivia, has obtained a $100 million credit from Russia that will allow it to fulfill the military’s aspiration for modern equipment, According to a recent MercoPress report, “the government of President Evo Morales has come under strong criticism for having approved the purchase of six Chinese built K-8 aircrafts with the purpose of combating the drug trade and to control “sensitive regions” of the country where the drug cartels prosper and have great mobility.” The planes will cost $57.8 million. A recent report in Bolivia’s daily La Razon verifies that the army is also planning to purchase new standard rifles.

Low spenders: Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay

Twenty years ago, Argentina was one of Latin America’s most hegemonic powers. Throughout its lengthy period of military ascendancy as well as afterwards, the country flirted with the novel idea of developing a nuclear program. The country’s military has never quite overcome the legacy of the last epoch of military rule and its humiliating defeat in the 1982 Falklands War. The 2001-2002 meltdown of the country’s financial system all but eliminated the country’s military programs, leaving them at their lowest point. Recent presidents, particularly Nestor Kirchner, have proven particularly wary of increasing military arms’ purchases, and are in fact, still pushing for the prosecution of junta-era human rights abusers. From an acquisitions point of view, Argentina has severely slashed its military purchases. Plans for replacing its Mirage III warplane fleet have been put on hold indefinitely, along with ambitions to acquire Russian Mi-17 helicopters. A local project to produce a light terrain military vehicle, dubbed VLE Gaucho, has also been put on hold due to the lack of an adequate budget.

A report in the September/October 2009 issue in Defence Helicopter about the role of helicopters in South American armies explained that Argentina has sought to upgrade up to 40 of its UH-1 helicopters in an effort to extend their life by up to 20 years. An August 2009 article by the Aerospace Daily & Defense Report found that with “at least 70 percent of defense spending [is] going toward personnel, little remains for weapons acquisitions.” Argentina’s procurement has had to rely on the second hand market, such was the case of its acquisition of ex US Navy UH-3H Sea King utility helicopters to replace its losses, and the 4 SAAB 340B regional airliners for LADE. In an interview with COHA, Iñigo Guevara, a specialist in Latin American defense industries and a CONACYT fellow at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, said that “as far as I know, the Argentines have only modernized seven helicopters. The military wants more but there’s simply no money.”

Uruguay and Paraguay also have made only limited purchases. Lately, Uruguay’s military seems to resemble that of a laid-back security force, its use limited to use to humanitarian missions and peacekeeping operations. In May 2008, Uruguayan blue helmets serving in the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo received UN medals for distinguished services. Uruguay also made headlines recently as a result of lifting its ban on gays in the military, a law enacted by the 1973-85 military dictatorship. In 2007, there was a bizarre case of the Uruguayan military trying to buy 18,000 Iranian HK2002 rifles (similar to the Kalashnikov assault rifle), with Venezuela serving as an intermediary. Uruguayan parliamentary investigators blocked the attempted purchase, according to an October 2007 Washington Times report. Regarding Paraguay, Guevara explains “like Argentina, the Paraguayans don’t have the funds to modernize their military, they’ll probably resort to Brazil for aid or cheap deals.”

Minor spenders: Guyana, Suriname

Even though Guyana and Suriname usually deal more with the Caribbean than with the rest of the sub-continent, they are both geographically part of South America. As a first step in joining the South American integration process, the two states joined UNASUR and the South American Defense Council. Militarily speaking, both countries do not pose a significant security threat to their immediate neighbors (Venezuela, Brazils and French Guyana), and in any case, both countries are primarily focused on domestic security issues, particularly drug trafficking. Regarding Guyana, a 2008 Caribbean Media Corporation article explains how the Bharrat Jagdeo administration spent 100 million GUY dollars ($491,091) to purchase forensic equipment, firearms and ammunition for the local police to tackle local gang activity. In 2008, Brazil offered Guyana security equipment, including Global Positioning Systems, night goggles and helmets. Brazil plays a predominant role in regard to its influence primarily over Guyana, but also to a significant degree over Suriname.

Meanwhile, Suriname’s military is increasingly turning to both the U.S. and China in an effort to improve its bilateral military and economic options. However, weakening these attempts is the former notorious military strongman, Desire Bouterse, who has been on trial for years for abuses, including murder committed during his dictatorship.

Of the twelve countries in the sub-continent, at least five have carried out a relatively low amount of military purchases in recent years. Certainly, Argentina is a surprise member on this low-level list. Of the three major spenders in the region, Brazil and Venezuela receive the most media attention, which only feeds the idea of a major regional arms race throughout the continent. This is especially the case since Brazil has plans for constructing a nuclear submarine with French aid (though this dream dates back to the time of the military junta and has thus far been unsuccessful; sources say that the nuclear-powered submarine, ideally, will be finished by 2015). Ironically, it is Chile, perhaps the country that has received the least attention, that should be regarded as theoretically a growing security threat, as Santiago has border issues with all three of its neighbors.

A final issue that should be mentioned is that military officials usually tend to describe military equipment as “offensive” or “defensive” in nature, generally using the former to describe the purchases meant to protect against neighboring states, while labeling the latter for their own acquisitions for offensive tactics. Indeed, militaries like to define themselves as peaceful in nature, describing new weaponry as necessary to maintain a deterrent against possible aggressions – hence security ministries are usually labeled as “ministries of defense,” since “ministries of war” sounds too aggressive. In an interview with COHA, an analyst at the Federation of American Scientists explained that “labeling weapons as offensive/defensive is very misleading.” He goes on to argue that “some weapons can have predominant defensive roles at the tactical level but, at the strategic level, they could be used to further an invasion or other offensive actions (and vice versa).”

Wars since 1941 in Latin America

Discussions that question whether or not South America is headed towards an arms race, or already is involved in one, tend to raise fears of an eventual inter-state conflict. However, it is often overlooked that inter-state wars in Latin America have seldom occurred since World War II, as a brief listing of them will establish:
• 1941: A three-day war between Peru and Ecuador. Ecuadorian troops invaded northern Peru but were successfully repelled. The Peruvian army took the offensive and temporarily occupied the Ecuadorian province known as El Oro.
• 1969: The “Soccer War” or “100 Hour War” between Honduras and El Salvador.
• 1981 and 1995: Conflict broke out between Peru and Ecuador. Military operations occurred but were short lived only lasting a few weeks and casualties were relatively minor. The hostilities were limited to specific areas in the border highlands in Paquisha and Cenepa.
• 1982: The Falklands War/Guerra de las Malvinas. Though one of the belligerents was not a Latin American state, this war is still worth mentioning. Argentina, then under military junta, decided to invade the Malvinas (Falklands), which had been a matter of dispute for decades with the United Kingdom. The UK forces defeated the Argentines, speeding the dissolution of the Argentina junta and expedited the country’s return to civilian rule.
• U.S. military operations: For the sake of argument, it is worth mentioning that the U.S. carried out military operations in the Dominican Republic in 1965, Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989.
• Also, it should be noted that the last “great” conflict in South America was the Chaco War in 1932-35.

War and Peace in South America; Arms Purchases Do Not Make an Arms’ Race

As different analyses of the mounting arms race point out, there are some ongoing disputes between different South American countries, especially between Venezuela (at the level of heads of state) and Colombia, and Peru and Chile. Below is a brief list of ongoing tensions and disputes between Latin American countries:

• Peru and Chile: Historical tensions tracing back to the 19th century War of the Pacific include an ongoing Santiago-initiated dispute over the maritime border between the neighboring countries.
• Bolivia and Chile: La Paz presses demands that Chile should return the coastal territories it has occupied since the War of the Pacific.
• Argentina and Chile: Both countries dispute their exact borders; there is a disagreement about the dividing line along the Southern Patagonian ice fields. In 1894, the countries signed a Peace and Friendship Treaty. However, in 1978 the countries seemed to be drifting towards war, but the Pope intervened and mediated the fracas. It is all but certain that Pinochet provided Margaret Thatcher’s government with intelligence that helped London defeat Argentina in the Falklands War.
• Peru and Ecuador: Even though there has not been warfare between the two countries since the 1995 incident in the Cenepa region and the resulting 1998 Treaty, tensions have occasionally arisen. Peru is preoccupied over the fact that Ecuador is a close ally of Chile, Peru’s historical nemesis.
• Venezuela and Guyana: Caracas historically has claimed up to 1/3 of Guyanese territory, dating back to the end of the 19th century. In 1966, after a tripartite agreement between Venezuela, Guyana and the United Kingdom, Venezuelan soldiers and civilians entered Guyanese territory, namely the Guyanese side of the Ankoko island. The Venezuelans built an airstrip there, as well as a military outpost. In February 1970, Venezuelan and Guyanese soldiers engaged in a firefight, though no injuries were reported. Fears of a Venezuelan buildup at the time did not translate into major military operations. In 2007, a Venezuelan general and 36 soldiers entered Guyanese territory apparently with the intention of blowing up an improvised dam set up by illegal gold diggers. It was never confirmed why this operation took place, and whether Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had given the order to enter Guyana.
• Guatemala and Belize: These countries have a historical boarder dispute in which Guatemala claims major amounts of Belizean territory. Land claims have moderated however, as conciliatory discussions have taken place over the past few decades. Belize declared independence from its protector, the United Kingdom in 1975, but Guatemala only recognized Belize as a sovereign entity in 1994. However, the two countries have never lapsed into armed conflict against each other.
• Colombia and Nicaragua: Both countries claim the ownership of the San Andres and Providencia Islands.
• Bolivia and Paraguay: While these countries have had amicable relations for the most part, military buildups have caused some concern due to the persisting memory of the bloody 1932-1935 Chaco War. La Paz became concerned after Asuncion hosted a number of military exercises with U.S. National Guard units. More recently, Asuncion asked for more information about La Paz’s military purchases from Russia after news began to circulate of a $100 million credit issued by Moscow for the purpose of weapons’ acquisitions.
• For further information, consult Ivelaw Griffith’s 2003 article, “The Caribbean Security Scenario at the Dawn of the 21st century: Continuity, Change, Challenge,” which provides a thorough list of all the recent disputes between the Caribbean Basin states, focusing especially on divisive issues among the Caribbean island states.

Close Calls and the Falklands Scenario

Over the past several decades, there have been a number of instances in which two South American countries came very close to engaging in conflict, but never actually broke out in combat. An example is the historically and often tumultuous Colombian-Venezuelan relationship. Although it was difficult to imagine actual clashes between the two governments before Uribe and Chavez held office, there has been at least one situation that could potentially have led to an armed conflict. In August 1987 the Colombian warship Caldas entered the oil-rich Venezuelan Gulf, an area that both countries claimed as their own. Venezuelan president at the time, Jaime Lusinchi, reacted by deploying a squadron of the country’s F-16 planes to fly over the Colombian warship. Tensions reached their peak when the Colombian frigate Independiente and submarine Tayrona also entered the Gulf, ready to strike at Venezuelan targets. OAS Secretary General Joao Clemente Baena and Argentine President Raul Alfonsin managed to act as mediators; finally convincing Colombia to pull its units back, and allowing the situation to cool.

Peru and Chile also came close to armed engagement in the 1970s when Peru was ruled by General Juan Velasco Alvarado and Chile by General Augusto Pinochet. In August 1975, it was widely expected that both countries would resort to arms, as Peru had purchased massive amounts of Soviet military equipment, and Velasco was planning to attack Chile to regain Peru’s lost territories. However, an outbreak of violence failed to occur due to last minute complicating issues within the Velasco government.

Throughout the period of military rub in Latin America from the 1960s-1980s, there failed to be inter-state wars, lest one. The exception was the Argentine-British war over the Falklands/Malvinas Islands. The cause of this war is generally seen as arising from the Argentine junta’s desperation to switch national attention away from the ongoing domestic crises taking place within Argentina, such as its rapidly deteriorating economy and the mass protests against military rule.

Arms Race = War ?

A major question that must be raised is whether a South America arms race necessarily leads to war. As previously explained, even though there exists ongoing tensions among a number of South American countries, actual inter-state wars are few and far between, and historically have not been long lasting. Apart from ongoing disputes (usually as a result of two countries claiming the same piece of land), there have been a number of “close calls” throughout the decades, but none of them actually have evolved into open warfare other than those cited here. The last major war in the region would have been the Chaco War, close to 80 years ago.

Regarding Venezuela’s recent mass purchases of Russian military equipment, as well as Chavez’s often controversial comments, there is growing concern among his critics that Chavez may make a move a la Argentina (Argentine style). In other words, his government may resort to starting an armed conflict in order to divert attention from ongoing domestic problems, thereby rallying the Venezuelan population behind him. Venezuela dismisses such a theory as out of hand.

Various explanations have been proposed to explain the lack of inter-state warfare. Experts point to U.S. influence, the outreach of the inter-American system, or technical peace-keeping mechanism provided by the OAS. Another explanation may be that countries are now resorting to legal processes when it comes to conflict resolution, for example Peru and Chile have sent their current maritime border dispute to The Hague. Then there is the theory of the general movement regarding the integration of South America. With easier modes of communication and transportation readily available, general populations and their officials can interact with individuals from other nations, resulting in the possibility of long-term periods of good will. In an interview with COHA, a retired Colombian general explained that relations between the Colombian and Venezuelan militaries are generally good – when differences arise, they tend to be exclusively at the political level.

Military officials point to the complications of military diplomacy as deterrents for the outbreak of inter-state warfare. In an interview, a senior Peruvian army commander explained that “the nature of war has changed as exemplified by the American military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq… if you want to occupy a territory you gain through war; you have to figure out what to do with the local population, which nowadays numbers in the millions.” In other words, countries presently seem less interested in acting aggressively towards each other, because issues arise even for the victors, such as having to deal with the cost and burden of local populations in gained territories.

Casus Belli in Latin America

The idea that an arms race could inevitably lead to inter-state warfare is currently being put to the test in South America. It is safe to make this claim today while the sub-continent is embarking on an arms race, however two factors come into play with such a process. One factor being that history has shown that since World War II (or even since the Chaco War), inter-state war has been generally and mercifully scarce in the region, as well as short lived (even on the rare occasions of military governments making major arms’ purchases). The second factor being that the current South American arms race is one of varying levels, in that not every country is carrying out massive military purchases like the case with Brazil, Chile and Venezuela.

Thus, the question arises whether or not those discussing the possibility of an outbreak of war may have some credibility to their position. Predicting warfare is an inexact science, and, as Latin America has proven so far, massive arms purchases have not necessarily provoked inter-state war.

Gradual Resurgence of France as a Strategic Presence in Latin America and the Caribbean

by COHA Research Fellow Alex Sánchez and Research Associate Annie Hamel
03 May 2006
Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Announcement: President Morales Detonates a Bomb, with Repercussions that Reach Far Beyond Bolivia COHA will shortly be issuing an analysis of President Evo Morales’ May 1 announcement that all Bolivian natural gas and hydrocarbons will be nationalized. The report will examine the pluses and minuses of Morales’ action, and pay particular attention to the importance of the nationalization as a tool for regional integration. Themes will include the world’s reaction to the decree; geopolitical factors including proposed pipeline projects; and the impact of the Bolivian nationalization on relations between Brasilia and La Paz. COHA will also discuss the question of whether the State Department will now throw aside its nascent policy of cautious respect for Morales and add him to its hate list. Additionally, the release will examine the nationalization through the lens of the recently signed tri-partite ALBA trade pact between Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia, which may mark the beginning of a developing world call for a more socially conscious and humanistic system of development and trade. This would thus represent the opening chapter of a philosophical assault on the tenets of the Washington Consensus, which asserted the supremacy of market accessibility and the superiority of the private over the public sector.

  • Chirac’s visit to Brazil confirms the South American nation’s rising global status
  • Increased French influence goes hand in hand with a decline of Washington’s leverage in its own hemisphere

French President Jacques Chirac will be visiting Brazil on May 25, which has the potential of becoming a watershed meeting in the furtherance of enhanced relations between the two major regional powers as well as France’s emergent presence in the area. France, which for years has lacked a significant imprint on the hemisphere, now appears to be gradually returning and expanding its influence by improving its ties with Brazil and giving some priority to its own Caribbean basin territories. Chirac’s visit to Brazil comes after last October’s Paris meeting between French Prime Minister Dominique De Villepin and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In the De Villepin-Chavez encounter, the two countries came forth with declarations about their countries’ blossoming relationship and their desire to seek even further cooperation “on all levels.” Since both Paris and Caracas have had strained links in the recent past to Washington (and regarding Venezuela, very contemporaneously), any increased cordiality between them could prove mettlesome for White House policymakers. According to Latin America specialist Jean-Jacques Kourliandsky, of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), France, for the most part, has only had marginal diplomatic connections to Latin America, as the was region no longer considered a “priority continent.” Chirac’s visit to Brazil and De Villepin’s meeting with Chávez are obvious signals of a renewed French interest in a constructive relationship with the Western Hemisphere, notwithstanding the duplicitous role played by De Villepin in facilitating the extra-constitutional ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February of 2004 – an event that was engineered by Roger Noriega, formerly of the State Department, and which included the French foreign minister, the U.N.’s Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Canadians.

One can be excused for minimizing the potential importance of France’s presence in the region. Although much of its newfound visibility in recent years occurred without fanfare, Paris, in fact, has been quietly strengthening its presence across the hemisphere, from its Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadalupe to Colombia and Brazil. Chirac’s Brasilia trip is likely to lay the foundations for greater French investment and diplomatic involvement in the area. The prospects for a greater French role will heavily depend on the result of the country’s presidential elections next year. It will also depend if De Villepin manages to win and continue his own as well as President Chirac’s controversial legacy, and whether he will not be too burdened by the former’s rather shameful relationship with Haiti as its Judas, at the time that President Aristide was using up his remaining hours on the island.

France & Latin America-Brazil, the Major Interest

The foundation of the new ties between France and Latin America is a growing commercial exchange. According to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after the 1980s economic slowdown, French exports to Latin America increased from 16.7 billion Francs in 1990 (1.5% of the country’s total exports) to 45 billion in 1998 (2.6% of the total exports). In 2001, Mexico occupied 15% of total trade between France and Latin America, while half of total trade was between France and MERCOSUR nations.

The Quai d’Orsay (France’s foreign relations ministry) has amply displayed its growing interest in emerging Latin American economies, offering new investment opportunities for Paris, with Brazil attracting particular attention. Today, the Portuguese-speaking giant is regarded as a rising power, comparable to India, hence Paris’ great interest to cultivate its interest. In an interview with COHA, M. Amblard, an official on Brazilian affairs at France’s ministry of foreign affairs, highlighted the historical ties between France and Brazil, referring to the Brazilians that sought refuge in France in 1964 in order to escape the (Marshall Humberto de Alencar Castelo) Branco military junta, as one component of the two countries’ bilateral ties. Mr. Kouliansky of IRIS described how, in order to improve relations between France and Brazil, the French government made 2005 the “year of Brazil,” in which 15 million people participated in widely attended national festivals. Brazilian President Lula even participated in the July 14 French national parade, an honor which is not lightly bestowed. In addition, several cooperative agreements between the two countries on different issues like commerce, education, and culture. As part of this renewed push, France corporations became the fourth largest investor in Brazil in 2005, and were responsible for the creation of 230.000 jobs. France’s international support for Brazil’s Zero Hunger Project, which Brasilia had presented to the United Nations as an example of how to bring development to a country strongly needing reform, shows that Paris’ commitment is stronger than simply self-gratifying rhetoric. France’s initiatives and support for Brazil have made Chirac’s upcoming visit an event which is being warmly awaited by Lula and his government as part of its political and economic diversification theme which the Palácio do Planalto means to stress.

On a business level, many French multinational enterprises have invested in Brazil among them Renault-Nissan and Casino-Carrefour. In a December 1997 Billboard magazine article, the CEO of French mega department store FNAC, Francois-Henri Pineault, announced his company’s plans for Latin America and Asia, noting “we already have teams in action and we plan to open stores in the next 12-18 months.” He went on to explain that “Europe will become our domestic market, but our international development will cover other continents.” Pinault was speaking almost prophetically since FNAC opened a store in Sao Paulo in 1999, providing just one illustration of how French companies are penetrating Latin American markets. An April 25 article in Brazil’s Investnews celebrates the country’s exports to France in the past year, which include Havaianas flip flops, chemicals, prepared foods, turbines, auto tires and leather shoes.


France has sought active engagement in Colombia, but more on the basis of political rather than economic motives. Several French citizens are currently held by Colombian rebel groups, a situation which has prompted Paris to seek the role of a mediator in order to expedite the release of the French nationals. It is unclear if French negotiators are currently involved in the present discussions between the Colombian government and the major rebel movement in the country, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), for the release of some of the latter’s victims.

Among the hostages that Paris is determined to liberate is the former Colombian presidential candidate and former congresswoman, Ingrid Betancourt, who has been held hostage since February 2002. Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen, is the daughter of a former Colombian diplomat. Prime Minister De Villepin was Betancourt’s political science professor, and has made obtaining her release a pillar of his country’s Colombian policy as well as a matter of his personal dedication. In an April 21 press release, France’s foreign minister, M. Philippe Douste-Blaze, expressed France’s determination to secure her release. Earlier, in an 2006 interview, Douste-Blaze explained how, in coordination with Spain and Switzerland, Paris is trying to organize a round of negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC. He explained that France is committed to the respect of human rights and Colombia’s sovereignty, but has only one central objective: the liberation of all the hostages, particularly Ingrid Betancourt.

However, Quai d’Orsay seems to have maneuvered less than adeptly in seeking its goals, and Colombian officials are becoming agitated over Paris’ heavy handedness. An article in the French daily Le Figaro quotes a Colombian official as saying: “the French government has multiplied its errors in the Betancourt affair.” The official goes on to say “if [Paris] had reacted as it did for the French hostage in Iraq, [Betancourt] would already be freed.” Critiques of the French government’s approach seemed somewhat justified, especially after the body of Aida Duvalier, a Colombian-French hostage, was recovered in February in the town of Quinchia, west of Bogot. Duvalier had been kidnapped by the relatively unknown Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL) in March 2001.

The Caribbean

French Overseas Territories

France’s historic ties to the Western Hemisphere are bolstered by the country’s numerous possessions in the greater Caribbean region, known as “Departement d’Outre-Mer” (DOM or Overseas Departments). These include the islands of Guadelupe and Martinique, as well as French Guyana. These are not simply French territories, but since the 1980s have held the same legal standing as any other French mainland department like Loire or Manche, with their citizens having the same rights as other French citizens. Unlike British-controlled Bermuda, there is hardly any discussion about moving towards full independence in the French DOM. The inhabitants seem to enjoy the benefits of being legal French citizens, which – like Puerto Rico’s links to the U.S. – are not insubstantial. They enjoy unrestricted migration to France and the rest of Europe, as well as a steady flow of economic aid and subsidies from Paris and the European Union. However, not everything is made of gold; the lack of vital independence movements can also be partially explained by the well-grounded fear that would-be self determinants have of Paris’ traditionally repressive policies toward pro-independence civic movements. A 1997 Round Table journal article by Dr. Helen Hinjens, explains that Paris’ overall approach (particularly in the 1960s) towards pro-independence parties and movements in the DOM was repressive. Most were banned outright and, like their Algerian counterparts, their leaders were deported to mainland France under “special security circumstances.”

French Guyana and its neighbors

French Guyana, with its small population of 157.213 – according to a 1999 national census – holds particular importance for several reasons, principally its 673 km common border with Brazil. Currently, both French and Brazilian legislators are debating the construction of a 300-meter bridge over the Oyapock River, which separates the two territories, as well as giving permanent circulation entrance cards to the residents on both river banks, permitting them to cross freely. Associated migratory issues weigh heavily on relations between French Guyana and Brazil. In addition, the “gareimperos” (illegal Brazilian gold seekers) have begun prospecting mining operations in the rivers of French Guyana. Such incursions are envenomed by the gareimperos’ use of mercury in their refining efforts, which has a widespread baleful ecological impact. Among the most affected groups have been local indigenous communities, who not only experience health problems as a result of the exposure to the lethal metal, but are often subjected to threats of violence from criminal groups who run protection operations for the gareimperos. Moreover, according to the French organization Reporteurs sans frontières, journalists attempting to expose the region’s combative atmosphere have repeatedly faced deaths threats from illegal groups’ leaders.

Authorities in French Guyana have struggled to control the unlawful activities of these prospectors, particularly because of tremendous difficulties posed by the dense Amazonian forest. Last February, Brazil and Venezuela signed an accord to explore and exploit their quadrants of the border area, which covers more than 2,000 km. A January article in Mining Journal by Dominic Mercer explains that the propellant behind the accord includes the pollution brought about by the garimpeiros and the yet-to-be-determined quantity and quality of contraband diamonds and gold they have gathered. It is unclear if Chirac and Lula will get around to discussing this issue when they meet.

The multilateral facet

Elsewhere in the region, Paris has actively pursued multilateral engagement as an associate member of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), representing the DOM. The ACS, which was founded on July 24, 1994, has a broad membership including 25 full members, from both island and mainland Caribbean nations as well as three associate members (France, Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles). The United States and the United Kingdom have observer status. France’s associate membership in the ACS might offer a privileged path towards displaying an enhanced presence in the region. Caribbean governments have been trying to lure Martinique and Guadalupe into playing a role in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), knowing full well that an opened French purse and a flow of investments would likely follow.

Several steps have already been taken to boost this incipient relationship. Last March, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt met with French DOM officials; the discussions ended in an agreement establishing that Dominica’s citizens would no longer require visas to travel to French Caribbean territories. Another significant development is Paris’ decision to donate a total of $126,000 to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in support of the Commission’s efforts in Haiti.

On the subject of the region’s persistent crime problems, France has even opened a crime center in Martinique, the Centre interministériel de formation anti-drogues (CIFAD), in order to train regional police officers to combat drug trafficking. Another example is the recent 3-day March meeting in Paramaribo between Surinamese and French judicial authorities. According to the CMC news agency, the conference’s purpose was to “strengthen cooperation to deal with a wide range of cross – border criminal activities between Suriname and French Guyana.” The crimes brought up in the discussion included illegal immigration, auto theft, human trafficking, smuggled fuel as well as illegal small scale gold mining by the Brazilian garempeiros.

A Question of Interest

Links to Brazil, Colombia and the Caribbean typify France’s new engagement with Latin America; a policy which does not operate on a macro-scale, but rather by carefully selecting a sharp-shooter’s target, emphasizing a partnership based on particular circumstances. Often, the motivation is commercial; however in Colombia, it has been more political and humanitarian. A possible victory by Prime Minister De Villepin in the 2007 presidential race will likely mark a continuation of France’s current policy of strategic friendships throughout the Caribbean, with perhaps a greater French presence in Colombia in order to obtain Ingrid Betancourt’s freedom. Until then, President Chirac’s visit to Brazil constitutes an example that Latin America and the Caribbean can no longer be dismissed as being situated in Washington’s “sphere of influence.” After China, France is yet another country that, for strategic and financial reasons, and because of the region’s abundance of resources, is turning to Latin America and the Caribbean, regions that have opened their doors and are seeking to gain new friends and diversified trade partners.

Peacekeeping and Military Operations by Latin American Militaries: Between Being a Good Samaritan and Servicing the National Interest

By COHA Research Fellow Alex Sanchez
22 Jan 2010
Council on Hemispheric Affairs

A December 14, 2009 report by the Spanish security-news agency states that Colombia is now prepared to dispatch a battalion of its Special Forces and air force personnel to Afghanistan. The Colombian involvement is being sponsored by Spain in order to aid Coalition forces now engaged in combat there as well as training local Afghan security forces. This initiative highlights a relatively obscure issue, which comprehends peacekeeping and other military operations overseas in which units of armed forces of Latin American states are participating, or are likely to take part of in the near future. While it is commendable that regional governments may want to post troops in order to stabilize distant countries as well as cooperate in combating terrorism, as may be Colombia’s intent, there are usually other, more compelling motives, placing altruistic ones to the side, encouraging such participation.

Peacekeeping 101: MINUSTAH and Beyond
In Bogotá’s case, involvement in Afghanistan would bring a major political gain—the strengthening of security relations with Washington as Colombia would be the only Latin American country deployed in Afghanistan. Colombians must be mindful that the Uribe administration is anxious to more decisively woo Washington’s backing for the hard days ahead for pending free trade measures. Meanwhile, regional powerhouse Brazil is the leader of the controversial UN Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH). Brasilia’s decision to play such a prominent role in Haiti is more likely a calculated move to advance its diplomatic leverage in the region, rather than being a purely selfless act. Brazil may use its work with MINUSTAH (rendered so much more important due to the ferocious earthquake that recently hit Haiti) to showcase itself as a growing global power while increasing its credentials in a contest for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, the controversial events which figured in the creation of MINUSTAH (such as the forced ouster of constitutional President Jean-Bertrand Aristide) have considerably stained Lula’s bona fides as well as his initiatives.

The horrific earthquake that has virtually destroyed large sections of Haiti, effectively making it a devastated failed state, is the ultimate challenge for a peacekeeping mission that continuously has been beset by revealing and embarrassing moments. MINUSTAH will most likely have to take on additional responsibilities—some of them likely to be indisputably controversial because of past scandals, in order to keep the Haitian population under control and carry out disaster relief operations. This presupposes that the Haitian government security forces are able to effectively re-assert themselves as a viable force – something that it has failed to do in the past. The eyes of the world are on the MINUSTAH leadership. It badly needs a successful stint at managing the situation on the ground to help at least partially forget its controversial antecedents such as its anti- Aristide bias and its tendency for violence.

From the Democratic Republic of Congo to Israel’s borders, to Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan, Latin American militaries have been involved in foreign operations for decades. Almost always, they act under the flag of the United Nations or, regarding Afghanistan and Iraq, representing a coalition of international forces. Unsurprisingly, in Latin America (as in other parts of the world) peacekeeping and coalition-type military arrangements are based on a combination of “good Samaritan” sentiments with a hearty a dose of politically motivated real politik.

MINUSTAH: Idealism Joins in with National Interests
The history of the UN Mission to Haiti has been star-crossed since its inception. The overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, reliably planned by the US, Canada and France, along with then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, brought to power the far more controversial government of interim Prime Minister, Gérard Latortue. As part of the international community’s intervention, the United Nations, far from working towards restoring Haiti’s constitutional order, acted as a force in persistent support of a troubling new political order on the island.

The now Brazil-dominated UN mission was formed by international peacekeepers coming from mostly Latin countries, including Brazil, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina, as well as other military forces from around the world, including China, India and Jordan. As has been previously cited, the mission is predominantly Brazilian-run. In an interview with COHA, Michael J. Snell, a retired Canadian colonel who now works with the Canadian Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, explained that “from the start there was a very clear sense of ownership by the Latinos, MINUSTAH was to be a Latin mission, as seen from the Chilean initiative of training Haitian police in the peacekeeping center in Santiago.” It should be stressed that international intervention in Haiti usually came via Washington, as exemplified by the 20,000 troops sent to the island in 1994 by the Clinton administration to ostensibly oversee the return to power of Aristide, who had been overthrown by the military in 1991. Latin American interest in a greater local participation in peacekeeping operations in Haiti only really started after 2000, as Washington and Europe’s attention was mainly focused on the Balkans and then the Middle East and Central Asia.

The reasons for Brazil’s interest in heading MINUSTAH fall into two categories:
1. Idealism: The Brazilian leadership wants to promote peace worldwide and sees Haiti as a good regional location to manifest this desire.
2. Pragmatism: Brasilia wants to cement its status as being inside the tent of rising global powers and sees being a leader of the Haitian peacekeeping missions as a way to codify this perception of itself. In addition, as the country continues to lobby for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, being out front in a UN mission is a prudent way to strengthen its bonafides. Snell adds that “it seems clear that Haiti has become part of Brazilian nationalism; it is utilized, for lack of a better work, to showcase Brazil as a growing global power.”

Working alongside Brazil as essentially the second in command of the UN mission in Haiti, Chile also has had its share of issues. Most notable has been the deployment of General Eduardo Aldunate as the second head of MINUSTAH. Aldunate, who attended the School of the Americas/WHINSEC, has been rumored, at the very least, of being aware (if not a participant) of human right abuses while he was a rising intelligence officer throughout the era of the General Pinochet dictatorship. Snell, who has never met Aldunate, explains that “it is never clear why some officials are chosen for a particular mission, sometimes one slips through the cracks or sometimes a member state carries out closed-door negotiations to get someone chosen.” The retired army officer chose to use the bizarre example of a retired Indian Lt. General, Dewan Prem Chad, who was in his mid seventies (76), to be the head of the UN mission to Namibia in 1989, even though his age clearly might have been a fact arguing against his being selected.

MINUSTAH: Old Challenges as well as New Ones Arising from the 2010 Earthquake.
Haiti is the poorest nation of the hemisphere, a sad distinction for a nation that became the second free republic of the Americas, following the U.S. Some would argue that the MINUSTAH mission attempted to bring order to the embattled country. For example, in September 2008, MINUSTAH blue helmets provided food and water to the Haitians who were stranded in the wake of Tropical Storm Hanna. Additionally, a January 2010 report by the Caribbean Media Corporation explains that the UN mission was supposed to assume some responsibilities with the upcoming February 28th legislative elections, though it is unclear if the elections will take place in view of the vastly destructive earthquake.

On Brazil’s role in MINUSTAH, President Lula has said,
“I believe that our presence in Haiti can be compared to a soccer game. In 2004, we were going through the first period. Now, we are starting the second period of the game. The first period was a complicated stage, getting to know the wiles of the adversary little by little, closing a solid defense, and not letting any goal get by. In the second period, it is time for us to take the initiative, and the tactic of the game here is strengthening our supportive presence more and more.” (Brazilian news agency Estado, May 29, 2008)
The analogy seems to point out that, in the eyes of the Brazilian leaders, the UN mission will not leave the island until the metaphorical “game” is decisively over. But, his words do not touch upon why Brazil was “playing” this “game” at this time.

There are opposing views on whether Haitian authorities and their police forces are ready to operate without MINUSTAH. Indeed, in June 2009 Gilda Motta Santos Neves, head of Itamaraty’s (Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs) UN desk, stated that “Brazil’s commitment with Haiti is long-term. There is no set timetable because the situation on the ground must be evaluated as security and development issues evolve. Development is the only thing that can sustain security over the long term.” Certainly, the earthquake translates into meaning that MINUSTAH will have to remain in the country for perhaps even longer than initially expected. Michael J. Snell explained to COHA that “they are facing challenges that no other UN mission had to face before they can’t rotate staff anymore, and its unclear what additional responsibilities will the new troops have to take at this point.”

As it is, MINUSTAH presents two different stories when it comes to the difficult task of policing the country, even with the fitful aid of the local police. In April 2008, protests in neighborhoods against the high cost of living in the lower class settlements of Les Cayes ended in UN blue helmets shooting and seriously injuring three people after protesters threw stones at the peacekeepers. The protesters then covered the area with burning tires and the skeletons of cars, making it impossible to enter the affected neighborhoods. Protests over food shortages and rising prices are hardly uncommon, and are most likely to increase in view of the huge impact that the January earthquake is having on every aspect of life on the island and until supplies from donor states can be effectively distributed and integrated in every affected community. In addition, the earthquake has caused the main prison in Port-au-Prince to collapse, allowing many of the inmates to escape. Considering that the Haitian police officers are most likely to be overwhelmed by using their depleted ranks in search-and-rescue operations, not to mention looking after their own surviving family members, the blue helmets may have to take on even greater police activities than before.

A number of Latin countries have already sent troops to Haiti, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay. MINUSTAH’s mandate was renewed for another year on October 2009 and its contingents currently comprise around 9,000 troops, with over 2,000 being used for narrowly defined policing missions.

Ongoing and Recent UN Operations
A number of Latin American states are currently involved or have been recently so in a variety of UN peacekeeping operations around the world. Colombia has deployed the “batallón Colombia” to the Middle East. It should be stressed that there is a distinct difference between a peacekeeping deployment, which includes regular troops who actually carry out patrols, and the deployment of military observers, which do not necessarily need to have the UN’s blessing. The following overview is not intended to provide a comprehensive list of all countries that have sent troops to participate in UN missions or serve as military observers, but rather is meant to provide an idea of what regional countries are the most involved in these types of operations.

Uruguay: In October 2008, rebel troops fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo used artillery fire to attack 300 Uruguayan peacekeepers as well as troops from India and UN civilian staff at a UN base in Rutshuru. A month before the incident occurred, a ceremony was held in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, to congratulate the Uruguayan blue helmets for their work in the country. In attendance was Ross Stewart Mountain, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in the DRC, who highlighted the work of the Uruguayan peacekeepers in crises in local towns like Bunia, Bukavu and Kinshasa, among others. Uruguay contributes around 1,300 troops annually to the UN mission in the DRC, which totals just over 20,000 blue helmet troops, making it the biggest peace operation in the world. Uruguay may serve as an example of a military force that is attempting to re-invent itself. Having no external security threats (a war with either of its bordering countries, Argentina or Brazil, would be out of the question), and with a new generation of officers wanting to separate themselves from the era when a dictatorial military junta ruled the country, the Uruguayan armed forces are looking at peacekeeping as a way to transform themselves into being relevant and a self-respecting institution in their own country.

Peru: The Andean country’s forces have served in a number of UN missions. According to the Peruvian Armed Forces’ website, varying numbers of Peruvian troops have served in Western Sahara (1991-1992), Sierra Leone (2000), Cyprus (2002-2006), Burundi (2004-2006) and Sudan (2005-2006), among others. Peru usually sends a small levy of troops on its African missions, numbering between three in the Côte d’Ivoire and 17 in Sudan. In 2008, Peru received the distinction of having Rear Admiral Mario César Sánchez Debemardi, who already had served as a military monitor with the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia from 1989 to 1990, to be appointed as Force Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Meanwhile, a new contingent of Peruvian troops, consisting of 204 soldiers and officers, departed to Haiti from Lima in June, 2009.

Argentina: Argentine units have served in the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus since 1993. According to reports, Argentine forensic experts have worked as part of a team on the island to identify remains of Greek Cypriots missing since the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island as well as trying to identify Turkish Cypriots missing since the early 1960s. Argentine blue helmets also have been sent to be part of the UN missions in Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, as well as Cambodia, Western Sahara, among others.

Colombia: Apart from preparing for the possible deployment of its troops to fight in Afghanistan, Bogotá also has sent its forces to be part of MINUSTAH. In addition Colombian troops are also part of the independently-organized Multinational Force and Observers (MOF) who were deployed after Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979. The MOF presently compromises around 2,000 troops from 11 countries.

El Salvador
: Another country increasingly involved in peacekeeping operations, although on a small scale, is El Salvador, a fact demonstrated by the troops it has sent to Iraq. San Salvador appears to have a growing interest in being involved in all types of international Samaritan missions. In June 2008, San Salvador sent 52 peacekeepers to participate in the UN mission in Lebanon. In February 2009, the Central American country deployed five policemen from its Civil National Police to Haiti to aid with peacekeeping operations.

Peacekeeping Initiatives and Training
The Organization of American States (OAS) has been involved in a number of peacekeeping initiatives, exemplified by the agency’s training of Argentine and Uruguayan peacekeeping forces to be deployed in the prevention of human trafficking. Such specialized-peacekeeping exercises have already taken place involving the forces of other countries like Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Honduras.

In addition, a number of Latin American states have come together to create the Latin American Association of Training Centers for Peace (ALCOPAZ – Asociación Latinoamericana de Centros de Entrenamientos para Operaciones de Paz), based in Rio de Janeiro. It should be noted that ALCOPAZ is a new organization and it remains to be seen how it will work with the plethora of regional organizations, ranging from a hemispheric agency like the OAS to already existing regional bodies. So far the agency’s role in the regional effort mounted in response to the Haitian earthquake is not evident. Regarding the structure of ALCOPAZ, Michael J. Snell observed that “Canadians like to join different organizations and bureaus and promote inter-agency cooperation, it is mind-boggling to us how many agencies there are in Latin America and why they are not more interconnected.”

Latin American presence in Afghanistan and Iraq
The possible deployment of Colombian troops to Afghanistan is a notable development for a number of reasons. Spain is serving as Colombia’s mentor. According to the Spanish security news service, Colombia is scheduled to deploy between 80 to 200 troops. As far back as August 2009, Spanish Vice President Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega had declared that Spain would sponsor a Colombian unit to serve as part of the International Security Assistance Force deployed to Afghanistan. The mission of the troops would be to train the Afghan Army and carry out demining and anti-narcotics operations. Regarding the possibility that the deployed troops could be involved in combat with local Taliban insurgents, Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva Lujan informed the public that “because [the Colombian troops] will be in a combat zone, it would be very difficult that they would not have to fight at some point.”

It should be noted that this is not the only deployment of Latin American contingents. El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and other regional countries deployed troops to Iraq after the U.S. intervened in that country in 2003. Initially, El Salvador sent 380 troops to the region, but since then gradually has reduced its numbers. In August 2008, it was reported that 200 Salvadoran troops were being sent to Iraq to replace the 280 who were already there. In February 2009 the Central American country pulled the last of its troops out of that country. At the time of the pullout, El Salvador’s head of state was Tony Saca, a staunch ally of the Bush administration. The withdrawal of the Salvadoran force was the last of the Latino presence in Iraq.

Like El Salvador, Colombia is one of the last close allies of Washington in Latin America. Hence, the deployment of military personnel to Afghanistan can be seen as a new and less disruptive way for Bogotá to further cement its political relationship with Washington. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that it’s not just Colombia and several Central American countries that have historically used overseas deployments in support of Washington’s causes, for possible political gains.

A History of Peacekeeping and Military Operations
It should be stressed that, while it appears that interest in peace and military operations among Latin American countries has increased in recent years, this phenomenon has had a reasonably long history. For example, Latin American involvement in military operations overseas can be traced back to Brazil sending troops to fight with the Allies in World War II. The Força Expedicionária Brasileira (Brazilian Expeditionary Force – FEB), comprised of 25,000 troops, fought in Italy and in the South Atlantic Ocean sector adjoining the country. In addition, the Colombian army sent four of its battalions to fight in the Korean War from 1951-1954. The forces suffered 146 fatalities out of 4,000 Colombian forces sent there, where they fought as part of American units, mainly as helping to make up the 7th U.S. Infantry Division.

One of the earliest examples of a major involvement in UN peace operations on the part of a Latin American country was the “batallón Peru,” a unit of the Peruvian army that, during the rule of General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968-1975), was dispatched to serve as peacekeepers after the war between Israel and Egypt. The battalion was involved in the peacekeeping efforts, associated with putting an end to the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and stayed there until 1974. In an interview with COHA, a Peruvian colonel who helped lead that Peruvian battalion explained that the army was “looking for physically fit, single men who spoke English and had a clean record sheet.” The now retired officer added that “everyone wants to go on these types of missions in spite of the dangers; there was a cap of 20 lieutenants but 100 applied.” The official explained that the reason for Peru sending troops to the Middle East was based on the fact that, at the time, the country was a member of the UN Security Council, hence it was a matter of national pride for Lima to contribute troops. “[President] Velasco was proud that we were going. Before the deployment, the entire battalion marched in front of him.”

Peacekeeping and Military Operations for all Seasons
The cornerstone of manpower required for UN peacekeeping operations worldwide originates in Third World nations, with more industrialized ones providing the financial resources in support of them. For countries like Uruguay and Brazil, this is a way to increase their international status and visibility. Indeed, due to the fact that inter-state warfare for Montevideo with its neighbors is essentially out of the question, the country’s military, for pragmatic reasons, is primarily focused on peacekeeping operations. Regarding Brasilia, while Lula and his successors will want to cement Brazil’s status as a rising global power via a continuously strong UN presence, particularly as the country looks to gain a hoped-for permanent seat in the UN Security Council, there is danger that it will continue to be involved in peacekeeping operations, no matter how controversial these may be. The events surrounding the creation of MINUSTAH and some of the mission’s alleged abuses are examples of situations that might taint, more than anything else, Brazil’s concern for its good name and its expansive intentions.

Brazil’s use of the UN and its current leadership status in Haiti, aimed at achieving Brasilia’s international goals, is understandable. Likewise, Colombia and the Central American countries have become involved in Washington’s war in Iraq (and soon in Afghanistan), more than anything else for political gains. While some good may come out of such operations it is clear that military deployment in service of peacekeeping and collective military deployment represent the future of the region’s military institutions’ raison d’être, particularly if regional inter-state warfare in Latin America continues to be thankfully scarce.

For more information visit
Peruvian Armed Forces in UN Peace Operations.

Global Peace Operations Initiative

The Global Peace Operations Initiative: Background and Issues for Congress. Serafino, Nina. Congressional Research Service. June 11, 2009.

Latin American Association of Training Centres for Peace ALCOPAZ.

Argentine Centre for Joint Training for Peace Operations.

Peruvian Centre for Joint Training for Peace Operations

Pearson Peacekeeping Centre

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The Dirty Little Secret: Nuclear Security Issues in Latin America and the Caribbean

by COHA Research Fellow Alex Sanchez
06 Jan 2010
Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Globally, nuclear power has become an increasingly important source of energy, accounting for about 15% of the world’s electricity supply. When it comes to Latin America, 3.1% of electricity comes from this source. However, the nettlesome security issues resulting from utilizing nuclear energy sources largely have been ignored. On March 2008, Colombian authorities discovered that the FARC insurgent movement managed to obtain (it was never clarified from where) 9 kilograms of depleted uranium. Then, in early 2009, the Argentine media reported that an employee of the Baker Atlas Company oil-drilling operation in Neuquen had stolen a canister of nuclear substance Caesium-137, demanding up to US$500,000 in ransom payments from Baker Atlas.

Meanwhile, if Brazil successfully completes the construction of a nuclear-powered submarine — a national security goal since the era of the country’s brutal military junta (1964-85) — the repercussions for regional geo-security could be profound. Reports suggest that countries such as Venezuela and Chile are also currently assessing the benefits of nuclear energy. One can add to this growing list of nuclear issues the ongoing transshipment of nuclear waste from Europe to Japan via the Caribbean and Panama Canal.

At the recently concluded December 2009 Copenhagen Summit, world leaders focused on pressing issues such as deforestation and climate change. Unfortunately, nuclear energy, which is closely linked with environmental issues, was not adequately addressed, especially in regards to Latin America. Nevertheless, the development of nuclear energy is primed to make a significant impact in the region and beyond. Nuclear security, as well as its impact on geopolitics, geosecurity and the dangers of illegal nuclear trafficking, will have to be addressed more directly as Brazil works to realize its plans for its nuclear submarine, and particularly if criminals and insurgents continue to be successful at getting their hands on radioactive material.

Washington seems to be catching on to the likely prospects of nuclear trafficking as proven by its Megaports Initiative, which is aimed at detecting attempts to smuggle potential nuclear and radioactive material through major regional ports. Nevertheless, as inter-state tensions and high levels of violence persistently plague the region, vigilance is required of all nations interested in keeping the use of nuclear energy limited to peaceful ends.

Nuclear Security Incidents and Their Aftermaths

The development of nuclear energy in Latin America could present dramatic security issues, particularly taking into account the potential accidents and incidents that could occur within nuclear plants and other facilities that possess radioactive material. An October 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal reported the ease with which two criminals, one of them a former employee, stole Caesium-137, a radioactive material, from the Baker Atlas Company oil-drilling operation in Neuquen in February of last year.

According to the article, it took “two armed men no more than three minutes to break into an underground bunker in Argentina, swipe a canister of radioactive material and [stage] a quick getaway after tying up the lone security guard on duty at the facility.” Diario Perfil, an Argentine daily, reported that law enforcement officers found the pilfered material and subsequently charged a former Baker Atlas employee with orchestrating the plot. Although the perpetrators demanded $500,000 in return for the canister, ultimately, it seemed that the individuals were more interested in discrediting the company than being part of a grand plot. Nevertheless, the incident raised the question of whether facilities that possess radioactive material have appropriate levels of security.

Before the Argentine incident occurred, on March 1, 2008, the Colombia military raided a secret FARC base, just within the Ecuadorean border, where the second in command, Raul Reyes, was hiding and eventually killed. Files found in Reyes’ laptops made mention of the acquisition of uranium. Some weeks later, informants told the Colombia police the precise location where the material had been stored, outside of Bogota. According to National Police Chief Oscar Naranjo, “FARC are taking crucial steps in the world of terrorism to make themselves known as a great international, global aggressor.”

The newswire Agence France Presse later speculated about the numerous ways the depleted uranium could have been used: “[it] can be used in a ‘dirty bomb’ to disseminate cancer-causing radioactivity […] it has a low-level of radioactivity and can be used to make anti-tank ammunition and aircraft cannons capable of penetrating armor.” However, the experts interviewed by the Spanish news agency EFE maintained that it was highly unlikely that the FARC had the technological equipment and expertise to actually create a dirty bomb. OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza has been quoted as saying, “[the] FARC don’t have the missiles [with the un-enriched uranium] that other groups have. I would doubt that they have the capacity to enrich uranium. But we will look into the matter, of course.” Most importantly, the FARC’s uranium source has yet to be revealed, or the issue resolved.

These incidents in Colombia and Argentina highlight the importance of safeguarding installations where radioactive material traditionally is kept, from nuclear plants to hospitals and mining operations. Any discussion of nuclear security in the region also will require a lengthy inquiry into the security standards of nations with such programs. In an interview with COHA, Pedro Valdivia, a Peruvian nuclear engineer and former employee of the Peruvian Institute for Nuclear Energy (IPEN), explained that nuclear power plants are not the only concern: “several industries and entities (industries, hospitals, mining operations) that use radioactive material which, if combined, would reach enough amounts to make a ‘dirty bomb’ (not from uranium but from other materials).” Valvidia explained that in Peru, “there is not enough security. Many times the radioactive material is treated without enough security and transported by unqualified personnel, it would be all too easy to obtain radioactive material as several staff members, like drivers and security personnel, do not understand the risks.”

On the other hand, experts like Carlos Ampuero, also from IPEN, are more optimistic about the prospects for safeguarding the use of nuclear energy in the region. In an interview with COHA, Ampuero explained that “[for example] the Peruvian nuclear center has worked since the 1980s, during the period of terrorism, and we never had any problems. Physical security is effective and reassuring […] for example, alarms don’t only go off within the installation but also alert friendly forces that can arrive in a few minutes by land and air.”

Is Nuclear Security Catching on?

A July 2008 article in the newswire service Marketwire highlights how Puerto Cortés, the largest port in Central America, located on Honduras’ Caribbean coast, “is the only port in the Western Hemisphere and one of only three in the world currently scanning all inbound and outbound shipments for nuclear substances.” The report quotes Vilma Sierra, Executive President of the Foundation for Investment and Development of Imports (FIDE) of Honduras, as saying, “Honduras is roughly four years ahead of the U.S. congressionally-mandated July 2012 deadline requiring 100 percent of all U.S.-bound containers to be scanned before entry, established by the Security and Accountability for Every Port Act (SAFE) of 2006.”

Washington has taken some positive steps regarding nuclear security in both Latin America and the Caribbean. A November 2008 press release by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced that the agency has provided the Dominican Republic detection and communication equipment for the island’s port of Caucedo. The equipment will be used to detect nuclear and other radioactive materials in vessels passing through the port. Deputy Administrator William Tobey stated, “I am pleased to count the Dominican Republic as another partner in the worldwide effort to prevent nuclear proliferation and terrorism.” Under the umbrella of its Megaports Initiative, the U.S. began similar operations in Port of Kingston in Jamaica in May 2009, and in Mexico’s Port of Veracruz and Port of Lazaro Cardenas in March and July of 2009, respectively.

Nuclear Energy and Plants in Latin America

Though not yet widespread throughout the region, a number of countries including Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico possess reactors that provide their citizens with electricity; Peru and Colombia, the other countries in the region with nuclear capabilities, have not aimed their reactors at energy production, but are currently carrying out low-level research.

Following is a brief description of some of the most relevant developments in Latin American nuclear states.

For a time during the country’s last period of military rule (1976-1983), there were reports that Buenos Aires launched a major nuclear research effort in the southern part of the country, possibly paving the way for a nuclear weapons program. In recent years, after a prolonged period of antagonism, Argentina and Brazil have grown increasingly close when it comes to collaborating on nuclear energy projects. In “Brazil and Argentina’s Nuclear Cooperation,” a January 2009 report for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Argentine security expert Irma Argüello explains that, “this strategic alliance could also turn Brazil and Argentina into global suppliers of enriched uranium and advanced reactors of intermediate power.”

Of course, Buenos Aires is not solely dependent on Brasília for its nuclear initiatives. According to a February 2008 report in Latin America News Digest, Argentina had launched an ambitious nuclear program in 2006 with a budget of approximately $2 billion. The program aims to complete the construction of Atucha II, Argentina’s second nuclear plant, and includes studies on the construction of a fourth nuclear plant, upgrades to the Embalse nuclear plant and the resumption of enriched uranium production.

In 2008, Argentina and Algeria agreed to boost their state cooperation on civil nuclear energy matters during Argentine President Cristina Kirchner’s visit to Algiers. In October 2009, Deutsche Presse-Agenteur reported that Argentina and India signed an agreement based on their mutual cooperation. Jordan, Russia, and Canada, through Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, have all reached comparable agreements during this period. Finally, a May 2009 press release in Marketwire reported that the Argentine government plans to reactivate the Pilcaniyeu uranium enrichment plant, in the province of Río Negro in the southern part of the country.

As a rising global power, Brazil’s nuclear intentions are of particular importance. The country presently has two operating nuclear stations, Angra 1 and Angra 2, and plans for a third. A Business News Americas report in 2009 mentioned that Brasília expects construction for Angra 3 to be completed by May 30, 2015. The country has focused on a partnership with Argentina, including a February 2008 agreement between Brazilian President Lula da Silva and Argentina’s Kirchner to build a uranium enrichment plant. With French help, Brazil is seeking to build its own domestic-made nuclear submarine. Peruvian nuclear engineer Carlos Ampuero explained that “the size of the submarine will depend on the size of the reactor, which will depend on how enriched will the power source be. The consensus is that Brazil on its own can enrich uranium to the standards necessary for a small reactor to function.” It is still unclear how much assistance Paris will provide Brasília for the submarine, both in terms of general design and the reactor itself, but the extend of the cooperation is likely to be considerable.

In 2007, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, visited Brazil and declared that “our inspectors are here all the time, and they are working in close cooperation with the Brazilian authorities,” stressing that the country’s history of the nuclear program has not been anything like Iran’s and does not present a security threat. “Lately, we see a lot of interest into the expansion of nuclear power because of concerns about climate change, because of the competition for gas and oil, because of the increased need for energy to develop,” ElBaradei told the Associated Press as he toured the plant in Resende, 100 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro.

While Brasília’s decision not to pursue a nuclear weapons program is demonstrably a positive development, the security issues in the Angra plants as well as the pressing possibility of accidents must be addressed. In 1987, a Caesium-137 source (the same type that was stolen in Argentina) was improperly removed from an abandoned clinic in Goiania, Brazil and subsequently ruptured. As a result, four individuals died and 28 suffered radiation burns.

The closest Latin American country to the U.S. has already developed nuclear energy with its Laguna Verde plant, located in the southern state of Veracruz. While there have been plans for expansion, Laguna Verde remains the country’s sole nuclear plant. As early as November 2009, Eugenio Laris, a senior official for Mexico’s state power company CFE, asserted that there is space to build a twin nuclear power plant to further meet the country’s energy needs. Ruben Camarillo, a PAN Senator, made similar statements in March, corroborating such plans.

While Lima possesses a small reactor in Huarangal, the facility is limited to support small research projects rather than provide energy on a large-scale. Peru has ambitions to further develop its nuclear energy capacities, however, and there have been plans to construct additional nuclear facilities. Under an agreement signed during the 14th APEC Leaders’ Meeting in November 2006, Russia pledged to help Peru make advances in areas such as agriculture, health, and nuclear energy, among other sectors. In 2007, the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP) submitted a bill to Congress declaring the development and use of nuclear energy as a “necessity” and of “public interest.”

More recently, the Peruvian Institute for Nuclear Energy drafted a bill promoting investment for the generation of nuclear power. According to the president of IPEN, Conrado Seminario, the country is rich in uranium and could begin exporting the ore as early as 2011. Indeed, the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development and the IAEA sponsored an International Uranium Resources Evaluation Project Mission to Peru in 1984. The mission estimated that the country’s speculative resources ranged from 6,000 to 11,000 tons of uranium, though experts interviewed by COHA point out that it may turn out to be more.

Regarding Peru’s rich uranium deposits, Solex Resources Corp., a Canadian-based exploration company, explained in a press release last May that it has purchased all the shares of Minera Frontera Pacifica S.A., meaning that the company “will control 100% of operations taking the place over 904 square kilometers of uranium concessions on the Macusani Plateau in south-eastern Peru.”

The country’s energy agency, Ingeominas, possesses one nuclear reactor called IAN R-1 which was constructed with U.S. help in 1965 and modernized in the 1990s. However, the reactor is only used for research purposes and not for energy production. In June 2008, reports from Bogotá pointed to Colombia’s newfound interest in developing this energy source. At a meeting with Turkish investors, former President Ernesto Samper explained that, “nuclear energy is something we are thinking about. Environmentalists are against this plan, but the increase in fuel prices does not leave many other choices. We are also working on developing biofuels, which today account for 18 percent of all fuel consumed in Colombia.”

Experts estimate that Argentina, Brazil and Peru hold the most uranium deposits in the region. In 2007, Buenos Aires passed a bill which designated an $8 million budget for the country’s atomic energy commission (Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica, CNEA), to carry out upgrades to the San Rafael uranium complex in the province of Mendoza. According to experts, policies to extract and exploit uranium deposits hinge on cost effectiveness. A Business News Americas report explains that the San Rafael mine, which was opened in the 1970s and produced nearly 1,600 tons of uranium, was shut down in 1995 due to low uranium prices.

Interested States

Several other countries have expressed a desire to develop nuclear energy in Latin America. In May, the Associated Press published a report explaining that the IAEA will aid Ecuador in the exploration of its territory for uranium deposits from 2009 to 2011. Following the trend of other countries, Ecuador signed an agreement with Russia in mid-2009 regarding civilian nuclear cooperation. According to the Colombian news network Caracol TV, the Ecuadorian Minister for Renewable Energy, Esteban Alvornoz, stated in August 2009 that, “cooperation with Russia cannot be measured in monetary terms, but with the benefits of this transfer of technology and science for countries like ours.”

Chile has expressed interest in developing its own nuclear plants, but due to the country’s seismic instability, it is regarded as unsafe to depend upon nuclear energy. In September, Chile’s Energy Minister, Marcelo Tokman, stated that Chile could reduce the costs of its central electricity system by 8.5-10% towards the end of the 2020s by switching to nuclear power. In August, presidential candidate Eduardo Frei announced his intention to have a nuclear plan in place by 2020, and stated, “during my government we will have to create a Nuclear Energy Commission.” Frei is currently a contender in the final run-off election for the presidency.

Venezuela, Brazil, and Iran

While still unclear as to the extent of their exchange of nuclear information, the evolving Brasília-Tehran-Caracas triangle has the potential to become an issue for other Latin American states. This is likely to occur as these countries gain a collateral advantage for carrying out traditional warfare, even if nuclear weaponry remains banned in the region. Hugo Chávez repeatedly has stated his desire to construct a prospering nuclear program. The Venezuelan President, who has made his affinity for Iran no secret, believes the Middle Eastern country’s expertise will allow Venezuela to achieve its nuclear ambitious. An Agence France Presse report notes that, during a visit to Tehran, Chávez stated that Venezuela was working on a preliminary plan for the construction of a “nuclear village” in Venezuela, with Iranian assistance, “so that the Venezuelan people can count in the future with this marvelous resource for peaceful uses.”

Venezuela is not alone in seeking aid from Iran, as neighboring Brazil is also looking for Iran’s support in developing a more ambitious nuclear program. In late November, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Brasília and met with his colleague, President Lula da Silva, where both leaders defended Iran’s right to develop civilian nuclear energy. The debate now rages over the motive behind Lula’s reasoning for defending Iran’s nuclear program. On one hand, it could be that, contrary to the U.S., Lula does not perceive Iran as a global security threat. On the other, he could be seeking technical and productive support from Tehran for Brazil’s own nuclear program, especially regarding the implementation of the French-backed nuclear submarine projects.

Nuclear Waste in the Caribbean

A final nuclear security issue regarding Latin America deals with the ongoing shipment of nuclear waste through Caribbean waters. Occasional shipments originating in countries like France and the United Kingdom carry industrial nuclear waste as they traverse the Caribbean or the Panama Canal on their way to Japan to have it processed. In February 2007, Panamanian environmentalists protested the passage of the ship Sandpiper, owned by the British Nuclear Group, Areva NC, and the Overseas Reprocessing Committee, through the Canal en route to Japan.

These protests, however, still pale in comparison with the turmoil generated by the Pacific Swan, which, on its December 2000 voyage, was carrying eight shipping casks holding 192 half-ton logs of glassified nuclear waste, a byproduct of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to remove weapons-grade plutonium. The vessel departed from Cherbourg, France for Japan via the southern route around Cape Horn, South America, due to fierce protests by Caribbean basin governments. This routing represented a considerable success on the part of Caribbean mini-states and environmental groups, as they managed to force this vessel and its dangerous cargo from sailing through their local waters. In addition, the publicity resulting from its detour around Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America, brought a heightened awareness of the dangers of such shipments to the Southern Cone nations of Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, which also began to voice their concern over the Swan’s proposed route through their adjacent waters.

Should Tlatelolco be Revisited?

The continued applicability of the Treaty of the Tlatelolco is another important aspect of nuclear security to be considered. Signed and ratified in 1967, this treaty between Latin American and Caribbean nations created a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. The treaty also established a monitoring agency, the Agency for Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL) with headquarters in Mexico City, to ensure that the signatories abided by the treaty’s stipulations. Should nuclear plants begin to expand throughout Latin America and eventually be used to power military equipment, Tlatelolco would have to be revisited in order to update the pact in line with ongoing, and at times fast-breaking, developments. At a November 2009 meeting between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet, the two leaders issued a joint statement declaring, “the presidents noted the important role of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean.” While such rhetoric carries little weight, if any at all, the treaty has not being completely ignored by policymakers. Not all Latin American countries are signatories to the treaty, with Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Guatemala all declining to sign to date, and with Venezuela ratifying it only in 2002.

If the nuclear-powered submarine project comes into being, this could provide a major advantage to the Brazilian military should a conflict occur with a neighboring country. In contacting OPANAL, the author was advised to instead contact the Argentine-Brazilian Agency of Accountability and Control of Nuclear Weapons (Agencia Brasileño-Argentina de Contabilidad y Control de Materiales Nucleares, ABACC) and the Regional Cooperation Agreement for the Promotion of Nuclear Science and Technology in Latin America (Acuerdo Regional de Cooperación para la Promoción de la Ciencia y Tecnología Nucleares en América Latina, ARCAL). Neither ABACC nor ARCAL responded to requests for interviews.

Peruvian nuclear engineer Valdivia maintains that while a nuclear-powered submarine would be a heady boost to the Brazil’s national ego, it would be enormously expensive to maintain, particularly if the country does not currently face a credible outside threat. He argued that because a nuclear submarine is not necessarily a nuclear weapon, no revision to the Tlatelolco Treaty is required. He added, “Furthermore, new technology will allow for the detection of such silent submarines, which will take the ‘edge’ off their importance […] one lonely nuclear submarine without nuclear weaponry is simply a an insupportable luxury for the Brazilian military.”


The Copenhagen Summit itinerary indicated that only two meetings focused on nuclear energy: a discussion by the European Nuclear Society and “False promises of nuclear energy,” organized by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. It seems that none of the attending countries and organizations see nuclear security issues as a compelling issue confronting the international community, particularly as they pertain to Latin America.

Given the extensive history of unfulfilled nuclear plans in the region, it is far from clear that the possible construction of a nuclear submarine by Brazil should be regarded as the dawn of a new nuclear century for Latin America. If all goes according to plan, the submarine will be fully operational in 2015, at the earliest. Countries like Venezuela, Chile, and Ecuador have expressed varying degrees of interest in developing their own nuclear energy projects, but it remains to be seen if they can harness their natural and human resources and gather the massive funds required to carry these ambitious plans to fruition.

Latin America today is a region with dangerous levels of violence, and though inter-state warfare remains mercifully scarce, developing nuclear infrastructure may not merit the security risks or potential for accident. The Argentine and FARC incidents appear to have been isolated events, though there is always the concern that they could become more common place, particularly in view of plans for more nuclear energy plants and more nuclear waste passing through the Caribbean. Washington seems to be realizing the magnitude of these potential dangers, as exemplified by its efforts to ensure nuclear security in the region through the Megaports Initiative. The question remains, however, whether regional governments are prepared to deal with minor but still dangerous nuclear incidents, such as the detonation of a Caesium-made dirty bomb or the incorporation of nuclear-powered vessels into the next wave of military acquisitions.