Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Mottled Relationship: Iran and Latin America – A Brief Overview

This analysis was prepared by special COHA contributor J.A., with additional research by COHA Research Fellow Alex Sanchez
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
September 27, 2011
Originally posted: http://www.coha.org/the-mottled-relationship-iran-and-latin-america-a-brief-overview/

  • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to visit President Hugo Chávez on September 24, but the trip was postponed as the Venezuelan head of state recovers from cancer.
  • Ahmadinejad partially empties UN Hall with some of his harshest statements.
  • Iranian influence in Latin America is sometimes more fiction than fact.
  • Befriending Iran’s repressive regime is somewhat contradictory for Latin American governments that openly crow their respect for democracy and human rights. Does Brazil really mean to have a creditable relationship with one of the most disreputable players and human rights violators?
  • In an ironic twist, Chávez is credited for mediating with the Iranian government to free two American hikers
  • The attacks against Israeli centers in Argentina in 1992 and 1994 continue to be a source of tension, but in Buenos Aires, business comes first.
The Islamic Republic of Iran and Latin America have been fostering closer relationships for more than a decade, working towards building cohesive diplomatic relations and strengthening economic agreements. These ties began with Cuba’s championing of the 1979 Iranian revolution, and today those connections also extend to Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and the ever-controversial Venezuela, with these amplified ties being sedulously cultivated by Tehran. Due to Iran’s internal politics, such as its controversial nuclear program, its contemptible human rights record, and its often tense, if not minatory, relations with the U.S., initiatives between Tehran and the Western Hemispheric states have come under heavy critique. As a result, there is speculation and differing interpretations over the existing level of influence that Iran currently enjoys in several nations of Latin America.

A Brief Overview
Ironically, as relations with the U.S. and European countries have deteriorated, Iran’s relations with the Global South have, if anything, noticeably progressed. Perhaps as a direct result of the U.S. placing Iran within the ‘axis of evil’, the Persian state began pursuing relationships with African governments and, within the last decade, an increasing number of Latin American countries, as a strategy to counteract U.S.-backed ostracism and efforts to diplomatically isolate Tehran. The apparent reasons for these alliances are:

(a) to gain economic advantage as well as much-needed relief and collegiality to cope with the consequences of U.S.- imposed sanctions;

(b) to counterbalance the geopolitical effect of U.S. policy in both the Muslim World and Latin America;

(c) to garner a sympathetic attitude and support for its nuclear program;

(d) to gain recognition in an increasingly prominent part of the Western Hemisphere, and in Washington’s sphere of influence, in order to achieve political prestige in the international community. This also helps, in part, divert the attention among the Iranian people, particularly in the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian election fraud that prompted massive repression of the dissenting democratic opposition.

The most pertinent questions, however, remain to be answered: Has the long term impact of these increasingly intimate relationships, such as the one between Caracas and Tehran, been fully analyzed? Are the initiatives and maneuverings carried out by some Latin American governments solely due to their impetuousness and lack of long-term goals? Notwithstanding the immediate economic advantage of gaining new markets, the long-term political ramifications and disadvantages of doing business with what the free world considers a horrendously corrupt regime places the Latin American region into a precarious situation. Latin America’s good will initiatives and human resources could be more wisely expended in dealing with nations that do not carry out egregious abuses towards its own citizens.

Case Study: Argentina
In March 1992, the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was the subject of a bomb attack. It has been established that a pickup truck loaded with explosives, and driven by a suicide bomber, smashed into the front of the embassy, killing thirty-three and wounding as many as 242 persons. In July 1994, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA; Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) building in Buenos Aires was the target of an attack that killed eighty-five people, while scores more were injured.

The violent Islamist militant organization Hezbollah has been regarded as the culprit behind these attacks, but there have been rumors that the Iranian government, including some members of the current administration in Tehran, may have been more directly involved. The Persian state has repeatedly declared its innocence regarding its involvement in both attacks. In July 2011, Iran’s Foreign Ministry stated that “the Islamic Republic of Iran, as one of the major victims of terrorism, condemns all acts of terror, including the 1994 AMIA bombing, and offers sympathy with the families of the victims of the explosion […] Iran’s Foreign Ministry expresses regret that 17 years on from the occurrence of this crime, the truth behind it has not been revealed yet and the identities of its real perpetrators are still shrouded in mystery.”[i] Furthermore, an article published by Press TV (a semi-official Iranian news agency) in July argues that, “under intense political pressure from the United States and the Israeli regime, Argentina formally accused Iran of carrying out the attack on the Jewish community.”[ii] Most independent observers, however, dismiss this rhetoric merely as tactical method to confuse the subject.

Tensions between Iran and Argentina took a new twist in early June 2011, when Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi visited Bolivia. General Vahidi is wanted by Argentina for allegedly masterminding the 1994 bombing.[iii] Buenos Aires asked La Paz to apprehend the Iranian official, but he returned to Tehran before any decision by the Bolivian government could be made.[iv] As Iran continues to promote its influence in Latin America, the controversy over the Argentine bombings will continue to be a sore point for the foreseeable future. The Argentine-Persian relationship, or lack thereof, presents a fascinating case study of a state trying to improve relations with another while at the same time attempting to overcome a violent recent past that includes state-sponsored terrorism.

Trade and Investments
During recent years, Iran has expanded its economic cooperation with many Latin American states, entering into substantial trade agreements with Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil and, somewhat surprisingly, Argentina. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated in a report issued in December 2009 that Brazil is Iran’s largest trade partner in Latin America. Last year, Iran’s state radio announced that bilateral trade with Brazil had increased to more than USD 2 billion in 2009-10, an increase from USD 500 million in 2005, and was forecast to reach USD 10 billion in the next 5 years.[v]

Argentina is Iran’s second largest trading partner in the region, despite the fact that Buenos Aires has accused Tehran of the 1992 and 1994 bombings. Trade relations remained at marginal rates throughout the 1990s, but commercial activity never ceased entirely, and by 2008 bilateral trade had soared to USD 1.2 billion, dramatically overshadowing the 2007 figure of USD 30 million.

In addition, relations between Iran and Venezuela are a mixed bag of actual achievement and diplomatic rhetoric. According to the IMF report, and in spite of highly cordial political and diplomatic relations, bilateral trade between Venezuela and Iran did not advance in the same way as it did for other Latin American countries. For example, while Brazilian and Argentine trade with Iran has increased by 88 percent and 96 percent since 2007 respectively, Venezuela’s trade increased by only 31 percent in the same period. Following the increase in trade with Brazil and Argentina, Venezuela became Iran’s fifth largest trade partner in the region.

Moreover, Iran has pursued deeper trade and diplomatic relationships with Bolivia as well. Trade and energy agreements between La Paz and Tehran, signed in September 2007, confirmed the increasingly friendly nature of ties between the two countries. Iran’s involvement in the Bolivian economy extends to investment in and technological support for industrial projects such as dairy factories, agriculture, mining, and hydroelectric dam construction. Additionally, in July 2009, Tehran agreed to provide USD 280 million in low-interest loans to La Paz.[vi] Finally, Peru is also a growing importer of Iranian products, as is Ecuador. The expansion of trade ties follows an overall regional trade ‘offensive’ by Iran in recent years. IMF data analyzed by the Latin Business Chronicle indicates that Iran-Latin American trade skyrocketed by 209 percent in 2008, totaling a robust USD 2.9 billion.[vii] What this data tells us is that there is certainly a potential for trade to grow between Iran and several Western Hemisphere states, however Iran’s trade numbers are dwarfed by the region’s other trade partners, like the U.S., China and Europe.

Geopolitical Interests
To Washington’s increasing concern, the Brazilian Deputy Foreign Minister Maria Louisa met with her Iranian counterpart, Ali Ahani, in Brazil in early August 2011.[viii] The Brazilian official described Iran as one of “the important partners of Brazil” and an “influential” country. Louisa noted that Tehran and Brasilia would attempt to increase the level of mutual ties “considering the developments of the two countries in different fields.” The Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, for his part, hailed “the friendly and good relations” between both states and said that the governments of Iran and Brazil are eager to expand ties. Given the grim status quo between Washington and Tehran, at some point in the near future, the White House is bound press the issue, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff may have to choose whether her government will pursue closer relations with Washington, or with Tehran.

According to the Iranian International Newspaper Ettelaat, Iran has nearly doubled the number of embassies and cultural centers it maintains in Latin America. The number of embassies increased from six in 2005 to ten in 2010, and Tehran is building cultural centers in seventeen Latin American countries.[ix] Additionally, Iran has successfully negotiated no-visa agreements with Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia. It can also be argued that although relations have been strained with Argentina since the terrorist bombings, the continued trade between the two countries is a signal that geopolitical interests have gradually taken precedence over efforts to apprehend the perpetrators of the attacks. Argentina’s reaction to the visit of Defense Minister Vahidi to Bolivia does point out that Buenos Aires has not forgotten Iran’s alleged role, but that ultimately other initiatives have taken priority.

Nevertheless, if we consider Iran’s repressive regime, its brutal crackdown on dissenting voters, and the continued suppression of what most nations, particularly in the West, consider a wholly organic and legitimate uprising, it is difficult to comprehend the continued warming of relations with its Latin American partners. Nations are certainly free to pursue close relations with any states they wish, but it is baffling, considering the Iranian government’s repressive record when it comes to its own population, that Latin American governments, many of which repeatedly publicly proclaim their respect for human rights, want to befriend a thoroughly toxic nation like Iran. So what could be the reasons why Latin American countries continue to welcome the Iranian government’s overtures? Simply put, Latin American nations want an alternative to what some regional players see, at times, as U.S. imperialism. This is exemplified by the Chávez and Ahmadinejad pact signed in 2007 to formulate an “Axis of Unity”, particularly against the U. S.

In order for Iran to gain the geopolitical strength that its revolutionary leaders so fervently aspire to obtain, the country continues to play its U.S- as-an-imperial power card as aggressively as possible. It also plays a powerful role in pushing its Latin American partners into recognizing Palestine as a counterbalancing force against U.S. and Israeli influence. When it comes to assessing geopolitical gains, the common denominator between Latin America and Iran is economic advancement, rather than the counterbalancing of geopolitical power. Venezuela’s President Chávez is the exception to this rule, as, even though Venezuelan-Iranian economic relations are fairly robust, a major factor for this close rapprochement is that Chavez and the Iranian government are fairly ideologically aligned (at least regarding their views on Washington).

Support for Iran’s Nuclear Program
Venezuela, Cuba, and Syria were the only three countries that supported Iran’s nuclear energy program when the UN voted on it in 2006. However, there is little doubt that support has been increasing throughout Latin America due to Iran’s diligent pursuit of such backing. Now Bolivia and Brazil are also offering their measured support for Tehran’s civilian nuclear program. In addition, the ever-vociferous Venezuelan leader has officially stated that Iran has a legitimate right to its nuclear program and that Venezuela supports Tehran’s quest for peaceful nuclear technology.[x]

The Future of the Iran-Latin America Alliance
Chávez’s present personal medical issues, and the recent U.S.-imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil company PDVSA[xi] (Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. – Venezuelan Petroleum S.A) for dealings with Iran, could serve to weaken the Venezuelan-Iranian nexus.[xii] This is because Venezuela’s current ideological views – particularly its foreign policy – ultimately derive from Chávez, and it is unclear what a post-Chávez Venezuela would look like. Would his political party maintain its unity and continue Chávez’s ideology, or would another course be taken? In addition, the Venezuelan military has declared its support for Chávez to the point that some organizations are concerned as to what would happen if another political party were to win the upcoming presidential election. What this means for Tehran is that its closest ally in Latin America is not Venezuela but rather its leader, and it is difficult to foresee how diplomatic ties would be affected by a transition of leadership.

Late September 2011 saw an interesting development, as the Iranian government recognized mediation initiatives by Chávez to free two American hikers held in an Iranian prison since 2009.[xiii] According to statements by the Venezuelan Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Temir Porras, the Venezuelan government agreed to help Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal after receiving a request for help from the hiker’s friends. It has also been reported that Noam Chomsky signed a letter asking for Chávez’s help.[xiv]

Although various news sources have reported an increase in the establishment of Iranian embassies in Latin America, a Latin daily source indicates that, at least in the case of Nicaragua, such plans have failed to come to fruition. This is particularly interesting as there had been rumors circulating that Iran’s embassy in Managua is, or was supposed to be, some kind of massive intelligence hub involving an unusually large number of staff, which, by default, would put U.S. interests in the region at risk.[xv] In reality, the Iranian Embassy in the Central American country may be nothing more than somewhat large.

In mid-June, an Iranian analyst published a piece in the Iranian newspaper Jaam-e Jam entitled “Failure of the United States to break relations between Iran and Brazil.” The analyst explains that Iran’s initiatives in Latin America “change the quiet backyard of the United States to a dangerous backyard for that country, because the expansion of Iran’s economic and political relations with the countries of that region is indicative of the failure of U.S. efforts to impose sanctions and threats on Iran.”[xvi] The analyst also discusses how relations between Tehran and Latin America affect Israel:

Changing the United States’ quiet backyard to a dangerous backyard has also created major concerns for Tel Aviv, in addition to Washington. Such worries have intensified to the point that Shimon Peres, the head of the Zionist regime, left for a visit to Latin America, which is considered the first official visit of this sort to Latin America in the course of several decades, only a few days before the visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.[xvii]

The bottom line seems to be that Latin America sees Iran’s involvement in the region in terms of economic interests. Additionally, it may allow the region to gain a foothold in the Muslim world, with the secondary benefit (at least possibly in Venezuela’s case) of reducing U.S. influence in the region. Meanwhile, as interpreted by the aforementioned Jaam-e Jam analysis, Tehran sees its rapprochement with Latin America mostly in terms of its impact on Washington and Tel Aviv.

Finally, it is interesting to observe that Brazil, Latin America’s powerhouse and a nation that is currently attempting to obtain a permanent seat on the United Nation Security Council, has also increased the pace of diplomatic ties with Iran. Brasilia has gone on record to declare its support for Tehran’s civilian – albeit controversial – nuclear program. It may soon become apparent to Itamaraty diplomats that they will have to choose between Washington and Tehran as their primary overseas partner.

In the interest of creating a just and prosperous hemispheric community, it is important for regional nations to continuously evaluate the scope and breadth of the burgeoning economic aid pacts and political gains being devised between Latin American countries and Iran. This survey must also include a gauging of the inherent merits of these gains and an evaluation of whether they are more fictive than real. A closer examination of the Islamic Republic of Iran depicts an undemocratic governing body heavily burdened by religious dogma, underdeveloped financial standards, institutional corruption and self-imposed non-transparency, a legal system hardly worthy of the name, the absence of any civil liberties, and atrocious human rights violations.

Iran’s current leadership can hardly be described as providing a suitable alternative to traditional U.S. domination and a sphere of influence. Even if counterbalancing U.S. power in Latin America can become more than a fantasy, and grow into a viable plan to amplify the resonance of democracy in the region, the advantages derived from an arrangement with Iran must be weighed against the costs of introducing another form of despotic influence into the democratically fledgling Latin American region.

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA (and reproduced here by this author), but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated.

[i] BBC Monitoring Middle East – Political Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring July 22, 2011 Friday
Iran regrets “false” accusations over 1994 Argentina-Israeli building blast
[ii] BBC Monitoring Middle East – Political Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring July 22, 2011 Friday
Iran regrets “false” accusations over 1994 Argentina-Israeli building blast
[iii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-13612569
[iv] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/bolivia/8550445/Iran-defence-minister-forced-to-leave-Bolivia-over-1994-Argentina-bombing.html
[v] “Brazil is Iran’s Most Important Trading Partner, Followed by Argentina.” Santiago Times, December 7, 2009 http://www.santiagotimes.cl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17784:iran-triples-latin-american-trade-to-us29-billion&catid=48:other&Itemid=122
[vi] “Iran Approves $280 Million Loans For Bolivia,” Associated Press, July 29, 2009
[vii] Brazil is Iran’s Most Important Trading Partner, Followed by Argentina,” Santiago Times, December 7, 2009 http://www.santiagotimes.cl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17784:iran-triples-latin-american-trade-to-us29-billion&catid=48:other&Itemid=122
[viii] “Iran, Brazil discuss expansion ties.” Press TV. August 10, 2011. Available
[ix] http://www.ettelaat.com/index2.asp?code=endisplay&fname=/ettelaat/etbupload/data/2011/08/08-10/40.htm&title=Iran,%20Brazil%20discuss%20expansion%20of%20ties
[x] “Venezuela’s Chavez Backs Iran In Nuclear Dispute, Warns Against U.S. Attack,” International Herald Tribune, April 15, 2007; Iran’s President to Visit Bolivia, Venezuela,” VOA News, September 24, 2007
[xi] http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/24/us-iran-usa-sanctions-idUSTRE74N47R20110524
[xii] http://www.latindailyfinancialnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10620%3Airanas-failed-latin-america-outreach&catid=225%3Aopinion&Itemid=720&lang=en
[xiii] “Iran confirma mediacion del Presidente Chavez para liberacion de dos estadounidenses.” Noticias24.com. September 22, 2011 Available < http://www.noticias24.com/actualidad/noticia/325309/iran-confirma-mediacion-de-presidente-chavez-para-liberacion-de-dos-estadounidenses/ >
[xiv] Cooler, Walter. “PICKET: Freed American hikers thank Hugo Chavez, Noam Chomsky, Cindy Sheehan; raise suspicion about purpose of trip.” Washington Times. Blog. September 25, 2011. Available < http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/watercooler/2011/sep/25/picket-freed-american-hikers-thank-hugo-chavez-noa/ >
[xv] O’Connor, Anne-Marie & Sheridan, Mary Beth. “Iran’s rumored Nicaraguan ‘Mega Embassy’ sets off alarms in the U.S.” Washington Post. World. July 13, 2009. Available < http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/12/AR2009071202337.html >
[xvi] BBC Monitoring Middle East – Political Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring June 19, 2011 Sunday. Iran’s Latin America ties “sounded alarm bell” for US, Israel – analyst
[xvii] BBC Monitoring Middle East – Political Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring June 19, 2011 Sunday. Iran’s Latin America ties “sounded alarm bell” for US, Israel – analyst

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Proliferation of Small Arms in the Northern Andean Countries

The Proliferation of Small Arms in the Northern Andean Countries

by Alex Sanchez
Research Fellow
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Blog Post - September 19, 2011

Disclaimer: Like with the Philippines post, this is an excerpt of a piece I did on small wears in the Northern Andes some time ago that never got published. I apologize if any of the info is too dated, but the analysis is still pretty relevant I think.

South America’s northern Andean region (Peru, Colombia, Venezuela & Ecuador) continues to be a flea-market for the trafficking of small arms. In an egregious non-sequitur, the lack of inter-state warfare in the hemisphere for the last several decades has failed to stop the various South American militaries from upgrading their military power, particularly in recent years. In addition, small weaponry, such as rifles, pistols and grenades are becoming dangerously common in much of Andean South America, especially due to the proliferation of guerilla movements, and criminal organizations. Common street criminality is also on the rise in major cities like Lima, as criminals have access to light arms to carry out their illicit activities, prompting citizens to acquire guns to protect themselves and their families. The proliferation of small arms from the “grassroots” level to major arm purchases by a country’s security forces, is an important factor that needs to be taken into account to understand the current micro and macro geo-security landscape of Andean South America.

Inter- vs. Intra- state warfare

As aforementioned, an important aspect to mention about the contemporary security landscape of South America is that, aside from the Falklands conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom in 1982, the region has not witnessed an inter-state warfare for decades. Even though tensions still exist, and often countries have been on the verge confrontation (like between Peru’s Juan Velasco Alvarado and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet in the 1960s and 1970s, or tensions between Venezuela and Colombia in 1987), bellicose face-offs have been relatively rare. Peru and Ecuador had a number of non-declared borders wars in 1981 and 1995; however both were very localized and short-lived. Other short lived conflicts include the 1969 war between Honduras and El Salvador (known as the 100 Hours War or the Soccer War), and the Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom in 1982.Nevertheless, today South America is in a new arms race: Venezuela is buying staggering amounts of weaponry from Russia and China, Peru is upgrading its air fleet and purchasing frigates from Italy (Lupo class), and Chile has acquired Leopard tanks and American F-16 fighter jets. Not to mention Brazil’s plans for a nuclear-powered submarine.

However it is the different levels of intra-state strife and crime that is the dominating security factor in Andean South America, due in large measure to the threats posed by the Colombian guerrilla body, the FARC, and Peru’s resurgent Shining Path. Other sources of internal instability, which are linked to the proliferation of small weapons, are drug cartels and multinational and local criminal gangs.

Light Weaponry Distributors and Buyers
A number of countries have become the exporters of light weaponry to South America, particularly the Andean nations:

Moscow is regaining its international status in the Western Hemisphere as a major arms dealer. Concerning light weaponry, the sale that has made attracted the most coverage was Caracas’ decision to build, in Venezuelan territory, a Kalashnikov rifle factory, in addition to a plant to produce the AK-103’s ammo. The goal is to have the company operational by 2009-2010 and capable of producing up to 30,000 automatic rifles per year. Colombian policymakers have, at times, expressed apprehension that some of these Kalashnikovs may unintentionally (or even intentionally), end up in the hands of the Colombian FARC rebels.

The Fusil Automatique Léger (Light Automatic Rifle – FAL) is the standard weapon used by a number of military forces, like for example Peru. The FAL is a 7.62mm NATO self-loading, selective fire rifle produced by the Belgian armaments manufacturer Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN). The Argentine Armed Forces officially adopted the FN FAL in 1955. The FALs were produced by the Argentine state-owned manufacturing industry FM (Fabricaciones Militares) at the Fabrica Militar de Armas Portatiles "Domingo Matheu" (FMAP "DM") in Fray Luis Beltrán, located north of Rosario.

Argentina’s possession of the Belgian FAL license becomes relevant today because of Venezuela’s purchases of different types of rifles, including the AK rifle factory, to be set up in the latter country. On December 14, 2005 the Associated Press ran a story by Fabiola Sanchez, which explained that Caracas was considering sending its 30,000 FAL rifles to Argentina for repair. According to the article, the plan would be to give the restored FALs to the Venezuelan army reserve, while the new AK assault rifles would be given to active troops.

United Kingdom
London is not a major exporter of small arms to South America. According to the Annual Report on Strategic Export Control, published by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the British government has sold limited quantities of light weapons to Andean nations. The 2006 report mentions that Peru purchased gun silencers; Ecuador obtained pistols as well as technology relating to the use of pistols; and Venezuela purchased heavy machine guns and components for general purpose machine guns. The report for the first quarter of 2007 mentions that Colombia acquired heavy machine guns and other equipment for a total value of one million pounds. In all cases, the official reports do not provide major specifications about the weaponry or components that were purchased.

The U.S.
American small arms in the northern Andes are a mix of both legal and illegal trade. It is relatively easy to find American-made pistols in a number of black markets in downtown Lima for example. The key, yet unclear, issue is the number of legally sold small arms to regional countries, particularly Colombia. Much has been written regarding the amount of economic and high-tech weaponry sold by Washington to Bogota, like the UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters; however it is unclear the level of trade regarding small arms, like assault rifles and pistols that may have been purchased for the Colombian army, some of which may have even found their way to right-wing, military supported, paramilitary groups. Nevertheless, a few months ago there was a bizarre, and embarrassing, incident, in which guns landed in the hands of Mexican cartels via a gun-trafficking operation dubbed “Fast and Furious” by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The operation was designed to build big criminal cases against violent Mexican drug cartels and the people who provided them with Ak 47s and other high powered weapons. But instead, ATF agents in some cases lost track of the weapons under surveillance and they later turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the Southwest border, including the December 2010 death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Illegal Producers of Small Arms
Weaponry, like small arms, can also be obtained from illegal manufacturers that make copies of rifles and ammo, some of which are highly accurate in appearance and performance. This is a particularly profitable and booming business as criminals (not to mention terrorists) will want to acquire such weapons to carry out their attacks or other criminal activities, while citizens will purchase these guns for protection, leading to the proliferation of illegally-produced small arms. For example, in late November 2007, the Peruvian police arrested a family (a mother and her two sons) in their house in the district of Lince, Lima and accused them of illegally manufacturing guns and ammo. In the course of the raid, police officers came upon thousands of different magazines of ammo, including the infamous “dum dum” bullets. The commander of the VII police region, General Octavio Salazar Miranda, declared that “we do not know if [the guns and ammo] were going to go to the hands of terrorists, drug cartels or to the Colombian FARC guerrillas.”

Attempts at stopping small arms proliferation
A significant event occurred in July 2007, during a celebration of International Gun Destruction Day, when almost 14,000 small arms were destroyed in Colombia. A July 19 article by the Inter Press Service quotes Ambassador Claudia Blum as saying that the weapons destroyed in the July celebration did not come from the armed forces. “There were 13,778 weapons destroyed, which included machine guns, handguns, rifles and mortars," she said. “Out of these, the vast majority -77 percent- were confiscated from criminal organizations and illegally armed groups throughout the national territory. The rest were legally owned weapons turned in by private citizens committed to security and nonviolent coexistence,” the ambassador concluded.

The report “Violencia, Crimen y Trafico Ilegal de Armas en Colombia,” published by the United Nations’ Oficina contra la Droga y el Delito explains that small arms found during raids on insurgent movements and criminal cartels had originated from a variety of sources, including: Belgium, France, Spain, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, China and North Korea. The report’s sources explain that none of these governments authorized the sales or validated that the ultimate destination of the weapons would be Colombian insurgent movements.

Meanwhile, reports in June 2007 show that the Ecuadorian government has taken steps to control the illegal possession of weapons, in order to boost the safety of its citizenry. Ecuador’s Interior Minister Gustavo Larrea has declared that, “illegally bearing arms is a crime carrying a sentence of up to five years in jail.” The crackdown on illegal weapons came after as many as six minors were killed in Guayaquil during the first half of the year as a result of gun fights. This prompted Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to launch his “Ecuador Without Weapons” program.

The Incan Weapons Market
The case of Peru is a good example of how the trafficking of small arms can spread throughout different levels of a country’s government, security forces and civil society. For years there have been reports of trafficking mafias in that country’s military and police. This illicit practice is carried out by both retired and active duty officers. For example, the 1990s deal by former Peruvian intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos-FARC deal over AK rifles (known as “Operation Siberia”) had as main middle man a retired army lieutenant, Jose Aybar Cancho.

In April 2007, an article published on the webpage of the Colombian Air Force highlighted the link between weapons sales from Peru to the FARC. The article explained that in September 2006, Peruvian authorities detained a group of Peruvian weapons traffickers and a load of contraband which included: 25 thousand magazines and five surface-to-air rockets that belonged to the Peruvian armed forces. The article went on to explain that the individuals who were detained for allegedly belonging to this group included Peruvian lower rank army officers, who had easy access to military ammo warehouses.

Investigations were made public in May 2007 that showed that there was a group of arms traffickers that moved weaponry and ammo from Peru to Colombia, via Ecuador. A report pinpointed Luis Pijo Angulo, a retired Peruvian police lieutenant, as the head of the group. Regarding the multiple illegal arms dealers with ties to the country’s military and police forces, the vice-president of the Defense Committee of the Peruvian Congress, David Waisman (also a former defense minister), said “I very much doubt that the high leadership [of the military]does not know about this [the illegal arms trafficking]. I suspect everyone right now as we are talking about very large quantities [of weaponry and ammo].”

The proliferation of small arms in Peru is shown by its blooming black market which makes small arms readily available to citizens. Any individual that visits street markets like Tacora or Las Malvinas in Lima can purchase with ease a Glock for $390 (including two clips of ammo), or a Browning for $400. There is no set price for these weapons; they are sold at whatever the merchant decides. A June 5, 2005 article in La República quotes a Peruvian small arms merchant saying “aquí el precio lo ponemos según la cara de pavo” (“the price [on weapons] is based on the [prospective] buyer’s appearance). Other weaponry (new and used) that can also be easily purchased in such markets include the Brazilian Taurus or the Italian Beretta.

What (and who) is killing people?
The strategies used in guerrilla warfare consist mostly of ambushes and hit-and-run attacks, which greatly diminish the relevancy of jet fighters or frigates, used for conventional warfare. Examples of attacks that have effectively utilized light weaponry include, for example, a November 2005 attack in Bogota – a hand grenade was thrown in a shop in the neighborhood of Fontibon, in Bogota’s northwest. The explosion killed 3 people, including two children.

In Brazil, a gun fight between rival gangs in June 2006, wounded six children by stray bullets, while eleven more were wounded due to shrapnel. The attack occurred in Rio de Janerio, in the Henrique Foreis school located in a shantytown. A September 9, 2006 Associated Press article by Harold Olmos explained that: “with their labyrinthine webs of narrow alleys, favelas offer easy hideouts to traffickers, and the slums' misery makes it easy to recruit young people into the narcotics trade. A study by the non-governmental group Viva Rio says the city has about 5,000 armed children soldiers in the battle for control of lucrative drug-dealing spots.”

Finally, the rise in criminal violence in Peru, particularly in major cities like Lima, has prompted civilians to purchase small arms in order to protect themselves and their homes, which could easily result in deadly accidents, aside from planned assaults.

A catastrophe could be in the making as Venezuela goes on with the scheduled plan of an AK factory, unless production was under vigorous control. This would almost certainly end up on the black market, or even legally, which could provoke more accidents if children come across ill-stored weapons in their homes.

The Grim Future
As South America becomes more involved in an arms race, there is no reason not to expect that an increase in violence will not follow. Inter-state warfare still remains unlikely; however intra-state warfare as well as widespread acts of ad hoc violence are every-day events in the region. Nations like Colombia and Ecuador have taken some steps to quell the spread of light arms to insurgent groups, as well as to criminal organizations and gangs, but much more needs to be done.

South America may not have witnessed an inter-state ware since the 1995 Peru – Ecuador border dispute; however, a day seldom passes without some new report of deaths or injuries as a result of small arms. The lack of conventional warfare does not mean that South America, the northern Andean region in particular, can be considered an entirely safe zone. Violence occurs using other types of weaponry, not necessarily tanks or fighter planes, but AK rifles, hand grenades and pistols. The future looks very grim for the northern Andean countries as small arms claims the lives of scores of their citizens on a weekly basis. The reality of the northern Andes is that the region is involved in a silent, never-ending cycle of internal violence, a human catastrophe going on before the world’s eyes.

A complete history and analysis of the AK rifle can be found in Larry Kahaner’s “AK-47: The Weapon That Changed the Face of War.” (Wiley; 1 edition – October 20, 2006)

Please accept this article as a free contribution from this author, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Philippines and the Spratly Islands

The Philippines and the Spratly Islands
by Alex Sanchez
Research Fellow
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Blog Post - September 14, 2011

Disclaimer: this isn’t a traditional blog post but rather excerpts from a personal piece that never got published regarding The Philippines and the Spratly islands. In the article I discussed Manila’s claim to the Spratlys, internal security in the country, the status of its military, as well relations with the U.S. and China. My original piece never got published so figured I might as well repackage some of it and post it here, the topic is certainly fascinating. I apologize if any of the info is dated.

An archipelago located in the South China Sea known as the Spratly Islands essentially consists of a group of islets and reefs, incapable of sustaining human life. A number of factors have made the Spratlys geo-strategically important in the past decades vis-à-vis regional affairs: geographical location, the nation that controls them would control a sizable area of the sea around them, and possible underwater oil deposits. Up to six nations have laid claims to these islands.

The Philippines’ control of part of the Spratly Islands is an interesting case of a militarily weak (at least when compared to several of its neighbors) and politically unstable nation laying a claim on a territory that provokes conflict with a major power, namely the People's Republic of China (PRC). Furthermore, in view of its, unfortunately, history of military coups as well as deadly domestic insurgent groups, it is debatable for how long can Manila maintain its control of part of the Spratlys without external aid (namely from the US). Due to the continued US-PRC struggle for influence in the region, the Philippines’ foreign policy ( closely linked to the reality of its domestic politics) and its claim to the Spratlys are relevant to the future of the South China Sea.

The Spratly Islands in Perspective – Philippine Interests
Manila’s interests in the Spratly Islands go hand in hand with what makes them so coveted. The islands should actually be defined as “islets” because of their miniature size. The biggest islands can, at most, hold a building or two. Located in the Southwestern and Southern parts of the South China Sea, the Spratly Islands have around 120 formations that go from islands, isles, shoals, banks, atolls, cays and reefs, with elevations from two to six meters and cover an area of approximately 180,000 kilometers. The islands have no natural resources to hold life and there is no native population to them.

Motivated by security concerns and economic interests, littoral states began in the late 1960s to make overlapping sovereignty claims to South China Sea islands, a process that has effectively led to the de facto military partition of the Spratly Islands archipelago. Apart from The Philippines, the other countries that have laid claims to the Spratlys are: the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China/Taiwan (ROC), Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, with Indonesia being an interested party.

The importance of the islands has been well documented; there are three major factors to the Spratlys that make them desirable:

. Location: the Spratly Islands are located in the South China Sea, a route used by transport ships (most of them coming from the Malacca Strait) as well as military vessels from different nations. Any nation that possesses the islands (all or some of them) would have an important advantage on terms of intelligence regarding the movement of vessels, as well as aircraft, on that particularly area. Writing in 1977, Selig Harrison stated that “the sea lane running between the Paracels and Spratlys is used by oil tankers moving form the Persian Gulf to Japan as well as by warships en route from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.” (Harrison, Pp. 191)

. Extended Sovereignty: under international sea conventions the control of an island by any state also gives the island’s owner the sovereign control of a number of miles around the island. This is a major reason why the Spratly Islands have been labeled as islands, instead of islets; in order to be sure that the maritime sovereignty associated with an island will be maintained. Under the Law of the Sea Convention, “any state holding valid legal title to sovereignty over an island is permitted to establish a 12-nautical mile territorial sea and a 200—nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the island” (Joyner, Pp. 195 &198).

. Resources. The South China Sea attracted international attention during the 1970s when geological studies first suggested the existence of substantial reserves of petroleum and natural deposits beneath its sea-bed.Experts say that, at least for the time being, the possibility of finding oil is the least relevant of the main reasons for controlling the Spratlys.

The Neighborhood Factor - Geopolitics
Christopher Joyner clearly defines the geopolitical and geo-security importance of the Spratlys by explaining that:

“Lying between Vietnam to the west and the Philippines to the east, the Spratlys offer a potential staging location for blocking ships traversing the South China Sea. Aircraft, including helicopters, based in the Spratlys could fly within closer range of the Malacca and Sunda Straits, vital choke-points through which shipping in the South China Sea must pass to enter the Indian Ocean. A military presence in the Spratlys, such as an airfield, could effectively be used to stop all shipping in the South China Sea if armed conflict were to break out in mainland Asia”

(Joyner, P. 205).

The PRC would like to control the islands to safely carry out maritime operations. It would also help create a defense line around its south maritime borders. As early as 1975 the Chinese media had claimed the importance of the South China Sea, which is “an important junction for navigation and an important maritime gateway from China’s mainland and nearby islands.”(Peking Review, quoted in Harrison, Pp. 191)

It is important for other states to prevent the PRC from achieving control over the Spratlys – with Vietnam and Taiwan perhaps being at the top of the ladder when it comes to regional actors. While the Spratlys are not particularly geographically close to Taiwan, it is not in Taipei’s interest to see the PRC gain too much maritime power and free reign, as this could be the first step of an encirclement of Taiwan, should the PRC also gain influence over the Philippine Sea.

Similarly, relations between Vietnam and PRC have had several tense moments. In 1974 the two countries (at the time South Vietnam, before the NVA gained control of the country) clashed over the Paracel Islands, with China resulting victorious. On February 8 1987, Chinese and Vietnamese warships opened fire on each other in the area. On March 14 of that same year, a more serious confrontation occurred off Union Reef, as each navy lost a vessel and 120 Vietnamese sailors drowned. Even more serious was the violent clash between China and Vietnam in March 1988. On October 2007, even if it was not a military clash, diplomatic relations were strained as China began promoting tourism to the Paracels as if they are Chinese territory, infuriating Vietnam. In return, Hanoi appointed a “Chairman” to rule the Paracels in April 2009. In response to these events, Taiwan reiterated its sovereignty over the Paracels on June 2009, angering Hanoi.

The Philippines’ Claim to the Spratlys

On May 17, 1951, Filipino President Elpidio Quirino claimed his country’s rights to the Spratly Islands, some of which are in Philippines’ territorial waters. In 1957 a Filipino named Tomas Cloma claimed that he had discovered the Spratly Islands and claimed them for himself, not for his country. In 1971 Manila officially claimed part of the Spratly Islands based on the “explorer” Cloma’s discovery and occupation. Manila argued that the Spratly did not belong to anyone, hence they could be claimed. Such a declaration clashed with Beijing’s arguments that Chinese fishermen had visited, even colonized, the islands centuries ago. In April 1972, Manila laid claim to eight of the islands, the largest being Pag-asa. The islands were designated to be part of Palawan Province, with its own local government. In February 2009, Philippine lawmakers passed a bill to part of the Spratlys, both the Kalayaan islands where Philippine troops are stationed, as well as Scarborough Shoal, also claimed by China.

In an interview with the author, a Philippine professor explained that there has been a “consistent claim” since the time of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos over the Kalaayan. Considering that the claimed islands are already domestically accepted as part of Palawan Province, and in one of the islands there is a presence of Philippine marines, Manila claim to the islands is seen as a feat accompli.

Unfortunately for The Philippines, its internal security is far from ideal, so its military cannot fully focus on protecting its maritime borders, including in disputed areas like the Spratlys. Almost immediately after independence in 1946, insurgent movements begun, including the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its New People’s Army (NPA) sprung again. These groups continue their struggle today, at the same time that new insurgent movements have appeared.

The NPA currently has around 5.000 troops, down from 25,000 in 1986. It seems there is little intention by either the Communist leadership or the government to resort to mediation or dialogue. In 2007 the NPA began carrying out attacks against international mining companies. By early 2008, Manila was confident that it could carry out a final offensive, for which it was planning to recruit up to 3,000 new troops. Nevertheless a decisive victory continues to elude the military; in March 2009, the NPA had vowed to continue operations in Panay Island thanks to an increase in fighters. Since beginning their insurgency in 1969, the NPA has been blamed for over 40,000 deaths.

Likewise, there is still concern about the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Peace talks to expand a Muslim autonomous region collapsed in August 2008. In a 2007 confrontation 14 Philippine marines were killed by the Moro rebels, 10 of which were beheaded. On early June 2009, the military announced that it had killed 30 rebels and captured a Moro separatist camp on Mindanao island. Regardless of military accomplishments, Then-President Arroyo (unlike her dealings with the NPA or Abu Sayyaf) has pushed for renewed mediation with the MILF. The Moro rebels have a reported strength of 11,500 armed men.

Another Philippine insurgent organization is the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) which has been under US scrutiny for its alleged ties with other religiously-extremist groups in Southeast Asia like Jemaah Islamiyah, Gerakan Aceh Merdeka as well as Al-Qaeda. On January 2009, Philippine Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga argued that reports on a possible buildup of ASG’s forces after heavy losses last year were superficial, “basically, their numbers have been reduced, they're not so much of a threat […].” In spite of arguably fewer members, ASG’s operations have continued to have effective results – in early June 2009 up to seven Philippine soldiers died fighting ASG rebels in Indanan in the southern Sulu province. Abu Sayyaf’s maritime operations have also become a source of concern, particularly due to the heavy maritime traffic that goes through the South China Sea.

In September 2007, the Philippine military filed a complaint of alleged MILF support for Abu Sayyaf when the latter insurgent movement clashed with troops in Basilan, where two soldiers died.

In April 2009, Philippine Defense Minister Gilberto Teodoro said that the 80,000-strong Army needed an additional 12 battalions (6,000 troops) to deal with the country’s insurgent groups. It is not surprising that the Philippine armed forces do not have the resources to focus on external threats, much less militarily expanding Philippine sovereignty to the Spratly Islands if they require even more troops to establish peace at home.

The Philippines, the People’s Republic of China and the Spratly Incidents
Manila’s relations with China have been historically mixed. The Chinese tend to look with contempt to other races, including South Asians like the Filipinos. At the same time, Filipinos see unassimilated Chinese who live in the Philippines as strangers; they are often the focal point of racism and discrimination.

A number of incidents have brought the Philippines close to a confrontation with the PRC over the Spratlys and the South China Sea in general. As far back ias the Marcos government, Manila has attempted to create an ASEAN coalition to restrain Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea. In mid-late 1994, Beijing constructed a military observation post on Mischief Reef, a Philippine island 135 miles off the Palawan and inside the Philippines’ 200-exclusive economic zone. Manila learned about the construction only in February 1995 and then took a series of measures as a reprisal. Once Manila discovered their existence, Beijing claimed that these were shelters for fishermen. Manila argued that the structures resembled guard towers, including a satellite dish. Manila also sent vessels and aircraft that escorted photographers to Mischief Reef show the supposedly new ‘threat’ to Philippine territory, and provoked minor confrontations with Chinese ships. The Philippine military destroyed buoys set up by the Chinese in the contested area in order to deny any claim by Beijing that part, if not all, of the Spratly Islands belong to it.

(Clinton statement @ 00:38)

In 1996 diplomatic tensions ceased as the two countries signed a code of conduct, only for the issue to be once again revived in 1997 when Chinese warships were spotted around Mischief Reef and the Philippine-held Kota Island, also in the Spratlys. “Beijing’s apparent policy of seizing territory while avoiding actual conflict reinforced the Philippine view that China posed a long-term security challenge” (Cruz de Castro. China, the Philippines, and US influence in Asia. Pp. 2.) In spite of this, Beijing and Manila have attempted to improve security relations by a number of high profile visits, including Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian’s 2002 visit to Manila. In 2004, the Philippine Defense Secretary and his Chinese counterpart signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Cooperation.

As Joyner explains,

“the South China has become a patchwork of conflicting national claims, most recently driven by geo-political considerations over development of potential hydrocarbon resources [...] The intractable and contentious nature of jurisdictional disputes over the Spratlys have prompted claimant states to take efforts to enforce their claims by stationing a permanent military presence in the archipelago.”

The Spratly Islands dispute could be catalogued as a “frozen dispute,” paraphrasing the “frozen conflict” term for unsolved conflicts in the post-Soviet world (like the breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova in Southeastern Europe). It is unlikely that the Spratly dispute will be resolved in the coming years, even if the competitors chose to go to some international tribunal like the International Court of Justice or seek a third party mediator to determine the fate of the islands. The fact that the PRC is one of the competitors, however, raises the importance of the Spratlys. The increasing strength and technology of China’s military, along with a foreign policy which is seeking to project more of Beijing’s power abroad, makes the Spratly dispute of importance. Should Beijing gain control of the islands (as a whole or even a major fraction), it will have access to possible deep-water resources and control of the maritime area. Controlling the Spratlys would also mean for Beijing a type of 'forward' presence (as difficult as it may be to built anything on these rocks and tiny reefs, though it has occurred in the recent and not so distant past) in the South China Sea, which would most likely be seen as a security threat to Taiwan and US interests in South Asia. From this point of view, a Washington-Manila friendship is important to the US due to the Philippines’ geostrategical location.

As a relatively militarily weak state in an important geopolitical region, the Philippines is not able to stand as a fully neutral player in the geopolitical game going on around it. Because of its internal domestic affairs, Washington will have a continuous interest in war against Abu Sayyaf and any other extremist group which could be tied to Al Qaeda and the global Washington-labeled and spearheaded 'War on Terror.' At the same time, the Philippines are an important Washington ally as, along with Taiwan and Japan, help create a 'sanitary corridor' to oversee Chinese military operations and expansion.

The geographical position of the Spratly Islands make them important for the ongoing Asian 'expansion game.' Maritime trade going through the area as well as their practical use for naval bases are the two major reasons that make this group of islets and reefs relevant to events going on around them. The possibility of deepwater oil reserves, generally overlooked, may become a pressing reason for their control as oil needs of claimant states increase in the coming years and depleting reserves force them to look for new sources. There is already the case of Russian laying claim to chunks of the underwater Arctic, possibly to carry out oil drilling in the future.

Six nations claim the islands to different degrees, from partial control of specific islands (the Philippines) to full control (China, Vietnam). The domestic reality of each of the participant countries in this dispute, also varies. Manila has been successful so far at keeping control of the islands that it lays claim to, however without upgrading the armed forces’ equipment, it is doubtful if the country will be able to maintain control in the long term when necessity for resources and influence pushes the other stronger disputing countries to the Spratlys. Resolution of the Philippines’ numerous internal issues would naturally be a positive development for its foreign policy, not to mention for the Philippine population in general. It is difficult to be an influential player in the neighborhood if one’s home is a mess.

Cruz de Castro, Renato. (2005). Philippine Defense Policy in the 21st Century: Autonomous Defense or Back to the Alliance. Pacific Affairs. 78(3):403-422
Cruz de Castro, Renato. (2007). China, the Philippines and US influence in Asia. Asian Outlook. 2. July.
Cruz de Castro, Renato. (1999). Adjusting to the Post-US Bases Era: The Ordeal of the Philippine Military’s Modernization Program. Armed Forces & Society. 26(1):119-0138.
Joyner, Christopher., (1998). ‘The Spratly Islands Dispute: Rethinking the Interplay of Law, Diplomacy and Geo-politics in the South China Sea’ The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law. 13(2):193-236.
Harrison, Selig. (1977). China, Oil and Asia: Conflict Ahead? New York: Columbia University Press

Please accept this article as a free contribution from this author, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Analysis: Latin America and the Zombie Factor

Latin America and the Zombie FactorBy: W. Alex Sanchez
Research Fellow
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
September 13, 2011
Originally published in: http://www.coha.org/14117/

- Crossover analyses between fictive works such as zombie films and TV series like Game of Thrones continue with the publication of major works like Theories of International Politics and Zombies.

- Most zombie-films and books deal with disasters appearing in the U.S. or Europe (with the book World War Z, being one of the few exceptions), but Latin America remains virgin territory for these kinds of analyses.

- Given the plethora of issues currently affecting the region, ranging from deficient health systems to a variety of narco-insurgent organizations, how would Latin America fare when the undead appears in that region?

The publication of Theories of International Politics and Zombies by Daniel Drezner,[1] a highly regarded professor at Tufts University, is the first of what could become a long line of crossovers between academic research and fictional situations involving zombies. Surprisingly well-received, Drezner’s innovative public policy study discusses the repercussions of a zombie horde in international affairs; in his work, the author discusses how conservatives, idealists, realists and constructivists would combat masses of the undead attacking their countries. Drezner paraphrases former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s idea of being prepared for the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. According to the former official, known unknowns are security threats (i.e. terrorist attacks) that are likely to occur, but it is difficult to predict when they will happen; while unknown unknowns are security threats that we don’t actually know exist until they appear, for example an alien invasion or, for the sake of our argument, a zombie epidemic.

Besides Drezner, other scholars have begun to apply international relations theories to fictive situations and scenarios. Another example is offered by Stephen Saideman, a professor at McGill University in Canada, who has blogged about applying the basics of IR theory to the HBO fictional series Game of Thrones.[2] This TV show, based on books by George R.R. Martin, has become so popular that a recent article published by Foreign Policy[3] featured the situations and characters of the series, while combing them with IR realpolitik theory.

While Drezner employs a theoretical approach to the “zombie threat,” this analysis will consider the fictional scenario of what would happen if zombies appeared specifically in Latin America. For the sake of argument here we will focus on zombies as they appear in the films by George Romero, such as Dawn of the Dead, or as depicted in the critically acclaimed book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. This article is not meant to be a mockery of the region’s reality, but rather a creative tool to analyze how effective governmental and societal responses would be in the case of a fictional zombie epidemic. This analysis is useful to both highlight the problems that Latin America currently faces, and also to make the assessment if the region is ready to handle a global infectious disease and consequent security threats. So, how would Latin America fare when a horde of the undead appears in that region?

The Scenario: Patient 0 / The Epidemic Appears
When a zombie epidemic appears in Latin America, an obvious first issue would be figuring how it started; theories would include pollutants via the water or food supply, or a disease only recently discovered in the Amazon due to deforestation or even due to a government experiment gone wrong. For the sake of argument we will assume that Latin American zombies are the same as to be found in Hollywood movies, in which the undead are desperate for sustenance, which is only placated by eating non-infected flesh, which results after biting humans and infecting them; it only takes one zombie to create an army of the undead. Typically, the zombie “condition” comes about after a highly infectious virus is spread through contact with saliva or by biting your victim; once infected, the sick person severely suffers from high fever and shaking fits; eventually the virus kills its victims and re-animates the dead corpse within hours.[4]

As the virus begins to spread, it is likely that regional governments and civil society will probably assume that it is the outbreak of some known illness like dengue, cholera or mad cow disease. A reason for this assumption is that there have been several outbreaks in recent years of diseases with zombie-like symptoms in Latin America. For example, Mexico’s swine flu outbreak in 2009 killed almost 200 people and hospitalized almost 2,000 more. The situation deteriorated so quickly that by April of that year schools across the nation closed for over a week to prevent spreading the disease among young children, and even general public gatherings were promptly limited.[5] The epidemic gave health officials fears that it could go global as swine flu appeared across the border in Texas and California.

More recently, in 2011, United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal inadvertently started a cholera outbreak in Haiti, which, by August 2011, had killed over 3,500 people. A March 2011 report by the BBC highlighted the variety of estimates of how many Haitians currently are, and could possibly become, infected, with numbers ranging from 400,000 to a possible 779,000 by November of 2011.[6] A July 2011 article in the Los Angeles Times published “the [Haitian] Health Ministry reported more than 1,000 new cholera cases a day last month [June].”[7] The Haitian epidemic was exacerbated by the country’s barely-functioning health system, particularly after the January 2010 earthquake, which killed tens of thousands. Cholera, another possibility in the range of similar diseases, is a well known killer in Latin America. Peru suffered an outbreak of this disease in 1991, the result of inadequate management of human waste flowing into rivers that led to Lima, and a lack of both education and the amenities for proper personal hygiene.[8] Thousands of individuals were infected with cholera, and hundreds died. The speed at which these diseases managed to spread can be compared to the rapid pace at which the zombie infection spreads in films. For example, in 28 Days Later, the zombie-like infection spreads quickly, sometimes just by touching someone or something that has been infected. In one scene, a character gets infected when a drop of blood of an infected bird falls on his eye.

Another theory would be that the zombie outbreak in Latin America might appear due to some type of massive radiation in the environment, maybe attributed to an accidental radioactive spill. Unfortunately, there has already been at least one radioactive incident in the region. In September 1987 individuals in Goiania, Brazil, while looking for scrap metal, went into an abandoned clinic (the Instituto Goiano de Radioterapia) when the security guard wasn’t present, and took a container that had 93 grams of highly radioactive cesium chloride.[9] The radiation killed four individuals and another 245 suffered from various degrees of radioactive contamination, 20 of which had signs of radiation sickness, before the situation was brought under control. The Goiania incident can be compared with the film Return of the Living Dead II (1988), which centers around a couple of cemetery workers opening a sealed military barrel with one of the undead in it; the two workers become sick and, due to other incidents, the epidemic quickly spreads.

Government Emergency System
As the zombie infection spreads and the hordes of the undead appear, Latin American governments will have to protect their population and prevent the disease from spreading. In the film Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), the “evil” Umbrella Corporation builds a wall around the fictitious Raccoon City where the zombie outbreak first started; Umbrella’s wall fully isolates the city, leaving non-infected civilians trapped in the city with the zombies. Latin American governments would not necessarily go to such extremes to isolate the epidemic, but one positive factor is that the region has at least some experience with major evacuations.

For example, during the eruption of the Puyehue volcano in the southern part of Chile in June 2011, the government evacuated as many as 3,500 victims from the affected region.[10] Peru faced similar situations in the southern part of the country, like the Ubinas volcano eruption in March/April 2006.[11] Thousands of civilians were forced to evacuate as local water sources were polluted and livestock died due to ash fall. Both countries suffered earthquakes in recent years: southern Peru experienced an 8.0 in the Richter scale on August 15, 2007 and northern Chile experienced an 8.8 in the Richter scale on February 27, 2010, which once again put local government emergency systems to the test.

A critical factor in order to protect civilians as they flee zombie areas will be how well regional governments can communicate with their population and carry out organized evacuations. In zombie movies that deal with the initial spread of the undead, we can see how governments try to inform their citizens of what actions to carry out. For example, in the 2004 film Dawn of the Dead and in the film Shaun of the Dead characters listen to TV broadcasts where the news presenters advise the population on what to do in view of the growing zombie threat.

Hopefully, the experience Latin American governments have gained from dealing with natural disasters will provide them and their populations with the necessary aid when the undead appear.There are at least some promising signs regarding this issue, as when Peru suffered a strong earthquake in August 2007, radio stations and even live TV shows continued on air with their programs, informing the population of what to do. Thus, if zombies appear, it seems likely that news stations would continue to operate according to their abilities, as portrayed in the previously mentioned films.

Emergency response systems and evacuation plans, out of necessity and reality, would be different in the Caribbean islands, as a major source of concern occurs every summer in the shape of the hurricane season. Cuba’s generally well-organized civil society is regarded as having one of the best emergency warning systems, including shelters in various neighborhoods[12]. Nevertheless, other islands like Grenada and Dominica, do not appear to have well-articulated systems in place to shelter or evacuate citizens and tourists in case of a natural disaster emergency. After Hurricane Tomas hit the island of Saint Lucia in late 2010, Prime Minister Stephenson King declared a state of emergency, as bridges were swept away and over a dozen were killed; the official stated that it had been the worst natural disaster in the history of the island, particularly in the south. Meanwhile, in Jamaica, a child died and “roads [were] blocked or made impassable, bridges collapsed and persons [were] trapped by the rising waters” when a freak storm hit the island in September 2010.

The Caribbean has a regional organization in charge for such events, namely the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Emergency ( www.cdema.org ) and there have been several declarations from high level officials regarding making disaster preparation a priority, including by the Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Albert Randim of Suriname. In addition, international powers like the U.S. and the European Union have donated funds to Caribbean states in for supporting disaster preparedness and the reconstruction of infrastructure caused by major natural disasters. Nevertheless, much still needs to be done in that region. Furthermore, the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti showed that this country, despite repeated natural onslaughts, lacks the necessary means to reach remote areas affected by a major natural disaster to provide first aid while restoring order. There have been a few references to zombies appearing in islands; for example in the film Land of the Dead, survivors manage to get into a yacht and flee in search of deserted islands, hoping that they will be infection-free. In addition, the premise of the 2011 zombie video game Dead Island is a group of people trying to survive a zombie infestation with very few means to evacuate a fictional island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Hopefully by the time zombies appear, Caribbean states will have developed better emergency evacuation methods, though not enough resources are devoted to these issues in several states.

Finally, it is important to mention the new comedy entitled Juan de los Muertos (Juan of the Dead – 2011), which centers around zombies appearing in modern day Cuba. The film narrates that the Cuban government reports to its citizens that the zombie violence are actually being caused by dissidents paid by the U.S. government; which has as subtle message that even during a major security issue , governments like the one in Havana might spin the situation using standard ideological rhetoric. The film does not necessarily deal with Cubans trying to flee the zombie-infested island, but how their society adapts to it, and even profit (like the main character’s business of killing zombies for other people).

The Role of Militaries in a Period of Crises
When the zombie hordes appear throughout Latin America, regional security forces, like the police and military, and even paramilitaries groups, may have to step in to battle the undead and keep them from infecting widening circles of civilians. It is common in several zombie films that security forces appear to save the main characters and help to restore order (like in the film Shaun of the Dead– 2004); in addition, the book World War Z imagines how the world, especially powerhouses like the U.S. and China (where the zombie epidemic started) would deploy their militaries to deal with the zombie uprising.

The Latin American militaries have a history of taking control of their governments if they perceive a national security threat. As the zombie epidemic spreads, it is difficult to predict how Latin American militaries would behave vis-à-vis the constitutional order so their countries are not effortlessly overrun by zombies. On the one hand, military leaders could be expected to remain subservient to the civilian leadership, while on the other, some officers may see it as their duty, or at least in their own self-interest, to take control of the government and organize a defense campaign against the zombies. The recently deceased former Uruguayan dictator Juan Maria Bordaberry, is an example of this phenomenon, as he was widely regarded as a puppet president at the mercy of his country’s military when he held power in 1972-1976.[13] A scenario of how civil-military relations in Latin America would be shaped when zombies appear would be the 2007 film 28 Weeks Later, in which a post-epidemic (not a zombie related case) London is under military control, as attempts are made to repopulate the city with civilians. A Bordaberry-28 Weeks Later scenario in which a civilian government, at least in principle, exists, but operations regarding zombies fall under full military control, would be a likely possibility.

In June 2011, Howard Wiarda, a Rusk Professor of International Relations at the University of Georgia and a senior associate in residence with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) wrote a report entitled “Constitutional Coups? Military Interventions in Latin America.”[14] In his extensive analysis, Wiarda explained that

“in Latin America, while one constitutional article may proclaim, that the armed forces are ‘nonpolitical, non-deliberative, and totally subservient to civilian authority,’ another will say they have a special responsibility, even an ‘obligation,’ to intervene under certain circumstances: if the country is attacked, if internal order is upset, or if the political system is gridlocked.”[15]

He also argued that his “working hypothesis was that the Latin American constitutions elevate the armed forces into almost a fourth branch of government, with special obligations and responsibilities.”[16] Certainly, in times of extreme danger, like internal civil wars, Latin American militaries obtained power over their country’s internal security. Peru’s military during the 1980s at the height of its internal civil war versus Shining Path and the MRTA (Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru), or the military regimes as seen in South America in the 1960s to 1980s that carried out repressive operations against leftist violent and non-violent groups, are examples of the appearance of these de facto rightwing regimes during times of extreme national unrest. It can be assumed that when zombies appear regional militaries will see this situation as an extreme security crisis and will want a greater role in the decision-making process of how to deal with the undead. In the film Return of the Living Dead II (1988), an army colonel orders the destruction of 20 square blocks of Louisville, Kentucky by a nuclear artillery shell, killing zombies and non-infected civilians alike, seemingly without consulting with any civilian leaders. Meanwhile, in the British 2011 film World of Dead: The Zombie Diaries (2011), British troops summarily execute civilians to prevent the zombie infestation from spreading; but there is no mention of them answering to any kind of civilian leadership.

Order Breaks / Each Person for Themselves

In several Hollywood films, zombies ultimately take over the globe as governments and militaries prove unable to control the living dead hordes. Should zombies appear tomorrow in Latin America, the undead will have to battle not only traditional security forces and also a plethora of well-armed, violent-prone movements, such as narco-insurgent groups like Peru’s Shining Path and Colombia’s FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional), and, arguably, the Paraguayan People’s Army (Ejercito Popular Paraguayo – EPP). Adding to the list of violent criminal elements are the ever-expanding Mexican cartels, such as Sinaloa, the Zetas, the Familia Michoacana and the Gulf Cartel, which are presently spreading their influence and operations into Central America (particularly Guatemala). There are also international gangs such as the Mara Salvatruchas. Further down south, the Brazilian favelas were home to lawless criminal groups, like the infamous Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC- First Command of the Capital). Furthermore, besides these major criminal organizations, low-level crime is widespread throughout the region, particularly in major cities like Caracas, Mexico City and Lima. In films like Resident Evil II, 28 Days Later, and the TV series The Walking Dead, we see the appearance of gangs (sometimes made of former military or police units), who band together to protect themselves from zombies in small patches of land. Latin America already has a somewhat similar structure, with Mexico’s case being the most extreme as some may argue that the Cartels have divided the country into a narco-feudalist state.

In addition, Latin America’s various violent organizations have proven to be well-organized and well-equipped, with a multitude of means for acquiring weapons. For example, Shining Path and the EPP typically pick up guns from ambushed government security forces. In addition, black markets are common in Latin America; therefore, the illegal purchase of weapons is widespread. For example, a June 2011 article in the Peruvian daily Peru.21 explained how a person can easily buy a revolver illegally for roughly 300 soles (about $110) in a black market to be found in downtown Lima.[17]

The Zombie Diaries

While this situation does not help regional forces combat crime in the pre-zombie world, it would help to keep people alive when the living dead appear. In movies like the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead(2004), a constant problem for zombie survivors was trying to find weapons with which they can protect themselves. In the AMC TV series The Walking Dead, a group of survivors launch a daring operation to go to zombie-infested Atlanta to retrieve a bag full of shotguns and ammo, as they barely had any in their camp. Survivors in zombie movies usually run out of ammunition fairly quickly or simply do not have enough weapons, so they have to resort to baseball bats or axes for protection. A lack of weapons or ammo would not be too much of a problem in a zombie-infested Latin America; for example in June 2011, Mexican soldiers found a buried cache of weapons apparently stockpiled by a drug cartel, probably the Zetas, which included 154 rifles and shotguns and more than 92,000 rounds of ammunition in an underground chamber by the city of Monclova in northern Mexico.[18] The cache also included four mortar shells, two rocket-propelled grenades, dozens of assault rifles, sniper rifles and two bows.

It is conceivable that as survivors try to flee zombie-infested areas, they might decide to reinforce vehicles around them. To adequately protect themselves, they can refer to similar Hollywood and real life examples for inspiration: Mexican cartels are fabricating their own armored vehicles, like the infamous “monster” trucks that transport Cartel members on their way to attacks.[19] These vehicles are similar to armored cars that survivors in zombie movies build to escape the undead, like the armored buses that appear in Resident Evil: Afterlife, 2010, and Dawn of the Dead, 2004.

Photo: An armored 2011 Ford F-Series pickup discovered by authorities in Jalisco state, Mexico. Credit: PickupTrucks.com

The Culture of Death
Usually, at some point in zombie movies, the main characters have some moral dilemma regarding shooting one of the undead who used to be a living person, perhaps someone they even knew. For example, in Shaun of the Dead the main character struggled to shoot his recently deceased mother, who dies from a bite and eventually comes back as a zombie. Another example occurs in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, where a main character has difficulty shooting her policeman friend who has just turned into one of the living dead. On the other hand, Dr. Brendan Riley of Columbia College Chicago, explains in Generation Zombie that in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, the heroes eagerly dispatch the zombies infesting the mall they’ve commandeered, as they show no remorse for these killings, since they understand the zombies to be non-people, showing empathy only in moments of pause.[20] The Columbia College professor explains that in said film a scientist on television describes the zombies as: “These creatures are nothing but pure, motorized instinct. We must not be lulled by the concept that these are our family members or our friends. They are not. They will not respond to such emotions.” Regarding this issue, a quick overview of the recent history of violence demonstrate that the value of life in Latin America and Caribbean has decreased to the point that the region could deal, fairly easily (generally speaking) with the psychological and moral ramifications of a zombie apocalypse.

Unfortunately, there is a surplus of current examples showing that the value of life has generally decreased in this violence-prone region: teenage hit-women have appeared in Mexico,[21] and in 2010, Mexican security forces arrested a 14-year-old teenager known as Edgar Jimenez Lugo (aka El Ponchis), allegedly a major ring-leader for a cartel. He admitted to beheading several individuals, whether they were members of rival gangs or not. “When we don’t find the rivals, we kill innocent people, maybe a construction worker or a taxi driver,” he stated to the media.[22] That criminal organizations recruit child-soldiers to swell up their ranks is, unfortunately, not a new development to Latin America or, for that matter, for other global conflicts. However, even in the pre-zombie world, it seemed particularly alarming the rate at which this is occurring in Mexico. After capturing a 13-year-old girl that was a member of the Zetas Cartel, a local Mexican police officer stated to the media that “we are noticing that cartels are recruiting younger members, we have detained underage individuals in Veracruz and Zacatecas, and they continue to appear.”[23] In the TV series The Walking Dead, children are not used as fighters against the zombies; however it would seem that when zombies appear in Latin America children would readily be given weapons, just like anyone else.

Furthermore, the culture of death and general disregard for human life is not necessarily unique to Mexico. In Brazil, children as young as 11 are known to have become killers during gang battles in the favelas.[24] Also in Peru, large groups of street children called “piranhas” attack and rob random people in the streets, often with senseless cruelty.[25] Regarding Central America, the expansion of Mexican drug cartels to the region brought greater levels of violence. This resulted in an increase of violent crimes, like the May 2011 massacre of 27 people in a Guatemalan cattle ranch.[26] The Central American wars and dictatorships in South America, like in Augusto Pinochet’s repressive regime in Chile, the high levels of violence in Latin America’s recent past, combined with ongoing drug-related violence, seem to show that there would not be major psychological issues (broadly speaking) regarding shooting the living dead in that region.

The role of Religion
In an interview with COHA, a high school teacher from Jalisco highlighted the widespread and growing popularity of a culture to the Santa Muerte (Holy Death). The revered image is a hooded skeleton accompanied by a globe and a scythe; its growing popularity is seen as a consequence of the narco-culture taking over the country, as the Holy Death protects from danger, but does not discriminate against the good or the evil-doers because it does not have eyes.[27] Such particular beliefs, which combine religion with violence, might become even more popular once the zombies begin appearing in the region.

The issue of the Santa Muerte brings up the topic of religion in Latin America whenthe undead appear. At this point it is necessary to state the origins of the zombie myth originate in Haiti, where the belief in them is part of local voodoo tradition (see Kyle Bishop’s article Raising the Dead for a more in-depth analysis of Haiti’s zombie-voodoo history). Hollywood has a somewhat basic way of inserting religion into some of its films. For example in the 2004 film Resident Evil: Apocalypse, a scene shows some survivors hiding in a church, in which a priest has tied up his sister, who has already become a flesh-eating zombie, and protects her. Meanwhile, George Romero’s “films are not about ‘punishment for sin.’ Romero’s universe is certainly not a Christian one (the occasional religious references are always negative). Rather, we have an accidental universe, an unholy mess.”[28] These movies portray a zombie uprising in an American scenario, and not Latin America’s religious reality, which is mostly Catholic and has a prominent role in everyday life. How would religion (not just Catholicism but also other religions present in the region like Islam and Judaism) affect the behavior of the Latin American population vis-à-vis the appearance of zombies? We will leave this question open.

Miscellaneous Issues
In addition to the aforementioned topics, should zombies appear in Latin America, there are a number of other issues which would come into play.
For example how would the U.S. government and military act if a zombie infection appeared south of its borders? The U.S. had a long history of military intervention in Latin America (i.e. Haiti, Dominican Republic and Panama) as well as covert operations (i.e. Nicaragua and Guatemala). Nevertheless, most of those operations occurred during the Cold War, and if the zombies appeared tomorrow, Washington would find itself overspread due to its military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. A critical factor regarding the U.S.’ actions towards a zombie-infected Latin America would be heavily contingent on what political party is in power in the White House, as this will influence the country’s interventionist or isolationist tendencies. Riley explains that “Return of the Living Dead (1985) explores both conspiracy theory and culture clash with its clearly-delineated groups of straight-laced kids and punks, and its malevolent military who deploys a nuclear weapon to cover up its own illegal testing.”[29] Hence, in spite of whether Democrats or Republicans are in control of the White House, the U.S. government will probably continue to view Latin America as its zone of interest, so some type of intervention will be likely.

Moreover, still on the topic of international support, a critical issue for dealing with the zombie hordes will be level of cooperation between Latin states when the undead appear. In the 2011 film World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries, British soldiers and civilians try to reach the coast, where ships will take the survivors to mainland Europe, where the infection is not widespread. But this resembles more of a humanitarian operation rather than a multinational military operation, and this occurs in a very integrated Europe. Historically, Latin American nations have been very protective of their national sovereignty and do not appreciate foreign militaries within their borders. An example of this attitude occurred during a 2008 incident when Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez proclaimed that if Bolivian President Evo Morales was removed from power due to major protests at the time, he would send his Bolivarian army to reinstitute his Andean friend to presidency. Needless to say, this statement that was not well received by the Bolivian military. It is debatable whether a major international security threat like the zombie factor would force Latin American governments to reconsider their historical differences and tensions with other states. For example, when the undead appear in Arica, would Santiago ask Lima to deploy its military to fight the zombie horde in that disputed region (as Chile and Peru had a war in the 19th century, dubbed the War of the Pacific, in which Chile gained that territory)? Besides the books World War Z, and Drezner’s Theory of International Politics and Zombies, not much has been written about international cooperation in face of the zombie threat (besides the aforementioned World of the Dead reference). The historical tensions and border disputes, as well as ongoing integration initiatives in Latin America add an unclear variable of how well the region could unite in the face of a common, transnational enemy.

Finally, there is the question of the effects of the zombie violence on local populations. Understandably, when the zombie violence becomes widespread, there will probably be major levels of forced migration, as families escape the violence and infection. For better or worse, Latin American states are already used to this. For example, as a result of the 1980s war in the Andes between Peruvian government forces and the MRTA and Shining Path, thousands of Peruvians became internally displaced people (IDP) when they fled to major coastal cities, particularly Lima. In addition, Colombia has the second highest rate of IDPs in the world due to its decades-old civil war against the FARC, ELN and drug-cartels. Likewise, Mexico is experiencing population movements within its borders as citizens flee from cities consumed in major cartel-related violence in the northern part of the country, and move to safer areas in the center and south. When zombies appear, it is only logical that people would migrate to safer zones. A similar situation happened in the 2005 film Land of the Dead, where survivors of the zombie apocalypse managed to concentrate in a few cities, with fences around them to keep the undead away.

It is important to stress that we have analyzed Latin America as a whole, with general examples from different countries to give an idea of what could happen when zombie hordes appear. Analysts and specialists from each Latin American and Caribbean country can give a more in-depth analysis explaining how their own nation would fare in case of a zombie uprising, providing facts and issues not covered in this analysis. If anything, this would be an interesting and amusing hypothetical exercise.
Our analysis of what would happen in the case of a zombie epidemic in Latin America highlights a few realities of the situation in the region. For example, healthcare systems across the region as well as pollution incidents make the region ripe for a zombie outbreak and governments would be unprepared to evacuate civilians from zombie-infested areas as the epidemic spreads. Furthermore, the historical propensity for interventions (i.e. coups) means that Latin American militaries would likely step in if there should be a zombie-created national security crisis. Finally, if governments and militaries fail to control a zombie horde, the widespread availability of weapons and the very existence of so many criminal groups, combined with a decreased value of life would mean, ironically enough, that the inhabitants facing a zombie-apocalypse in Latin America might actually have a fighting chance at survival.

This author would like to thank the following people for their help with this article:
Dr. Brendan Riley, professor at Columbia College Chicago, popularly known for his class “Zombies in Popular Media,” which has been featured in several news articles.
The hordes of COHA research associates whose feedback made this article interesting and engaging.