Friday, May 24, 2013

COHA: Lula and the Cesare Battisti Affair in the Context of Rome-Latin American Relations

Lula and the Cesare Battisti Affair in the Context of Rome-Latin American Relations
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
May 23, 2013
Originally published:

Cesare Battisti, a member of Italy’s Armed Proletarians for Communism (PAC), lives comfortably in Brazil, thanks to former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.  The iconic former head of state signed a decree on his last day as president in December 2010, which stated that Battisti could not be extradited to Italy, where he would face life imprisonment. Battisti was convicted of committing four murders throughout Italy’s anni di piombo (years of the lead), a period of almost unexampled criminal violence in the country that lasted from the late 1960s to early 1980s.The Battisti affair has since become an episodic thorn in Rome’s side with respect to its relations with Brasilia; yet this debacle has far from ended the Italian government and business community from increasing their ties with the Western Hemisphere, especially the Portuguese-speaking giant.
Whether Dilma Rousseff’s presidency or the next Brazilian head of state will (or should) extradite Battisti to Italy remains to be seen, though it is doubtful. This means that Battisti, a convicted murderer, may live out the rest of his days in a cushy exile in Brazil, instead of serving hard time for the crimes he committed.
A Brief Background
Plenty has been written about Battisti’s life, his outrageous delinquencies, his literary career (he is the author of over a dozen books), and his trials. After his murder convictions, Battisti escaped from an Italian prison and ended up in Mexico, where he founded the magazine, Via Libre. Eventually Battisti made his way to France but then fled to Brazil in 2004 after French institutions conceded the prospect of extradition to Rome. In 2007, he was arrested by Brazilian authorities, and he was later tried and convicted of entering the country illegally. On December 31, 2010, the final day of the Lula presidency, the outgoing president signed a decree that prohibited Battisti from being extradited.
Battisti has not denied being a member of the PAC, but he maintains his innocence regarding the four assassinations. He has argued that “in my case, there was a sort of artificial operation that created, from one day to another, the monster Cesare Battisti.” [1]
The 2009 and 2011 Flare Ups
Lula’s decision not to extradite Battisti to Italy provoked two minor international incidents between Rome and Brasilia in 2009 and again in 2011. Tensions escalated in 2009 when former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi recalled the Italian ambassador to Brazil after negotiations failed to have Battisti extradited. At the time, then-Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini criticized Brazil’s decision to provide a safe haven for Battisti, stating that, “Battisti is a terrorist who does not deserve at all the status of political refugee.” [2] On the other hand, then-Brazilian President Lula da Silva declared that his ruling to allow Battisti to stay in his country “was a sovereign choice that states can make. Italian authorities may like it or not, but they will have to respect it.” [3]
The situation further became a judicial and diplomatic imbroglio when, in 2009, Battisti was granted the status of political refugee by Brazilian Minister of Justice, Tarso Genro. This development occurred after his initial request for asylum was denied by the National Committee for Refugees on the grounds that Battisti had been convicted in his absence. Genro declared Battisti a political refugee based on the use of unreliable evidence in his trial. [4]
In June 2011, the diplomatic row between the two countries escalated when Battisti was freed from his Brazilian cell where he had spent four years. The Brazilian Supreme Court (voting six in favor and three against) decided that Italy did not have any legitimacy in its claims to have him extradited to Rome and that these demands could not overrule Lula’s previous decree. [5] At the time, then-Italian President Giorgio Napolitano declared that, “I do not understand Lula,” while other high-ranking Italian government officials also argued that this move would hurt bilateral relations. [6]
It is worth noting that when the non-extradition decision was made, posters appeared throughout Italy urging the government to boycott the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in Brazil. [7] But it is impossible to think that, given the importance of soccer in Italy, the government and national team will decide to boycott a trip to soccer’s most important tournament because of Battisti. [8] Currently, Italy is ranked first in Group B of the European qualifiers, and it is likely that they will participate in the World Cup.
As for Battisti, he is enjoying the “good life”. He apparently lives in an exclusive residential area in Sao Paulo and in early 2012 he published a new book, Ao Pe do Muro (issued by the Brazilian publishing house Martins Fontes). [9] In early January 2013, there were rumors that Battisti was hired as an advisor for Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT), a Brazilian labor union, but CUT officials have been quick to deny these allegations. [10]
Why Didn’t Brazil Extradite Battisti?
It is unclear why Lula became obsessed with Battisti and refused to send him to Italy – after all, not only was Battisti found guilty of his crimes, but the diplomatic incident also temporarily affected relations between Rome and Brasilia. A December 31, 2010 article by the British daily The Guardian, argued that, “while Lula was not particularly sympathetic to Battisti, he had been irritated by Italian demands […] The move had spared his successor, Dilma Rousseff, any political fallout early in her government.” [11]
Another reason for Lula’s support for Battisti may have to do with the former president’s political party, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers Party – PT). Scholars have mused that the PT may have some members sympathetic to the Italian and ultimately convinced Lula that he should come to his aid. This argument is supported by a Brazilian scholar very knowledgeable on the Battisti affair, who explained to the author of this COHA analysis that “I do not believe that Dilma or another PT president will deport Battisti. The party has many leaders who were members of armed left-wing groups which fought against the military dictatorship, and they see similar movements in Latin America and Europe as allies, even when the historical context was very different.” [12] Moreover, Rousseff, also belongs to the PT, so Lula may have decided to deal with Battisti so his successor would not have to address a potentially embarrassing situation at the dawn of her presidency.
Finally, Gabriel Elizondo, Al Jazeera staff correspondent based in Sao Paulo, also wrote on the Battisti affair for his publication’s blog post in June 2011. The reporter explained that another reason why high Brazilian policymakers chose not to extradite Battisti was because they “saw no legal premise to extradite him and the government felt no international laws or norms were broken or jeopardized. So in this sense, it was very much a Brazilian decision. Sovereignty is a word used a lot to describe it here.” [13] Finally, Elizondo argues that “there is nothing Italy can do to substantially punish Brazil either economically or diplomatically. Already Italy has said they won’t break off economic ties with Brazil.” [14] Indeed, as we will see in a later section of this research paper, the Italian government and private companies are actually trying to increase ties with Brazil, rather than attempting to use “soft power,” (i.e. a commercial embargo) to get Battisti back to Italy.
Italy and The Western Hemisphere
Battisti’s status in Brazil has not affected Italy’s foreign policy towards the Western Hemisphere. Although not as extensive as Latin America’s relationships with other extra-hemispheric nations (such as Russia, China or the United Kingdom), Italy’s relations with the region are noteworthy. For example, Argentine President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner traveled to Rome in mid-2011 and met with then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Italy and Argentina have a long history, particularly due to the overwhelming migration of Italian nationals to Argentina during the first half of the 20th century. However, relations between the two governments reached a low point after the 2001 Argentine debt crisis. Hence, Kirchner’s trip was important as it was a symbolic way strengthen relations once again—the last time an Argentine president went to Italy was President Eduardo Duhalde in 2002. [15] Just prior to Kirchner’s trip to Rome, then-Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini visited Buenos Aires and met with his Argentine counterpart, Hector Timerman. In a joint press conference, the high-level officials praised bilateral relations, including 12 agreements signed during Frattini’s trip, which addressed issues concerning cooperation on energy and technology, among other issues. [16] Thanks to soccer diplomacy, Buenos Aires-Rome relations may receive a boost in morale and image, as the national soccer teams of both states are planning to play a friendly match in the near future in Italy. [17]The match is meant to celebrate the election of the Argentine Jorge Bergoglio as the new Pope.
Meanwhile, Mexico is also attempting to strengthen its ties with Italy. For example, in May 2012, then-Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Patricia Espinosa traveled to Rome and met with her Italian counterpart, Giulio Terzi. The two officials signed agreements to strengthen political, economic, cultural, and security relations, while declaring their joint support for a reform of the U.N. Security Council. [18] During the visit, Terzi declared that trade between the two countries had reached $500 million USD in 2011. For its part, the Mexican Agency PROMexico, which aims to attract foreign direct investment to Mexico as well as the internationalization of Mexican companies, explains on its official website that Italy ranks as Mexico’s 12th largest trading partner worldwide. [19]
Military cooperation, including arms sales, is a particular area where cooperation has increased between Italy and Latin American governments. For example, in 2004, Italy sold four Lupo-type frigates to Peru. [20] Then in mid-2011, the Mexican government bought four C27J transport planes from Alenia Aeronautica (a branch of Finmeccanica). [21] Also in 2011, Panama received two Agusta Westland AW139 helicopters, also constructed by Finmeccanica. [22] More recently, in February 2013, the Italian weapons manufacturing company Beretta donated an ARX-160 rifle and a GLX-160 grenade launcher to the Argentine army. The goal is that the Argentine Special Forces will test and evaluate these weapons and see if they fulfill their operational requirements, which could lead to an eventual weapons order. [23] The Argentine military also recently agreed to acquire 20 helicopters, type AB 206, from Italy. [24]
Moreover, the Peruvian government signed a memorandum of understanding to promote military cooperation between Peru and Italy in 2011. [25] A new rapprochement occurred last September 2012, when the Italian ambassador to Peru, Guglielmo Ardizzone, and the Peruvian Defense Minister, Pedro Cateriano, met in the headquarters of the Peruvian army. [26] For some time, the Peruvian government has declared its intention to obtain new military hardware, which may include purchasing Italian frigates (Maestrale-type). [27] While no decision has been made thus far, high-profile meetings are ongoing and hint at the possibility of closer military ties, particularly via arms sales, between Lima and Rome.
Finally, it is important to highlight that there have been some political crises between Rome and Latin America. Namely, in April 2012, Valter Lavitola, entrepreneur and former editor of the online daily Avanti, was arrested on charges of offering bribes to the president of Panama for construction contracts. The development proved to be an embarrassment for the Italian government as Lavitola was a close associate of former Prime Minister Berlusconi.
Italy and Brazil
Italian companies have been trying to enter the Brazilian market in recent years, due to the South American country’s economic growth. For example, Franco Bernabè, the president of Telecom Italia, declared in 2011 that he wanted his telecommunications company to expand relations with Brazil and Argentina. [28] He explained that both countries “are the most important in Latin America,” and that both have a plethora of resources that “if they are properly managed” can be very useful to economic development. In addition, an Italian trade mission travelled to Brazil in May 2012. The delegation included members of the regional government of Regione Liguria—a region in the northwest of Italy. During the trip, the association Ligurian Ports signed an agreement with the Brazilian Santos Port Authority to improve cooperation between these trans-Atlantic port regions. [29]
It is worth adding that Italian-Brazilian military cooperation has not fundamentally suffered because of the Battisti affair. For instance, in July 2012, then-Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola traveled to Brasilia and met with his Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorin. During the goodwill visit, Di Paola expressed his country’s interest in embarking on joint ventures with the Brazilian navy to construct warships and other vessels in Brazil (as compared to Rome selling Italian warships to Brazil). [30] Brazil and Italy have already established a generally successful record of military partnerships. A prime example was the AMX project, a joint Italian-Brazilian program to create a lead-in fighter trainer and light attack category aircraft. The project was carried out by Brazil’s lead military industry, Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica SA (Embraer) and Italy’s Aermacchi in the late 1980s. [31]
Whether Brazil’s ongoing weapons purchases are part of a South American arms race, or if they are even appropriate given Brazil’s security situation will not be discussed here. Nevertheless, it is worthy to highlight that the country enjoys close relations with its neighbors and its security concerns are arguably more internal-security related than the possibility of inter-state warfare breaking with another country. [32] In any case, the arms sales industry is potentially worth millions of dollars and the Brazilian government and military will certainly want to acquire more high-tech weapons to cement the country’s status as a military power (i.e the country is building four diesel-electric submarines in cooperation with France) as well as to evolve into a major weapons supplier. [33] Hence, it is no great surprise that the Battisti affair is intentionally being brushed overby both Brasilia and Rome in order not to affect military relations and the potential of huge profits for Italian companies in future weapons sales to the South American powerhouse.
Battisti’s (Comfortable) Future
It is highly debatable if Battisti will ever be extradited back to Italy to pay for the crimes for which he has been found guilty. Rouseff has not addressed his guest’s fate and will probably stay away from discussing it. Meanwhile, the Battisti affair has become more of an episodic rallying cry for successive Italian governments, but this has not affected daily relations between Italy and Brazil, much less with the rest of the Western Hemisphere. The Battisti crisis may certainly flare up again in the following years but it is hardly a contemporary pressing issue for either Brasilia or Rome.
Nevertheless the Battisti affair could become a diplomatic obstacle in further joint projects and agreements between Brazil and the European Union, of which Italy is a member. Moreover, the Battisti affair could come back to haunt Brazil if the government is perceived by the international community of not cooperating to combat international criminal organizations, particularly that originate from Italy and operate in Latin America (i.e. Italian mafia members have been recently arrested in Colombia). [34]
In any case, if Italy does qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Battisti would be well advised to avioid going to any of Italy’s matches.
 W. Alejandro Sánchez is a Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
The author would like to thank Filippo Ponz de Leon, COHA Research Associate, for his assistance in fact-checking earlier drafts of this report.

[1] Lissardy, Gerardo, “Cesare Battisti, el escritor que escapo de la cadena perpetua,” BBC Mundo, March 12, 2012,
[2] “Brasil e Italia, cerca de la ruptura de relaciones diplomáticas por la extradicion de un terrorista,” Internacional, Polemica Judicial, January 28, 2009,
[3] “Brasil e Italia, cerca de la ruptura de relacionesdiplomaticaspor la extradicion de un terrorista,” Internacional, Polemica Judicial, January 28, 2009,
[4] Goes, Paula,  “Brazil: Extradition refusal threatens relations with Italy,”  Global Voices – English, January 29, 2009,
[5] Geffroy, Lucie, “Battisti Libere, l’Italie degoutee,” Courrier International, Italie, June 9, 2011,
[6] Geffroy, Lucie, “Battisti Libere, l’Italie degoutee,” Courrier International, Italie, June 9, 2011,
[7] “Italianospedemqueselecaoboicote Copa de 2014,” Veja (Brazil), Esportes, Copa 2014, July 29, 2011,
[8] “Qualifiers – Europe,”, 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil,
[9] “Ao Pe do Muro,” Livraria da Folha, , Also see “Cesare Battisti lanca no Rio livro baseado em sua experiencia na prisao,” Folha de Sao Paulo, April 12, 2012,
[10] “CUT nega contratacao de Cesare Battisti,” Brasil247, January 11, 2013,
[11] Hooper, John and Tom Philipps, “Lula sparks diplomatic spat with Italy over refusal to extradite killer,”  The Guardian (UK), December 31, 2010,
[12] Brazilian scholar. E-mail interview with the author.” May 18, 2013.
[13] Elizondo, Gabriel, “Brazil and Battisti,” Al Jazeera, Blogs, June 10, 2011,
[14] Elizondo, Gabriel, “Brazil and Battisti,” Al Jazeera, Blogs, June 10, 2011,
[15] “Argentina e Italia relanzanrelacionesbilaterales,” El Pais (Uruguay), Ultimo Momento, June 1, 2011,
[16] “Conferencia de prensa de los cancilleres de Argentina e Italia,” Casa Rosada/ Presidencia de la Nacion Argentina, Official Transcript,
[17] “Italia invito a Argentina a jugar un amistoso en honor al Papa,” El Clarin (Argentina), Deportes, April 2, 2013,
[18] Araujo, Estefany, “Italia y Mexico fortalecenrelacionesbilaterales,” Sexenio.Mx (Mexico), May 24, 2012,
[19] “Sintesis de la RelacionComercial Mexico – Italia,” PROMexico,  Unidad de Inteligencia y Negocios, March 8, 2010,
[20] “Compra de fragatasLupo mantendrá equilibriodisuasivo regional,” Peru 21, October 3, 2004,
[21] “Mexico adquiere a la italianaAleniaAeronauticacuatroaviones de transportetactico C-27J,”, July 7, 2011,
[22] “El ServicioNacionalAeronaval de Panama recibe dos nuevos helicópteros AgustaWestland AW139,”, April 25, 2013,
[23] “El EjercitoArgentinoevaluafusiles GLX 160 y lanzagranadas ARX 160 de Beretta,”, February 4, 2013,
[24] “Italia cede 20 helicopteros AB206 al Ejercito  de Argentina,”, May 20, 2013,
[25] “El poderEjecutivoperuanoenvia al Congreso un acuerdo de Cooperacion en Defensa con Italia ,”, October 11, 2011,
[26] Italia y Perufortalecenrelacionesbilaterales en materia de Seguridad y Defensa,”, September 13, 2012,
[27] “Peru invertira 800 millones de dólares adicionales en la compra de equipos militares,”, July 10, 2012,
[28] “Telecom Italia busca ‘relaciones mas intensas’ con Argentina y Brasil,” ElEconomista.ES (Spain), May 10, 2011,
[29] “Trade Mission to Brazil – Government, Regions and Chambers’ System,” Liguria International,
[30] “Italia ofrece a Brasilacuerdos de cooperacion en el Area de construccion naval military,”, July 3, 2012,
[31] “A-1M: Enhancing Brazil’s AMX Light Attack Fighters,” Defense Industry Daily, January 13, 2013,
[32] For more information on Brazil’s inter-state relations, security issues and foreign policy goals, see: Sanchez, W. Alejandro, “”Brazil’s Grand Design for Combining Global South Solidarity and National Interests: A Discussion of Peacekeeping Operations in Haiti and Timor,” Globalizations, Volume 9, Issue 1, 2012 Special Issue, Pages 161-178 and Sanchez, W. Alejandro, “Whatever happened to South America’s splendid little wars?” Small Wars & Insurgencies, Volume 22, Issue 2. 2011, Pages 322 – 351,
[33] “Brazil & France in Deal for SSKs, SSN,” Defense Industry Daily, April 11, 2013,
[34] Bargent, James, “Why has the Italian Mafia Returned to Colombia?” InsightCrime, May 16, 2013,

VOXXI: The Pacific Alliance shows its force as an economic bloc

The Pacific Alliance shows its force as an economic bloc
W. Alejandro Sanchez
May 23, 2013
Originally published:

The members of the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico) started today in Cali, Colombia, its for seventh summit with the goal to develop a strong economic bloc. Even though this is still an organization in its infancy as it was created in June of 2012, the Alliance’s summit has gotten significant media coverage as it encompasses four of Latin America’s major thriving economies.
Moreover, Costa Rica is expected to become a full-fledged member of the Alliance at the summit. Parallel to this high-level meeting, negotiations continue in Lima over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an ambitious project that will bring the U.S., the Alliance members and several Pacific/Asian states together in a major transoceanic free trade area.
We will have to see if the aspirations of the governments of Alliance are fulfilled or if these integration projects stall, the latter of which tends to be the general rule in Latin American inter-state relations.

The Pacific Alliance

On Tuesday, May 21, the ambassadors to the U.S. from Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru, along with the head of economic affairs at the Mexican embassy to the U.S. met at an “on the record” conference in the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a renowned think tank located in Washington, DC.
Throughout the gathering the diplomats took turns praising the Alliance and its possibilities, arguing that there are great expectations of what it can do (an audio copy of the conference can be found by clicking here).
They also stressed how several nations and organizations have approached the Alliance and wish to join. For example, as previously mentioned, Costa Rica will also become a member of the Alliance, as Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla has traveled to Colombia to attend the Cali summit.
In addition, the governments of countries like Paraguay and Portugal have all shown interest in achieving observer status, while New Zealand became an observer last November. Given the economic growth and huge resources (particularly mineral-related) that Alliance members enjoy, it seems that there are a plethora of states from all over the world that want to become affiliated with it.
At the CSIS event, one interesting issue that the diplomats stressed is that the Pacific Alliance is an economic bloc, not a political forum. The statement was meant to address the possibility that nations that have been critiqued for their democratic record, namely Venezuela, could eventually apply for membership in the Alliance.
The diplomats also stated there are two major “requirements” for a nation to join the Alliance. First, the government of the aspiring member state must adhere to the charter of the Alliance, which stresses respect for democracy.
Does this mean that countries like Ecuador, Nicaragua or Venezuela, (which are often criticized by Washington for their, depending on one’s point of view, less-than-ideal democratic record) could eventually become members of the Alliance? In theory yes; nevertheless, the Pacific Alliance’s current members all share not just a preference for free trade agreements, but also a willingness to maintain and increase ties with the U.S. (i.e. via the Trans Pacific Partnership and military initiatives).
This may prove to be a deal breaker for Quito, Managua or Caracas, which, incidentally, created their own trading bloc, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), to counterbalance U.S. financial influence in Latin America.
In addition, the second requirement to joining the Alliance is that a new member must have free trade agreements with the other Alliance members before becoming full members. Hence, Costa Rica will only join the Alliance after President Chinchilla signs a free trade agreement with the Colombian government (San José already has FTAs with other Alliance members).

Great Expectations for The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Alliance

The members of the Pacific Alliance are all part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious initiative to create a trans-Pacific free trade area, in collaboration with countries like Australia and Singapore (another Asian powerhouse, Japan, also has shown an interest in joining the organization).
At the time of this writing, and parallel to the Pacific Alliance’s summit, representatives of the TPP nations are currently meeting in Lima as part of the 17th round of the TPP’s negotiations.  Similar to the Alliance itself, there are high expectations of what the TPP could become.
Nevertheless, a realistic vision of the Alliance’s members must be kept in mind: as much as the members have enjoyed huge economic growth in the past years, they remain fragile economies. For example, Peru, Latin America’s success story in recent years, is still largely dependent on its mining industry (which is known for being unstable).
Besides well-known protests in 2011 and 2012 against the Conga mine project in the Cajamarca region, there have been other, more recent protests. For example, this past January, there were protests in the Cañariaco mining project in Peru’s Lambayeque region. If Peru wants to remain a prominent member of the Pacific Alliance and the TPP, its economy must not be at the mercy of only one industry.
As previously mentioned, the Pacific Alliance is the new and exciting integration project that Latin American nations have come up with. It now joins other recently created blocs, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), created in 2008, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), created in 2011.
Like the Pacific Alliance, the aforementioned agencies also started with a great deal of optimism and ambitious projects, and now have joined the alphabet soup of other Western Hemisphere agencies that do not have many success stories to justify their existence. Let us hope that the Alliance and the TPP, if the latter becomes a reality, are more fortunate and prosperous.

Read more:

Monday, May 20, 2013

e-IR:On Separatism in Latin America

On Separatism in Latin America
W. Alejandro Sanchez, with COHA Research Associate Kimberly Bullard
e-International Relations
May 20, 2013
Originally published:

In mid January 2013, the inhabitants of Chile’s Easter Island carried out major protests, declaring that the central government in Santiago had largely forgotten them and had failed to contribute to the island’s growth and development. An article in the British daily The Guardian explained how some islanders had even asserted their right to self-determination, threatening to secede from Chile.[i] The protests eventually dissipated, and order has been restored for time being. However, there is always the possibility that the Easter Islanders may rebel again, particularly if the next president (Chile will hold elections in 2014) does not address the islanders’ concerns.
This article uses the Easter Island demonstrations as a starting point for a discussion on separatism in Latin America. The goal of the following analysis is to begin a debate about the different manifestations of separatism and to describe to what extent these movements have taken place in Latin America. While Latin Americans have suffered many types of violence—narcotrafficking, guerrilla terrorism, and inter-state warfare—over the past several decades, traditional separatist movements have not been as prominent as in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. In particular, Latin America has not witnessed the collapse of existing States along with the subsequent emergence of new countries, as with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the violent fragmentation of Yugoslavia. It would still be incorrect to say that the region has not experienced any separatist movements in recent decades. While many scholars have minimized the presence of Latin American separatist movements, their analyses misrepresent the region’s reality.
New Nations Everywhere
The first era of global separatism began after World War II with a wave of decolonization, which created new States with “socialist” orientations. Socialism was considered the best political tool available for resisting “imperialism.” This first type of separatism did not appear in Latin America outside of the Caribbean due primarily to three characteristics shared among the region’s diverse ethnic groups, mainly of American, Asian, and African descent: (1) politically organized into republics; (2) a common language (Spanish or Portuguese); and (3) a common religion (Catholicism).
The end of the Cold War signaled the rise of a new brand of separatism in Europe and Africa, which aimed to overthrow a plethora of dictatorships and one-party States. Accordingly, the democratization of the Soviet Union (USSR) under Mikhail Gorbachev laid the foundation for separatist movements in the Balkans.[ii] Supporters of these movements believed that a State would be more successful politically and economically if they adopted free-market capitalist ideologies which called for privatization of its national economy and the opening up to foreign investment and trade. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, the Russian Federation emerged as a new State and 14 other former USSR members became independent, including the Baltic region, South Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.[iii]  In addition, in 1993, Czechoslovakia broke apart into two countries, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. But, it was the division of Yugoslavia that really exemplified post-Cold War separatism. The term “balkanization” was coined as Yugoslavia violently broke apart in the 1990s and a multitude of new nations emerged, such as Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro. Outside Europe, other nations have also appeared over the past decade. For example, in 2002, East Timor achieved independence from Indonesia.[iv] Most recently, in July 2011, Sudan split into two entities, Sudan and South Sudan, after a bloody civil war.[v] There are also new States that have only been recognized by a very limited number of nations such as Taiwan.[vi] Another recent example of this would be Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two separatist regions of Georgia that became independent from Tbilisi following the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.[vii] Nevertheless, only a few governments have recognized the independence of these regions, such as Russia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela (though even this limited support may change in the future).[viii]
But the global order seems to be perpetually reorganizing itself, and there is a real possibility that new regions may achieve independence in the coming years, either through formal negotiations or violent rebellions, as there are a number of regional and subnational movements with demands varying from greater autonomy to complete independence. Among the new independent States that may appear in the future is Scotland, the citizens of which will vote on a referendum in September 2014 to decide whether their nation will remain part of the United Kingdom or become an independent entity.[ix] However, although secessionist conflicts continue to exist in various areas of the globe, it is very unlikely that we will see any Latin American nations break apart in the future.[x]
The Western Hemisphere and New Nations
When it comes to 20th century nations in Latin America, only a few new ones have appeared in the “mainland” of the Western Hemisphere. The most recent examples would be Cuba, which became independent from the United States in 1902 and Panama, which separated from Colombia in 1903 (a reason for this was U.S. involvement, known as “gunboat diplomacy,” to build the Panama Canal).
As previously mentioned, the post-World War II era saw several European colonies become independent. In the Western Hemisphere, this occurred primarily in the Caribbean. For example, Suriname became independent from the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1975, while Guyana and Belize gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1966 and 1982 respectively. Nevertheless, the independence of Caribbean nations was generally achieved via negotiations, and Latin America (Spanish-speaking nations plus Brazil), has not witnessed separatist wars a laYugoslavia in over a century.
Separatist Movements in Latin America
In an April 2008 article for the CQ Global Researcher, Brian Beary discusses separatist movements across the globe.[xi] Interestingly, when it comes to the Western Hemisphere, only three cases are mentioned: Quebec in Canada, the Lakota Nation in the U.S. state of South Dakota, and the 2008 protests in Bolivia. While Beary describes extensively various separatist movements around the world, he summarizes separatism in the Western Hemisphere simply as, “across the Americas, separatist movements are scarcer and weaker than in Europe, Africa and Asia.”[xii] Nevertheless, even though Latin America has not experienced violent, secessionist-oriented separatism as compared to the USSR, Sudan, or Indonesia, it is imprecise to conclude that separatist movements have not existed in the region. The following are secessionist rumblings and incidents among Latin American states.
In Ecuador, indigenous communities, led by the National Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAIE), have suffered a long history of exploitation by European-mestizo elites who violated their territorial integrity and denied them the right to self-rule. Prior to President Rafael Correa’s ascension, CONAIE, directed by its political arm Pachacuti, formed alliances with the country’s urban forces to oust the right-leaning electorate.[xiii] CONAIE was most successful in June 1990 when nationwide protests managed to paralyze the entire country for one week. The event was Ecuador’s largest social uprising and actually forced the government to sit down and dialogue with the indigenous, but it did not eradicate the historical discrimination. Since then, the Ecuadorean indigenous has remained weak and unable to form rural-urban alliances.[xiv]
Today, CONAIE is disgruntled with Correa’s administration whose resource extraction policies have given a number of concessions to foreign mining and oil corporations that have not only undermined the subsistence of local fisherman and farmers but also continue to contaminate the environment, mainly the air and drinking water.[xv] The social group that has benefitted most from Correa’s regime is middle class professionals and progressives from the Quito urban area. They have received governmental preference for salary increases, contracts, and political employment—all made possible by the tributary culture (taxes and revenues) installed by Correa’s social revolution.[xvi] Thus, CONAIE’s separatist protests have been restricted to the marginalized population and easily squashed by those in power.
During the administration of the late Hugo Chávez, indigenous and Afro-Venezuelan communities, which historically occupied the bottom of the social ladder, often demanded greater autonomy. However, the government responded by increasing funding for social programs (particularly in health, education, and subsidized food stores), essentially buying out the marginalized masses and providing only limited autonomy.
Another separatist movement involved Venezuela’s oil rich state of Zulia, which is located on the western border with Colombia. The right-wing elites in Zulia’s government controlled the vast majority of Venezuelan oil production and thus the country’s revenues. In an attempt to achieve a more equitable distribution of national wealth, Chávez intervened in the provincial politics to centralize control over a number of public facilities and spending. The late president justified the executive intrusion by claiming that the entry of Colombian paramilitary forces in Zulia was a national security threat. Furthermore, Chávez, in a clientelistic move, appointed his own followers to provincial positions of power. Given Chávez’s preference to appease his allies, Zulia was not able to increase its decision-making authority.
Probably the closest that a Latin American State has come to breaking apart into two nations in reent memory occurred in 2008 when major protests broke out in Bolivia against President Evo Morales. Bolivia is an ethnically mixed nation, where socioeconomic differences divide the country into the highlands, which are known to be particularly indigenous, poor, and underdeveloped, and the lower regions (meaning in the lower Andes) of Pando, Tarija, and Santa Cruz, which are known to be especially rich as they enjoy natural resources. In May 2008, tensions exploded in major protests as the northern region (known as the Media Luna, the Half Moon, because of the shape it takes) wanted to break apart from the rest of the country in order to keep the wealth they earned from mineral exports. The protests, while they became violent, eventually subsided and Bolivia has remained united. Highlanders, who control the country’s natural resources and thus are wealthier than the indigenous lowlanders, feared that Morales’s efforts to redistribute the wealth more equitably would interfere with their traditional control of land and resources (oil and gas).[xvii]
Other Movements
In addition to the threat of secession by the inhabitants of Chile’s Easter Island, Chile has had problems with another major indigenous community, the Mapuches, who inhabit the southern cone area of Chile and Argentina.[xviii] The group was persecuted under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet and abuses were committed against its members as some radicalized Mapuches who were members of the Revolutionary Leftist Movement (MIR) guerrillas that fought Pinochet’s rule. Even today, the Mapuches regularly stage protests demanding land rights, autonomy, and the protection of their historical territory.[xix] It is debatable if the Mapuches as a whole (around 1.5 million in Chile and over 200 thousand in Argentina according to recent censuses) want independence.[xx] Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that a constant demand of Mapuches in Chile is greater autonomy, and some more radicalized members may hope for an independent Mapuche State, like they once had.[xxi]
Brazil, has experienced several small separatist movements, such as the 19th century attempt to create the Republica Riograndense in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Finally, some members of the Aymara people that inhabit the Andes would like to see the creation of an Aymara state that encompasses Southern Peru and parts of Bolivia and Chile.[xxii] Needless to say, all of these movements have been unsuccessful.
Most scholarly research on separatism focuses on areas that have gone through it, such as Africa or the Balkans. For example, Beary’s article mentions separatism in Tibet, Kosovo, and Iraq only in the first page. Denis Tull’s Separatism in Africa, while comprehensive, focuses on Africa.[xxiii] Using a variety of case studies from across the world, scholars argue that separatism generally crops up when at least one of two conditions is present—uneven development resulting in inequalities of wealth, income, and power, and/or polarization of ethno-religious differences, which are typically resolved through warfare and extreme violence. The commonality is that regional separatist movements arise from popular discontent.[xxiv]
With regards to Latin America, in spite of the examples above, what is usually discussed is a sort of reverse engineering situation about what ishappening rather than questioning why something is not occurring. Why, in spite of all kinds of warfare that Latin America has experienced, has separatist violence in the last decades not been as common as in other parts of the globe?
Modern Latin American violent movements have come primarily from movements from oppressed indigenous minorities or right-leaning, capitalist elites—in essence, conflicts between different social classes. In this way, violent groups have not aimed to breaking away from their countries, but rather at causing a political regime change. For instance, Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas aimed to overthrow the government in Lima (the group’s leader, Abimael Guzmán called himself President Gonzalo), rather than create some autonomous state in the Peruvian highlands of Ayacucho. Meanwhile, the Mexican Zapatista indigenous movement, which rose to prominence in the 1990s in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca wanted more autonomy from the central government in Mexico City, not to secede from Mexico.
The strength of nationalism and national identities in Latin America may also be part of the answer to why separatist movements have not been as widespread in the Western Hemisphere as in other regions. Countries like Argentina, Mexico, and Peru have arguably stronger national identities than, for example, the mixed population of the former Yugoslavia or among separatist movements in India, and hence have a greater affinity towards their countries’ symbols and national integrity. The fact that Latin American guerrilla movements in the 1970s and 1980s fought for regime change instead of separatism or secession may be an example of this. Then again, when indigenous groups feel that the central government does not take their rights and beliefs into consideration, we may see the rise of groups demanding greater autonomy, like the Mapuches and Easter Islanders in Chile, Zapatistas in Mexico, or CONAIE in Ecuador. Historical racial tensions certainly play a role in these conflicts, as they did in the 2008 crisis in Bolivia, where resource-rich and ethnically different regions of the country believed that they were essentially maintaining the poorer regions. It can be argued that separatism in Latin America is due to uneven development, especially considering the numerous governmental policies that finance ruling elites in one region who are involved in banking, commerce, and extraction of low cost resources from another region. The consequence has been the concentration of wealth and accumulation of capital among a very small social group within the country.[xxv]
Finally, it is necessary to highlight an argument mentioned in Tull’s Separatism in Africa. He maintains that in Africa, “one reason for the lack of secessionist agendas may be the robustness of the international norm that protects the integrity of states.”[xxvi] This argument can also be applied to Latin America, where regional organizations such as the Organization of American States, the Andean Community, or the new Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) are less likely to recognize a region that has declared independence from the main government unless this occurred through a negotiated solution, such as the independence of several Caribbean islands from the United Kingdom between the 1960s and 1980s. On the other hand, when the violent protests occurred in Bolivia in 2008, the heads of UNASUR met in an emergency summit in Chile and stated their support for President Morales as the head of a united Bolivia.
For countries like India, Russia, and China that have to deal with separatist movements, a major concern is that of precedent. For example, there was concern in these governments that when new States, such as Kosovo and former Yugoslav republics achieved independence, it would inspire separatist movements in other nations (i.e. the ETA in Spain, Tibet and the Uyghurs in China, and Chechnya in Russia).
Latin American governments, for the most part, have not dealt with this issue, as separatist movements have been very scarce, though there is always the possibility of “what if” radicalized Mapuches begin earnestly and interruptedly protesting and demanding an independent state from Santiago. This might encourage similar protests by the Aymaras in Bolivia and Peru or communities in Ecuador or Brazil. With that said, the authors of this analysis would argue that, in spite of the turmoil Latin America has experienced in the past 50 years, from military juntas to civil wars, major protests, widespread human rights abuses, ongoing corruption and overall state weakness in several States, a strong sense of nationalism is widespread throughout the region, which makes separatist violence less probable than in other areas of the world.
W. Alejandro Sánchez is a Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) where he focuses on geopolitics, military and cyber security issues. He regularly appears in different media outlets like Al Jazeera, Russia Today, BBC, El Comercio (Peru), New Internationalist, among others. His analyses have appeared in numerous refereed journals including Small Wars and Insurgencies, Defence Studies, the Journal of Slavic Military Studies, European Security, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism and Cuban Affairs. Follow Alejandro on Twitter here.
Kimberly Bullard is a Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) where she focuses on regional integration, indigenous and mining corruption issues in Latin America. She has also researched Argentina and the Malvinas/Falklands dispute between Buenos Aires and London.

[i] Legrand, Christine, “Easter Island issues Chile with independence threat.” The Guardian (UK), January 15, 2013.
[ii] Petras, James. “Separatism and Empire Building in the Twenty-first Century.” Journal of Contemporary Asia. 39:1, February 2009, P.116-126.
[iii] “End of the USSR: visualising how the former Soviet countries are doing, 20 years on.” The Guardian (UK).  August 17, 2011. . Also see articles on the post-Soviet region by the journal “Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization.” Available:
[iv] Paul Hainsworth. “From Occupation to Independence: East Timor and the Struggle for Freedom from Indonesia.” Institute for British-Irish Studies // University College Dublin. IBIS Discussion Paper No 5. August 2010.  Also see David Winning. “High-Profile Visit Gives Growing East Timor Its Moment.” Wall Street Journal. September 5, 2012.
[v] “Their day in the sun.” The Economist. July 7, 2011. Also: “South Sudan celebrates a sweet separation.” The Guardian. July 9, 2011. . “Born in Blood.” Time. July 18, 2011.,9171,2081915,00.html . “Sudan after Separation-  New Approaches to a New Region.” Heinrich Boll foundation.Volume 28.
[vi] “China vs. Taiwan: Battle for Influence in the Caribbean.” COHA.
[vii] “The Five Day War.” Foreign Affairs. . “Russia and Georgia Clash Over Separatist Region.” The New York Times. Europe.
[viii] “Nicaragua recognizes independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia” The New York Times. Americas. . “Why Nicaragua recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia.” Abhkaz world. . “Abkhazia: Vanuatu Changes Its Mind Again.”
[ix] “Alex Salmond announces Scottish independence referendum date.” The Guardian. March 21, 2013. . Scotland Referendum. The Scottish Government.
[x] “A War of Attrition: Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers.” Small Wars & Insurgencies. 19/4 (December 2008). Also “The separatist map of Africa: interactive.” (The Guardian) UK. . The Dividing of a Continent: Africa’s Separatist Problem. The Atlantic. . Separatism in Sudan. . Also see Tull, Denis M., “Separatism in Africa,” German Institute for International and Security Affairs, SWP Comments, August 2011, P. 1-4
[xi] Beary, Brian, “Separatist Movements,” CQ Researcher. Chapter 2.  April 2008. P. 108
[xii] Beary, Brian, “Separatist Movements,” CQ Researcher. Chapter 2.  April 2008. P. 108
[xiii] Petras, James., “Separatism and Class Politics in Latin America,” September 21, 2009,
[xiv] Petras, James. “Separatism and Empire Building in the Twenty-first Century.” Journal of Contemporary Asia. 39:1, February 2009, P.116-126.
[xv] Petras, James., “Separatism and Class Politics in Latin America,” September 21, 2009,
[xvi] Petras, James., “Separatism and Class Politics in Latin America,” September 21, 2009,
[xvii] Petras, James. “Separatism and Empire Building in the Twenty-first Century.” Journal of Contemporary Asia. 39:1, February 2009, P.116-126.
[xviii] “Without Our Land We Are Not A People’: Chile’s Indigenous Mapuche Natives Fight A Forgotten, 500-Year War For Self-Determination.” International Business Times.
[xix] Associated Press, “Chilean police clash with protesters during Mapuche march,” Fox News, October 15, 2012. , Also see Jarroud, Marianela, “Historic Mapuche Land Conflict Flares Up, Inter Press Agency, January 8, 2013.
[xx] Mapuche Statistics, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, April 11, 2013.
[xxi] For further information on the history of the Mapuches, see:  Mapuche History,, , Also see: Herrera, Alejandro, “The Mapuche in Chile and their Struggle for Territorial Rights,” Institute de Estudios Indigenas,
[xxii] “Lider evidencia sueno de conformar un pais aymara entre Peru, Bolivia y Chile.” Los Andes (Peru).
[xxiii] Tull, Denis M., “Separatism in Africa,” German Institute for International and Security Affairs, SWP Comments, August 2011, P. 1-4
[xxiv] Petras, James., “Separatism and Class Politics in Latin America,” September 21, 2009,
[xxv] Petras, James., “Separatism and Class Politics in Latin America,” September 21, 2009,
[xxvi] Tull, Denis M., “Separatism in Africa,” German Institute for International and Security Affairs, SWP Comments, August 2011, P. 2