Monday, September 29, 2014

VOXXI: Attempted robbery caught on camera in Argentina

"Attempted Robbery Caught on Camera in Argentina"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
September 26, 2014
Originally published:

A tourist was almost robbed at gunpoint while he was riding a bicycle throughout Buenos Aires. Little did the thief know that his victim was recording his ride with a GoPro helmet camera. The tape has been uploaded to YouTube and has since gone viral, accumulating more than six million views in less than a week.
While thankfully no one was injured and the local police have arrested the perpetrator, the incident highlights how internal security remains a problem in Argentina.  In the final year of her presidency, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner must focus more resources to quell the crime wave that is sweeping the country.

Crime and punishment

Alexander Hennessy, a Canadian citizen, is part of the show “Global Degree,” in which a group of young people are trying to visit 195 countries in 60 months. The group has already travelled throughout various Latin American states, like Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru. Upon arriving to Argentina, Hennessy and group mates went for a bike ride throughout Buenos Aires, with Hennessy placing a GoPro camera on his helmet.
While biking through a neighborhood known as La Boca, a man in a motorcycle rode up to Hennessy and, in broad daylight, pulled out a gun. The tape shows the robber demanding in Spanish that Hennessy give him his backpack, but the Canadian does not understand. At one point, Hennessy leaves the bicycle, thinking that that is what the robber wants; however the criminal got off his motorcycle and began chasing Hennessy, demanding the backpack.  Eventually the thief realized that they were attracting too much attention and left.
The final moments of the tape shows Hennessy and his group of fellow travelers biking to find a police officer. The Argentine media has reported that the criminal, identified as Gaston Aguirre, has been arrested.
The video quickly went viral and now has over six million views while the Facebook page of “Global Degree” received various posts from Argentine citizens apologizing to Hennessy for his ordeal. Meanwhile, Aguirre’s wife said that her husband “regrets” what he did.

A drop in a sea of crime?

The incident has become a springboard for Argentine citizens to critique the country’s level of insecurity. Apart from critiquing President Kirchner, other targets are Sergio Berni, the Secretary of Security, andMauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires.
Given the lack of confidence in both the government and law enforcement agencies, there has been a rise of vigilante justice. In one extreme case, this past March David Moreira, 18, was beaten to death by a group of people after he allegedly stole a purse from a woman.
Two cities where the situation is particularly problematic are Buenos Aires, a city of eight million people which has several underdeveloped neighborhoods, known as “villas miserias” (“misery villages” or “chabolas”).  The other city in trouble is Rosario, known as “the capital of crime” in Argentina.
To be fair, the Argentine government has tried to improve the situation. This past April, Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires province, decreed a “public security emergency” in Buenos Aires in order to carry out a plan to improve the security environment. The plan entails using funds to beef up the ranks of law enforcement agencies and acquire new equipment. Meanwhile, Secretary of Security Berni presented 350 new vehicles to the media this past Friday, September 19, which the federal police will have at its disposal beginning this December.
Additionally, President Kirchner has critiqued vigilantism. In a recent speech she declared, “violence always creates more violence.” The Argentine head of state’s term will end in 2015 and she does not want her legacy to be that she left the country in a security mess. Unsurprisingly, the country’s security woes are being exploited for political objectives. Sergio Massa, an opposition congressman and a presidential hopeful, has declared that the country needs “a government that will uphold the law.”
As a corollary to this analysis, it is worth highlighting that Hennessy’s video shows the criminal, Aguirre, holding a gun and waving it at the Canadian. In March, Buenos Aires Governor Scioli declared “for a long time I’ve said that we need to establish a system to control weapons […] if there are no weapons, there are no dead people. Getting rid of weapons and drugs, we reduce the problem.” It will be interesting to see if the Hennessy incident does anything to increase the likelihood for some kind of gun control policy in Buenos Aires.
As for Hennessy, he and his “Global Degree” fellows have pledged to continue their global tour. Hopefully the incident in Buenos Aires will be the only time that their safety is in jeopardy, yet this is unlikely considering that several Latin American states, not just Argentina, face internal security crises.

Monday, September 22, 2014

VOXXI: OAS meeting In Guatemala discusses drug issues

"OAS meeting in Guatemala discusses Drug Issues"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
September 19, 2014
Originally published:

The General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) is meeting in Guatemala to discuss the always sensitive drug problem in the Western Hemisphere. This high-level meeting, which will be replete of VIP policymakers, will ideally serve to create a united front leading up to a global discussion on drug policies in 2016.

The meeting

The ongoing meeting is the 46th special session of the General Assembly of the OAS, and its theme is the ambitious statement “Towards a 21st century drug policy for the hemisphere.” The objective of the meeting is to create a common ground among the OAS member states leading up to 2016, when the General Assembly of the United Nations plans to review the global drug control system.
The OAS session will be an important event as most OAS member states will reportedly send their foreign affairs ministers or deputy ministers. For example, Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister Maria Angela Holguin will attend; she has declared that the “drug problem” is also a health problem, and therefore drug users “cannot solely be regarded as criminals.” Also in attendance will be Ruth Dreifuss, a former president of Switzerland and a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.
Since Guatemala is hosting the event, President Otto Perez Molina is expected to play a prominent role in the proceedings. The Central American country’s security forces have enjoyed recent success in stopping the flow of drugs across its territory. Just this past June, the Guatemalan police seized 1.2 tons of drugs (valued at $15 million USD) in the Quetzal Port. The drugs were hidden in a shipment of bananas that originated in Ecuador and was destined for the U.S.
As for the U.S. delegation, it will be headed by William Brownfield, the U.S. “drug czar.” Brownfield will arrive to the Central American country after a brief trip to Panama. According to the State Department, Brownfield visited “a joint Panama-Colombia security forces base in the Darien” before travelling to Guatemala.
Finally, it is worth noting that this is one of the last major events that will be led by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza. The Chilean citizen is currently in his “farewell” tour as next year he will complete his decade-long tenure at the helm of the OAS.
As for drug-related initiatives under Insulza’s lengthy term, in 2013 the OAS published the comprehensive “Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas.” The document is important as it called for a debate on drug legalization in the Western Hemisphere. While in Guatemala, Insulza gave a presentation at the Rafael Landívar University in which he praised the role that the OAS has played in the evolving discussion on drugs; he stated, “we are very pleased because we have changed the dimension of the debate not only in the Americas, but also in the whole world.”

The multi-faceted drug problem

Whether the OAS summit in Guatemala will manage to create a unified stance across the hemisphere leading up to 2016 remains to be seen. This is in part because the “drug problem” is an understandably broad issue and the 34 nations that make up the OAS have different ways of addressing it. The U.S. generally still supports the “war on drugs,” which focuses on law enforcement operations to crack down on drug trafficking, and Brownfield will probably focus on the importance of these initiatives.
As for other nations, Uruguay has the most progressive attitude as it is currently finalizing the details of how to implement its 2013 landmark ruling via which marijuana was legalized. It will probably start being legally sold in 2015.
As for Peru, its major challenge regarding drugs revolve around cocaine. In early September, the Peruvian police destroyed over eight tons of drugs in the northern city of Trujillo. This amount included most of the 7.6 tons of cocaine (valued at over $300 million USD) that the Peruvian police seized in August. This successful police operation is the biggest seizure ever of cocaine in Peru’s history.
Finally, there are reports that countries such as Mexico and Peru are now heroin producers. Hence, it is not just cocaine and marijuana that are an issue in Latin America; the range of drugs produced or trafficked in the region is ever increasing.
It is important that the OAS, the only regional bloc that has 34 out of the Western Hemisphere’s 35 free states as members, has a prominent role in the global debate on the future of drug policies, especially leading up to the 2016 debate at the United Nations. With that said, how much we can expect out of the ongoing meeting in Guatemala is debatable; the Western Hemisphere is a big place, and regional nations have their own priorities and ways of addressing this complex issue.

VOXXI: Cuba’s brain drain takes hold in Guyana

"Cuba's Brain Drain takes hold in Guyana"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
September 15, 2014
Originally published:
Three Cuban doctors have disappeared from Guyana: They had been deployed to the small, South American state to help improve the country’s health services, but it is now thought that they are attempting to reach the U.S.
One of the pillars of Cuban foreign policy, aside from being a thorn in Washington’s side, is exporting its healthcare workers to nations in need of medical personnel. If the aforementioned doctors did indeed flee to the U.S., they can be added to the ever-increasing list of Cuban professionals that have defected from the Castro regime.
The facts on Cuban doctors
One of the three missing doctors is a pathologist hired by the Guyanese Ministry of Health to work in a hospital in Georgetown, the country’s capital. The two others are a physiotherapist, who was also working in a Georgetown hospital, and general practitioner who worked in the Mahaicony Hospital. Currently 166 Cuban health professionals work in Guyana, including 74 doctors and 35 nurses, with the rest being an assortment of health technicians.
The online news agency reports, “the absence of the pathologist, had in fact severely affected the completion of Post Mortem examinations at the hospital. […] the hospital’s administration was forced to put measures in place to ensure that post mortems were conducted in a timely manner.”
In other words, Guyanese health professionals must now fill the void left by the three missing doctors.
It’s important to note that the Georgetown-Havana medical exchange is a two-way street. Not only does Cuba send health professionals to Guyana, but the Guyanese government also sends its own healthcare workers to the Caribbean island for additional medical training. Guyana’s Health Minister, Bheri Ramsaran, has declared that the long-term goal is to rid the country of the need for foreign healthcare workers who take care of the country’s population–estimated at over 700 thousand.
This long-term plan may already be coming to fruition.
In April, Minister Ramsaran reported that the government will reduce from 500 to 250 the number of scholarships for Guyanese health professionals to study in Cuba. This program was started in 2001 via an agreement between Fidel Castro and then-President Bharrat Jagdeo, of Guyana. Minister Ramsaran has declared that “now we have ample amount of specialized doctors in the health sector so there is not a need for so many scholarships this year.”
If we are to believe Minister Ramsaran’s remarks about the state of his country’s rising crop of new professionals, the “ample amount” of Guyanese doctors, trained in Cuba, will (hopefully) be able to make up for the loss of the three Cuban doctors.

Cuban Defections
As for Cuba, if the three aforementioned doctors did in fact leave their posts in Guyana to flee to the U.S., they join an ever-growing list of Cuban defectors.
Naming every Cuban defector is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say there have been some noteworthy incidents recently. For example, earlier this year, seven dancers of the National Ballet of Cubadefected while visiting Puerto Rico for a performance. Another recent defection was that of Yasmani Tomas, a baseball player who played for the Cuban team Industriales.
Defections have been a staple of the Castro regime. With that said, Raúl Castro, has introduced important initiatives to (very) slowly liberalize the country’s economy, thus attracting increased international investment and fostering the growth of a Cuban middle class with an improved standard of living. Case in point: the government is promoting the development of an industrial sector, called the Mariel economic development zone, which has already attracted Brazilian investment (namely the expansion of a port).
However it seems that even economic progress and the relaxation of certain strict policies (such as travel restrictions) are not stopping Cuban professionals of various fields from defecting in search of an improved quality of life, higher wages, and more career opportunities. In June, the aforementioned ballet dancers talked to the U.S. media in Miami, explaining that they are in search of professional opportunities in the U.S. As for Yasmani Tomas, recent speculations suggest that when he does sign for a MLB team, he could get as much as $100 million USD. Certainly more than what he would earn playing for a Cuban team.
As for the three Cuban doctors that have disappeared from Guyana, it remains to be seen where they end up. One possibility is that they seek asylum in neighboring Brazil, given that there is a precedent of Cuban doctors who defected while working in the Portuguese-speaking giant.
Thanks to Cuban help, Guyana may now have the medical staff to make up for the loss of three foreign doctors, but Havana cannot endure its brain drain.

Monday, September 15, 2014

VOXXI: Nicaragua uses drug money to build new prisons

"Nicaragua uses Drug Money to build new Prisons"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
September 14, 2014
Originally published:

Nicaragua has constructed three new prisons utilizing money that was seized following the arrest of a group of drug traffickers in 2012, a welcome initiative that repurposes criminal money for public works in the Central American country.
It accomplishes two goals simultaneously: building much-need prisons and putting drug money to good use. Additionally, the reutilization of property seized from criminals in Latin American countries raises several questions about how these assets are distributed and who benefits.
The story of Nicaragua’s new prisons began in August 2012, when local authorities arrested 18 Mexican drug traffickers as part of Operation Televisa. The Mexican nationals posed as journalists and used vehicles displaying the logos of Televisa, a renowned Mexican TV network, to transport drugs from Costa Rica through Nicaragua to Mexico. They were convicted of money laundering and drug trafficking. The criminals were originally sentenced to 30 years in prison but the decision was appealed and their sentence reduced to 18 years.
In December 2013, Nicaragua extradited the aforementioned criminals to Mexico so they could serve their prison sentences there. The extradition of foreign citizens accused of major crimes is standard practice in Nicaragua. Alba Luz Ramos, president of Nicaragua’s Supreme Court of Justice, says that Nicaragua extradites major foreign criminals because, until now, the country had no maximum security prisons in which to hold them, and their imprisonment was too great an expense.

Seizing money from drug traffickers

As part of the Operation Televisa arrests, the Nicaraguan police also seized over nine million dollars from the drug traffickers. At the time, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega vowed that the funds would be dedicated to constructing new prisons.
Two years later, the new detention centers are now complete and the overall price tag tops $6 million: A maximum security prison costing $2.1 million, a women’ s detention center valued at $1.8 million, and a third prison in Bluefields, costing $ 2.1 million USD. An additional $974 thousand were used to construct another detention center for non-violent prisoners.
The rest of the money was used to modernize the equipment of the Nicaraguan police.
The prisons were inaugurated this past Monday, September 8.
Such initiatives are a welcomed development, since Nicaragua, like Latin America in general, is in dire need of new, modern prisons to counter inmate overpopulation. A recent report puts Nicaragua’s inmate population at 10, 958 prisoners (both men and women), more than double the maximum capacity of the country’s jails.

Seize and reuse

The various reuses of goods and money seized from Latin American criminal organizations is a multifaceted issue. Headlines usually revolve around the arrests of major criminals or terrorist leaders, such as the arrest of Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, earlier this year. Nevertheless, not much is reported about what happens with criminal assets.
Unsurprisingly, seized drugs are destroyed. In early September, the Peruvian police burned 8.29 tons of drugs, including 7.6 tons of cocaine seized in one bust in the northern city of Trujillo.
Similarly, this past August the Venezuelan police destroyed 446 weapons of various kinds. The metal was then melted and utilized for construction projects as part of the government’s Gran Mision Vivienda Venezuela program. Peruvian authorities also regularly destroy illegal weapons; the Andean nation’s Ministry of the Interior melted 3,567 weapons this past December 2013.
Seized cars, on the other hand, are sometimes remodeled for use by law enforcement agencies. More notably, the Colombian police is now using a Ferrari 348 GTS for surveillance; the vehicle was confiscated after the arrest of a drug dealer named Hernando “Rasguño” Gomez Bustamante.
As for money, the fact that the Nicaraguan government is using seized funds for public works, such as prisons, is an interesting development. On the other hand, there have been instances in which seized money ended up in dubious hands. For example, earlier this year there was a scandal in Paraguay over the fate of the money seized from Gerardo Sanchez, a local drug dealer and money launderer. According to the Paraguayan daily ABC, it was ruled at one point that only part of the money would be returned to Sanchez’s family, while a subsequent ruling ordered that all the money be returned. The amount in question is 54 thousand Paraguayan reales and $ 50 thousand USD.
Finally, it is worth noting that many of the goods seized from criminals find their way into private hands, as many vehicles previously belonging to criminals are auctioned. Some of these items have quite the history. Case in point: an April report by the Colombian daily El Tiempo explains how the motorcycle was used by a hit man to murder the late Minister of Justice Rodrigo Lara Bonillo in 1984 is scheduled to be auctioned.
Nicaragua’s decision to utilize drug money to construct prisons is a good and practical idea. The reuse of money, weapons, vehicles, and other seized goods is an issue that Latin American governments, including law enforcement agencies, need to think about. While some of these assets must be destroyed (i.e. drugs) others can be recycled for beneficial purposes.

Quoted in: Un referéndum histórico en Escocia

"Un Referendum Historico en Escocia"
By: Jose A. Delgado
El Nuevo Dia
September 14, 2014
Originally published:
Este jueves, Escocia decide si se separa del Reino Unido mediante una votación con cuyos resultados está comprometido el gobierno inglés
Por José A. Delgado /
WASHINGTON.- Mientras en San Juan coquetean con procesos de status que no obligan a Washington, el gobierno británico se ha vinculado plenamente con un referéndum que, el jueves, puede generar un desenlace que no quiere: el voto del pueblo de Escocia a favor de su independencia.
El contraste con el caso de Puerto Rico es marcado. 
Sujeto a las negociaciones de un posible proceso de transición, el  independentismo escocés hace su reclamo sobre la base de una economía sólida y  diversa, con reservas de petróleo, capacidad para generar fuentes de energía renovable y un producto interno bruto (PIB) que proporcionalmente les coloca entre los más altos. 
Contrario al caso de  Puerto Rico, la relación de Escocia con el Reino Unido no es producto de una invasión, sino de una unión voluntaria. 
Antes de 1707, el año en que Escocia se integró al Reino Unido -formado también por Inglaterra, Gales e Irlanda del Norte-, Escocia fue una monarquía independiente.
Su autonomía fiscal, un asunto fundamental del debate, también es limitada, casi sin poder para variar la tasa tributaria que le impone el Reino Unido a sus ciudadanos.
Cuando la consulta comenzó a organizarse en 2012, la percepción era que el “no” ganaría la votación cómodamente. 
Ahora, las encuestas auguran una cerrada jornada electoral que, de una u otra forma, debe cambiar para siempre la configuración del gobierno británico, que en un acto de desesperación tiene a los tres partidos políticos principales prometiendo, finalmente, “máxima autonomía”.
“El gobierno británico pensaba que iba a poder frenar el debate por una generación o más. Pero, también reconoció que este era un proceso inevitable”, dijo el profesor  Jaime Lluch, catedrático de Ciencias Políticas en la Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR) y autor del libro “Visions of Sovereignity: Nationalism and Accommodation in Multinational Democracies”.
El camino trazado
Cuando en 2012 se adoptó el acuerdo a favor del referéndum, el Partido Nacionalista acababa de obtener mayoría absoluta en el Parlamento de Escocia.
A diferencia del caso colonial de Puerto Rico, Escocia ha tenido representación plena en el Parlamento británico. Actualmente, ocupa 59 de los 650 escaños, una representación proporcionalmente más alta que las demás regiones.
El Parlamento británico retuvo la mayoría de los poderes, pero Escocia, explicó Lluch, “tiene funciones exclusivas como educación, salud, vivienda, desarrollo económico, transportación, y asuntos de derecho, tanto civil como criminal”.
Londres mantiene   el control de las relaciones exteriores, seguridad, defensa e inmigración, además de que limita el poder fiscal de Escocia.
En Escocia, el factor que da mayor impulso a su movimiento independentista no es necesariamente su identidad cultural.  “Lo económico ha sido lo más importante”, dijo Lluch, académico del  programa de Democracia, Ciudadanía y Constitucionalismo de la Universidad de Pensilvania.
Relación entre iguales.
Al convocar el proceso, el ministro principal escocés y líder del Partido Nacionalista,  Alex Salmond, afirmó que “Inglaterra, Gales e Irlanda del Norte serán siempre nuestros familiares, amigos y vecinos cercanos, pero con Escocia como país independiente, nuestra relación será entre iguales”.
En Puerto Rico, los datos del Censo federal indican que solo una cuarta parte de la población de la Isla tiene pleno dominio del inglés. En Escocia, solo el 25% se declara plenamente escocés y la lengua mayoritaria es el inglés. Pero, hace cuatro décadas el 39% se consideraba británico y ese porcentaje se ha reducido a 23%.
“El nacionalismo en Escocia no es el  de un país colonial ni de un país explotado por la metrópoli”, consideró el profesor  Juan Manuel Carrión, experto en asuntos de nacionalismo y catedrático de la Facultad de Ciencias Sociales de la UPR.
A pesar del interés que han mostrado en mantener la ciudadanía estadounidense, en Puerto Rico su  apego al español y la identificación  étnica marcan diferencias de identidad fundamentales con Estados Unidos, agregó  el profesor Carrión.
Con una población de 5.3 millones de personas, en Escocia viven 500,000 personas nacidas en Inglaterra que  pueden decidir el referéndum. Unos 800,000 escoceses, que no podrán votar el jueves, viven en Inglaterra. 
Estructura política
Para Lluch, los contrastes entre los casos de Escocia, Puerto Rico y Cataluña, parten de la estructura política y constitucional de cada metrópoli.
Por ejemplo, el Reino Unido fue concebido como un estado nación, no como una nación estado. Nunca han objetado la diversidad nacional.
En Estados Unidos uno de sus lemas es “de muchos, uno”.  “EE.UU. es una federación, que es la quintaesencia de una nación estado, contrario a Canadá y Bélgica, que son federaciones multinacionales”, agregó Lluch.
Hay áreas grises  dentro del proyecto  independentista escocés, pues quieren mantener el reconocimiento -simbólico- de la reina de Inglaterra como la jefa de Estado de una Escocia independiente y el uso de la moneda oficial británica, la libra esterlina.   
“Lamont perdió el primer debate por el tema de la moneda. Sería depender de otro país con respecto a su política monetaria”, afirmó el profesor Lluch, aunque advirtió que una victoria del Sí daría, entonces, paso a un proceso de transición.
La encuesta de hace una semana que abrió la posibilidad a una  victoria independentista levantó temores de inversionistas y el Royal Bank of Scotland dijo que mudará sus cuarteles generales a Londres si triunfa el Sí.
Con la idea de frenar el avance del independentismo,  los tres partidos principales  británicos prometieron a Escocia el 100% de autonomía si votan “No” el jueves. El sondeo del viernes de la encuestadora You-Gov  otorga ahora al No una ventaja de 4%.
La historia de las relaciones coloniales entre Puerto Rico y Estados Unidos apunta a un desinterés marcado del Congreso por resolver el status territorial de la isla.
Mientras en Escocia el referéndum es vinculante y ofrece un cambio de status, el Congreso nunca se ha comprometido a acatar los resultados de  un plebiscito que le ofrezca a Puerto Rico la estadidad o la independencia.
El efecto
Escocia difícilmente cambie el ánimo en Washington.
“No se  va a crear un efecto dominó por otras regiones inmediatamente”, advirtió Alejandro Sánchez, experto  del Concilio de Asuntos Hemisféricos (COHA).
Pero, puede tener repercusiones importantes en España, donde el gobierno español no ha querido reconocer la consulta independentista de Cataluña del 9 de noviembre.
El excongresista demócrata boricua  Robert García, piensa que el caso de Escocia se examinará en Washington a través de los ojos de los empresarios. “Las corporaciones estadounidenses que hacen negocios en Escocia y Gran Bretaña informarán a sus miembros sobre cómo esto les afecta”, dijo García.
Para el presidente ejecutivo del Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP),  Fernando Martín, aunque Washington prefiera mirar para otro lado, el mensaje de Escocia es que “todos los ríos nacionales conducen al mar”. “Cuando un pueblo se concibe a sí mismo como una nación distinta -subrayó  el exsenador Martín-, la expresión política de esa identidad tarde o temprano va a ser la independencia”.

Quoted in: Obama y el Riesgo de Parerce a Bush

 "Obama y El Riesgo de Parerce a Bush"
By: Miguel Vivanco
El Comercio (Peru)
September 12, 2014
P. A18 & A19

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mentioned in: All God’s Children Got Drones

"All God's Children Got Drones"
By: Charles Pierson
Weekend Edition - September 5 -7, 2014
Originally published:

First we got the bomb, and that was good,
‘Cause we love peace and motherhood.
Then Russia got the bomb, but that’s okay,
‘Cause the balance of power’s maintained that way.
Who’s next?
–Tom Lehrer, “Who’s Next?”
The Islamic State now has drones.  This is the conclusion of an August 25, 2014 article by Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider:  ”Now ISIS has drones?”
Bergen is a national security analyst for CNN and a director at the New America Foundation think tank in Washington DC.  Emily Schneider is a research associate at the Foundation.  The New America Foundation and the Britain-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism are two of the most frequently cited sources of statistics on number of drone attacks and numbers of people killed by drones.
On August 23, a video was uploaded to YouTube.  The video purports to have been made by the Islamic State and includes scenes of the Islamic State at prayer and at war.  “But,” Bergen and Schneider write, “this video has something else in it that previous videos released by ISIS have not:  Surveillance footage apparently shot by a drone” giving an aerial view of a Syrian Army base in Northern Syria.  A video caption declares:  “From the drone of the army of the Islamic State.”
Welcome to the drone club, Islamic State!  This exclusive club has long restricted membership to states—around 80, according to Bergen and Schneider.  (But why should the count end there?)
Non-state actors have begun to elbow their way into the club.  Bergen and Schneider write that Hezbollah and Hamas have used drones in or near Israel.  Hamas claims to possess armed drones, although what Hamas has displayed in videos may be less a drone than a small flying missile which can only be controlled while within the operator’s line of sight.  Anti-Gadhafi rebels used drones in Libya in 2011.
These are all surveillance drones.  The United States, Britain, and Israel are the only three countries which have deployed armed drones in combat.  China and Russia also possess armed drones but have yet to use them in combat.
The Islamic State’s drone or drones will probably not be a game changer in Iraq and Syria.  But this development is worth considering for what it says about drone proliferation.
A major consequence of drone proliferation is that war will become a little more symmetrical.  The US uses or has used killer drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, and Somalia.  Britain has used armed drones in Afghanistan.  Israel has used armed drones in Gaza.  What all these targets have in common is that they’re weak.  Drone warfare is not about striking an equally matched adversary (hence, the euphemism:  “asymmetrical warfare”).  Drone warfare is Bambi versus Godzilla.  When Hellfire missiles fired from US drones hit Pashtun villages in Pakistan’s tribal areas it’s obvious who’s Godzilla and who’s been cast in the part of Bambi.
So the anti-drone movement misses the point when we ask:  how would America like it if Russia or China sent drones to kill “terrorists” hiding out in the United States?  They won’t, any more than the United States will launch drone strikes on Russia and China.  When Russia and China begin to use killer drones it will be against groups like the Chechens and Uighurs, just as the US will continue to target Yemenis and Pakistani tribesmen.
Terrorists, however, won’t hesitate to use drones against the United States.  Al-Qaeda’s October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen’s port of Aden which killed 17 American sailors could have been accomplished just as easily with a drone.
Bergen and Schneider offer a solution for drone proliferation.  It’s—don’t laugh—a “Geneva Convention” for drones.  The Convention would have two aims:  (1) tamping down on drone proliferation; and (2) establishing standards for when “armed drones could be sanctioned outside of conventional war zones to kill terrorists.”  I thought of lines from Edna St. Vincent Millay:  “Longing to wed with peace, what did we do?/Sketched her a fortress on a paper pad.”
Back in February 2013, when the US Senate confirmed President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan for CIA Director, I established a museum for gimmicky legal schemes to limit drone violence.  Brennan had been President Obama’s top adviser on counterterrorism.  Each “Terror Tuesday” (the White House designation, not mine), the two men would go into a huddle to choose the latest drone targets.  The museum’s first exhibit was donated by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).  During Brennan’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Wyden had suggested establishing a “Drone Court” to approve the White House’s selection of drone targets.
Like every other item in my museum, Senator Wyden’s proposal was a beautiful, though fragile object, easily broken if examined too hard.  The flaw in the diamond was this:  the Drone Court was to be modeled after the FISA Court created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  The FISA Court’s mandate was to approve or deny Executive wiretap requests in national security matters.  President George W. Bush circumvented the FISA Court during the first five years of his administration.  The public revelation in late 2005 that the government was conducting warrantless spying on Americans forced the Bush Administration back to the Court.  It hardly mattered.  The FISA Court has acted as a rubber stamp for both Bush and Obama wiretap requests ever since.  There is no reason to expect any better of a “Drone Court.”
A Geneva Convention for drones is a worthy addition to my museum.  It has nothing to offer the anti-drone movement.  Regarding the first aim of Bergen and Schneider’s proposed Convention—setting rules for drone use—the anti-drone movement has no interest in getting drones to play nice.  Our goal is to ground the drones.
The Convention’s other goal is nonproliferation.  The danger here is that a “Geneva Convention” for drones may turn drone proliferation into a distraction.  Yes, drone proliferation is real.  We’ve already remarked that some 80 countries now have drones.  And according toMedea Benjamin of CODE PINK, 10 to 15 countries are working to produce drones that can kill.  Naturally, we should be concerned about this.  But shouldn’t our first concern be states which already possess killer drones?  Medea Benjamin writes that there have been 350 lethal drone strikes on Pakistan since 2004 which have killed from 2,500 to 3,500 people.  Those strikes weren’t launched by Burundi.
While US drones fill the most coffins, Israel fills the most orders for drones.  Owing to export restrictions, US drone manufacturers such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, et al. sell most of their weaponized drones to the Pentagon.  Israel, led by manufacturers Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries, is drone maker to the world.  (According to a 2014 report from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, the Latin American drone market is “dominated” by Israeli companies.)  So first let’s do something about US and Israeli companies.  Then we can worry about Bhutan’s drones.
Charles Pierson is a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition.  E-mail him at