Monday, February 22, 2016

Blouin Beat: World - Will ‘Narcos’ stick to reality, mystery safe and all?

"Will 'Narcos' stick to reality, mystery safe and all?"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Blouin Beat: World
February 1, 2016
Originally published:

In addition to periodic coverage of geopolitics in Latin America, W. Alejandro Sanchez has previously reported on substance abuse in Netflix’s ‘Jessica Jones’ and whether cyber warfare is accurately depicted in the USA network’s ‘Mr. Robot.’ 
 metal safe has been discovered by workers demolishing a Miami mansion overlooking Biscayne Bay, which was owned by the late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Given the existing mythology around the notorious criminal, we can expect significant speculation about the safe’s contents until it is opened.

Escobar’s life has been well documented. For example, Mark Bowden’s book Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw, is a must-read for anyone interested in the late criminal. Additionally, Juan Pablo Escobar, the narco lord’s son, has published a biography entitled Pablo Escobar: Mi Padre (My Father), in which he labels his father as a “drug trafficker, terrorist and assassin.” Additionally, there are television and movie productions about Escobar. For example, a Colombian series was produced about his life, entitled ‘Pablo Escobar: El Patron del Mal’ (‘The Lord of Evil’), while Guillermo del Toro portrayed him in the 2015 film ‘Paradise Lost.’
Recently, Escobar became a household name in the U.S. due to ‘Narcos,’ a Netflix series that describes his life, his drug empire and the operations carried out by Colombian and U.S. security agencies to hunt him down. The series has generally remained true to history, though there are some exaggerations or adaptations of what really happened. Case in point: in one episode, Escobar and his bodyguards kill Ivan Marino Ospina (AKA “Ivan The Terrible”) a leader of the M-19 revolutionary movement. In reality, Ospina was killed by Colombian security forces.
Season 1 of ‘Narcos’ ended with Escobar fleeing the golden prison, known as “La Catedral,” that he had constructed for himself. The show’s popularity prompted it to be renewed for a second season, which will revolve around the Colombian and U.S. governments tracking Escobar down until his death on December 2, 1993. If ‘Narcos’ hews to history, Escobar will be shot on a rooftop in Medellin by members of a Colombian police unit known as Search Bloc, which was tasked with finding him. Then again, ‘Narcos’ may try to be vague about who killed Escobar, as there are theories that his murder was carried out by narco-paramilitaries (see the book This Is How We Killed The Boss), or maybe even U.S. Delta snipers (Bowden hints at this in Killing Pablo), while his son Juan Pablo argues that the drug lord killed himself to avoid being captured (and in all likelihood extradited to the U.S.).
It would be amusing if ‘Narcos’ decides to address the recently found safe. After fleeing La Catedral, Escobar remained in hiding and did not travel to Miami, but there could be a flashback scene of Escobar or one of his henchmen closing the safe one last time. The Miami Heraldexplains that Escobar bought the mansion in March 1980 for $762,500, and it was seized by the U.S. government in 1987 as Washington stepped up its fight against him.
At the time of this writing, the new owners of Escobar’s home have yet to open the 600 pound metal safe – inside there could be money, weapons, drugs or even documents that incriminate Miami businesses and individuals that were part of Escobar’s narco-empire. According to theBBC, “workers had already found one safe in the house shortly after demolition work began, but it disappeared before anyone could examine it,” which only adds to the mystery.
As ‘Narcos’ mentions at the beginning of the series, Colombia is the birthplace of the literary movement known as “realismo mágico,” magic realism, where magic and reality co-exist in harmony. When it comes to Pablo Escobar’s criminal life, there is certainly much “mágico” in his reality.

Blouin News: Drones on film: ‘Eye in the Sky’

"Drones on Film: 'Eye in the Sky'"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Blouin News - Technology
February 22, 2016
Originally published:

In addition to periodic coverage of geopolitics in Latin America, W. Alejandro Sanchez has previously reported on substance abuse in Netflix’s ‘Jessica Jones’ and whether cyber warfare is accurately depicted in the USA network's ‘Mr. Robot.’ 
A new film about the (lethal) usage of unmannered aerial vehicles (UAVs) will hit the big screen soon. On March 11, ‘Eye in the Sky’ will have a limited release in the U.S. The film premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and has been praised for its portrayal of modern warfare. Indeed, drones are becoming a cornerstone of security and defense agencies worldwide and it’s interesting to see how ‘Eye in the Sky’ portrays this technology.
 The film’s plot is as follows: a combined U.S-UK intelligence operation is being carried out in Nairobi, Kenya. A drone has located a British female citizen who converted to Islam and joinedAl-Shabaab, a real-world terrorist organization. The operation quickly goes from surveillance to target-killing when a bird-sized drone shows that alongside the wanted woman is another terrorist preparing a suicide vest. This twist prompts a debate between British and American policymakers, military leaders, mission commanders and even the drone operators. Notably: Is an attack by an armed drone on the terrorist house necessary and legal? Moreover, does the death of two high-profile terrorists justify the likely collateral damage (in this case, the death of at least one civilian girl who is near the target)?
If the movie is as engaging as the trailer, ‘Eye in the Sky’ could become a military classic, akin to ‘Rules of Engagement’ or ‘Dr Strangelove’ (a Variety film review states that it recalls the Stanley Kubrick film). And for analysts like myself who follow drone technology, this movie appears to address all the key points about the controversial usage of these weapons.
One issue that the trailer correctly portrays is the rapid real-world development of drone technology. ‘Eye in the Sky’ introduces miniature drones complete with high-quality camera feeds.  In the movie, we see bird and insect mini-drones that fly into the terrorists’ house to identify the occupants. In reality, such mini-drones already exist. In 2015, for example, U.S. military scientists created a miniature drone called the Cicada. According to, with “no motor and only about 10 parts” the Cicada “resembles a paper airplane with a circuit board.” It was manufactured to glide to pre-programmed GPS coordinates after being dropped from an aircraft or even a bigger drone.
The potential of mini-drones is seemingly endless, as recently noted by the Israeli defense news company i-HLS: “coupled with a distributed explosive-carrying capacity, [a group of them] could make for a cheap, hard to detect yet easy to deliver killing swarm.”
As for the plot of the film itself, the issue of collateral damage is a clear echo of real life as thousands of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and in the Horn of Africa have died as result of attacks by armed drones, which were targeting insurgents in the near surroundings. And from the trailer, it appears that the characters’ arguments are similar to those that really take place in Washington and London.
Of particular interest will be how the movie displays the emotions of the drone operators. The trailer shows a drone operator boldly declaring “I will fire [this missile] when this [innocent civilian] girl is out of the way.” The effects of drone warfare on operators are only now beginning to be properly studied and understood. For example, Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars has a comprehensive chapter entitled “The Intimacy of Remote Killing,” which includes various testimonies of drone operators and how remote killing affects them. Author Chris Woods concludes, “the [U.S.] Air Force rushed to expand its armed drone fleet following huge battlefield demand. Yet there was little understanding at first of the strains this would place on thousands of personnel fighting from the home front” (p. 173). Given this lack of detailed understanding, let’s hope that, at the least, films like ‘Eye in the Sky’ that deal with UAVs will properly address the psychological stresses of this job. Not to mention accurately display the real-life complexities of drone warfare, which, in a post-War on Terror world, will only continue to grow.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Entrevista: Argentina y Rusia se distanciarán durante el Gobierno de Macri, afirma especialista

"Argentina y Rusia se distanciarán durante el Gobierno de Macri, afirma especialista"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Sputnik Mundo America Latina
Febrero 15, 2016
Originally published:

Argentina priorizará las relaciones con Estados Unidos y la Unión Europea, por lo que no será un aliado de Moscú, como sí lo fue durante la presidencia de Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, dijo a Sputnik Nóvosti el analista Alejandro W. Sánchez, quien aseguró que el comercio entre ambos países no se verá afectado.

"Rusia ha perdido Argentina, que será un socio externo, un país amigo, pero no aliado como durante la presidencia de Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015)", señaló Sánchez, analista en seguridad internacional y especialista en Paz Internacional y Resolución de Conflictos por la American University.

No obstante, el comercio exterior entre ambos países no se verá afectado porque Argentina seguirá interesado en vender sus productos a Moscú, "aunque las relaciones diplomáticas y las alianzas van a cambiar drásticamente", indicó.

Según la Cámara de Comercio e Industria Argentino Rusa, el intercambio comercial entre ambos países durante 2014 alcanzó los 2.122 millones de dólares.

Para mejorar la economía de Argentina, el presidente Mauricio Macri "se acercará a potencias mundiales económicas como EEUU y Europa Occidental", que apoyan un comercio más liberal.

"Con la economía estancada, Argentina no cancelará ningún tratado comercial con Rusia, pero sí puede diversificar los mercados para conseguir más inversiones, y desde luego, buscará relaciones preferenciales", explicó el especialista.

Según anunció el Gobierno argentino, el presidente Macri se encontrará con su homólogo estadounidense Barack Obama durante la Cumbre sobre Seguridad Nuclear que se celebrará en Washington entre el 31 de marzo y el 1 de abril.

"Éste será el primer paso para mejorar las relaciones entre Argentina y Estados Unidos", observó Sánchez, autor de un estudio sobre las relaciones entre Buenos Aires y Moscú para el Centro Argentino de Estudios Internacionales (CAEI).

Macri ya ha manifestado su interés en modernizar el Mercosur y acercarse a los países de la Alianza del Pacífico, "que tienen una economía más abierta al libre comercio", destacó.

En este contexto, la conversación telefónica que Macri mantuvo en diciembre con el presidente ruso Vladímir Putin, debe entenderse como una llamada protocolar, "no amigable como hubiera sido entre Putin y Cristina Fernández".

Uno de los proyectos que prevalecerá en Argentina será la construcción de la represa hidroeléctrica Chihuido, en la provincia de Neuquén (sudoeste).

En abril de 2015, Fernández de Kirchner firmó con Putin un acuerdo de asociación estratégica por el que se acordó la concreción de esta obra, pero el nuevo Gobierno argentino no ha confirmado todavía la participación de Moscú.

Tal y como anunció a Sputik Nóvosti el jefe de la Representación Comercial de la Federación Rusa en Argentina, Serguéi Derkach, el Gobierno de Putin está interesado en resolver un acuerdo para financiar el proyecto.
"La geopolítica interesa a cualquier presidente, y Argentina necesita la represa para tener más energía", acordó Sánchez.

La construcción de Chihuido seguirá adelante, aunque Rusia puede que no sea el primer candidato para financiar la represa, consideró el especialista.

Países como China o Estados Unidos podrían entrar en competencia para hacerse cargo del proyecto.
"Macri ya no tiene esa alianza ideológica como la tuvo Cristina Fernández con Moscú", destacó.
Otro de los proyectos pendientes entre ambos países es la edificación de un nuevo reactor en la central nuclear de Atucha, ubicada en la provincia de Buenos Aires.

Según Sánchez, este asunto es más complejo para Argentina, por tratarse de una iniciativa más larga e inestable, que requiere una gran inversión.

"Macri debería confirmar primero si quiere construir ese reactor para luego analizar si Rusia se encargaría del proyecto", explicó.

El mandatario argentino acaba de cumplir dos meses en el Gobierno, por lo que habrá que esperar a la Cumbre sobre Seguridad Nuclear en Estados Unidos para que anuncie sus intenciones en torno a la política atómica que desarrollará el país, dijo Sánchez.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

CIMSEC: How Peaceful is the South Atlantic?

"How Peaceful is the South Atlantic?"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Center for International Maritime Security
February 17, 2016
Originally published:

Admiral Eduardo Bacellar Leal Ferreira, commander of the Brazilian Navy, gave an interview to the Uruguayan daily El Paísthis past December 2015. The Admiral optimistically declared that “today there is no ocean more peaceful than the South Atlantic, there are no tensions that cannot be solved. We have problems in the Malvinas [Falklands] or in the Gulf of Guinea, but there are no wars. This is the only ocean where the major powers do not have warships.” This statement is an ideal starting point for an in-depth discussion of South Atlantic geopolitics.
A Conflict-Less Ocean?
Due to space issues, we cannot discuss in detail every South Atlantic maritime conflict. Nevertheless, the Brazilian Admiral is incorrect to declare that the only regional disputes are the Falklands/Malvinas and the Gulf of Guinea. A total list includes:
  • The Falklands/Malvinas: Argentina claims these islands, currently controlled by the United Kingdom (the two countries had a brief war in 1982). In 2013, the inhabitants of theFalklands held a referendum in which they voted to remain part of the UK – Argentina does not recognize the ballot.
  • Ghana and Ivory Coast: The two countries have a dispute over offshore oil drilling along their border. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) gave an interim ruling in 2015 but a final decision is not expected until 2017.
  • Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo: In 2014, the Angolan government attempted to redraw the maritime border with the DRC in order to gain control of some 200 additional miles. The two countries have contested their border since the 1970s.
  • Equatorial Guinea and Gabon: The two countries claim theMbanie, Cocotiers and Congas islands since the early 1970s. It is believed that there are underwater oil reserves around those islands.
Preventing War
In spite of the aforementioned maritime disputes, Admiral Ferreira is generally correct when he praises the peacefulness of the South Atlantic. After all, the last confrontation in the region was the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War.
Even more, war has been successfully prevented in other disputes: in 1978 Papal mediation helped avoid a war between Argentina and Chile in the Beagle Channel, where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans meet. Moreover, the dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the Bakassi Peninsula was solved via international ruling – in 2006 the two governments signed the “UN-backed Greentree Agreement[which set] the terms and timeframe for the implementation of the 2002 ruling of the [International Court of Justice], which transferred the Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon.” The list of successfully mediated disputes could grow if ITLOS manages to resolve the Ghana-Ivory Coast issue or if the UN’s current mediation efforts between Equatorial Guinea and Gabon are fruitful. In other words there are plenty of examples that highlight the peacefulness of the South Atlantic.
Certainly, there is always the possibility of an unforeseen “X factor” that could jump-start a war. The battle over precious resources like oil is a likely reason as most of these conflicts have to do with control of maritime areas where large deposits of oil are believed to be located. In the case of Argentina, there is a high degree of patriotism over the Falklands/Malvinas themselves, but the recent discovery of new oil deposits by Rockhopper is another reason for Buenos Aires to desire control over them. This scenario is also plausible on the African side of the Atlantic. An October 2015 report by the Institute for Security Studies entitled “Why Africa must resolve its Maritime Boundary Disputes,” argues that “the location of oil fields and natural resources deposits can result in considerable complications when states unilaterally determine and apportion exploration blocks that infringe upon areas of disputed ownership by a neighboring state.”
Should other sources of state-revenue dry up, governments may become more willing to engage in a war, or at least aggressively push for negotiations, over any of the aforementioned maritime disputes.
New Navies But For What?
In a 2011 essay for Small Wars & Insurgencies, I argued that South America was involved in an arms race. The situation has changed in 2016, particularly among the South Atlantic states. For example, the Brazilian Navy continues with its ambitious programs, in spite of its economic woes, which include the construction of a nuclear-powered submarine, four Scorpene subs, and repairing its Sao Paulo carrier. Furthermore, in late 2015 Brazil purchased the multipurpose vessel TCD Siroco from France – it has been renamed the G-40 Bahia. Nevertheless, these purchases have not made Brazil’s neighbors perceive it as a security threat, as Uruguay’s Navy has not carried out major purchases in years while Argentina has only repaired the submarine ARA San Juan and purchased four Russian vessels that will be utilized for search and rescue operations and Antarctic research. Neither Montevideo nor Buenos Aires appear to expect an invasion from the Portuguese-speaking giant.

As for the African South Atlantic states, Equatorial Guinea commissioned a frigate, the Wle Nzas, in June 2014. “This warship is the flagship of the Equatorial Guinea Navy and it will [help] to ensure security in the Gulf of Guinea,” said President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Meanwhile Gabon has ordered two offshore patrol vessels from KERSHIP, a joint-initiatives of PIRIOU and DCNS (though a January report by DefenceWeb argues that the contract may have been deferred). As for Nigeria, it constructed the NNS Andoni in 2012; “with a speed of up to 25 knots (46km/h), this can quickly go to intercept the pirates,” said Commanding Officer Adepegba. The country also acquired a patrol vessel from China in 2014. Finally, the Angolan government announced in late 2015 that it will purchase “two fast-attack naval craft and several coastal radar and repeater station systems worth €122 million from two subsidiaries of Italy’s Finmeccanica.”
As has been discussed in various analyses, due to the general inter-state tranquility of the South Atlantic, regional navies are looking for a new raison d’etre. Protecting natural resources and non-traditional security threats are the standard reasons. Without a doubt, Africa’s West coast continues to have a major problem with piracy, including the hijacking of transport ships, so it is in the interest of regional governments to have strong navies to monitor their waters. As for protecting natural resources within a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, this includes both oil exploration as well as combating crimes like illegal fishing. Nevertheless, while African states have valid reasons to upgrade their naval forces, Brazil has a more difficult case regarding its projects. Without addressing the nuclear submarine or carrier by name, in his interview with El País, Admiral Ferreira argues that Brazil must maintain a deterrent force to protect its natural resources, “we have [offshore] oil fields, and if there is an energy crisis it is necessary to deter anyone from coming to Brazil to take our resources.” While there is an obvious logic to the Brazilian Admiral’s statement, it is unclear exactly who is this enemy that requires a nuclear-powered submarine to defeat.
Global Powers
Finally, Admiral Ferreira argued that no world power has vessels in the South Atlantic. That is generally true, particularly since 1986, when the United Nations created the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, which declares that the South Atlantic is a nuclear weapons-free zone.
Nevertheless, warships from the global powers routinely cross the South Atlantic; just this past April 2015, the USS Spearhead arrived in Gabon and carried out exercises with the local navy as part of theAfrica Partnership Station. “During our visit, we’ll conduct marine-to-marine training along with medical subject matter expert exchanges, thus helping build a stronger Global Network of Navies,” said Commander Matthew Flemming. In May of the same year, the French offshore patrol vessel L’Adroit docked in Cape Town. As for the other side of the Atlantic, the USS America visited Brazil in 2014 while the aforementioned French OPV L’Adroit docked in Uruguay in mid-February 2016. Furthermore, apart from the Falklands, London also controls South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands. Moreover, the British-controlled Ascension Island was a strategically important stopover for British warships and transport vessels during the Falklands War.

Hence, Admiral Ferreira’s declaration is a slight overstatement. While there are no British battle groups patrolling the Falklands nor does the U.S. Navy have a fleet stationed in Ascension Island (though the U.S. Air Force does utilize an auxiliary field there), global powers do have a constant presence in the South Atlantic’s waters.
A South Atlantic NATO?
Even though Admiral Ferreira did not discuss South Atlantic integration, it is important to mention that that the two sides of the Atlantic have increased defense ties in recent years. For example the ATLASUR naval exercises bring South American and African navies together, while Brazil and South Africa (along with India) have carried out the IBSAMAR exercises.
Nevertheless, calls for greater South-South cooperation have not ended in some grand new maritime defense initiative. The aforementioned exercises are important, but neither Brazil nor South Africa, the two powerhouses of the South Atlantic, have taken major steps to bring together all these navies towards some common objective (i.e. forming a trans-oceanic task-force to combat maritime crimes). The region already came together in 1986 with the SAPCZ and there is already a modern precedent for various countries attempting to deal with maritime affairs – namely, the African Union’s “2050 Africa’s Integration Maritime Strategy,” which will address (and ideally solve) the continent’s maritime issues, such as border disputes. We have yet to see the South Atlantic capitalize on its general peacefulness to address non-traditional defense problems.
Final Thoughts
Brazilian Admiral Ferreira is generally correct by praising the peacefulness of the South Atlantic. Of course, an unforeseen incident could occur or a series of decisions within a government that prompts it to decide to start a war with a neighboring state. The possibility of petro-money is an enticing reason to engage in violence, particularly as this non-renewable commodity becomes scarcer in the near future or, as the aforementioned ISS report explains, “maritime boundary disputes, many long dormant, are increasingly exacerbated by a growing interest in exploring and exploiting natural resources.” Nevertheless, the region can praise itself for having avoided inter-state war in spite of several border disputes.
Currently, the South Atlantic’s maritime security issues revolve around cracking down on piracy, drug trafficking and protecting natural resources (like oil deposits and the maritime ecosystem). Robust navies, including coast guards, are an obvious requirement, but there is a thin line that separates obtaining equipment that is needed (like Argentina purchasing search-and-rescue vessels or Angola buying crafts) to other whose usage is questionable (i.e.,  Brazil’s acquisition of a nuclear submarine).

Monday, February 15, 2016

Remote Control: From Surveillance to Smuggling - Drones in the War on Drugs

"From Surveillance to Smuggling - Drones in the War on Drugs"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Remote Control Warfare Series
February 15, 2016
Originally published:

This article is part of the Remote Control Warfare series, a collaboration with, a project of the Sustainable Security programme of Oxford Research Group. The views and opinions discussed in this series do not necessarily reflect the views of Oxford Research Group or the Remote Control project.

In Latin America drones are being used as part of the War on Drugs as both regional governments and the US are using surveillance drones to monitor drug trafficking and find smuggling routes. However, as drones are increasingly being used by drug cartels themselves to transport drugs between countries, could Latin America find itself at the forefront of emerging drone countermeasures?
In many Latin American countries, militaries operate as internal security forces because they combat drug traffickers and insurgencies. As a result, regional security agencies are constantly looking for new technologies to support security operations. Indeed, Peruvian Admiral José Cueto Aservi described purchasing drones in 2013 as necessary due to the “asymmetric war” being launched by narco-movement Shining Path that “takes advantage of the complex geography to attack” and thus “all methods” – including “technology” – are needed to defeat them.
Today, drones are regarded as potential “game changers” by regional security forces, believed to be invaluable “eyes in the sky” that will aid surveillance operations. Hence, it is no surprise that several Latin American countries have acquired them, whilst many others are producing them. At the same time, US drones are carrying out their own operations in Latin America as part of the global War on Drugs and drug cartels themselves have started using drones to smuggle drugs across international borders. As the use of drones looks set to increase, what is the likelihood of armed drones being used in this theatre and what implications could the non-state use of drones have on the region?

Drones in Latin America

There are currently at least 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries which have used or purchased drones. No Latin American state possesses large numbers of drones in the manner of the US military, rather, regional governments mostly operate just two or three drones of any type. Israel is the largest provider of drone technology to Latin America, having sold some $500 million worth to the region between 2005 and 2012.  Latin American states have also started developing their own drones with Colombia being the first South American nation to have home-built a drone, the Iris, in 2015.
Unarmed drones carry out Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) roles for a range of different operations in Latin America. Due to the region’s complex topography (a case in point is the Amazon, where drug traffickers from Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru operate) drones require special features like infrared cameras and have been useful for monitoring vast uninhabited spaces in the region. In Brazil, for example, drones have been used for agricultural reasons, including monitoring the Amazon rainforest. In Belize and Costa Rica too, drones have been used for conservation purposes. In Peru, a municipality police force in Lima,deployed three drones to patrol the Peruvian capital during the last Christmas season to help security officers locate emergency areas if necessary and in Mexico, drones have been used to patrol and secure sensitive areas like the facilities of the state oil company PEMEX.

Drones and the War on Drugs

Drones have also been used as part of the War on Drugs in Latin America. In Mexico, National Defense Secretariat, the Federal Police, the Procuradoría General de la República (the Attorney General’s office), as well as the Army and Air Force fly drones to gather intelligence to combat organized crime, mainly drug trafficking. In Brazil, Colombia, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago too, drones are used to monitor drug trafficking and find drug smuggling routes.
Drones are also being used by non-state actors, in the form of drug cartels, to smuggle drugs between countries. In January 2015, a drone crashed in a supermarket parking lot in Tijuana, Mexico –carrying three kilograms of crystal meth and in August 2015, two Mexican citizens were convicted of utilizing a UAV to fly 13 kilograms of heroin from Baja California, Mexico, into California.This led US authorities to deem drones an “emerging trend” employed by transnational criminal organizations to smuggle narcotics into the US.
In its long running War on Drugs, the US has also been using its own drones in Latin America. A New York Times article reported that, in 2011, in an effort to step up its involvement in Mexico’s drug war, the Obama administration begun sending its drones deep into Mexican territory to gather intelligence to help locate major traffickers. Furthermore, an official US briefing from 2011 – obtained via the Freedom of Information Act – revealed that the US Air Force is working to make its RQ-4 Global Hawk high altitude long endurance drones available to its allies in Latin America and the Caribbean in order to help “find drugs fields and helping plan offensives against rebel groups”.
US Customs and Border Protection operates 10 MQ-1 Predator drones, including two based in Cape Canaveral, Florida, that patrol a wide swatches of the Caribbean through the Bahamas and down to south of Puerto Rico as part of the drugs fight, and, in 2013, it was reported that the US Navy was testing a new type of drone that can be hand-launched from a ship’s deck to help detect, track and videotape drug smugglers in action across the Caribbean Sea.
US drones have also been used for other purposes in the region. US Customs and Border Protection have been flying surveillance drones for nearly a decade, launching them from bases in Texas, Florida, North Dakota and Arizona to detect illegal border-crossing. This activity has been called into question recently as a 2015 report from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found drones to be ineffective in conducting surveillance along the border.

Towards drone countermeasures?

As for the future, we can expect drones to continue to be utilized in Latin America, as there has been an increase in the purchasing and development of drones across the region in the last few years. US companies Boeing and Aerovironment, for example, have both declared their intention to increase drone sales to Latin America, with countries like Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru interested in purchasing from them and the Swedish firm Unmanned System Groups (USG), showcased its F-330 drone to the Uruguayan armed forces in late 2014.
More countries in the region are also looking to develop their own drones. Following the building of Colombia’s first drone in 2015, a COHA report found that Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil are all in the process of developing their own drones. There have also been talks of developing a South American drone, which would be manufactured by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR, which has as members all twelve South American states).
With regards to armed drones in the region, a number of states have indicated their desire for them. Peru and Colombia in particular could seek to acquirearmed drones as internal security conditions worsen. However, this is unlikely to happen any time soon as countries that possess armed drones, such as the US and Israel, are unlikely to sell them to Latin America in the near future. Hence Latin American militaries would have to look to other potential suppliers, like China or Russia, or construct them themselves. Here, financial barriers, along with limited technological know-how capabilities, even amongst countries that already produce drones, would make this unlikely.
Even if armed drones are unlikely to be used in the region any time soon, there is a potential for Latin America to become a testing ground for drone technology in other ways.  As drones are being increasingly utilized by drug traffickers in the region to transport drugs between countries in ever more sophisticated ways, it is likely that this will lead to regional efforts to develop increasingly advanced drone-detection and interdiction technologies to defend against this threat. At present a number of companies internationally are developing this technology, used to detect, block and destroy drones. This includes the development of early warning systems that can identify and detect drones and signal jamming technology to block drone control frequencies. As well as this, technology is also being advanced to destroy detected drones. This includes both laser and kinetic defence systems, the later using missiles, rockets and bullets capable of shooting drones down. Companies are also looking into non-lethal projectile weapons that fire blunt force rounds, such as bean bags or rubber bullets, or small portable net guns that can ensnare drones. As Latin America finds itself battling against the hostile use of drones by drug cartels it could find itself at the forefront of these emerging drone countermeasures.