Friday, December 15, 2017

IPD: Brazil to Join UN Mission in Central African Republic, MINUSCA

"Brazil to join UN Mission in Central African Republic, MINUSCA"
W. Alejandro Sanchez and Scott Morgan
14 December 2017
International Policy Digest
Originally published: https://intpolicydigest.org/2017/12/14/brazil-to-join-un-mission-in-central-african-republic-minusca/

Brazil will join the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), theUN announced. This is an important decision for the South American nation, as Brasilia looks to maintain a high profile in UN peace operations. This also shows an increased interest in Africa as well perhaps to counterbalance western interests. What remains to be seen is whether the 750 Brazilian troops to be deployed will have a positive impact in MINUSCA’s operations as the violence in the troubled central African state continues.
Brazil and UN Peace Missions
Brazil has had a strong interest in participating in UN missions in order to increase its international profile. In fact, the South American country had a leading role in the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), as well as the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). MINUSTAH concluded its activities this past October after 13 years in the Caribbean state, prompting Brazil and other donors to withdraw their troops, and it has been replaced by a smaller mission, the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH).
According to October 2017 statistics provided by the UN Peacekeeping website, Brazil currently has deployed 250 personnel – police, experts on mission, contingent troops and staff officers – in various UN missions. The largest contribution is to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) where Brazil has deployed 205 troops and regularly deploys a warship to UNIFIL’s maritime taskforce.
Furthermore, Brazil operates in other UN missions in Africa, such as the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO); the UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID); the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS); the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA); and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Finally, it is worth noting that Brazil is already participating in MINUSCA as it has deployed one expert on mission and two staff officers.
The South American country’s contribution to MINUSCA will dramatically increase since, according to reports, 750 Brazilian military personnel will go to the African state. On 23 November, a Twitter account apparently belonging to Brazilian General Estevam Cals Theophilo Gaspar de Oliveira tweeted a collage of photos of the multinational logistic exercises AmazonLog17 that Brazil carried out with Colombia, and Peru. The tweet explains the experience learned from the exercises “will be utilized by the Brazilian army in the UN mission that it will participate in 2018 in the Central Africa Republic, MINUSCA.”
There is no official timeline for when the troops will be deployed, but Brazilian General Ajax Porto Pinheiro has been quoted by AFP in a late November article, stating that “the timing is not precise, but we think our troops will go to Central Africa by March or April.” It is also unclear what types of units will be deployed and what exactly will be their task in MINUSCA. Another Latin American state currently present in CAR is Peru, which has deployed a company of some 200 military engineers that carries out construction and support operations.
The Future MINUSCA
The key question is how effective will the 750 Brazilian troops be towards MINUSCA’s objections, which include the stabilization of CAR, protecting civilians from attacks by Séléka rebels and anti-Balaka forces, and supporting development operations. MINUSCA’s mandate was renewed in November for another year, and it will now expire on 15 November, 2018. According to a UN press release, the Security Council “decided to increase the Mission’s troop limit by 900 military personnel, resulting in an authorized troop ceiling of 11,650 military personnel, including 480 military observers and military staff officers, 2,080 police personnel and 108 corrections officers” via Resolution 2387 (2017). From a pure numbers perspective, an additional 900 troops is a (big) drop of water in an already large glass and it is debatable how impactful they will be.
Certainly, the Brazilian military is well trained, has experience in UN peacekeeping (they just spent 13 years in MINUSTAH, not including other operations), and it remains very motivated regarding future involvement in peacekeeping – the Brazilian ministry of defense and military have repeatedly been praised for their involvement in peace missions.
With that said, MINUSCA is operating in a complex and dangerous situation, where violence is much more prevalent than in Haiti, as fighters from other conflict zones use the country as a safe haven and the famous peacekeepers’ blue helmet makes them a target. Indeed, MINUSCA peacekeepers have been regularly attacked in recent months, including in September, near Gambo, when a peacekeeper was wounded; while an attack in Bria on 4 December, “resulted in one Mauritanian peacekeeper killed and two other Mauritanian peacekeepers and one Zambian peacekeeper injured.”
Thus, there is a high probability that Brazilian peacekeepers will be targeted in MINUSCA, like their counterparts from other nations have been. This is particularly the case if they go out into the field to carry out stabilization and protection operations, not simply remain in their UN compounds – a common critique against UN blue helmets. Other criticisms have included peacekeepers sexually assaulting those who they are supposed to be protecting and providing weapons or looking the other way when a militia attacks the civilian population.
Final Thoughts
Brazil’s decision to join MINUSCA is unsurprising as the country has participated in various peacekeeping operations, taking a leading role in Haiti, East Timor and the UN maritime force in Lebanon. After the recent closing of MINUSTAH, it was only natural that the Portuguese-speaking giant would look to participate in another UN mission.
The real question is how effective will 750 Brazilian troops be in MINUSCA’s overall operations. The UN mission has been operating since 2014 and unfortunately, the Central African country remains unstable, despite the excellent work of certain NGOs working on reconciliation issues, with ongoing violence against civilians, the government and the peacekeepers themselves.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect any institutions with which the authors are associated.

IPD: The Eurasian Economic Union and Latin America: What could 2018 Bring?

"The Eurasian Economic Union and Latin America: What could 2018 bring?"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
International Policy Digest
11 December 2017
Originally published: https://intpolicydigest.org/2017/12/11/the-eurasian-economic-union-and-latin-america-what-could-2018-bring/

As the world becomes more interconnected, regions that are geographically distant are now becoming closer as diplomatic and trade ties develop. For example, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is approaching Latin America both as individual members and collectively.
Growing Relations: The members of the EAEU are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Relations between Moscow and Latin America have been well covered – for example, the author has recently reviewed Russia’s relations with Bolivia andNicaragua – hence we will focus on the other EAEU members.
The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is an interesting case study as it has approached several Latin American states, particularly Brazil, which is one of the few Latin America countries where Astana has an embassy. For example, this year Kazakhstan’s Air Astana acquired five E190-E2 aircraft, produced by Brazil’s aerospace conglomerate EMBRAER, and deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2018. Air Astana did not purchase the planes directly from the Brazilian company, but rather signed a long-term lease agreement with AerCap; nevertheless, the decision to utilize EMBRAER platforms could help bring about future deals. Furthermore, the Kazakh company TetraTech, via its partnership with the US Agency for International Development, has been involved in projects among Latin American countries like Mexico(providing clean water) and Peru (supporting good governance).
Moreover, Astana has expanded its diplomatic presence in South America by opening a consulate in the Argentine city of Rosario, apart from already having a cultural center in said city. Additionally, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro visited Astana in September to take part in a meeting of the Islamic Cooperation Organization. As for positive publicity, the Mexican daily El Universal published a flattering piece about Kazakhstan’s interests in Latin America on 1 November, which includes an interview with Kazakh deputy foreign affairs minister, Yerzhan Ashikbayev. The article stresses that Mexican citizens do not need visas to travel to the Central Asian nation and the potential for future bilateral energy-related projects.
Meanwhile, Belarus has developed close ties with Venezuela; case in point: President Alexander Lukashenko met with President Maduro in Minsk just this past October. The meeting between the two leaders was followed by a round of a bi-national high-level commission, which occurred in late November, and the two sides discussed cooperation on issues like energy, agriculture and military strategy. Additionally, Mexico opened an honorary consulate in Minsk in 2016 while in early December 2017, Belarusian Ambassador to Ecuador and concurrently to Colombia, Igor Poluyan, made a working trip to Bogota, to promote bilateral relations, Belarus News reported.
As for Armenia, it is worth noting the migration of Armenians to Latin America, particularly after the Armenian Genocide. A 2016 article bySputnik Mundo discusses Armenia migration to Argentina and Uruguay in particular, though Armenians have migrated to other regional states. Nevertheless, the author has not been able to find recent diplomatic initiatives between the Caucasus nation and Latin America in spite of the Armenian Diaspora in the Western Hemisphere. Brazilian Foreign Affairs Minister Aloysio Nunes Ferreria did write an op-ed praising Brazil-Armenia relations prior to his mid-November visit to Yerevan, however no major agreements have been reported as part of this visit. A similar situation occurs with Kyrgyzstan’s stance towards Latin America. Apart from a statement by the Brazilian foreign affairs ministry that in 2013 Brasilia “donated $50 thousand to the Kyrgyz Government through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for supporting activities in favor of refugees,” there have been no significant initiatives.
Finally trade appears to be minimal. For example, the Mexican daily Milenio, reported in March 2017 that trade between Mexico and Belarus centered on Mexican exports of steel, materials for tires and cleaning machines. Meanwhile, Brazil has reported that its bilateral trade with Armenia reached USD$38.4 million in 2016.
Thus, bilateral relations between individual EAEU members, apart from Russia, and Latin America should not be overhyped. Bilateral relations are generally positive, but sporadic. Moreover the scarce trade between the aforementioned EAEU nations and Latin America stresses that there is much to be done still to bring both sides further together.
Mexico’s Faux Pas over Nagorno-Karabakh: There has been one recent diplomatic incident between the two distant regions worth mentioning. Namely, Mexican government officials apparently made a diplomatic statement in favor of Armenia’s territorial dispute with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. In late October, three members of the Mexican Congress – identified as Margarita Blanca Cuata Domínguez, Carlos Hernández Mirón, de Morena, and María Cristina Teresa García Bravo – travelled to Armenia as part of their work for the Mexico-Armenia Friendship Group. The problem is that they also travelled to Nagorno-Karabakh, without authorization from the Azerbaijani government and apparently ignoring orders from the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs.
The Azerbaijani government has vehemently protested the Mexican officials’ visit to the disputed territory.
EAEU-Latin America Deals: Limited bilateral relations notwithstanding, there is optimism regarding the future of relations between the EAEU (as a bloc) and Latin America. Case in point, on 4 December, the author attended a conference organized by the Eurasia Center at the Russian Cultural Center in Washington DC, entitled “4th Annual Conference: Doing Business with the Eurasian Economic Union: Improving East-West Relations.” The speakers included government and diplomatic officials of the five member states, who praised current levels of integration, the new Customs Code that will enter into force in 2018, and ties with countries like South Korea,Singapore and Vietnam.
The author inquired about EAEU-Latin America relations, and the speakers were optimistic about these initiatives and singled out relations with Chile, Mexico and Peru in particular. In fact, Chile and the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) have a joint commission aimed at promoting ties, which held its third round of meetings this past March. An EEC press release mentions that the recent round included lists by both Chile and EEC members of products that they would like to export. Similarly, in 2016 Peru noted that 99% of its exports to the EAEU currently go to Russia and the goal is to approach other states. Finally, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso has declared his country’s interest in looking for new markets. “We would like to establish stable relations with EAEU,” the diplomat has stated.
As a final point, it is worth highlighting the meetings between the EAEU and the South American bloc MERCOSUR – its member states: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela (which has been suspended since December 2016). In late November, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov declared that Latin American nations, including MERCOSUR, are interested in close cooperation with the EAEU. While there have been important meetings between the two blocs in the recent past, MERCOSUR currently is at a standstill due to internal problems, such as the problematic situation in Venezuela. Additionally, regional powerhouse Brazil is under stress due to its ongoing economic woes, while its foreign policy is essentially on hold until the October 2018 elections when a new administration will take over. We will probably have to wait until then to see what direction MERCOSUR takes and if rapprochement with the EAEU continues.
Final Thoughts: It will be important to monitor what 2018 brings for the EAEU-Latin American relations. Russia already has a hefty presence in Latin America, and the key will be to see if the Union’s other members can begin to establish a foothold in this vast area. So far, initiatives by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have been scarce and, given the geographic distance between these nations and Latin America, in addition to other foreign policy priorities, we will likely not see major bilateral initiatives in the near future. Thus, the EAEU, as a bloc, led by Russia, would be the key to bring these nations and Latin America closer together.
The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

CIMSEC: What the Loss of the ARA San Juan reveals about South America's Submarines


"What the Loss of the ARA San Juan reveals about South America's Submarines"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
"The Southern Tide"
Center for International Maritime Security
6 December 2017
Originally published: http://cimsec.org/loss-ara-san-juan-reveals-south-americas-submarines/34927



Written by W. Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.
“The security environment in Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by complex, diverse, and non-traditional challenges to U.S. interests.” Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, before the 114th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee, 10 March 2016.
By W. Alejandro Sanchez
The Argentine Navy’s submarine ARA San Juan (S-42) disappeared in the South Atlantic, off the coast of Argentina, on 15 November. At the time of this writing, a multinational effort is underway to locate the platform and its 44-person crew. This tragic accident has prompted a discussion in Argentina regarding whether the country’s armed forces are being allocated sufficient budgets to repair or replace aging equipment. Additionally, theSan Juan incident must be placed in a wider discussion about civil-military relations, defense budgets, and the present and future of South American submarines.
ARA San Juan
Theories revolving around what happened to San Juan focus on an electrical malfunction that was reported by the crew prior to disappearing, though it was reportedly solved. The platform was returning to its home port of Mar del Plata when communications were lost. Naval protocol dictates that San Juan should have surfaced and traveled back to port, and it is unclear why the submarine continued its voyage submerged in spite of the aforementioned electrical problem. Adding to the mystery and overall concern was an apparent underwater explosion that reportedly occurred around 23 November in the general area where San Juan disappeared. The fear is that the explosion may have actually been an implosion due to pressure on the submarine’s hull.

San Juan, constructed by the West German shipyard Thyssen Nordseewerke, was commissioned by the Argentine Navy in 1985. The platform, a TR-1700 class, weighs slightly over two thousand tons, measures 66 m in length, with a max speed between 15 kts (surfaced) or 25 kts (submerged), and as it is powered with diesel engines – it went through mid-life repairs in 2008. Its sister vessel is ARA Santa Cruz (S-41).
Other South American Submarine Incidents
The disappearance of San Juan prompted a plethora of articles listing other notable incidents regarding submarines. One recent example that is often mentioned is the loss of the Russian submarine Kursk (K-141), an Oscar-class platform that suffered an explosion in the Barents Sea in August 2000. The U.S. has also lost submarines, like the USS Thresher (SSN-593), a nuclear-powered platform, in 1963, and the USS Scorpion (SSN-589), which disappeared in May 1968. That same year Israel’sINS Dakar and France’s Minerve (S-647) also disappeared.
When it comes to South America, submarine accidents are rare but, unfortunately, they have occurred. For example in 1919, theChilean submarine Rucumilla, an H-class platform, was carrying out maneuvers, when it started to flood; thankfully, all 23 members of the crew were rescued alive. More recently, the Brazilian submarine Tonelero (S-21) sank while it was undergoing repairs at a harbor in Rio de Janeiro in 2000. The crew members aboard also managed to escape safely and the diesel-powered, Oberon-class submarine constructed in the 1970 was successfully refloated only to be decommissioned shortly after.
There has also been one reportedly deadly accident: in 1988 the Peruvian submarine BAP Pacocha (SS-48), a Balao-class platform, was rammed by the Japanese fishing trawler Kiowa Maru off the Peruvian coast, close to the Callao port. Pacochasettled on the seabed, at a depth of around 144 ft (43 m). A massive rescue operation involving several vessels, including another Peruvian submarine, BAP Abtao (SS-42), was carried out and the 52-person crew was rescued in groups. Tragically, eight sailors including Pacocha’s commander, Captain Daniel Nieva Rodríguez, perished. Additionally, some of the survivors would live face health issues, as since they “were exposed to gradually increasing pressure for nearly twenty-four hours, their tissues were saturated with nitrogen at a depth deep enough to produce decompression symptoms.”
The Region’s Aging Submarines
Because submarines are a key element of a nation’s naval deterrent, detailed information regarding their status, including armament, is a sensitive issue. With that said, we can provide some general points from what is publicly known, and how these platforms fit into regional maritime strategies.
South America’s submarines are generally old, as most platforms were constructed in the 1970s or 1980s. Regional navies have focused on mid-life and other upgrades in order to extend their operational life. For example, the Ecuadorian daily El Universohas reported that the country’s two submarines, Shyri andHuancavilca, type U209, were purchased in the late 1970s and have undergone three modernization processes already, “1980-1983 in Germany, 1991-1994 in Ecuador, and 2008-2014 in Chile.”  
While most regional submarines are operational, others have been undergoing repairs for a significant amount of time. For example Argentina’s San Juan underwent mid-life repairs that required over five years of work (the Argentine media has critiqued this). Meanwhile the ARA Santa Cruz has been undergoing repairs at an Argentine shipyard since 2016, leaving the navy with only one submarine, ARA Salta (which was constructed in the early 1970s). Additionally, Venezuela’s Caribe(S-32) has been in a dry dock since 2004-2005, awaiting repairs. It is somewhat bizarre that in spite of the billions of dollars spent on the Venezuelan military during the Hugo Chavez era, the submarine fleet was not modernized or expanded, and it consists of only two platforms, Caribe and Sabalo (S-31), both are U209A/1300 constructed in the mid 1970s.
In recent years, there have been a few new acquisitions. A decade ago (in 2005-2007), Chile incorporated O’Higgins (SS-23) andCarrera (SS-22), two Scorpene-class submarines constructed by DCN-Bazan (now Navantia), to replace the old Oberon-class platforms. Additionally, in 2015 the Colombian Navy received two refurbished German submarines, U206A-class, for its Caribbean and Pacific fleets. The platforms, now renamed ARCIntrépido (SC-23) and ARC Indomable (SC-24), were constructed in the 1970s and served in the German Navy until 2010-2011, when they were retired and sold to Bogota the following year.

Finally, Brazil has the ambitious goal of domestically manufacturing submarines, as it is currently constructing with French support four Scorpene-class submarines and one nuclear-powered platform (the author has discussed this program in a November 2016 commentary for CIMSEC, “The Status of Brazil’s Ambitious PROSUB Program”). Of the region, the country has the most modern fleet as its current submarines (four Tupi-class and one Tikuna-class) were manufactured in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Why Do South American Navies Want Submarines?
Ultimately, what is exactly the role of undersea forces in South America in 2017 and beyond? The last conflict in the region was the Cenepa War in 1995 (Ecuador vs. Peru), while the last conflict with a maritime theater of operations was the Falklands/Malvinas War of 1982 (Argentina vs. United Kingdom).
While inter-state warfare in South America is not unthinkable, it is highly unlikely. Thus as regional naval strategies continue to evolve to properly address broad-spectrum maritime security threats (illegal fishingdrug trafficking, and humanitarian relief), the raison d’être of undersea forces must adapt, too.
In an interview with the author, Christian J. Ehrlich, Director of Intelligence at Riskop and Non-Resident Fellow at the Mexican Navy Institute for Strategic Research, explained that navies have three main missions: maritime security, naval diplomacy, and defense. Latin American navies have focused, particularly in recent decades, on the first objective – given the lack of inter-state conflict and generally peaceful diplomatic relations. This new reality has made it “financially difficult to maintain naval platforms that are mostly, if not exclusively, aimed at defense operations.” Mr. Ehrlich adds that navies that possess attack submarines have had to find a new “role” for these platforms, such as supporting surveillance or combating illegal fishing, such as when Ecuador’s submarine Huancavilca was deployed to combat illegal fishing after a recent incident involving a Chinese vessel off the Galapagos Islands.
Without a doubt, submarines are a powerful naval deterrent, a “just in case” tool if relations between two countries should deteriorate to the point that armed conflict is a real possibility. There are still occasional incidents, including maritime disputes, that highlight how South America is far from being a peaceful region where inter-state warfare is unthinkable. Hence, these hypotheses of conflict, combined with adapting to new security threats, ensures, as Mr. Ehrlich explains, that “the silent service will continue to be part of [South American] navies, which have invested decades in these platforms.”
Final Thoughts
The tragic disappearance of San Juan has brought to light a number of issues. In Argentina, the media and public are demanding both answers and culprits, and it is likely that the navy’s high command will have to resign. The Argentine media has discussed the military’s current status, blaming the civilian leadership of not providing adequate budgets to the armed forces to replace old equipment. At a regional level, this incident has brought to light the problematic reality of South American submarine fleets. Generally speaking, they are quite old, in need of replacement, and they need to find new roles to be relevant to contemporary maritime security strategies.
Thankfully, submarine-related incidents have been scarce, though the 1988 incident of Peru’s Pacocha and the current disappearance of Argentina’s San Juan exemplifies how just one accident can claim so many lives instantaneously. Such is the perilous life of the submariner.
W. Alejandro Sanchez is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez
The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.
The author would like to thank Erica Illingworth for editorial advice.

CIMSEC: Assessing Colombia's Recent Platform Delivery to Honduras


"Assessing Colombia's Recent Platform Delivery to Honduras"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
"The Southern Tide"
Center for International Maritime Security
22 November 2017
Originally published:  http://cimsec.org/assessing-colombias-recent-naval-platform-delivery-to-honduras/34750




Written by W. Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.
“The security environment in Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by complex, diverse, and non-traditional challenges to U.S. interests.” Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, before the 114th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee, 10 March 2016.
By W. Alejandro Sanchez
Colombia Delivers Vessel for Honduran Navy
On 4 November, the Honduran Navy (Fuerzas Naval de Honduras: FNH) received a brand new multipurpose vessel, FNH Gracias a Dios. What makes this delivery significant is that the platform was constructed by a Colombian company, Corporación de Ciencia y Tecnología para el Desarrollo de la Industria Naval Marítima y Fluvial(COTECMAR). Hence, this deal is important as it serves as an example of a Latin American military industry successfully selling platforms to another regional state.
This commentary is a continuation of an August 2016 essay by the author for CIMSEC, titled “The Rise of the Latin American Shipyard,” which discussed regional shipyards and their attempts to sell their platforms to international clients.
The Deal
Gracias a Dios was delivered fairly quickly, as the Honduran and Colombian governments signed a contract on 21 November 2016. The platform is a Short Range Logistic Support Ship (Buque de Apoyo Logístico – Cabotaje: BAL-C), it measures 49 meters, has a max speed of 9 kts and can transport up to 120 tons of cargo. The vessel has a ramp and a hydraulic crane so it does need a port to unload its cargo. Construction was carried out by the aforementioned Colombian company COTECMAR, in its facilities in Cartagena. Apart from assembling the vessel, COTECMAR trained 17 Honduran naval personnel, while three Honduran naval officers will study in the Colombian Navy’s institute of higher education, Escuela Naval Almirante Padilla, as part of the Tegucigalpa-Bogota deal, worth USD$ 13.5 million.
Gracias a Dios will be utilized by the Honduran naval force for coastal operations including relief support after natural disasters. The Honduran government and media in general have applauded the new asset; for example the daily La Tribuna explained that “this is a multipurpose vessel, its main missions will be to transport food, fuel and machinery to inaccessible areas in Honduras.” The newspaper also quoted the commander of Gracias a Dios, Lieutenant Israel Onil Sánchez, who explained that the vessel can be at sea up to 40-45 days. Meanwhile, President Juan Orlando Hernández  highlighted how the vessel can transport up to four speedboats, which will help combat drug trafficking across Honduras’ waters.
There are now five BAL-Cs in operation: Colombia operates four – two in its Pacific fleet and two for the Caribbean fleet – in addition to one for the Honduran Navy.
The Significance
The significance of the Colombia-Honduras deal should not be understated. As a general rule, Latin American or Caribbean navies acquire new naval platforms from extra-regional suppliers, be them governments (e.g. the U.S) or shipyards (e.g. Damen Group). Hence, this deal is a sort of modern milestone since it is between two regional nations with a Latin American company being the supplier. (It is worth noting that COTECMAR has previously sold riverine patrol boats to Brazil.)
The successful delivery of Gracias a Dios has encouraged COTECMAR to be more aggressive in order to acquire new foreign clients. A recent report by IHS Jane’s explains that the company is now looking at countries like Peru, the United Arab Emirates, and landlocked Paraguay as potential customers – and according to Jane’s negotiations with Lima and Asuncion are advanced. Lima’s interest in these platforms is understandable, as Peruvian ships, like the BAP Eten, were involved in support operations recently, when torrential rains affected the country’s northern regions earlier this year.

Additionally, it will be important to monitor other Latin American shipyards, like Argentina’s Rio Santiago, Chile’s ASMAR, Ecuador’s ASTINAVE, or Peru’s SIMA as these entities are also constructing platforms for their respective navies, but could also attempt to export them. When it comes to Mexico for example, ASTIMAR has constructed10 Tenochtitlan-class coastal patrol vessels for the Mexican Navy.
Nevertheless, this is unlikely to occur. In an interview with the author, Christian J. Ehrlich, Director of Intelligence at Riskop and Non-Resident Fellow at the Mexican Navy Institute for Strategic Research, explained that,
“Currently, there are no concrete plans to build OPVs or Coastal Patrol Vessels for any country in the region. Some years ago, some Central American Navies showed interest in acquiring the Mexican-made Oaxaca-class OPVs. But let’s be honest, given the Mexican Navy’s small budget, our shipyards can only concentrate on fulfilling the MX Navy’s operational requirements. That is certainly a shame, since the Oaxaca Class OPVs are well-proven, highly capable vessels for maritime security-oriented navies.”
It is important to mention the geopolitical ramifications of the Gracias a Dios deal. The vessel and other initiatives as part of the agreement will inevitably bring the Honduran and Colombian navies closer, and joint naval exercises will probably occur in the near future.  This is important because of one factor: Nicaragua. The Central American nation has taken Colombia to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) due to a maritime border dispute over Bogota-controlled islands and territory in the Caribbean. ICJ rulings in 2016 were generally regarded as very favorable towards Managua, but the two sides have returned to the Court for subsequent demands.
From this perspective, it makes sense that Bogota is approaching Tegucigalpa via defense-related initiatives, as this will serve to counterbalance Managua’s Caribbean ambitions. While armed conflict between Colombia and Nicaragua is extremely unlikely, Bogota can always benefit from having additional allies among states that border the Caribbean and Nicaragua itself.
Final Thoughts
It would be far-fetched to suggest that the recent Colombia-Honduras deal for a logistics vessel will dramatically change the dynamics of Latin American and Caribbean sales regarding naval platforms. Without a doubt, regional navies will continue to look to extra-regional suppliers, including more experienced shipyards, for new (or refurbished) vessels. This is particularly true for more complex platforms such as submarines (Brazil’s submarine program notwithstanding). Moreover, as Mr. Ehrlich mentions, apart from competition, the other main obstacle for these shipyards to grow is lack of political support for these entities.
With that said, the COTECMAR-FNH deal does set an important precedent, as navies with limited defense budgets in Latin America and the Caribbean may start turning to their immediate neighbors regarding the acquisition of new platforms instead of investing in more expensive assets from more distant suppliers.
W. Alejandro Sanchez is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.
The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.