Geopolitics

Military Muscle Makes A Comeback In Latin America

From Venezuela to Brazil, Latin American armed forces are returning to front-line roles in response to political crises and fighting organized crime. But will they threaten democracy again?

Military parade in Caracas, Venezuela
Military parade in Caracas, Venezuela
Rosendo Fraga

BUENOS AIRES — Geopolitical conflict, political crises and the continued threat of organized crime are renewing a longstanding question: is the role that armed forces have played in Latin America since the 1980s fundamentally changing?

The first factor to consider is an increase in geopolitical conflicts. The fight between the United States on the one side and Russia and China on the other has touched the region as it has elsewhere in the world. Its ambits are trade, technology, geopolitics and space technology, and its risks include tensions and possible confrontation.

The administration of President Donald J. Trump has publicly voiced its concerns with China's advances in Latin America in areas of investments, trade and finance; as well as Russia's military and strategic presence in some countries in the region. The Venezuelan crisis illustrates this well. While the United States is backing its provisional leader, the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, while China and Russia have so far refused to recognize his legitimacy.

The crisis in Caracas is increasing regional tensions and giving relevance to three actors. Venezuela, with its 97,000-strong army, Colombia with 265,000 troops and Brazil, with 340,000. These three countries have between them 70% of all troops in South America, and it is on their frontiers that conflict could break out. President Trump's National Security Adviser, John R. Bolton, has insisted all options, including use of force, remain on the table against President Nicolás Maduro. Beyond this, other options may become possible if the crisis were to be prolonged. One is humanitarian aid, which could only be brought in and distributed with the help of soldiers. Another is the risk of armed resistance that might force a provisional government to seek the help of a multinational peace force for its consolidation.

Bolsonaro's cabinet has a good half-dozen soldiers.

The second element is the political role the military are acquiring in such evolving crisis situations. In Venezuela, the opposition is clearly pursuing the strategic objective of dividing the armed forces and breaking the regime's monopoly of their support. In that perspective, military force is a decisive factor in this crisis.

Elsewhere in the region are other similar examples. In Nicaragua, the opposition has publicly criticized the army for not reacting to the regime's repression and called on it to disobey President Daniel Ortega. Still, it is in Brazil that the military role has become most evident. A retired army captain, Jair Bolsonaro, has been voted in as president. His cabinet has a good half-dozen soldiers, including the Defense Minister General Fernando Azevedo e Silva, the Secretary-General of the Presidency, the head of the country's intelligence service, the Science and Infrastructures ministers, and the Comptroller-General.

The new Health Minister is a civilian who managed some of the country's most important military hospitals. The outgoing Army chief, General Eduardo Villas-Boas, who led the Armed Forces in a complex time over the past four years, has publicly recognized the army's role in preventing Lula da Silva's candidacy. One may consider it an exception, but Brazil is Latin America's biggest nation, with an undeniable influence on the region.

Brazilian armed forces — Photo: Ministério da Defesa

Lastly, public security problems are also giving regional armies a more relevant role. In Brazil in the last two years, troops have on several occasions assured the security of big events like sporting matches or the Pope's visit. They have intervened for police strikes in several federal states and have taken over the country's borders, a jurisdiction created in response to rising drug trafficking and the spillover from the Venezuelan crisis. They have also taken part in disarming criminal groups inside prisons dominated by the two major gangs of Rio and Sao Paulo.

In Argentina, 500 members of the Army are deployed to guard the northern frontier. In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who had promised while campaigning to curb the army's role in domestic security, has now said they will remain involved during his six-year presidency. More specifically he is planning on forming a National Guard — effectively a fourth military force — to fight drug trafficking and organized crime.

In Colombia, President Iván Duque has ordered a renewed military-led offensive against the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Marxist rebels that have stayed on the sidelines of the country's peace process. They are thought involved in drug trafficking and have, alongside recalcitrant members of the disbanded FARC guerrillas, support bases in Venezuela.

The political challenge for the region is specific: how should the military's enhanced role in geopolitical conflicts, political crises and public security fit into the broader goal of reinforcing democracy? It is about accepting the present while looking at the past to ensure mistakes are not repeated.

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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