Friday, November 17, 2017

Interview/Entrevista: Las expectativas de América Latina y Rusia en la Cumbre del Gas

"Las Expectativas de America Latina y Rusia en la Cumbre de Gas"
Entrevista para:
Sputnik Mundo
16 November 2017
Originally published:

El analista Alejandro Sánchez valora positivamente que Bolivia y Venezuela estén asociados estratégicamente con potencias como Irán y Rusia en el Foro de Países Exportadores de Gas por la posibilidad de inversiones y desarrollo de infraestructura.

"Rusia tiene muy buenas relaciones con Latinoamérica desde México hasta Argentina. Y con Bolivia, que será sede de la Cumbre del Gas, ha tenido iniciativas muy importantes en los últimos cinco o seis años", destacó el experto Alejandro Sánchez en su análisis previo al inicio del IV Foro de Países Exportadores de Gas. 
"Hace algunos meses la empresa rusa Lukoil ganó un contrato en el Golfo de México para explorar un bloque de petróleo que tendría hasta 985 millones de barriles. Desde el punto de vista geopolítico es muy importante porque hoy en día las relaciones entre EEUU y México no son las mejores —por la renegociación del NAFTA, la inmigración y muro mediante- y México está buscando otros socios no tradicionales como Rusia para que inviertan en su industria de energía", dijo Sánchez.
La ciudad de Santa Cruz en Bolivia concentrará las miradas mundiales entre el 21 y 24 de noviembre. Allí se reunirán delegaciones de al menos 19 países, con la presencia de presidentes, ministros, empresarios y expertos en materia energética. El Grupo de Países Exportadores de Gas se fundó en 2001 en Irán. Desde entonces no ha parado de crecer en cuanto a sus integrantes e influencia geopolítica. Bolivia y Venezuela son las naciones suramericanas que pertenecen al bloque, mientras que Perú lo integra en carácter de observador.

Al finalizar el encuentro se firmará la declaración de Santa Cruz, que definirá los lineamientos de producción y comercialización de este insumo clave para las economías de los países.

TNI: Russia May Make Another Power Play in South America

"Russia May Make Another Power Play in South America"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
The National Interest
12 November, 2017
Originally published:

"And It's Not Venezuela This Time..."
Russian president Vladimir Putin will travel to Bolivia to attend the fourth Gas Exporting Countries Forum summit, which will take place on November 20–24. This is President Putin’s first trip to the landlocked nation, and while Russia-Bolivia relations are not as researched and discussed as Moscow’s relations with Nicaragua orVenezuela, they are nevertheless worth discussing in depth.
In late October, the Bolivian daily El Deber quoted Russian ambassador to Bolivia Vladimir Sprinchan about a meeting he held with Bolivian authorities regarding President Putin’s upcoming visit. The Russian diplomat explained that “we analyzed different issues as Bolivia is a partner of Russia and we have a lot of common views, we have the same ideology, and that is very important.” Indeed, on 24 October, theRussian Federation used its veto power to block a resolution in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to “extend for one year the work of international inspectors investigating chemical-weapons attacks in Syria.” Bolivia, currently a rotating member of the UNSC, also voted against the resolution.
Apart from diplomatic support, Bolivia-Russia relations revolve around energy initiatives. For example, Russian energy giant Gazprom operates in Bolivia, dating back to a 2007 memorandum of understanding with the Bolivian state-owned petroleum company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos. Gazprom started production on the Incahuasi field in 2016, has scheduled drilling in the Azero block for 2018 and has expressed interest in expanding its Bolivian operations even further. The Russian energy giant is apparently interested in drilling for hydrocarbons in La Ceiba, Vitiacua and Madidi. Furthermore, a October 6 Gazprom press release notes that the two sides have the “intention to set up a joint venture for gas marketing in Argentina and Brazil.” While it is debatable whether this will actually occur, such ambitious projects stress the close ties between Gazprom and Bolivia these days.
Even more, the Bolivian Nuclear Energy Agency (ABEN) and the Russian energy company (ROSATOM) signed a contract for the construction of a nuclear research and technology center (NRTC) last September. According to a statement by ROSATOM, the NRTC to be located in the Bolivian city of El Alto will comprise of a water-cooled research reactor, a multipurpose experimental gamma-installation center, engineering facilities and various laboratories. Investments in the project will reportedly amount to more than $300 million and the first facilities should be commissioned in 2019. ROSATOM is also increasing ties with Bolivia’s Higher University of San Andres.
As for potential projects that may materialize when President Putin visits, weapons sales are the most likely. According to the renownedJane’s, the commander of the Bolivian air force has recommended that La Paz acquire Russian Yakovlev Yak-130 “Mitten” light-attack aircraft to replace the service’s Lockheed T-33s. While Bolivia’s defense budget is not as large as Venezuela’s, the country is fertile ground for Russian weapons exports. Afterall, President Morales has strived to modernize his nation’s military and has carried out interesting acquisitions recently, including a radar system from Thales and Super Puma helicopters from Airbus. There have not been major Russian-Bolivian weapons sales recently, but the two governments did sign a defense cooperation agreement back in August, which can be seen as the first step by Moscow for larger weapons transfers to Bolivia.
The media coverage of the upcoming Gas Exporting Countries Forum summit will understandably center on the decisions of the twelve-member bloc regarding gas production. Nevertheless, it is also important to monitor meetings between the attending delegations and any potential bilateral projects that could come out of them. So far, in spite of ideological ties, Bolivia-Russia ties have been limited, with a strong focus on energy initiatives, but that also means that there is plenty of space for growth.
W. Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst that focuses on geopolitical and defense related affairs, with a focus on the Western Hemisphere. His analyses have appeared in numerous refereed journals includingSmall Wars and Insurgencies, Defence Studies, the Journal of Slavic Military StudiesEuropean Security, Studies in Conflict and Terrorismand Perspectivas. Follow him on twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Journal: Can Governments Negotiate With Insurgents? The Latin American Experience

"Can Governments Negotiate With Insurgents? The Latin American Experience"
W. Alejandro Sanchez and Erica Illingworth
Small Wars & Insurgencies
Volume 28, 2017 - Issue 6 - P. 1014-1036
Originally Published:

Please contact me if you would like a free eprint of this essay.

In June 2016, the Colombian Government and the FARC insurgent movement signed a ceasefire agreement, which brings the two sides one step closer to putting an end to over five decades of war. Unfortunately, Latin America has a rich history of insurgent movements, particularly during the cold war era, some of which continue to operate today. Most of these movements disappeared due to military operations, though some did so via peace negotiations. This essay aims to discuss the various ends of Latin American insurgencies to answer whether, indeed, insurgents can be negotiated with.

Keywords: Latin America, insurgency, terrorism, internal conflict, cold war, FARC, ELN, Shining Path, conflict resolution, hurting stalemate

IPD: Moldova Participates in Rapid Trident 2017

"Moldova Participates in Rapid Trident 2017"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
International Policy Digest
19 September, 2017
Originally published:

From September 8th to the 23rd, the multinational exercise Rapid Trident will take place at the International Peacekeeping Security Centre near Yavoriv, Ukraine. According to the U.S. Army Europe’s website, these maneuvers will involve approximately 1,800 personnel from 14 nations: Bulgaria, Canada, Estonia, Italy, Georgia, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The exercises are regarded as a response to both the Russian-led exercise Zapad, which is almost simultaneously taking place in Belarus from September 14 to the 20th, as well as the conflict in Ukraine.
While there is plenty of geopolitical analysis to go around regarding the timing of both exercises and their short and long-term geopolitical ramifications, it is important to highlight the participation of one nation in Rapid Trident 2017: Moldova.
There are four facts that make the participation of the landlocked country, which borders Ukraine, in these exercises significant:
  1. Article 11 of Moldova’s constitution states that the country is “permanently neutral” and “shall not allow the dispersal of foreign military troops on its territory.”
  2. The country’s tumultuous governments, best exemplified by the fact that President Igor Dodon is a supporter of the Russian Federation, while Prime Minister Pavel Filip, is more pro-West (namely approaching the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
  3. Chisinau still depends on Russia for energy and remittances from Moldovan citizens working there.
  4. Moldova’s separatist Transnistria region hosts a number of Russian troops.
The decision to send Moldovan troops to Rapid Trident was criticized by President Dodon, who reportedly banned this order on September 5th, stating “we do not accept involvement by Moldovan servicemen in military exercises beyond the national borders.” Days later, on September 8th he posted a statement on Facebook further explaining his position. He also called for the Defense Minister Gheorghe Galbura to be fired for this deployment.
Nevertheless, the president’s role is largely symbolic in Moldova so said veto has no actual political weight. Hence, the troops were deployed and it is doubtful that Minister Galbura will lose his job. In fact, Prime Minister Filip has already declared his support for the deployment: “no one wants an unprepared and weak army,” he reportedly stated.
As for the troops themselves, it is worth stressing that we are not talking about a large deployment. According to the Moldovan Army’s website, the contingent consists of 57 troops from two units, 22nd Peacekeeping Battalion and “Moldova” Brigade, led by LTC Alexandru Marcuta. Rapid Trident will reportedly convene some 1,800 troops, hence 57 is not a particularly significant number; nevertheless it will be an important opportunity for the Moldovan troops to train with fellow European (and U.S.) militaries. The Moldovan army explained how “the exercise aims to develop the level of interoperability, to consolidate the defense capacities, and to promote the National Army image on international level for future participation in peacekeeping missions.”
Moreover, this deployment serves as an example of the current close ties between Chisinau and the West. Moldova has reportedly participated in Rapid Trident since 1996 and there have been other recent defense-related developments. For example, Moldovan troops participated in the 2015 maneuvers in Smardan, Romania, alongside troops from Romania, the U.K. and the U.S. Additionally, in 2017 the Moldovan government reportedly allowed NATO to install a civilian office in the country, a move drastically condemned by President Dodon. (The author has been unable to verify if said office has in fact been opened). PM Filip met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on 30 March 2017.
It appears that Chisinau is attempting to befriend the West regarding defense affairs without violating its own constitution, which calls for neutrality. A NATO civilian office or participation in multinational exercises abroad with the aim of training troops to operate in peace operations – Moldova’s most notable deployment abroad is its presence in the KFOR peace force in Kosovo since 2014 – does not violate the letter of the law, but arguably the spirit. It will be interesting to see how the Moldovan government continues to attempt to maintain some sense of neutrality in an increasingly tense region and a divisive political situation domestically.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Friday, October 27, 2017

IWP: Alumnus Spotlight: W. Alejandro Sanchez, International Affairs Analyst

Institute of World Politics
October 26, 2017
Originally published:

In this interview, we speak with W. Alejandro Sanchez, IWP Class of 2007. Alejandro is an international affairs analyst who focuses on geopolitical and defense issues in the Western Hemisphere.
How did you become interested in international affairs/national security? 
My father is a colonel (now retired) in the Peruvian Army, and several of my relatives have also been part of the Peruvian armed forces (my godfather is a retired general etc). Hence I grew up learning about the Peruvian military, the country's internal security problems (back in the 1980s and early 1990s we had two terrorist groups, Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) as well as South American geopolitics. I wouldn't say that I became interested in international relations and defense issues but rather that such issues have been part of my life for as long as I can remember.
What attracted you to IWP?
A decade ago, IWP had some signs in the DC metro, and I remember seeing one and decided that I would check it out. 
I had almost finished my M.A. degree, but I felt like I wanted to keep on studying and learn more perspectives about security affairs and global geopolitics. So I wrote down IWP's name and website on a notebook (this was just before smartphones came out), checked out the course catalog, and liked the courses that were offered. I also attended one of the open houses and found the staff and faculty very friendly, so I decided to apply.
IWP's location was another factor that convinced me to attend, as I work in the Dupont area, so commuting was pretty easy.
What was the most interesting thing you have learned at IWP? Did you write any papers or take any classes that you particularly enjoyed/were useful? 
Two classes I remember taking were Geography and Strategy with Professor Marek Jan Chodakiewicz and Chinese Grand Strategy with Professor Ross Munro. I really enjoyed the course on China, as I had never taken one just about said country before, and it really opened my eyes to Chinese foreign policy. I have written some pieces on China's relations with Latin America and Caribbean relations for several outlets, and it really helped me to take such a class to understand Beijing's vision and objectives.
As for the Geography class, I remember that we had to do a term paper, and I decided to go outside my area of expertise and I picked the Golan Heights. My paper discussed their importance from military and political perspective. I researched it so much that I decided to write a letter to the editor to the Jerusalem Post to provide my opinion about the importance of the Heights. And it was published! I remember adding the letter to my paper.
This success helped me gain confidence to write pieces on topics other than Latin America and the Caribbean.
Did studying at IWP change your thoughts about international affairs or national security?
I like to think that I'm open minded and willing to have my opinions changed, particularly when it comes to geopolitics, which is all about perspectives. At IWP, I certainly learned new points of view and opinions that I had not been exposed to in other places where I studied. Even if I do not agree with a point of view regarding international affairs, it's important for me as an analyst to be aware of it so I know how other individuals regard a particular issue. 
What do you feel are the most impactful actions/decisions you have made so far in your career? 
 I would say, writing about topics that could be considered obscure but are important geopolitically. I realized that to stand out as an analyst, I couldn't just write about the same issues everyone else was writing about, particularly as there are people much smarter than me (quite a lot of them) that analyze the same geographical regions as I do. So rather than writing about country X or problem Y that were on the news, I'd do some of that but also write about other areas. And it paid off!
Once I did a report on the role of Latin American militaries in United Nations peacekeeping operations, as my father was a Peruvian peacekeeper during the Yom Kippur War.
After the report was published, a professor contacted me saying he had read my piece and he invited me to write an essay for him, as he was the guest editor of an issue of the journal Globalizations. Of course I accepted, and I wrote about Brazil's role in the peacekeeping operations in Haiti and East Timor. I realized the literature out there, particularly in English, about Latin America's role in peacekeeping is very limited, so I started writing more pieces. Eventually, I became a member of an initiative called Providing for Peacekeeping: I did a profile of Peru's role in peacekeeping operations and I became their "Peru expert." I've also been invited to be a peer reviewer for a couple of journals on articles that discuss peacekeeping, and recently I co-authored a piece about MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with an analyst friend of mine who focuses on African affairs, as he has read my work on peacekeeping. 
It's pretty amazing the opportunities one gets from having an idea that's different.
What are your plans for the future?
I've thought about applying for a PhD program, as I think I have done enough articles, including various essays in books and peer-reviewed academic journals, that demonstrate that I'm a serious analyst and scholar. 
Additionally, I've thought about writing a book, though I have yet to find a topic that I can write 300 pages or more about and that would be of interest to publishers and readers.
What is a piece of advice you would give to members of the IWP community interested in joining the national security field? 
Considering all the different jobs and activities that fall under the umbrella term "national security," it is difficult to give a one-size-fits-all type of advice. 
I would say to those that want to be national security analysts (which includes a lot of intelligence/information gathering, analysis and writing), recognize you that your first draft will never sound like Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. You can write the best analysis imaginable, but if it has spelling/grammatical mistakes, your boss will be mad at you - I've seen reports lose credibility fast because the author kept writing "Columbia" instead of "Colombia" or the author mistook Paraguay for Uruguay. Always take the time to edit whatever you just wrote.
In your opinion, what is the strategic importance of Latin America and the Caribbean to the US? 
While I certainly acknowledge the tensions Washington has with countries like Venezuela these days, the truth is that the vast majority of Latin American and Caribbean states have cordial relations with the U.S. and want to maintain them, if not increase them.  While in other regions of the world, there is concern about U.S. military presence for example, most regional governments would actually welcome more U.S. security aid, particularly to combat transnational crimes like drug trafficking. I've read several posture statements by the commanders of Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) that repeatedly state how said agency has the lowest priority among the other Commands. I certainly understand the reason for this situation, as Latin America does not have nuclear weapons or major military powers that could threaten the U.S. or its allies (actually most Latin American governments can be regarded as U.S. allies!). Hence, I understand that this regional stability allows Washington to focus on more problematic areas of the world. 
With that said, the U.S. is part of the Western Hemisphere, this country has significant trade relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, a growing number of U.S. citizens have Latin American or Caribbean descent, and most regional states are reliable U.S. allies.
Moreover, since the region is not at risk of some violent conflict (Mexico's internal struggle with cartels notwithstanding), this means that the U.S. does not need to deploy major military resources and assets to protect its allies. Economic aid, greater support to combat transnational crimes, educational scholarships, public diplomacy initiatives, visits by the USS Comfort to communities in need, fairer trade agreements, or more regular visits by senior officials can go a long way to show to Latin America and the Caribbean that Washington recognizes their importance and values their support.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

IWP Presentation: Russia-Latin America and Caribbean Relations in 2017

You are cordially invited to a lecture on the topic of 
Russia-Latin America and Caribbean Relations in 2017 
Alex Sanchez
International Affairs Analyst, IWP Alumnus
Wednesday, October 11th
5:00 PM 
The Institute of World Politics
1521 16th Street NW
Washington, D.C.

About the lecture:
This presentation will discuss current relations between the Russian Federation and Latin American and Caribbean states. Apart from addressing Moscow’s relations with “the usual suspects” (e.g. Cuba and Venezuela), we will also explore initiatives with other regional states at the diplomatic, defense and economic level. We will conclude by discussing whether the Russian government currently has an overall strategy towards Latin America and the Caribbean and what new initiatives we can expect in the near future.
About the speaker:
W. Alejandro Sanchez is an international affairs analyst who focuses on geopolitical and defense issues in the Western Hemisphere. A member of the Forum on the Arms Trade, he is a regular contributor to IHS Jane's Defense Weekly, the Center for International Maritime Security, Living in Peru, among others. His analyses have appeared in journals including Small Wars and InsurgenciesDefence Studiesthe Journal of Slavic Military StudiesEuropean SecurityStudies in Conflict and Terrorismand Perspectivas. He received his B.A. from Ursinus College, his M.A. from American University, his Certificate on Caribbean Defense and Security from the National Defense University (Washington, DC) and his Certificate on International Politics from the Institute of World Politics.
The views expressed in this presentation are the sole responsibility of the presenter and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the presenter is associated.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Federatsia: Washington Ve a Medios Periodísticos Rusos como “Agentes Extranjeros

"Washington Ve a Medios Periodísticos Rusos como “Agentes Extranjeros”
 Por: W. Alejandro Sanchez
Octubre 3, 2017
Publicado originalmente en:

El 11 de Septiembre del 2017, la agencia de noticias rusa RT publicó un artículo informando que el Departamento de Justicia de Estados Unidos ha enviado una carta a sus oficinas, indicando que dicha agencia va a tener que registrarse, ante el gobierno norteamericano, como “agente extranjero” (“foreign agent”). Casi paralelamente reportes periodísticos explican que el FBI está investigando a Sputnik News, otra agencia de noticias rusa, para verificar si ha violado leyes federales al, aparentemente, haber diseminado propaganda rusa.

Estos incidentes se suman a las crecientes tensiones diplomáticas entre los dos países, mientras que el Congreso de los Estados Unidos continúa investigando el rol del gobierno ruso, en las elecciones del 2016 que resultaron en la victoria de Donald Trump. De acuerdo a Fox News la decisión sobre RT es una “fuerte señal que el contenido [de RT América] es visto como propaganda rusa.”

Declarar a una entidad como “agente extranjero” en Estados Unidos tiene como base legal el Acta de Registro de Agentes Extranjeros (Foreign Agents Registration Act: FARA) de 1938. Dicha ley “requiere a todos los que representen los intereses de potencias extranjeras a que expliquen su relación [con dichos gobiernos] además de proveer información de sus actividades y finanzas.” En este entonces, el objetivo de dicha ley era combatir la propaganda nazi. El Congreso Norteamericano, probablemente como consecuencia de las elecciones del 2016, está debatiendo una nueva versión de la ley FARA, llamada Agents Registration Modernization and Enforcement Act (ARMEA).
Vale mencionar que el respetado centro de investigaciones en Washington DC, el Brookings Institute, argumenta en un comentario que “si RT se registra como agente extranjero, esto no afectara la habilidad de esta agencia para diseminar su mensaje,” sino mas bien “proveerá transparencia a la ciudadanía norteamericana.”
Será importante monitorear la situación y ver si el gobierno ruso lleva a cabo acciones recíprocas, como exigir que los periodistas que trabajan para agencias extranjeras en Rusia, como Voice of America o Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty se registren como agentes extranjeros también. Esta posibilidad fue discutida recientemente durante un evento en Washington DC organizado por el Center for New American Security con el Representante Adam Smith (D-WA). Durante la sección de preguntas y respuestas, el congresista norteamericano fue preguntadosi agregar a RT y Sputnik a la lista de “agentes extranjeros” en EEUU, haría el trabajo de los periodistas extranjeros en Rusia mucho más difícil (no solo norteamericanos sino también británicos y alemanes, entre otros).

 El congresista respondió que sería mejor si Washington utiliza agencias como Voice of America para contrarrestar la retórica rusa y como el mensaje promovido por el gobierno ruso es una “amenaza” a EEUU. Ademas, explicó que aún si se cierran las oficinas en Washington de Sputnik y RT, estas agencias aun podrán transmitir sus mensajes via el internet, por ende el efecto de tal medida sería mínimo.

Vale mencionar que esta táctica de designar a entitades como “agencias extranjeras” no es solo utilizada por Estados Unidos, ya que el gobierno ruso también la usa. En el 2012 el Moscú creó una ley la cual, de acuerdo a Human Rights Watch, utiliza el término “agente extranjero” para cualquier entidad que recibe dinero del exterior (no solo de Estados Unidos) y lleva a cabo “activades políticas,” definidas de una manera bastante genérica. Esta ley sirve como justificación legal para silenciar a una multitud de organizaciones que operan en Rusia, las que tal vez no sean del agrado del Kremlin. El8 de Septiembre, Human Rights Watch publicó una lista de 84 organizaciones que han sido registradas bajo esta ley, más cuatro que lo hicieron voluntariamente.

Un caso digno de mencionar brevemente es Aetas, una organización de jóvenes que combate la contaminación en el Oblast de Arkhangelsk, en la costa ártica del país. El 1 de Septiembre, el Ministerio de Justicia ruso anunció que esta organizazión había sido incluida “en la lista de organizaciones no gubernamentales que llevan a cabo acciones de un agente extranjero”,  de acuerdo a The Barents Observer, ya que trabaja de manera conjuntan con una agencia ambientalista noruega, Nature and Youth, la cual recibe fondos del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Noruega. Sin embargo, es necesario expresar que Aetas se dedica a proteger el medio ambiente en Arkhangelsk, es decir no es política, pero aun así ha tenido que registrarse. El reporte de The Barents Observer tiene una objetiva discusión de los problemas que afrentan las organizaciones no gubernamentales rusas hoy en día debido a que el título de “agentes extranjeros” influye en como son tratadas por el público en general y limitan el tipo de actividades que pueden llevar a cabo.

Desafortunadamente, todo indica que los incidentes entre estas dos potencias nucleares mundiales van a continuar. Por el momento, la posibilidad de un incidente militar entre Moscú y Washington es aún muy bajo, al menos esa es la opinión del autor; sin embargo eso no significa que el resto del mundo debe estar tranquilo por los recientes incidentes entre los dos gobiernos.

Las opiniones expresadas en este comentario son solo del autor y no necesariamente representan las opiniones de las organizaciones con las que el autor está afiliado.

CIMSEC: A Growing Concern: Chinese Illegal Fishing in Latin America

"A Growing Concern: Chinese Illegal Fishing in Latin America"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
The Southern Tide
Center for International Maritime Security
September 19, 2017
Originally published:

The Southern Tide
Written by Wilder 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
In mid-August the Ecuadorian Coast Guard detained a Chinese vessel off the Galapagos Islands, an inspection revealed the ship was transporting approximately 300 tons of fish, some of which were endangered species. This is yet another high-profile incident involving Chinese ships fishing without authorization in Latin American waters and ongoing efforts by regional naval forces to stop this crime. (This commentary follows up a previous report by the author for CIMSEC entitled “Latin American Navies Combat Illegal Fishing.”)
Ongoing Incidents
The most recent incident occurred on 13 August when anEcuadorian Coast Guard vessel and a supporting helicopter detained the Chinese vessel Fu Yuang Yu Leng 999 within the Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve. The vessel was escorted to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where an inspection discovered over 300 tons of a variety of fishes, particularly hammerhead and silky sharks as well as other endangered species. The vessel was a factory ship, which was fed fishes that were caught by other vessels. The country’s Ministry of Defense has stated that the Chinese fleet operating around Ecuador may number as many as 300 vessels. The incident prompted non-violent protests in front of the Chinese embassy in Quito as well as in Santa Cruz Island. At the time of this writing Ecuadorian authorities have put the crew on trial and have also sent a letter of protest to the Chinese government.
Previous to this case, the most notable illegal fishing-related incident in the region (so far) occurred in Argentina last year. In March 2016, the Argentine Coast Guard located a Chinese fleet fishing in its territorial waters by Chubut, southeast of the country. Security vessels were deployed, and the Coast Guard shot at the vessel Lu Yan Yuan Yu to prevent it from fleeing to international waters. Rather than stopping, the Chinese ship tried to ram one of the vessels.
There have been other incidents in the past couple of years involving Chinese fishing fleets. A final example occurred in 2015, when the Chilean Navy stopped a number of Chinese vessels off the Bio Bio region in Chile’s exclusive economic zone. The concern was that they were fishing for shrimp. An 11 July 2015 Navy press release explains that said vessels were inspected and no illegal cargo was found.
In December 2016, the Peruvian media reported the presence of large fleets from Asian nations (China, Korea, Taiwan). Similar articles explaining how these fleets hurt Peru’s fishing industry were also published in May to continue to raise awareness among the population. It is important to stress that apart from the 2016 incident in Argentina, there have been no other reports regarding violent maneuvers by Chinese fishing vessels when in contact with Latin American security forces (at least none that the author could verify).
The Response
Leaving aside the governmental response to these incidents, regional naval security forces now must demonstrate that they are capable of monitoring and controlling their nation’s territorial waters. For example, after the Galapagos Islands incident, the Ecuadorian Navy carried out naval exercises aimed at combating transnational maritime crimes. The 209/1300 submarineHuancavilca participated in the maneuvers, along with three coast guard vessels and a helicopter. A civilian fishing vessel and crew were also utilized as the target for said maneuvers. Days after the exercises, the Ecuadorian media reported thatHuancavilca had departed for the Galapagos Islands to help with patrolling the area against illegal fishing activities.
It is also worth noting that Ecuador and other nations are obtaining new naval platforms, particularly offshore patrol vessels (OPV), to monitor their maritime territory. For example, IHS Jane’s has reported that on 31 July the Argentine government passed a decree “authorizing state credit to finance some of the major defense acquisition programs included in the 2017 budget.” The acquisitions program includes OPVs, Beechcraft T-6C+ Texan II aircraft, among others. It is unclear if the OPV acquisition was motivated by the 2016 incident, but it stands to reason that this incident provided even more evidence that the Argentine Navy requires new platforms for maritime control.
Discussing unauthorized Chinese fishing is complicated as alarmism must be avoided. The incidents between Chinese fishing fleets and security forces in Latin American waters have been few – at least from what has been reported. And apart from the 2016 incident in Argentina, none other has been violent.
Nevertheless, there are a plethora of reports regarding Chinese fleets operating without authorization in Latin America and other parts of the world, particularly in Africa: just this past June, Senegal detained seven Chinese trawlers for illegally fishing in its waters. Moreover, it is correct to assume that these fleets will continue to attempt to operate in Latin American waters in the near future, particularly as domestic demand for maritime resources prompts them to be bolder when it comes to the areas that they travel to. It is also important to mention that not all the fish China captures are for internal consumption, as the Wilson Center’s report “Fishing for Answers” explains: “most of China’s high-value species and about half the overall catch are exported to the EU, the United States, and Japan, and the other half is brought back to China and sold domestically.” (While this article is focusing on illegal fishing by Chinese fleets, we must keep in mind how growing global demand for fish is affecting the fishing industry in general).
Thus one concern looking toward the future is whether there will be more violent confrontations between illegal fishing fleets and security forces given a growing demand for maritime resources. So far, the vessels have either attempted to flee or surrendered to authorities, but the Argentine incident raises the question: would some of these crews one day decide to fight back in order to avoid capture and protect their profit?
Finally, the possible ramifications of future incidents like this must be considered. China is a global economic force, and most nations, including developing nations such as those in Latin America, would not want to take Beijing head on. This is arguably the reason why the incidents mentioned in this article have not somehow evolved into some type of trade or diplomatic crisis. In fact, just this past March, the Argentine government signed a  memorandum of understanding with the Chinese company Ali Baba to sell products like wine, meat, and (somewhat ironically) fish. Similarly, in spite of the December 2016 reports about the Chinese fishing fleet in its territorial waters, Chinese-Peruvian trade remains strong as the latest data by the Peruvian government states that trade grew by 30 percent in the first half of 2017 compared to the same period last year.
How Ecuador reacts to this latest incident will be interesting as Quito-Beijing ties are not only strong due to commerce but also on other areas. For example, Ecuador has acquired “709 4×4 and 6×6 multipurpose trucks, 6×4 fuel and water trucks, and different types of buses in a deal reportedly worth USD81 million,”according to IHS Jane’s. On 4 September, Ecuador’s daily El Telegrafo reported that China’s Ministry of Agriculture has proposed the establishment of an “intergovernmental communication mechanism” between Quito and Beijing to “exchange information and jointly protect” maritime resources and crack down on illegal fishing activities. At the time of this writing there have been no reports about how the Ecuadorian government will respond to this proposal but, if previous incidents in other countries are a precedent, the Galapagos Islands incident will probably be minimized in order to protect Quito-Beijing partnerships in other areas.
Final Thoughts
Demographic growth and scarcer maritime resources are a catalyst for more frequent clashes at sea. In recent years there have been various reports about Chinese fishing fleets operating in international waters and also crossing into a country’s maritime territory to carry out unauthorized fishing activities. The most recent August incident off the Galapagos Islands is another example of this problem, one which has gained prominence in Latin America since the March 2016 incident in Argentina.
New platforms like OPVs will help regional navies to more efficiently patrol their maritime territory and intercept unauthorized fishing fleets in the near future; however this is just half of the equation. The second part is how Latin American governments will adapt their relations (particularly trade) with China since most violating fishing fleets appear to be Chinese. Combating illegal fishing is a complex issue, as it involves modern (and numerous) platforms for surveillance and interception, as well as a skilled judicial system to prosecute the culprits. Adding the future of a country’s relations with China will not make the problem any easier. 
 Alejandro Sanchez Nieto 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.