Thursday, September 14, 2017

Peru Promotes Avocados In The US Market

"Peru Promotes Avocados In The US Market"
W. Alejandro Sanchez and Brittney J. Figueroa
Living in Peru
5 September 2017
Originally published:

Avocado toast, avocado face masks, and avocado desserts are only some of the latest trends in the U.S. growing the demand for the delicious fruit and Peru is ready to provide.

Marketing for Peruvian products has hit the streets of the U.S. capital, Washington DC. One of the authors of this commentary has seen posters promoting Peruvian avocados plastered on the sides of DC public transportation metro-buses, which show aPeruvian avocado, with the renowned Machu Picchu in the background and the phrase “Avocados from Peru” in large font.
A web address ( links to a site maintained by the Peruvian Avocado Commission, headquartered in Washington DC. The commission is part of the Hass Avocado Board, an organization that has a membership of some 20,000 producers and importers from California, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, New Zealand, and Peru all involved in the U.S. Market.

A Growing Market for Avocados

The increase in demand and trendiness of the fruit has greatly affected thepopularity of avocados, particularly in the coveted U.S. market (a 2014 USAID report explains that “the U.S. is a negligible avocado exporter”so practically all of the 245,000 MT of domestic production is consumed domestically).
As an example of how this fruit has gone viral, at the time of this writing, there are6,424,857 public posts under the Instagram hashtag “avocado” with posts including colorful recipes by health gurus, tutorials on how to implement avocado into a beauty regimen, and even avocado art. According to the Hass Avocado Board’s report on market trends52.2% of US households purchased avocados in 2016, a 0.5% percent increase from the prior year, and one that is expected to grow further during 2017.
While grocery stores continue to possess the main share of avocado purchase dollars at 73%, Wal-Mart has been the main growth driver in trends with +$10.7 million in incremental purchases and 28.9% of avocado-purchasing households buying from its stores during 2016. In the First Quarter of 2017 alone (ending on 3/26/17), avocados headed the list of top trending fruit.

The Peruvian-US avocado trade has grown rapidly in the last six years.

Peru has projected to ship about 150 million pounds of avocados to US markets during this June-August season, a number more than twice the amount of its 70 million pounds of shipments last year. An off-bearing year in California coupled with decreasing shipment volume from Mexico in recent years has allowed this increase.With more than 10,000 hectares of avocado farms along the coast of Peru, heavy rains due to El Niño in March were a big concern for growers. However, the damage, mostly done to roads and bridges, only set back the harvest by a few weeks. Even with the setback, Peruvian avocados will be welcome this season, as this year’s inconsistent Mexican avocado crop season ended in June.The Peruvian-US avocado trade has grown rapidly in the last six years.

Keep In Mind: Mission Produce

Mission Produce of Oxnard, California has been and continues to be, a pioneer in the Peru-US avocado trade. Following their initial import of Peruvian avocados to the US in 2011, they began planting 6,500 hectares of Hass avocados in Peru in 2012, and most recently, in 2015, Mission completed the world’s largest avocado packing facility in Chao, in Peru’s La Libertad region.
The joint venture between Mission Produce and the Gonzalez Group operates under the name Avocado Packing Co.; which has proven to be a win-win initiative.The $30 million packing house is massive, covering more than 12 acres. It’s packing capacity is even more impressive, as it has the ability to handle 30 tons of avocados per hour when operating at full capacity with 60% to 70% of the fruit destined for US markets.
In line with Peru’s commitment to sustainable projects (see the authors’ article “Peru and Green Energy”) the facility features an MAF Rodaoptical sorter,conserves energy by incorporates motion sensitive lighting, and will be LEED certified. There are plans to incorporate a second packing line sometime in 2017 that would increase packing capacity twofold, to 60 tons per hour.

A Competitive Market

As a final point, it is worth mentioning that apart from the U.S. market, Peruvian companies are also looking for other customers in other parts of the world. For example, the Peruvian daily La Republica reported in 2015 about Peruvian avocados en route to the big Chinese market. More recently, in mid-July, the daily Gestion explained how a potential free trade agreement with Australia will allow the import of eight Peruvian products, including avocados – the newspaper reported that the Australian avocado market is worth US$ 72 million.

In spite of these successes, Peru is not the biggest avocado exporter at the global level.

According to a March report by the Mexican daily El FinancieroMexico has the largest production of avocados, followed by the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and then Peru, in fourth place. It is worth mentioning that Mexico’s place as the biggest global exporter, and its access to the U.S. market, may be in jeopardy, not due to anything wrong with the product itself but rather due to politics. Namely, U.S. President Trump has discussed the idea of a tax on Mexican imports, which would include avocados; and, as CNN Money explains “in 2017, the U.S. is expected to get about 80% of its avocado supply from its southern neighbor, according to Tom Bellamore, president of the California Avocado Commission. That’s 2.14 billion pounds of avocados.”In spite of these successes, Peru is not the biggest avocado exporter at the global level.

It’s unclear if Washington-Mexico City relations will deteriorate to the point that Mexican imports are taxed if they want to enter the U.S., but if such a situation does happen, avocado exporters like Peru could greatly profit.

Final Thoughts

In various articles for Living in Peru, the authors have covered some of Peru’s signature agricultural exports to the world (particularly the U.S. market), such asblueberriesquinoa and, now avocados. Indeed, agriculture and minerals continue to be the cornerstone of Peruvian exports, which means that the country’s economy is at the mercy of either a precious mineral (e.g. copper) drying up, or a massive weather pattern destroying crops. Thankfully, the latest El Niño in Peru did not significantly hurt the avocado crops, but a similar situation could occur in the near future.

For the time being, Peruvian avocado growers and exporters will continue to profit from U.S. consumers’ growing interest in this crop.

The Peruvian Avocado Commission’s feature of Peruvian avocados on Washington DC’s public transportation system, with the always-recognizable Macchu Picchu in the background, is just one example of the ingenious ways agencies are successfully marketing this crop in the U.S. When Americans eat avocados, they should think beyond California and Mexico, and think of Peruvian avocados. 
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
Brittney J. Figueroa is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelors degree in Global Studies, and a Minor in Latin American Iberian Studies.
The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated.

TNI: Bloc Party Blues: Why Brazil Might Leave BRICS

"Bloc Party Blues: Why Brazil Might Leave BRICS"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
The National Interest - Blogs
5 September, 2017
Originally published:

BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) will hold its ninth summit September 3–5 in Xiamen, China. Naturally, the international community will be eager to know about any new initiatives and agreements, particularly between China and Russia. The BRICS meeting, however, occurs at a time of increased challenges for Brazil, and it is debatable how much the country can continue to contribute to the bloc.
The South American giant impeached then-President Dilma Rousseff in August 2016, making Vice President Michel Temer head of state until the October 2018 elections. This means that President Temer will have been in office for around two years, with one left in his presidency. This is hardly sufficient time to formulate a concrete long-term foreign policy.
To complicate the situation further, President Temer was charged in June with corruption regarding alleged bribes from JBS, a meatpacking company. Then, in early August, he narrowly survived a new challenge:  the Chamber of Deputies voted 263–227 against having the Supreme Court commence a trial against him. On the economic front, Brazil is still attempting to overcome a years-long recession crisis; the Financial Times reported on August 24 that Brazil’s economy has “shrunk by 7.4 per cent in the past two years and the government is wrestling with ballooned budget deficits.”
In other words, President Temer will not travel to Xiamen with a quiet home front.
As for Brazil’s relations with its fellow BRICS members, the situation is currently mixed, with both positives and negatives developments. For example, President Temer visited Moscow in June to meet President Vladimir Putin with the goal of increasing bilateral trade between the two nations. Brazil-Russia trade reached$4.3 billion in 2016. Meanwhile, China is Brazil’s major trading partner, therefore it remains a priority for Brasilia to continue its close relationship with Beijing and perhaps seek investment opportunities via the BRICS-led New Development Bank, headquartered in Shanghai.
As for Brazil’s relations with India and South Africa, the idea of South-South cooperation has stalled. This is particularly true for India, as there have been hardly any new initiatives in Brasilia-New Delhi relations recently, apart from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Fortaleza, Brazil, for the BRICS 2014 summit, and some defense-related initiatives (like the IBSAMAR exercises, the last of which occurred in 2016). If anything, India’s main priority regarding Latin America nowadays is Mexico, not Brazil.
Brazil-South Africa relations are slightly better than with India. For example, this past May, Brazilian foreign-affairs minister Aloysio Nunes Ferreira Filho visited several African nations, including fellow BRICS member South Africa, to jumpstart relations. Moreover, the 2016 free-trade agreement between the Southern African Customs Union and the Market of the Southern Cone, of which South Africa and Brazil are members, will likely increase commercial ties between the two countries.
The ninth BRICS summit arrives at a difficult time for Brazil. Its turbulent domestic politics and economic situation are not conducive to establishing a robust foreign-policy strategy. As for relations with fellow BRICS members, Brasilia is focused on increasing commercial ties in order to help jumpstart its economy. Hence, we can expect President Temer’s meetings with President Putin, President Jacob Zuma and President Xi Jinping to revolve around trade issues; a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Modi is required by protocol, although there have been no indications so far about an interest to increase Brasilia-New Delhi ties.
Since last year’s summit in Goa, India, there has been speculation about Brazil opting to leave BRICS. While it is unlikely that President Temer will make such a statement in Xiamen, Brazil’s current internal state may require a debate over how continued membership to BRICS would help Brazil, if at all.
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 including Small Wars and InsurgenciesDefence Studies,the Journal of Slavic Military Studies, European Security, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism and Perspectivas.

Moldova: Is Neutrality Still an Option?

"Moldova: Is Neutrality Still An Option?"W. Alejandro SanchezInternational Policy Digest15 August, 2017Originally published:

In late May, the government of Moldova expelled five Russian diplomats, accusing them of espionage and for, according to aReuters report, “recruiting fighters for the Moscow-backed insurgency in neighboring Ukraine.” Since achieving independence in 1991 and following the 1992 war that created the separatist region of Transnistria, Chisinau has had a difficult time remaining neutral in the geopolitical game between the Russian Federation and the West. Given regional challenges, like the conflict in Ukraine and NATO expansion (Montenegro became its 29th member on 5 June), it is improbable that Chisinau can remain neutral for long.
A Confusing Home Front
Trying to understand Moldovan foreign policy today cannot be done without discussing the country’s troubling internal politics. Current President Igor Dodon is well known for his pro-Moscow attitude. In fact, he visited Moscow in March, where he denounced his government’s current pro-Europe stance, since “as a result, we have actually lost our traditional Russian markets and failed to obtain new ones.” Additionally, the breakaway region of Transnistria continues to have a Russian military presence (Russian troops carried out exercises in June), which Moscow labels as peacekeepers even though Chisinau has repeatedly demanded that they should withdraw. Finally, it is important to note that in the south of the country there is a small region known as Gagauzia. In 2014 the region held a referendum, which Chisinau labeled as unconstitutional, in which it rejected a proposed plan for Moldova to sign a trade agreement with the European Union (EU) and rather supported closer ties with the CIS Customs Union, a Russia-backed alliance.
On the other hand, recent prime ministers (the real policymakers, as presidents have a largely symbolic role) have generally maintained a pro-Europe/West stance, including current PM Pavel Filip. This situation is best exemplified by the 2014 EU-Moldova Association Agreement.
Complicating the situation are Moldova’s seemingly never-ending political crises which have resulted in a string of elections and a revolving door of coalition governments. The 2009 crisis in which President Vladimir Voronin resigned is an example of this situation. In 2015, protests erupted when it was revealed that an astounding $1.1 billion had disappeared from the three leading Moldovan banks.
Most recently, in late May members of the Liberal Party, Education Minister Corina Fusu, Deputy Education Ministers Cristina Boaghe and Elena Cernei, Environment Minister Valeriu Munteanu and deputy ministers Igor Talmazan and Victor Morgoci, offered their resignationsto protest the detention of Chisinau city mayor, Dorin Chirtoaca, and Transport and Roads Infrastructure Minister Iurie Chirinciuc by the National Anticorruption Centre.
Moldova’s unstable domestic politics will inevitably influence its foreign policy, as the country is approaching Europe but also has to address a separatist, pro-Moscow Transnistria and a potential problem in Gagauzia. According to reports, the Moldovan citizens who have travelled to Russia and from there to Ukraine on behalf of the rebels were from Gagauzia. In such a complex situation, formulating a long-term foreign policy is quite the challenge.
Moldova in Europe’s Great Game
In 2009, the author of this commentary published an essay in the Journal of Slavic Military Studies entitled “The ‘Frozen’ Southeast: How the Moldova-Transnistria Question has Become a European Geo-Security Issue.” Said article discussed how NATO’s and the EU’s eastwards expansion, which included accepting Romania as a member in 2004 and 2007 respectively, meant that Moldova and its internal problems were directed at the EU and NATO’s borders.
Fast forward almost a decade since that piece and now it is external events that are having an impact in Moldovan affairs, like the war in Ukraine, which resulted in the Gagauzian affair. Additionally, in May there were reports that Kiev was considering closing its border with Moldova as the separatist Transnistria borders Ukraine – what actually happened was that Kiev and Chisinau opened a border checkpoint in Transnistrian “territory,” a move that separatist authorities condemned. Even more, when Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation in 2014, Transnistrian leaders requested that Moscow annex their region too. Moscow declined at the time.
At this point, it is important to keep in mind Article 11 of Moldova’s constitution, which states: “The Republic of Moldova proclaims its permanent neutrality,” and “The Republic of Moldova shall not allow the dispersal of foreign military troops on its territory.” Hence, the country cannot join military alliances like NATO. Nevertheless, pro-Western governments in Chisinau have tried to work around that issue by carrying out other defense initiatives. For example, Moldovan troops have participated in the Kosovo Force in 2014 and there are current plans to open a NATO civilian-staffed liaison office in Chisinau, a move that President Dodon has protested against.
This is the core of Moldova’s foreign policy woes as it tries to find a place in the West-Russia Great Game. If the government tries to approach the West, this move will be denounced by pro-Russian Moldovan politicians, including the President himself. Additionally, there is the concern regarding how will Transnistria, and even Gagauzia, respond if Chisinau attempts to seek even closer commercial links with the EU or security ties with NATO?
The recent incident in Gagauzia and Chisinau’s decision to expel five Russian diplomats (to which Moscow retaliated by expelling five Moldovan diplomats), brought bilateral relations to a new low. Nevertheless, it is necessary to stress that the two nations maintain close ties; for example Russian-Moldovan commerce is important, exemplified by a Russian 2014 ban of Moldovan produce (a retaliatory measure for approaching the EU), which hurt the landlocked nation’s economy. Additionally, many Moldovans migrate to Russia to work and send remittances to their families at home – Radio Free Liberty/Free Europe explains that “there are an estimated 500,000 Moldovans working in Russia.” Should bilateral relations become even more strained, Moscow could stop accepting Moldovan migrant workers, which would hurt the country’s economy even more. Moldova is likewise dependent on Russia for energy. RFL/FE reported in mid-July “98 percent is imported, most of it from Russia, and the imports are transported through the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniester” and how “Moldova’s electricity usage, 70 percent is generated in Transdniester.”
Nevertheless, President Dodon’s statement that Moldova is suffering because it has lost access to the Russian market is an exaggeration. According to a 27 June article, “since 2014, the European Union has become the main trading partner of Moldova. More than 63% of Moldovan exports are now directed to the EU and half of imports come from the EU. And there’s a positive trend in this. In the period January-April 2017, Moldova exported goods worth 430 million euros to the EU, 16% more than in the same period of 2016.”
Additionally, in early July the European Parliament approved a 100-million euro aid package for the landlocked nation, consisting of a loan of 60 million euros and a grant of 40 million euros. Such amounts, if adequately utilized, could continue to help Chisinau revitalize its economy.
As it stands, Moldova appears to be increasingly turning towards Europe for trade relations, but the country does remain dependent on both Russia and Transnistria.
The 2018 Elections
Could Moldova switch its foreign policy and approach Russia? This is theoretically possible. After all, the 2016 election of President Dodon is regarded as a protest vote by the population after several pro-West governments not only failed to improve the country’s economy but also failed to crack down on pressing problems like corruption. Certainly parts of the population, including most Gaugazians, if the 2014 referendum is to be believed, would prefer stronger Chisinau-Moscow ties, however, the succession of pro-West governments, the election of President Dodon notwithstanding, hints that most Moldovans would prefer closer relations with the EU and, probably, NATO as well.

Moldova is scheduled to have parliamentary elections in 2018. Current rumors, including interviews carried out by the author with experts on Moldova, suggest that the pro-Moscow Socialist party could emerge victorious, not necessarily because the majority of the general population looks with kinder eyes to Russia than to Europe, but rather as a sort of protest vote for mismanagement when it comes to domestic politics and the economy – e.g. the disappearance of USD 1.1 billion, which would unnerve anyone. (Political preferences among the Moldova electorate due to age differences is not the main focus of this analysis, however, experts stressed the importance of this issue to the author as the elections approach).
As a final point, it is important to mention a recent scandal involving “a network of nationalists, radicals, and neofascists across Eastern Europe,” led by Belarusian Alyaksandr Usovsky, with ties to Russian State Duma Deputy Konstantin Zatulin. The emerging narrative is that this network was trying to influence upcoming elections in Europe, which included working on a project apparently called “Moldova Is Not Romania.” Similarly protests have erupted over acontroversial electoral law that was passed in mid-July. It appears that both exterior agents as well as controversial decisions by domestic policymakers will influence the outcome of the 2018 elections in Moldova.
How Do You Formulate A Foreign Policy?
Attempting to suggest a foreign policy for a country like Moldova inevitably means addressing a plethora of issues that must be taken into account. This analysis has attempted to briefly describe the most important challenges, like the country’s pro-Moscow president against a pro-West prime minister and parliament, ongoing protests and scandals regarding corruption (including the missing USD$1.1 billion), also we must add breakaway Transnistria, a potential growing problem in Gagauzia as well as Moldova’s ongoing dependency on Russia for jobs and trade, and on Transnistria for energy.
Charting a foreign policy for, say, the next five years is no easy task – we will have to wait until the 2018 elections to see which political parties emerge victorious in order to have a better idea of how domestic politics will guide future foreign policy projects. With that said, the point here is that the country’s ongoing diplomatic stasis is not working. The 2014 trade agreement with the EU was a major diplomatic development, which prompted a Russian backlash. However, apart from that issue, and a potential NATO liaison office, there has been no major breakthrough or initiative out of Chisinau. Moreover, the Transnistria issue remains, for lack of a better term, ‘a frozen conflict.’
Nevertheless, even if Chisinau does not appear to have, in this author’s opinion, a diplomatic blueprint with clear objectives, the region around the country is changing and it will affect Moldovans one way or another. For example, the conflict in Ukraine will continue to have repercussions in Moldova, e.g. the Gagauzians or the 2014 Tranisnistrian request to join the Russian Federation or issues regarding the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. As a corollary to this article it is worth noting that an ongoing development was Romania’s decision to not allow a S7 commercial aircraft to cross Romanian airspace and land in Moldova because it was transporting Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is under Western sanctions – the airplane had to land in Minsk, Belarus. Rumors abound about the incident, including whether Bucharest was “asked” to prevent Rogozin from landing in Chisinau so he could not meet with President Dodon.
There are certainly many Moldovans who would prefer their country to remain neutral when it comes to international affairs and alliances, but Moldova’s internal situation, its geographical location and the geopolitics in its neighborhood mean that neutrality is hardly an option anymore.
The author would like to thank Lucia Scripcari.
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, August 28, 2017

Peru to join UN Security Council in 2018

Peru to join UN Security Council in 2018
W. Alejandro Sanchez & Brittney Figueroa
Living in Peru
August 1, 2017

Originally published:

Peru will become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the 2018-2020 period.

The Andean nation will join the Council’s other new members, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, and Poland, starting 1 January 2018.

Peru is no stranger to the UNSC, as it has served as a member on four occasions so far: 1955-1956, 1973-1974, 1985-1986, and 2006-2007. In other words, the country is part of one of the most important bodies of the United Nationsalmost once a decade, a significant accomplishment of the Peruvian diplomatic corps over the years.
The timing of Peru’s election could hardly be more relevant, as the global body is facing a number of security-related crises and issues which will require all 15 members to work in harmony to achieve long lasting solutions.  At the global level, crises like the wars in Iraq and Syria and their repercussions, particularly the immense number of internally displaced people as well as refugees seeking a better life in Europe, means that the UNSC will have to work in coordination with regional governments, international agencies, and other UN bodies.

In addition, the UNSC may have to adapt to doing more, or the same, with less, as US President Donald Trump’s 2018 Budget Plan proposes to reduce the funds Washington pays to the UN.

The US is the UN’s top contributor, providing 22% of the core budget and 28.5% of the peacekeeping budget, hence the diminution of financial support of the organization could make its current and future operations that much harder. In fact, the US government has already commenced a review to decide whether or not to continue funding each of the UN’s 16 current peacekeeping missions.  Should cuts take place, it will be up to the UN Secretary General, the UNSC, and the General Assembly to address this troubling scenario in order to continue the good work the UN carries out around the world.
Presently, Peru has deployed military personnel to eight peacekeeping missions.
t is important to note that at the hemispheric level, the UN will have two new peace missions, the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), which will replace the current MINUSTAH mission in Haiti beginning this October, as well as a political mission that will oversee the peace and reintegration process in Colombia now that the conflict with the FARC insurgents has ended.
Most notably, the Andean nations’ military just withdrew the last of its troops that were part of the mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH. Currently, the country’s largest contribution is a company of engineers in the UN mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, which constructs and maintains roads and airfields.

Even at the individual level, it is worth noting that Peruvians have made valuable contributions to the UN’s bureaucracy.

The most well know example is prominent Peruvian Javier Perez de Cuellar who served as the UN Secretary General (1982-1991). During his tenure, Perez de Cuellar was very involved in the Contadora Peace Process in Central America, among other initiatives. As for other notable Peruvians in the UN Tarcila Rivera an indigenous leader, was elected as a representative to the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2016. Another noteworthy individual is Gladys Acosta Vargas, who has collaborated with the UN Research Institute for Social Development and is currently a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2015-2018).
This initiative probably played an influential role in the transcendental 2015 COP climate change conference in Paris.
As for participation in other UN agencies, Peru is one of the 54 current members of the UNECOSOC(UN Economic and Social Council), which focuses onissues such as health, poverty, food security, and humanitarian aid to refugees. Additionally, in 2015, the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA), a joint effort by the two nations to bring together state and non-state actors to work in cooperation against climate change, launched a website in anticipation of the then-upcoming 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21).
Peru’s membership in the UNSC during the 2018-2020 period means that Lima will be a kite in a metaphorical storm, as the UN faces a number of troubling challenges, particularly the anticipated drastic budget constraint proposed by the US. In spite of the UN’s uncertain future, this new term at the UNSC nomination should make Peruvians proud and will offer the Andean country an ideal stage to demonstrate its commitment to global progress and how Peru can be a positive actor at the global level.
Also read Alejandro Sanchez, “Pax Inca: Why is Peru Not a Regional Powerhouse in Latin America?” Centro Argentino de Estudios Internacionales. 2013. (PDF Available here)
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.
Brittney J. Figueroa is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelors degree in Global Studies, and a Minor in Latin American Iberian Studies.
The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated.

Narco Submarines: A Problem That Will Not Sink

Narco Submarines: A Problem that will not Sink
W. Alejandro Sanchez
"The Southern Tide"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
24 August, 2017

Originally published:

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 Alejandro Sanchez
In the past year a number of narco submarines have been seized in several Latin American states. Narco submarines continue to be a problem as hemispheric security forces combat drug trafficking. Unfortunately for every narco sub that is seized, another is under construction. While recent successful operations should be applauded, combating narco subs needs a regional strategy of its own.
This commentary is a continuation of previous articles published by CIMSEC on this issue: “An Update on Narco Submarines and Maritime Law Enforcement Agencies’ Efforts to Thwart their Operational Effectiveness,” “Narco submarines: Drug Cartels’ Innovative Technology,” as well as the author’s “U.S. Southcom vs Caribbean Narco Pirates.” The incidents mentioned in this commentary will focus on events that have occurred over the past year. (The colloquial term “narco sub” will be utilized for these platforms, though we will later do a more thorough analysis of their characteristics.)
Recent Narco Sub Incidents
In recent months, several narco submarines have been seized in various Latin American states. For example, on 5 August, Ecuadoran marines located one in the Las Delicias area, close to the border with Colombia. For Colombia, a narco sub was seized in an operation by army and naval personnel in the San Juan and Baudó Rivers in the Choco department in late July. The platform, which was carrying approximately four tons of cocaine, was apparently manufactured by ELN rebels. The Colombian Navy explained that this was the first time a narco sub was operating in a river, and that it probably took some five to six months to be constructed. Not long after, in mid-August, the Colombian Navy located yet another narco sub, this time in the Nariño department and with the capacity to transport up to four tons of drugs. This one measured 14 meters, with a diesel motor and propellers, the Navy explained in a communiqué.

Narco subs have also been located in Central America. For example, a narco sub, reportedly 16 meters in length and capable of transporting up to five tons of drugs, was found inGuatemala in mid-April. Months later, in late July, the Costa Rican Coast Guard found a similar illegal platform on a beach. Local authorities believe that the vessel, with the capacity to transport up to four tons of drugs, had a motor problem and was discarded by the crew, until it washed ashore and got stuck in the sand.
Catching Them At Sea
The aforementioned examples highlight one fact. So far, the vast majority of narco-platforms are captured in the mainland (meaning either on dry land or “docked” in some body of water), either before they depart or upon arriving to their destination.
As far as the author has been able to find, in the past couple of years, there have only been a couple of narco subs intercepted in open waters. One was in July 2015, when during a “joint operation, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and assets from the Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine, intercepted a “narco submarine” off the coast of El Salvador,”Business Insider explains. The platform was carrying over 16,000 pounds of cocaine.

More recently, in early September 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche intercepted a narco sub in the Pacific Ocean off the Central American coast. The Cutter reportedly launched two vessels and an armed helicopter in pursuit. U.S. personnel caught up with the sub, apprehended five suspects, and thwarted a scuttling attempt by pumping water out of the interior of the sub.” By preventing the sinking of the sub, the USCG seized more than 5,600 pounds of cocaine, with an estimated value of USD$73 million.
Who Finds The Narco Subs?
Nowadays, several Latin American and Caribbean navies and coast guards are undergoing a modernization process, which includes the acquisition of new platforms. For example,Colombia and Mexico are domestically manufacturing new fleets of patrol vessels. Christian Ehrlich, a director of intelligence for Riskop, a Mexican Strategic intelligence and risk control company explained to the author that  the Mexican Navy is in the process of adding Damen Sigma 10514 frigates to its fleet, “this will provide a decisive boost to Mexico’s Maritime Domain Awareness but unfortunately it will be some time before this system has an acceptable operational level” (construction for the first of the new frigates commenced in mid-August). Meanwhile The Bahamas is in the final stretch of its ambitious Sandy Bottom Project, via which it is obtaining a fleet of different patrol boats from Damen Group. Similarly, in late June IHS Jane’s reported that Louisiana-based shipbuilder Metal Shark and Damen will construct near coastal patrol vessels (NCPVs) for regional U.S. partners like “the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala.” It is worth noting that Mr. Ehrlich, remarked how Mexico possesses aircraft like CASA CN—235 and Beechcraft King Air 350ER for ISR; Colombia also possesses similar assets.
Nevertheless, in spite of more modern navies and coast guards, locating narco subs at sea continues to be a problem. In an interview with the author, Gustavo Fallas, a journalist for the Costa Rican daily La Nacion, explained that “[Costa Rica] depends on the Americans to combat [narco submarines]. In 2006 we detained a submersible with three tons [of drugs] and it was thanks to an American frigate. In 2012 we chased another one in the Caribbean, and it was also after the Americans alerted us. For those reasons it is vital to have U.S. aid to locate these platforms.” Mr. Fallas added that Costa Rica must create a shield (meaning more vessels, radars, personnel) to prevent drug traffickers from using the country as a warehouse or transit path for drugs.
Unfortunately, Randy Pestana, a policy analyst at Florida International University’s Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy, has a gloomy assessment about regional naval forces vis-à-vis narco subs. Mr. Pestana explained to the author how “relying on partner nations to stop, slow, or detain these shipments is difficult in itself as they do not have the necessary tools to do so unless provided by the U.S.” Of a similar opinion is Mr. Ehrlich, who stated to the author that “there isn’t a navy or coast guard in Central America with the [necessary platforms] to detect, follow and interdict [narco submarines].” 
In other words, Central American navies will continue to rely on the U.S. (be it SOUTCHOM or the Coast Guard) to monitor maritime areas in order to combat, among other threats, narco submarines. This is problematic, since, as Mr. Pestana remarked, even U.S. security agencies have limits to their abilities, particularly nowadays when the U.S. has other security operations and geopolitical concerns around the globe. Furthermore, there is the problematic and ever-present red tape, namely, “the inability of the U.S. to respond to an identified narco submarine without permission from higher leadership. This often led to the narco submarine to either get away, or move out of the U.S. areas of operation,” the FIU expert explained.
How To Find A Narco Sub
Locating a narco submarine at sea is a tricky business. In an interview with the author, Mario Pedreros, a retired Chilean Naval officer and an expert in airborne maritime patrol, provided an excellent analysis on this problem.
As previously mentioned, the term narco submarine is commonly utilized for these vessels, however they are not really submarines. As Mr. Pedreros explains, these platforms are semi-submersibles, meaning that they cannot go completely underwater, and if they can do so, it is for brief periods of time. (“Narco submarine” is still a catchier name than “narco-semi-submersible” though). However, even if these vessels cannot fully dive, they are nonetheless difficult to locate at sea. Mr. Pedreros explained how some of these platforms have electronic motors, which makes them more silent than diesel engines, making them harder to find with passive sonar. “When it comes to semi-submersibles, utilizing  sonar is not very efficient,” Mr. Pedreros concludes. Adding to the problem is that the vessel is pretty small, and “once at sea, the submersibles have 20 percent of their structure above the surface,” making them hard to pinpoint by radar.

Mr. Pedreros recommended maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) as an ideal tool to combat narco submarines at sea, as these aircraft possess superior sensors and radars for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Obviously, locating the target is only part of the solution, because then it has to be intercepted. “The aircraft must work with together with a vessel to capture the submersible. In other words, there are three components in this process: an aircraft (MPA), a vessel, and a light boat that can board the submersible and detain the crew,” the retired Chilean Naval officer explained. As previously discussed, various Latin American and Caribbean navies are acquiring OPVs with attached light boats, while Colombia and Mexico have platforms for maritime patrol, fulfilling the requirements by Mr. Pedreros; what is needed is greater multinational support, apart from additional platforms. 
The Future of the Narco Sub
It would be naïve to assume that recent successful operations by regional security forces will convince drug traffickers to stop investing in narco submarines. There is simply too much money to be made in drugs, and the subs cost only around USD$1 million to manufacture. Even if five narco subs are stopped, drug traffickers only need one or two successful deliveries to make up for their losses.
Moreover, recently seized narco subs show they are becoming more technologically advanced, including bigger in size so they can transport greater quantities of contraband. The narco sub seized in mid-July in Choco had space for a crew of four, measured 9 meters in length by 4 wide, had radars, stabilizers, ballast weights and was powered by over 100 batteries, according to the Colombian daily El Colombiano.
Indeed, the (brief) history of narco subs shows a trend towards modernization, particularly as drug lords are always looking for new methods to transport drugs, from Cessna aircraft and go-fast boats during the Pablo Escobar era to drones and narco subs nowadays (though of course, narcos continue to utilize the former as well). Mr. Pestana drives this home remarking how “top drug traffickers are relatively smart and have a good grasp on technology and history.” Moreover, the attractive wages narco-organizations can afford to pay means that they can hire “former engineers or other trade workers,” as Mr. Pestana explains, to continuously improve previous designs.
Final Thoughts
From a scholarly point of view, the appearance of the narco sub is a fascinating development as it highlights drug traffickers’ ingenuity as they continuously think of new ways of transporting their contraband. Unfortunately, this represents an ongoing problem for regional security forces, as new narco subs become more technologically advanced. Unfortunately, even though many narco subs have been stopped, it only takes one successful trip to make a large profit.
In spite of several successful operations, combating narco submarines requires both a multiagency and multinational strategy of its own. Mr. Ehlrich stresses the necessity to disrupt the construction of these platforms (which requires cooperation between police and military units). As for when narco submarines are at sea, the Greater Central American region requires united front, such as a regional anti-narco submarine task force. By combining resources, in which member states can contribute platforms to create the three-platform interception teams that Mr. Pedreros described, this unit would ideally be more successful at locating narco subs at sea, and not just in inland waterways. This will decrease the region’s dependency on the U.S., which Mr. Pestana and Mr. Fallas highlighted.
Unfortunately, narco submarines are a problem that will not sink, hence new strategies are needed in order to combat them more efficiently.
 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 author would like to thank the various experts that contributed to this commentary:
Christian J. Ehrlich, Director of Intelligence, Riskop; External Analyst, Mexican Navy
Gustavo Fallas, Journalist, La Nacion (Costa Rica)
Mario Pedreros, a retired Chilean Navy Officer, expert in aero-maritime patrol. He participated as a Tactical Coordinator Officer (TACCO) in different missions overseas onboard Chilean Navy P-3 Orion aircrafts. Missions include Anti Submarine Warfare, Anti Surface Warfare, Anti Terrorism missions and Search and Rescue operations. He is currently based in Washington, DC. doing consulting for several Defense and Security companies.
Randy Pestana, Policy Analyst, Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy, Florida International University
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.