Week of December 28, 2020 | Issue 1
Violent Protests are Currently Unfolding in Lima, Peru
Parties involved: Lenca Indigenous people; Honduran government; Unknown armed men; National Police of Honduras
The event: Indigenous environmental activist Félix Vásquez was assassinated Saturday in front of his family by unknown armed masked men. He was planning on running for Congress in 2021 to represent the Lenca people.
This comes just four years after the assassination of Berta Cáceres, who was also a leader of the Lenca people. Indigenous people have always been persecuted in the Latin American region, but since the pandemic began there has been an uptick in the deaths of environmental activists and Indigenous leaders in the region. This has been especially true in countries like Colombia who saw a significant increase in the deaths of environmental activists in 2020.
Although it is very unlikely, Vásquez’s death could be unrelated to his affiliation to the Lenca people and his activism for the environment since Honduras is currently in a humanitarian crisis. However, it is more likely that the assassination of Vásquez was executed to prevent his bid for Congress in 2021and to discourage indigenous people and environmentalists from speaking out.
Honduras is known for not acknowledging Indigenous peoples’ rights and being a hostile place for those who speak up for the indigenous people living there. Much like the rest of Latin America, Honduras struggles to police its own country due to the presence of drug cartels and paramilitary groups in the region. The armed group who murdered Vásquez may be affiliated with a drug cartel or Honduran elites who have owned the land since 2013 when the Los Cachiros drug cartel forfeited the land to the Honduran government. Much like the murder of Berta Cáceres, Félix Vásquez’s death is surrounded by uncertainty.
Location: Caracas, Venezuela; Punto Fijo, Venezuela
Parties involved: Office of the President; Venezuelan Government; Unknown Assailants allegedly acting on behalf of the National Assembly allied to Juan Guaido; Office of Venezuelan Fiscal General Tarek Saab.
The event: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro stated recently that law enforcement officials disrupted a plan to attack the Amuay oil refinery, assassinate a governor, and take key points in the city of Caracas to prevent the installation of the pro-Maduro National Assembly in Venezuela following the recent December 2020 elections. This is the second allegedly foiled attack on the Amuay refinery in three months.
The Amuay crude oil refinery is Venezuela’s largest refinery complex. It is extremely important to the Venezuelan economy since Venezuela's largest exports are oil and natural gas products. Because the refinery is a cornerstone to Venezuela’s national and economic security, the Maduro regime may signal imminent danger to the refinery at a low audience cost to fuel popular support for the regime.
The Venezuelan government has demonstrated a pattern of exaggerating both claims of terrorism as well as falsifying plots to augment sentiments of nationalism among the population. In 2019, The Venezuelan Government accused the United States of working in concert with Colombia to instigate a coup d’état by American mercenaries. The claim has been unsubstantiated by most of the North and South American communities. If the allegations of this recent plot are indeed false, the perceived credibility of Venezuelan security forces among foreign audiences decreases. This will diminish overall diplomatic credibility and economic stability as countries and businesses will be unwilling to trust the Venezuelan government and be unable to accurately project Venezuelan policy.
Parties involved: US government; Citgo executives; Venezuela officials
The event: The US government has imposed new sanctions upon the Venezuelan officials who were involved in the imprisonment of the “Citgo 6”, the six American Citgo executives who were tried on charges of corruption in Venezuela. The US imposed the sanctions based on the reports that the trial of the American executives was both unfair and lacked transparency.
This has been perceived as the next step in a long list of tension-inducing actions between the US and Venezuela. Previous sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of corruption mainly took the form of freezing of financial assets, blocking travel, and monitoring their movements and activities. These new sanctions achieve two strategic outcomes for the US: they deter future Venezuelan officials from engaging in a politically aggressive manner toward US business assets and personnel, and they provide diplomatic leverage for the US to pressure Venezuela to act in the US’ best interest. As it is in the US’ best interest to protect its international business assets and personnel, the United States may lift the sanctions in return for Venezuela alleviating the “Citgo 6’s” charges or sentences. Alternatively, the US may also lift sanctions in exchange for other outcomes, such as Venezuela releasing all detained journalists of allied nations, or, releasing information on Iranian operatives in the region.
The new sanctions could induce the Venezuelan government to improve the legal circumstances of the “Citgo 6”, but given the past track record of the current Maduro Administration’s relations with the US, it seems more likely that the sanctions could cause the Venezuelan government to hold to the American executives’ original sentencing.
Date: 31. 12. 20
Location: Lima, Peru
Parties involved: President Francisco Sagasti, farmworkers
The event: Two victims died after officers reportedly used live firearms against a protest blocking the main coastal road through La Libertad, a farming community 600 kilometers north of the capital Lima.
Peru’s President has vowed tough action against the police, sparking fresh calls for police reform in the wake of anti-government protests in which at least two people were killed and 200 injured amid widespread allegations and reports of police violence. Despite the President’s mild attempt at alleviating public anger toward law enforcement and the government, protests are likely to continue. Since the next Peruvian presidential election occurs in April 2021, political opponents and people dissatisfied with the government will seek to augment the issue of police brutality to highlight the ineptitude to enact reform of the current ruling party.
Further calls for reform come from farmers and other key agricultural players to stop discrimination of benefit payments within Peru’s agricultural sector. The simultaneous urban protests against police brutality with the more rural protests for agricultural reform present a security threat to Peru. Peruvian security forces and law enforcement units may be spread too thin in an attempt to monitor as many protests as possible, leaving population areas vulnerable to attack by gangs and terrorist groups. Furthermore, substantial mistrust in the government by both urban and rural populations may play into the hands of terrorist recruitment efforts. This may cause a resurgence of The Shining Path, a Maoist terrorist organization known for its extreme violence, since they have historically received support among disgruntled Indigenous peoples, farmers, and the urban poor.
Location: Venezuela, Northern South America
Parties involved: Tren de Aragua gang, street gangs, South American governments
The event: Tren de Aragua, a criminal group that started as a prison gang, has exploded in size in the last several months. Tren de Aragua has a presence in numerous states in Venezuela and has expanded into Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Tren de Aragua’s expansion in Colombia can be traced to Venezuelan refugees. There are already nearly 5 million Venezuelan refugees and this development could lead to stigmatization and resistance towards refugees.
Tren de Aragua is believed to be covertly permitted to operate by corrupt Colombian officials. As the gang expands in size and commits more crimes, there will likely be pushback from Colombian citizens.
This gang has managed to become more powerful than Venezuelan police forces in parts of the country based on reports from Venezuela and Peru about their expanded activities. This strength shows that the Venezuelan government is willing to turn a blind eye to Tren de Aragua’s activities in the region like they do with ELN, FARC, and the Colectivos. Or, it could show that the strength of Venezuela’s government and their military has decreased considering the constant fire-fights in the streets of Venezuela.
Terrorist implications of this group are very likely in the future since they have a history and reputation of kidnappings, homicide, drug, arms, and human trafficking. Recently the group has made connections with groups in other states in Venezuela, as well as other countries like Peru. It is probable that we will see an organized crime network flowing through the Tren de Aragua gang much like we see in the Tri-Border Area.
__________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)