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Security Brief: SOUTHCOM Week of September 27, 2021

Week of Monday, September 27, 2021 | Issue 46

Mirjana Stancic, SOUTHCOM Team


Venezuelan gas field La Perla.[1]


Date: September 25, 2021

Location: Iran; Venezuela

Parties involved: Iran; Venezuela; Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA); National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC); The United States (US)

The event: Venezuela has agreed to trade heavy oil for Iranian condensate in order to evade US sanctions imposed on both countries.[2] The US Treasury Department has not yet commented on the deal but has warned that further sanctions, including secondary sanctions on non-state actors, could result from the export deal.[3]

The implications:

  • The trade alliance is likely to encourage regional divergence from the US-led rules-based global order. Other countries, particularly those which are sympathetic towards President Maduro’s government in Venezuela, are likely to see the country as a potential partner to form alternative alliances against the United States and its allies. This is likely to have negative implications for South American diplomatic stability if Iran leverages a presence in the region, and it could strain existing inter-state tensions within South America.

  • There is a roughly even chance that this trade deal will promote stability within Venezuela and consequently within South America. If the agreement alleviates the social, economic, and humanitarian crises which the country is currently experiencing, then it is likely to have a positive impact on the Venezuelan refugee crisis.[4] In turn, this is likely to remove pressure from Colombia and surrounding countries that have been struggling to cope with the high volume of Venezuelan refugees, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Despite the potential short-term stability of this trade deal, the partnership is likely to prove costly in the long term as countries globally move away from oil and towards clean energy alternatives.

  • If the United States decides to retaliate with further sanctions or secondary sanctions on non-state actors such as Venezuelan or Iranian businesses and individuals, then Venezuelan economic stability is likely to be adversely affected by the trade deal. It may provoke harsher action by the United States which risks ostracizing Venezuela from the United States and its allies even further.

Date: September 28, 2021

Location: Penitenciaría del Litoral, Guayaquil, Guayas, Ecuador

Parties involved: Ecuador; Ecuadorian prisoners; Ecuadorian gangs

The event: At least 118 people were killed and 52 injured during a riot at an Ecuadorian prison in Penitenciaria del Litoral in Guayas Province.[5] Overcrowding, poor prison conditions, and inadequate resources contributed to Tuesday’s riot.[6] Gang rivalry, with one gang decapitating members of another gang within the prison, also instigated the riot.[7]

The implications:

  • The riot demonstrates a concerning trend of violence in Ecuador’s prisons and suggests high levels of instability. The decreased security within prisons makes further riots likely to occur as prison conditions continue to deteriorate.

  • The riot, and gang involvement, highlights the extent of gang control in Ecuador and within its prison system as well as the broader drivers of insecurity.

  • Unless Ecuadorian authorities are able to maintain control and improve security within prisons then future violence is very likely. This prolonged instability influenced by economic, social, and health crises such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is likely to impact neighboring countries, which are also struggling to contain violence and civil and political unrest.[8] This indicates a larger regional problem of containing high levels of crime and ensuring both stability within prisons and national security.

  • President Guillermo Lasso vowed to increase funding for prisons in August 2021, however, the lack of resources allocated to prisons remains a critical issue.[9] Civil and political unrest are likely to follow this week’s riots, as Ecuadorians fear for the safety of relatives in the prison and express anger over the government’s inability to maintain security within prisons.[10] Demonstrations are likely to demand political change, better prison management, and increased funding for prisons as President Lasso is likely to face political backlash for an inability to secure the nation’s prisons.

[1]'La Perla', en Venezuela/ 'The pearl', in Venezuela” by Repsol, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

[2] Exclusive: Under U.S. sanctions, Iran and Venezuela strike oil export deal, Reuters, September 2021, https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/exclusive-under-us-sanctions-iran-venezuela-strike-oil-export-deal-sources-2021-09-25/

[3] Ibid

[4] Extreme poverty in Venezuela rises to 76.6% - study, Reuters, September 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/extreme-poverty-venezuela-rises-766-study-2021-09-29/

[5] Ecuador riot: Anxious families await news after fighting kills 118 inmates, BBC, October 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-58733202

[6] Death toll in Ecuador prison riot rises to 116, six decapitated, Reuters, September 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/ecuador-raises-prison-riot-death-toll-30-still-recovering-bodies-2021-09-29/

[7] Ibid

[8] More Than a Battle for the Walls: Social Unrest and Duque's Repression in Colombia, Australian Institute of International Affairs, July 2021, https://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australianoutlook/more-than-a-battle-for-the-walls-social-unrest-and-duques-repression-in-colombia/

[9] Another Ecuador prison riot kills at least 24 people, Reuters, September 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/another-ecuador-prison-riot-kills-least-24-people-2021-09-28/

[10] Ecuador riot: Anxious families await news after fighting kills 118 inmates, BBC, October 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-58733202







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