Bulletin From The Borderlands
01 January 2023
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In This Issue:
The Americas : Covered in this issue by Analyze Educate
The collective eyes of Latin America are on Peru. The responses of the Mexico government under AMLO have been interesting as the country is usually perceived as not getting involved in the internal affairs of other nations. It appears AMLO has made an exception in this case. Observers will also be watching to see if Dina Boluarte resigns. Congress made corruption accusations against her before Castillo attempted his coup and it isn’t yet clear if those allegations will return any time soon. The new oil deal is a significant step for Maduro’s Venezuela. The six month lease to Chevron will likely serve as a test run for future deals between US oil companies and the South American country. It will also help the United States determine if it wants to ease sanctions any further.
Europe : Covered in this issue by Good Political
Old rivalries continue to steam up in Europe as the war in Ukraine continues to rage into its 11th month. Economic woes continue for most Europeans and Germany reports failures in it’s military capacity. Most notably is the tensions between Kosovo and Serbia threatening to spill into war as the nations deploy troops to their borders. Turkey and Greece continue to threaten one another, which spells trouble for the already strained alliance within NATO. Perhaps even more concerning is the rampant corruption being ousted in the European Union, with the Vice President being forced to step down as outside nations seek to exert their influence. Ultimately, the old continent remains both the epicenter for progress in the modern world and for conflict between old adversaries. As usual, it looks like just another day at the office.
East Asia and Oceania: Covered in this issue by Sino Talk
Japan has announced a groundbreaking national defense strategy, following shortly after passing new laws to allow the JSDF to conduct offensive military operations. Japan’s military clearly takes the threat of PLA aggression in the Pacific very seriously, and has begun to prepare for a large scale combined arms conflict.
Central Asia and the Mid East: Covered in this issue by S2 Forward
Syria increasingly draws in foreign powers. Russia, Turkey and Iran, as well as the Kurdish militia movement are all deeply invested in the outcome of the war. Turkey especially, under the leadership of Turkish nationalist and religious conservative Tayyip Erdogan, has clearly stated its intent to fully “stabilize” the entirety of Syria, a stability that will most likely only come from occupation by Turkish forces.
Africa : Covered in this issue by Meridian News and the Expeditionary Intelligence Group
Ethnic and religious violence rips across the African subcontinent as 2022 comes to an end. Driven by shortages in food, water, and essential goods and government services, Africa has seen an inevitable uptick in armed militia and insurgent groups. M23 has continued its fight against the Congolese government. Burkina Faso, destabilized by Wagner Group operations, has slid even deeper into armed violence. Across the Sahel, a major desert region separating North Africa from the rest of the continent, armed groups increasingly control large areas, free from government or law enforcement interference. Lastly, the length and brutality of the Russo-Ukrainian War will play a factor in possible food flows to resource deprived areas.
The Big Points:
The Highlight: The Lines Are Drawn
This year has been one long, slow drawing of geopolitical lines. China, the Russian Federation, and Iran solidly in one bloc; the NATO states and the larger free world on the other. 2022 began with the world’s authoritarian regimes seeming to hit their stride. Russia had just begun its war in Ukraine, China was threatening Taiwan, and Iran held significant influence across the Mid East. The year ends with Russian battle deaths exceeding 100,000, and their forces pushed back almost to the 2016 borders of the then frozen Russo Ukrainian conflict. China, having ended its COVID lockdown due to nation wide protests and rioting, is now facing a new round of pandemic deaths and hospitalizations, with the death toll expected to have already spiraled into the tens of thousands. Iran, stricken by riots and protests, is also subject to dramatic reductions in its food and water supply, further contributing to local instability. This weakness has emboldened the global democratic community, which has doubled down on its opposition to the political agendas of the world’s authoritarians.
The Long Term Concern: So What Next?
2023 will be a year of wars. Current global conditions all point towards increased conflict rates, and increased risk of conventional war between the great powers. The real risk indicator for armed conflict in 2024 should be internal instability. increased political agitation in China will encourage the CCP to seek external enemies in Taiwan and the West. Increased pressure at home may cause the Russian Federation to double down on its foreign affairs objectives. As these conflicts grow, China, Russia, and Iran will become more interconnected and also more interdependent. The success of sanctions and political/economic isolation has made it a favorite tool of the West, and the Achilles heel of this tactic is the way it pushes bad actors together, creating political/economic blocs that act in concert.
2021 was the year of the autocrat. 2022 has been the year of the democrat. 2023 will be the year of the arms manufacturer.
Ukrainian and Russian forces continue to fight for Bahkmut
North Korea deliberately violates the airspace over Seoul with a flight of drones.
Political instability rips across the more conservative governments in South America
The U.S. agrees to send Patriot Missile systems to Ukraine
The U.S. congress signs a spending package to fund Ukraine’s war effort through 2023.
All Eyes On Dina Boluarte
Widespread unrest is continuing in Peru after the failed self-coup by former President Pedro Castillo. Dozens of demonstrators have been killed since the events of December 7th. A state of emergency has been declared in the country and Peru’s ties with other Latin American nations may be in jeopardy. The events of December add another layer to Peru’s political crisis that has been ongoing for five years.
Timeline of Events
As detailed in the last issue of the Bulletin, the response to Castilo’s arrest and removal from office was immediate. His supporters took to the streets of multiple cities to demand his restoration to office and denounced his successor Dina Boluarte. Protesters also demanded the resignation of every member of Congress and a new round of legislative elections to be held immediately. At least 28 protesters in seven regions have been killed since December 7th, including two minors. Dozens of reporters reported that they have been attacked by security forces in order to prevent them from taking pictures and conducting interviews with protesters. Undercover law enforcement officers have been actively disrupting demonstrations as well.
Some of the more notable events during protest follow:
12/07: Protests were recorded in Lima, Arequipa, and Cusco with hundreds of protesters each. Panic buying was also reported in Lima due to uncertainty surrounding Castillo’s arrest.
12/10: Bus ticket prices from Arequipa to Lima doubled. Land access to Cusco was blocked by protesters. Clashes between police and protesters were reported in Lima and Andahuaylas. In the latter city, roughly 3,000 participated in protests and two policemen were taken hostage with a “prisoner exchange” occurring later. Two protesters were killed, ages 15 and 18, by police firing from a helicopter.
12/12: The Rodríguez Ballón International Airport in Arequipa was closed after it was stormed, looted, and set ablaze in some areas.
12/14: President Boluarte declared a national state of emergency for 30 days, suspending some constitutional rights including freedom of assembly and freedom of movement between regions.
12/15: Castillo also blamed the United States for violence happening around the country in relation to his arrest. In the city of Ayacucho, 6,000 protesters were blocked from the main square by the Peruvian Army. In response, they shifted their focus to the city’s Coronel FAP Alfredo Mendívil Duarte Airport where the Army and National Police were deployed to coordinate their response to protests. Clashes between the two sides ensued and 10 protesters were killed and 61 were wounded with 90% of injuries being attributed to gunshot wounds. These clashes led to a collapse of the city’s hospital systems and have been referred to by some human rights groups and protesters as the “Ayacucho massacre”.
12/16: Education Minister Patricia Correa and Culture Minister Jair Perez resigned over the death toll from the protests.
12/24: Minister of Justice and Human Rights Jose Tello announced that the government would distribute compensation to the families of those who have been killed in the protests. Also, Prime Minister Alberto Otárola announced that the government would seek to make Congress bicameral again.
12/29: A judge denied Castillo’s appeal to be released from custody, instead ordering him to remain in pre-trial confinement for 18 months.
Despite the protest movement against her, Boluarte has been firm in her conviction to remain in office. On the other hand, she has been willing to move up the next general election from July 2026 to April 2024. Congress approved this amendment to the constitution which will shorten their terms in office as well. A previous attempt to move the elections to December 2023 was not approved by the legislature. While her detractors have criticized her for the response of security forces to demonstrations, Boluarte has publicly tried to reach out to organizers to seek a peaceful solution to the unrest. At this point, it does not appear that negotiations between the two sides will take place anytime soon.
Left-wing parties, including Castillo’s Free Peru and New Peru, are publicly supporting demonstrations against the president and are attempting to make moves in Congress that would weaken the right-wing’s grip on power in the legislature. Free Peru (Perú Libre) tabled a motion of no-confidence in Jose Williams, the President of Congress. In the event that Boluarte does not serve the rest of her term, and Castillo isn’t restored to power, Williams would become president in accordance with Peru’s constitution.
Castillo has seen support from leaders that represent Latin America’s new wave of left-wing populism. Presidents Alberto Fernandez of Argentina, Luis Arce of Bolivia, Gustavo Petro of Colombia, and Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of Mexico have all expressed “deep concern” that Peru’s Congress has not respected “the will of the citizens at the ballot box”. The presidents added that, in their minds, Congress had gone after Castillo from the day of his election and this targeting was a violation of the American Convention on Human Rights.
Peru’s relations with Mexico have been particularly strained in the aftermath of the coup attempt. In addition to condemning the arrest of Castillo, AMLO also stated that he would have provided Castillo with asylum if the latter had made it to the Mexican Embassy in Lima before his arrest. However, Castillo’s family made it to the embassy in time and were granted asylum. As a result, Mexico’s ambassador Pablo Monroy was declared persona non grata on December 20th and was ordered to leave the country within 72 hours. Peruvian authorities later announced that Castillo’s wife, Lilia Paredes Navarro, was under criminal investigation along with her husband; although they did not elaborate further. The foreign ministry said that the government would allow Navarro and her two children to travel to Mexico on the condition that she be extradited back to Peru in the event that she faces formal charges. At this point, neither country has indicated when Castillo’s family may leave Peru.
In contrast, reactions from the United States and Canada have been supportive of Dina Boluarte. Canada formally recognized Boluarte as the official President of Peru and sent their ambassador Louis Marcotte to meet with Foreign Minister Ana Ceclilia Gervasi as a show of support for her government. It is worth noting that Gervasi was Peru’s consul-general in Toronto until recently. The United States has likewise recognized the new president. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that “the United States looks forward to working closely with President Boluarte on shared goals and values” and that Secretary of State Antony Blinken encouraged Peru’s government to work towards reform and strengthening democratic stability1.
The Beginning of A New Age for Venezuelan Oil?
Venezuela has the largest oil reserves of any nation on the planet. Despite this, the country really hasn’t been able to take advantage of those reserves and their economy has suffered because of it. A newly signed deal with American company Chevron Corp may usher in a new era of Venezuela’s once grand oil empire.
Once one of the world’s largest oil exporters, much of Venezuela’s income has come from this industry. In 2012, the oil industry made up 96% of Venezuela’s exports and almost 50% of its revenue. In the early 2000’s socialist President Hugo Chavez used high oil prices to his advantage by investing export profits in social programs, winning support for his populist agenda. During his time in office, the country’s other exports became essentially non-existent. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, continued with most of Chavez’s policies, including his over reliance on oil to fund his expensive agenda.
Maduro’s over reliance on oil would come back to bite him. Decreases in oil prices, increased inflation, and increased sanctions all hit the Venezuelan economy hard over the past decade. The poor state of the oil market and Venezuela’s inability to adequately fund infrastructure took its toll on the industry. In addition to these economic factors, years of negligence towards maintenance and worsening relations with the United States led Venezuela’s oil output to drop from 3,000,000 barrels per day two decades ago to less than 700,000 barrels per day this year. Venezuela’s oil industry’s decline in production was steep, and thus, was its export values.
United States officials told media outlets back in May that the country was looking for ways to let Venezuela produce and export more oil in order to reduce the world’s reliance on Russian energy. This of course comes amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine and heightened tensions between “the West” and Russia. It also comes in the aftermath of historically high gas prices in the United States that President Joe Biden was reluctant to solve using domestic means. Early in the year, Biden also eased some sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry to give European nations another supplier to buy from.
The deal between Chevron and state-owned oil and natural gas company PSVDA was signed on December 2nd. The signing was attended and praised by oil minister Tareck El Aissami, who acknowledged that April 2023 will mark 100 years of Chevron operating in his country. El Aissami is a notable figure because he was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in 2017. OFAC accused El Aissami of facilitating the trafficking of over 1,000 kilograms of narcotics from Venezuela to Mexico and the United States by working with the former Los Zetas Cartel.
Under the agreement, Chevron has been given a six-month lease to pump oil from Venezuela and export it. Any profits that PSVDA would see from the deal will go towards paying off its debt to Chevron, according to US officials. OFAC says it can revoke the deal at any point.
Chevron is sending two oil tankers to the country now that the deal is in effect. The first tanker reached Venezuela on December 30th and it will bring crude oil back to the United States; the first such shipment of oil between the two countries in almost four years. The second tanker will set sail next month carrying a shipment of diluents to be used for a joint Chevron-PSVDA project.
Chevron will first have to conduct repairs on its old infrastructure after its three year absence from Venezuela. It will also have to reactivate its network of contractors and oil service companies in the country to conduct operations. In addition to being prohibited from paying fees to the Venezuelan government, Chevron is also prohibited from working with Russian and Chinese companies that have tried to replace Chevron since it left the country in 2019.
The deal may see Chevron’s ventures in the country go from their current 40,000 barrels per day to 200,000 in the next year, which would push Venezuela back over 1,000,000 barrels per day. Andres Armijos, director of Latin America research at oilfield data provider Welligence, says that the deal is a necessary step towards the easing of sanctions on the Venezuelan economy and government. Looking at the big picture, though, some experts say that Venezuela’s oil reserves are too important to risk them falling into the hands of Russia and China2.
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