Monthly Archives: February 2013

RTT – Brazil’s Embraer & Sierra Nevada Win $427 Mln Afghan Fighter Contract

2/27/2013 11:37 PM ET

U.S.-based Sierra Nevada Corp. and Brazil’s Embraer-Empresa Brasileira De Aeronautica SA (ERJ: Quote) have won a $427 million contract to provide light air support aircraft and associated maintenance and training for the Afghan air force, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Wednesday.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called Brazilian Minister of Defense Celso Amorim to inform about the decision made by the United States Air Force.

Sierra Nevada Corp. is based in Sparks, Nevada, while Embraer SA is its Brazilian subcontractor.

As per the contract, 20 aircraft are scheduled to be delivered to operational air bases in Afghanistan beginning in the summer of 2014 to conduct advanced flight training, surveillance, close air support and air interdiction missions.

Little said this platform ”is critical to providing enabling support to the Afghan National Security Forces as part of United States enduring support to Afghanistan following the completion of the ISAF mission at the end of 2014.”

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NYT – Raúl Castro says he will resign

By 
Published: February 24, 2013

MEXICO CITY — President Raúl Castro of Cuba announced Sunday that the five-year term he has just begun will be his last, giving the Castro era an official expiration date of 2018.

The race to succeed Mr. Castro, who is 81, now has a front-runner: Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, 52, an electrical engineer and former minister of higher education, whom Mr. Castro selected as his top vice president on Sunday, making him first in the line of succession.

“It represents a definitive step in the configuration of the future leadership of the nation,” Mr. Castro told lawmakers at a conference of legislative leaders in Havana on Sunday. He added that Cuba is at a moment of “historic transcendence.”

Indeed, Mr. Castro’s speech — attended by his brother Fidel, 86, who made a rare public appearance — had the tone of an unsentimental goodbye. Just as Mr. Castro has inched the island toward free market reforms since taking over from his brother in 2006, his plan for a transition amounts to a slow fade, or, as Mr. Castro put it, the “gradual transfer” of “key roles to new generations.”

And yet, on an island where a Castro has been in charge since 1959, he also seemed intent on changing how his successors will rule. In an announcement more surprising than his retirement plan, Mr. Castro said he hoped to establish term limits and age caps for political offices, including the presidency. Some broad constitutional changes, he said, will even require a referendum.

Not that the country’s controlled socialism is on the way out, he insisted. The leaders he has elevated are all loyalists, including Mr. Díaz-Canel, who came up through the army and then served in provincial leadership before being elevated within the Communist Party. He is widely seen inside Cuba as a technocrat — a “regional czar whose power is discrete but tangible,” said Arturo López Levy, a former analyst with the Cuban government — who earned Mr. Castro’s favor not only with youth and loyalty, but also by being a good manager.

“He was a senior Communist Party official for Villa Clara and Holguin provinces, where there were important openings with foreign investment in tourism,” said Mr. López Levy. He added that Mr. Díaz-Canel often worked as an intermediary between the central government and the military, which has taken an expanded role in tourism under Raúl Castro. “In that sense,” Mr. López Levy said, “he will face the challenge and opportunity to prepare a smooth landing for a new type of civil-military relationship in the future.”

Mr. Díaz-Canel’s rise has been closely watched over the past year. He has appeared on Cuban television more often; in June 2012 he accompanied Raúl Castro to the Rio+20meeting in Brazil and led the Cuban delegation to the London Olympics in July. He has also recently played a central role in meetings with officials from Venezuela, Cuba’s most important ally, which supplies it with subsidized oil.

But even as the meeting on Sunday projected an image of complete unity, there was no guarantee that Mr. Díaz-Canel will be Cuba’s next president. Many other young leaders have been pushed out of power over the years for reasons of scandal or disloyalty, and among the rising ranks, there are other leaders in their 50s who have recently been given more significant roles. Experts say that a power struggle is likely behind the Communist Party curtain, and in front of it as well, over the final five years of Mr. Castro’s presidency.

“Much could happen between now and then, both within the government and in various sectors of Cuba’s emergent civil society,” said Ted Henken, president of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, a research group.

The choice of Mr. Díaz-Canel nonetheless signals a major change. Even with a five-year transition, Mr. Castro’s decision to move Cuba publicly toward a new leader means that the island is now a heartbeat away from being ruled by a person who did not fight in the revolution that brought the Communists to power. The Castros, after aligning themselves for decades with the fighters whom they knew as young guerrillas, appear to have accepted that Cuba will be ruled next by someone whose career developed after the cold war.

“This is the first time the younger generation has a figure who is first in line,” said Philip Peters, a veteran Cuba scholar and vice president of the Lexington Institute, which tracks relations between the United States and Cuba. In an interview from Havana, he said: “It is the first time the older generation admitted the possibility of someone in the younger generation becoming president. We’ll see.”

Randal C. Archibold contributed reporting from Tapachula, Mexico.

PF Magazine – Brazil: the first big ‘soft’ power

February 22, 2013 7:27 pm

Now that difficult times are on the horizon again, Brazil hopefully will rise to meet the challenge once more

 

FT Magazine – Brazil’s trajectory from colony to economic powerhouse is simply spectacular

February 22, 2013 7:29 pm

A place at the top of the tree

By Matias Spektor

Washington Post – Mexico wants US aid to focus more on social programs in bid to quell drug violence

By Associated Press, Published: February 14

MEXICO CITY — A top security official says Mexico will ask the U.S. to focus anti-drug aid more on social programs and prevention.

Mexican Assistant Interior Secretary Roberto Campa says only about 2 percent of the current $1.9 billion in American aid under the Merida Initiative is earmarked for social programs. Most goes for intelligence, transport and the training for Mexican law enforcement agencies.

Campa said Thursday the previous administration’s social programs were poorly organized and late.

President Enrique Pena Nieto has pledged to focus less on armed conflict and more on addressing the underlying social issues that fuel the drug violence that has cost more than 70,000 lives since 2006.

That plan includes a $9.2 billion program to provide greater employment and educational opportunities for youths who otherwise might join cartels.

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In Sight Crime – Zetas’ Control of US-Mexico Border Slipping: Report

A new report by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) examines migration and security trends in the easternmost sector of the US-Mexicoborder, noting that the Zetas‘ traditional hold in this area may be weakening.

The six-page report, written by senior associates Adam Isacson and Maureen Meyer, is based on an approximately week-long trip to the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo sectors of the US-Mexico border in November 2011. The authors visited three cities in Texas — Laredo, McAllen, and Brownsville — and one city in Mexico, Matamoros.

Among the report’s findings is that US law enforcement authorities say that the Zetas’ power in the area is ebbing slightly. The Zetas’ traditional stronghold is in three Mexican states that border Texas: Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas. The report states that part of the group’s decline is due to internal divisions, an apparent reference tofactions that have reportedly turned against the group’s surviving top leader, Miguel Treviño Morales, alias “Z-40.” The report also notes that increased drug seizures along the border may also be a sign that the Zetas’ control over drug smuggling routes has been weakened, and that “different groups” may now be attempting to move drug shipments into the US via these routes.

Laredo and Rio Grande ValleyThese increased drug seizures are one indication that drug trafficking has increased in both the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo sectors, with US agents noting increased seizures of heroin, marijuana, and a new substance: liquid methamphetamine.

While the continued weakening of the Zetas would likely lead to increased violence in this region, should a power vacuum in the criminal underworld emerge, so far there is no sign of any “spillover” violence in the US, the report adds.

InSight Crime Analysis

One reason for the Zetas’ weakening hold in this region of the US-Mexico border is likely the group’s drawn-out war with the Sinaloa CartelThe two organizations are fighting for control of Nuevo Laredo, which as WOLA points out is the busiest land port in the US, with some 7,000 trucks crossing daily in and out of Mexico. This commercial activity has made the “plaza” extremely valuable to drug trafficking organizations. Not only are the Zetas fighting the Sinaloans in Laredo, they are also clashing in the central state of Durango. This conflict, along with the aftermath of the death of Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano, alias “Z-3,” in October, has put the Zetas in a much more vulnerable position.

The WOLA report also raises the question of how the Zetas’ decline in this border region will affect migration dynamics. The Zetas are known for charging a tax, or a “piso,” on smugglers who move migrants through their territory, killing, kidnapping and even forcibly recruiting the migrants who do not pay up. The WOLA report notes that greater numbers of Central American migrants are attempting to move through Zetas’ territory, the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, into the Rio Grande Valley in the US. While Tamaulipas has witnessed brutal acts of violence against migrants, including the slaughter of 72 migrants in August 2010, the state remains a popular crossing point as it is the shortest distance between the US-Mexico border and Central America.

As dangerous as the Zetas made Tamaulipas for migrants, it’s possible that the Zetas’ decline could make migrants even more vulnerable. As InSight Crime previously documented in a three-part report on the dangers facing migrants, the Zetas are not the only organization who pose a threat to those moving northwards from Central America. The Zetas typically contract street gangs to harass, rob, and even kidnap migrants as they move along their route. With the Zetas weakening, this could possibly empower street gangs to prey on migrants even more aggressively, in order to keep the money extorted from migrants for themselves. If the Zetas continue to lose power and influence along the US-Mexico border, it will likely make migrants’ journey even more dangerous and unpredictable.

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CBC news – War on drugs draws Canadian military focus in Central America

By James Cudmore, CBC News

Posted: Feb 2, 2013 6:00 AM ET

The Harper government’s new focus on the Americas means a dramatic change of effort for the Canadian Forces and an overt participation in the U.S. war on drugs.

The commander of Canada’s operational forces, Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare, says Canada is now focusing new efforts on Central America and the Caribbean.

In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Beare said Canada was active in attempts to sever the Central American drug artery pumping narcotics northwards into the United States and Canada.

“We’re partnered with our U.S. partners in the counter-narcotic effort on the southern flank, in Central and South America, as the flow goes north,” Beare revealed.

For years, Canada has participated in naval operations in the Caribbean Sea designed to thwart narcotics-smuggling efforts. Canada has also provided specialized radar and reconnaissance patrol aircraft to that fight.

But Beare suggests much more is being done in the region now than ever before.

Canadian troops are working and training with troops from Chile, Brazil, even Colombia, Beare said. But the effort is sharpest in Central America.

“We’re staying connected in the hemisphere, in particular, in capacity-building partners in the Caribbean Basin, sustaining a great effort with Jamaica, reaching into Belize and Guatemala, helping them to build their own capacity, to manage their own security forces and security conditions.”

Troops from the Petawawa, Ont.,-based Canadian Special Operations Regiment assisted in the training of a special Jamaican force, called the Counter Terrorism Operations Group.

Those Jamaican troops put their Canadian-taught skills to use in 2009 to free six Canadian crew aboard a CanJet 737 hijacked at Montego Bay. (Negotiators had previously convinced the hijacker to release roughly 150 passengers.)

Jamaica in turn has allowed Canada to construct and staff a forward-deployed operational staging centre, to help Canadian troops leap more quickly into action in the event of natural disasters or security threats in the region.

Increasing military co-operation

In Belize, Canada has engaged for several years trying to build both police and military capability through the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, run by the Foreign Affairs department. So far, more than $2 million has been spent to help improve Belize’s national forensic centre and its defence force.

Training provided to Jamaican security forces by Canadian special forces proved valuable in resolving the hijacking of a Canadian passenger jet in 2009. Training provided to Jamaican security forces by Canadian special forces proved valuable in resolving the hijacking of a Canadian passenger jet in 2009. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

But the military aspect of Canada’s engagement is increasing.

Last June, Canada donated 2,000 surplus military load-carrying vests to the Belize Defence Force. Belize is also a participant in the Canadian-run Military Training Co-operation Program — a program that provides military education and skills training to poor and developing countries.

More significantly, Canada has helped construct a modern military operations centre and lent support to a top-to-bottom Belizean strategic defence review.

And Belize has reciprocated, allowing Canadian soldiers to train in its dense jungles. Going back as far as 2008, teams of Canadian Civil Military Co-operation teams — essentially aid and engineering teams — headed to Belize for several weeks of hands-on assistance training in rural villages before deploying to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Belize and Guatemala are strategic territory in the war on drugs. The two countries span the entire Central American isthmus, from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, bordering Mexico. They are literally pressed up against North America and are staging areas for drug runners looking to move their illicit product north.

It’s estimated that about 80 per cent of South American cocaine headed into North America somehow transits Guatemalan territory.

Complicating any response to the instability posed by narco-traffickers in the region is the relatively small size of defence forces in both countries.

The Belize Defence Force, for example, has fewer than 1,500 troops, while the Guatemalan military has 15,000.

Canada has supported the training of Guatemalan troops in peace support operations, but it’s not clear how else the military is involved there.

Despite Beare’s mention of Guatemala as an area of military focus, the Defence Department has not provided any information in response to CBC News questions about Canadian efforts there.

But it’s clear the area matters to the military. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, Walt Natynczyk, visited Guatemala City to meet senior defence officials there in 2011.

Beare says Canada’s contributions to the region are significant, though still small.

“You’re not seeing battalions and fleets and squadrons of aircraft,” he said. “What we’re doing there is persistent engagement, co-operation and collaboration with our partners in the hemisphere, to help raise their capacities, improve our network in the region, so we can respond to contingencies there.”

In January, The Canadian Press reported government documents it obtained showed the situation in Belize was deteriorating because of drug violence.

It also reported Defence Minister Peter MacKay was briefed that Belize was of increasing importance to Canada, “due to the increasingly precarious security situation in Central America, particularly along the Belize-Mexico border.”

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