June 7, 2021No Comments

International Cooperation against Illicit Activities in the Tri-Border Area: the Operation Triple Border

By: André Carvalho and Bianca Ferrazza.

Due to its distance from modern centres of conflict, South America is often seen as a peaceful region. This is not entirely false when taken into consideration security in a conventional way. There are very few disputes still pending in the region, and since the process of ‘redemocratization’ during the 1980s, they are much less inclined towards solutions through force. Nevertheless, the implausibility of conflicts in South America is limited to "classic" conflicts, seen through the lens of conventional warfare between nation states

In this context, it is important to highlight that, although conventional threats no longer are a reason for incommensurate concern, the region is still affected by a considerable number of critical irregular threats, such as domestic conflicts, drug trafficking and even terrorism. These threats characterized as irregular and sub-strategic have a higher incidence in poorly controlled border regions. A good example is the borders of the Amazon Rainforest between Brazil and Colombia, where guerrilla activities are constant. However, it is in the Tri-Border Area where these problems combine into a cauldron of non-conventional threats.

The Tri-Border Area (TBA) consists of a zone situated between three cities in three different countries: Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, Puerto Iguazú in Argentina and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil. The area is well known because it represents a hive for the development and implementation of various illicit activities, including money laundering, drug trafficking, theft, terrorism and other illegal activities. Terrorist and Organized Crime Groups in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of South America

Geographically speaking, the area represents a key domain to conduct illicit activities, given the fact that the two rivers that mark the borders between the three states, the Paranà and the Iguazù, offer many, unsurveilled entry points. 

Something worth noting about this area is its international character, which makes it a major territory in which transnational criminal organizations operate. Thus,by taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of the public institutions, these groups have been operating in the area for decades, taking root in a radical way in the territory. 

Within the three countries of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, the involvement of criminal activities from non-state actors is of huge scale. The three of them, in light of the massive proportion of the illegal activities that take place there, have been developing tools to mobilize their national efforts together to fight and stop illicit activities from being carried out. Due to the small percentage of Muslim population in the region, South America ended up being further “isolated” from the regions that are the focus of action of Islamic terrorist groups. However, it would be wrong to say that terrorist groups do not operate in the region, and it is within the TBA that the presence of Islamic terrorist groups have been identified. According to U.S. documents and research papers from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, groups such as the Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah are currently operating in the region. 

The Inter-American Committee against terrorism (CICTE) coordinates efforts to assist the members of the Organisation of American States (OAS) to combat, prevent and defeat terrorism, intellectual theft, drug trafficking and other issues within its boarders. The basic objectives of CICTE, stated in their statute, are, among others, establishing a database on terrorism issues, enhancing the exchange of information between states and helping member states to compose counterterrorism legislations. CICTE tries to facilitate communication between the states by bringing together governments of the region in order to proceed with the discussion of certain topics of interest for the region. During the 2019 meeting, high level officials agreed on proceeding with a strengthening of the prevention of terrorism by training personnel on distinctive investigative techniques. 

In 2016, Interpol coordinated “Operation Triple Border” during which more than 600 police officers were deployed in the region’s key sites establishing checkpoints. 

Besides the officers, many experts in counterterrorism were also brought in in the region to help organise the operations taking place in the area. Among these, were experts in the trafficking of drugs and human beings, drug trafficking and document security. The action, that took place between the 18th and 22nd of November, culminated with the seizing of several products that objected to the illicit economy, among which are vehicles, firearms and drugs and with the arrest of 24 people involved in the crimes. 

What emerges from this operation is the strength and the ultimate efficiency of coordinated operations between local governments and the international support of Interpol. Operation Triple Border has played a key role in offering support to local officers and institutions to address the issues that have been characterizing the area in the past decades. Interpol has allowed local law enforcement to access their databases in order to monitor the connections of crimes in between the countries.   

May 10, 20212 Comments

Chinese IUU fishing: menaces and challenges for South American Navies

By André Carvalho

Nowadays, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is the most significant threat to maritime security worldwide. It is estimated that the IUU fishing is responsible for the annual loss of tens of billions of dollars in revenue for legal anglers. According to data reported in 2020 by the United States Coast Guard (USCG), IUU fishing also affects the global food security preventing the 3.3 billion of people that rely on fish to access their main source of animal protein. Furthermore, it is estimated that 93% of major fish stocks are already “classified, overexploited or fully depleted” due to the IUU fishing mismanagement of maritime resources. Thus, this illegal activity is not only a maritime concern, but also a threat to international security.

China’s IUU fishing has affected the world's oceans and has proved to be a unique and dire threat. The overfishing and water pollution resulting from the illegal activities have caused enormous environmental, economic, and social damages to coastal states affected by these practices. Currently, China has the largest illegal fishing industry in the world. The Distant Waters Fleet (DWF) is the responsible for conducting Chinese IUU fishing operations, and it uses mostly fishing vessels, factory ships and reefer vessels - a logistical scheme to make any legal fishing company jealous. Recent data suggests that the current number of China’s DWF is around 17,000 vessels, making possible for China to diversify its illegal fishing activities near the Korean Peninsula, on the African coast and in the Latin and South American waters

Nonetheless, China’s fishing fleet also has another strategic duty: to function as the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia. In addition, although the militia has a history of harassing only China’s neighbours and strategic surroundings, one can also understand that they are part of a uniquely devised plan to China exert strategic influence around the globe. 

Although the problem is not necessarily new for the South American region, consequences of climate change have altered the composition of fish populations around the world, making the Chinese fishing activities intensify in South American in recent years. The situation started to gain attention in 2016, when ships from the Argentinian Coast Guard sank the Chinese fishing boat Lu Yan Yuan Yu 010 after detecting its illegal fishing activities in Argentinian waters. In 2017, the Ecuadorian Navy seized a Chinese boat which was detected fishing an endangered shark species near the Galapagos Islands. However, it did not seemed to have deterred Chinese intentions in the region. 

The situation escalated in 2020, when the Ecuadorian Navy discovered a huge Chinese fleet with between 270 and 400 vessels piling the waters inside the Ecuadorian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Chinese fleet overwhelmed the Ecuadorian Navy in numbers, making the latter require assistance from the USCG in order to deter illegal activities in the vicinities of Ecuador’s EEZ. The fleet then tried to operate into Chile’s EEZ, leading the Chile’s Chief of Security and Maritime Operations to create a task force to monitor illegal fishing activities along the Pacific Coast of South America.

Within this context, a country with a dishevelled navy, with innocuous floating firepower and without a complete situational control of its territorial sea, may find itself tobe susceptible to Chinese illegal fishing activities. In addition, it makes South American navies rely mostly on the USCG’s capabilities to patrol waters e.g. the deployment of the USCG Cutter Bertholf to help the Ecuadorian Navy patrol illegal activities near Galapagos, and the recent deployment of USCG Cutter Stone to patrol the Atlantic Coast of South America.  

In this sense, dealing with illegal fishing issues has proved to be a major challenge for South American navies due to limitations in their structure, order of battle and relative power. One of the main problems is that – for reasons that remain unclear - most of the South American navies do not admit the creation of a Coast Guard. Therefore, in some cases these navies are equipped with sophisticated war fighting equipment, but are starkly deficient in coastal patrol. South American countries have small fleets for an ostentatious patrolling of its coast and EEZ and this shows a certain neglect of naval patrol capabilities. A clear example is that the Brazilian navy, the second largest navy in the Americas, in a country with an approximately 8 thousand kilometres long coastline, does not have a continuous production program for ocean and coast patrol ships. 

In the same way, South American navies – and armed forces – show a significant absence of tactical and strategic unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for sensing their territorial seas, as well as operational terrestrial observation satellites to conduct Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR) operations.

South America is a region where efforts to engage in cooperation hardly sees continuity. However, when the establishment points to the lack of capacity and resources to keep monitoring and controlling territories in an effective manner, defence cooperation can be a pivotal asset on the fight against Chinese IUU in the region. However, the problem with cooperation in such a scenario is that it is geographically limited. Thus, South American countries could also rely on interoperability for joint operations to tackle doctrinal and structural problems, as well as lean towards area and sea denial strategies as a way to get rid of the dependence on American military power.