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Welcome to the Newsletter of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung's Latin American Network for Inclusive Security

Changing the Course in Light of the Bukele Phenomenon

Javier Milei's Security and Defense Policies

Governing the Military. The Armed Forces under Democracy in Chile

Environmental and Climate Justice, and the Dynamics of Violence in Latin America

Security Trends in South America

Human Rights Based Policies to Combat Violence in Mexico and Colombia

Rising authoritarianism

The electoral victories of Javier Milei in Argentina and Nayib Bukele in El Salvador suggest an electoral trend towards authoritarian options that matches the crisis of credibility of democratic systems in Latin America, as shown by the analysis of The Economist Intelligence Unit summarized in this Newsletter.

As Sabrina Frederic analyzes in her essay included in this publication, these two complementary trends have a serious impact on homeland security policies and are likely to have consequences on defense and foreign policies too.

The "iron fist" is a temptation to which an increasing number of politicians are paying attention, both globally and in Latin America and the Caribbean. Security problems related to or stemming from poverty, social exclusion, and inequality are presented as threats arising from an alleged social tendency of "the poor" to criminality for no apparent reason, or from the very presence of immigrants.

By dismissing the causes behind the problems, authoritarian political discourses present simple solutions that end up encouraging the elimination of democratic regulations on the use of public force and proposing dangerous overlapping of functions between the police and the armed forces.

In a continent where an important peaceful regime between states has been achieved, despite circumstantial and inevitable border disputes, reflection on democracy and internal security is at the top of the political agenda, along with analyses on inequality and poverty, and on the new characteristics of organized crime.

This agenda is challenging but necessary, particularly because crime co-opts citizens from excluded sectors while generating opportunities for elites through practices such as corruption, capital flight, and illicit trafficking. The crisis of democracy stems from concrete reasons that favor the new authoritarians.

Mariano Aguirre


Latin American Network for Inclusive Security

Javier Milei's Security and Defense Policies

Sabina Frederic, former Minister of Security of Argentina, examines the security and defense policies of Javier Milei's government. In his first two months, he has already adopted repressive and anti-rights measures that are starting to generate social rejection. At the same time, in the field of "new threats", he is trying to get the armed forces to assume functions that do not correspond to them.

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Changing the course in light of the Bukele phenomenon

The re-election of Nayib Bukele in El Salvador is described by Diego Arguello as "an unconstitutional election involving illegalities and irregularities". Arguello explores the factors behind his triumph and what should be the role of civil society and the media to save and restore democratic spaces.

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This article from Nueva Sociedad considers that Nayib Bukele has used his popularity, which is due to the reduction of the maras gang violence and the collapse of the opposition, to put an end to an already weakened democracy. One question that remains is whether it will be imitated by other politicians, although this article assures that the model will not work in other countries. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) along with other human rights organizations point out that the irregularities in the process cannot be ignored. Its president Carolina Jiménez Sandoval was interviewed in El Faro, LA Times, and La Razón about the deterioration of democracy in El Salvador.

On the other hand, the consequences of Bukele's landslide election victory for Salvadoran democracy and relations with the United States are analyzed by the US Institute of Peace and by several experts in this issue of The Dialogue. The US Administration has adopted a pragmatic approach, but according to Robin Broad and John Cavanagh of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), President Biden should be more political in his pronouncements.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU, research and analysis division of The Economist) has just published its annual index on the state of the world's democracies, indicating that they "seem powerless to prevent wars from breaking out around the globe and less capable of managing internal conflicts".

As the EIU explains, in 2023 “wars in Africa, Europe and the Middle East caused immense suffering and undermined prospects for positive political change. As US hegemony is increasingly contested, China vies for global influence, and emerging powers such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey assert their interests, the international order is becoming more unstable. Meanwhile, even the world’s most developed democracies are struggling to manage political and social conflict at home, suggesting that the democratic model developed during the eight decades after the Second World War is no longer working.”

The Index explores the relationship between democracy, conflict, and the setbacks of democracy: “the results for 2023 point to a continuing democratic malaise and lack of forward momentum.” Only a minority of countries improved their situation. “Meanwhile, 68 countries registered a decline in their score (related to democracy), some of which were substantial. The scores for 67 countries stayed the same, painting a global picture of stagnation and regression.”

On Latin America and the Caribbean, “the Index score underwent its eighth consecutive decline in 2023, with the region’s average score falling to 5.68, compared 5.79 in 2022. Despite the decline, the region remains the world’s third most democratic region, behind North America and western Europe. Besides, Latin America and the Caribbean has the world’s most robust scores for electoral process and pluralism, political participation and civil liberties; however, it has the worst score globally for political culture and performs poorly in regard to functioning of government. The region is home to a few of the world’s strongest democracies, such as Uruguay and Costa Rica, but also to a number of long-standing authoritarian regimes such as Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and to a country in a state of collapse, Haiti. Among the 24 countries we measure, 16 recorded a decline in their scores (66.6%), three improved their score and the score was unchanged in five. Little over 1% of the region’s population live in a full democracy, a majority (54%) live in a flawed democracy, 35% in a hybrid regime and 9% in an authoritarian regime.”

The wide variation in the quality of democracy in the region reflects, as the Index states “the impact of security-related challenges that have opened space for authoritarian political projects to take hold. In Central America the high levels of crime (largely related to drug trafficking) and the use of state repression in response have led to a consistent decline in the quality of democracy in most countries in the sub-region in recent years. President Bukele's increasingly authoritarian government in El Salvador is a case in point. Statistics bear out the security-related challenges that confront the region. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, NGO that maps and analyses global crime and conflict data, three of the world’s ten most dangerous countries are in the region (Mexico placing third, Brazil sixth, and Colombia tenth).”

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's (SIPRI) Yearbook 2023 reveals that global security showed a sharp deterioration in 2022 compared to ten years ago. There were more wars, more military spending, and acute food insecurity increased. Millions of people suffered from extreme weather events. International stability felt the effect of the war in Ukraine and the intensification of conflict between the major world powers, which weakened arms control and undermined the power of diplomacy. Here is the full summary.

Escenarios de riesgo y oportunidades de paz is a quarterly publication of the School for a Culture of Peace (ECP, Barcelona) that analyzes conflict contexts, peace processes or aspects of the international agenda in which risk dynamics or opportunities for peacebuilding converge. This issue highlights the serious situation in Gaza, Sudan, and Yemen.

More than 135 countries negotiated and adopted in 2017 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which came into force in 2021. This instrument recognizes the gendered and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons and the need for international cooperation to address them. In 2023, the Second Meeting of States Parties took place, led by countries from the Global South.

Also on nuclear matters, in face of changes in the Argentine government's position, the former Foreign Minister of that country, Jorge Taiana, explores the cooperation agreements between Argentina and Brazil, the traditional resistance of both States to adopt the Additional Protocol of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the need for Argentina to coordinate with Brazil for any steps taken on this matter. Along the same lines, it is argued here that, today more than ever, in a turbulent and uncertain global scenario, what has been agreed with Brazil must be preserved.

Meanwhile, in a context of deep geopolitical divisions, Brazil has returned to an active engagement with multilateral cooperation. Its presidency of the G20 in 2024 will be a test of the extent to which its "active non-alignment" can bridge diverse interests.

Analyst Matias Spektor (Fundação Getulio Vargas in São Paulo) believes that Lula da Silva's government has generated a number of doubts about his commitment to a fairer international order centered on the so-called Global South. To fulfill his vision, Spektor argues in Foreign Affairs that Lula will have to change course: re-engage with his partners in the West and Latin America after a year of estrangement. He may also need to defend democracy in Venezuela and design new climate policies that will allow him to use oil reserves without becoming another regressive OPEC member. Also, it must renew the intelligence apparatus and coordinate with external partners to reverse the dangerous growth of criminal networks in Brazil.

SIPRI and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung have created a Regional Working Group on Climate Change, Environment, Peace, and Security in Latin America. The result is the report Environmental and Climate Justice and the Dynamics of Violence in Latin America and interviews with Antonia Berríos Bloomfield, Ruth Alipaz Cuqui, Carolina Hidalgo Herrera, and Pedro Landa.

Chilean expert and member of the Latin American Security Network Lucía Dammert studies homicide in Latin America on behalf of the Carolina Foundation, which in recent years has acquired new manifestations and has spread to all countries, although with varying intensity. In this podcast, she relates the spread of violence with the expansion of organized crime linked to drug trafficking and inquires into the governments' responses.

Rut Diamint, who is also part of this Security Network, explored the criminal governance exercised by the Mexican Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), in a special issue of the Revista Científica General José María Córdova dedicated to criminal governance and shared sovereignty. In this context, The New York Times asks who controls Latin America's prisons: Gangs or the institutions?

According to this report by the International Crisis Group, organized crime groups in Mexico are using social media as a weapon. The violence is so bad that four Catholic bishops have met with organized crime leaders to explore the possible negotiation of a peace accord, talks that seem to be supported by President Lopez Obrador.

In a recent FES report, Mariano Aguirre and Sabina Frederic analyze security trends in South America, their background and current orientations, and include a detailed description of several countries in the region.

Some of the violence in Latin America, linked to organized crime and drug trafficking, cannot be explained without a glance at the international norms governing anti-drug policies.

The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) has prepared its Shadow report with the mid-term follow-up to the ten-year plan on drugs established by the UN in 2019. The report, whose presentation can be accessed here, argues that prohibition and eradication policies have failed to reduce markets or address the connection to violence and organized crime. The VisoMutop Corporation in San Jose del Guaviare (Colombia), along with Swansea University's Global Drug Policy Observatory, analyze the World Drug Report 2023. In parallel, in this testimony, WOLA calls for human rights-based policies to fight violence in Colombia and Mexico.

There has been a tense calm in Ecuador since President Daniel Noboa issued Decree 111 and militarized the fight against organized crime. The situation is closely related to the dynamics of the illegal drug market and the weakening of institutions. Several experts fear that the tense peace will not last. WOLA delves into this opinion in this issue of Deutsche Welle in Spanish.

Fernando Carrión studies the social production of violence in Ecuador and Latin America. The biannual Bulletin No. 80 of the Democracy, Security, and Defense Program of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador addresses the underlying problems that frame the serious situation in the country. In turn, FES Ecuador presented its report on political violence in the 2023 elections.

NACLA Report on the Americas return to scrutinizing, 25 years later, the role of the armed forces in Latin America "as guarantors or saboteurs of political processes, and how their power has morphed or refracted " in these decades. The complete issue is available here. Separately, this report presents an anthology of studies examining remilitarization processes in in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) - which are aligned with the US - and Nicaragua, which is aligned with to Russia.

From a different perspective, the article "The Trump Self-Coup Attempt: Comparisons and Civil-Military Relations" raises a number of important questions and reflections on the role of the military in the face of democratically elected authoritarian governments. Should they defend the democratic order or abide by civilian power?

In Governing the military, several prominent authors inquire into military policies implemented after the return of democracy in Chile and the challenges posed by new demands such as the militarization of the fight against urban crime or pandemics, with an impact on human rights. At the same time, Rut Diamint questions the role of the armed forces in the fight against terrorism in view of the new policies that Milei's government wants to introduce in Argentina.

The role of the police and how reforms can improve its functioning is the subject of this volume, which analyzes the experiences of Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, and Panama, among others.

Three issues will be key to monitor Mexico's elections on June 2: electoral violence, possible institutional changes prior to election day, and human rights, especially those of women. Mexico will elect its first female president. The Votar entre balas project, by Data Cívica, focuses on criminal-electoral violence in the country. FES México with this and other organizations begin to work on risk analysis for women in politics.

Danilo Rueda, who until recently was the Colombian government's High Commissioner for Peace, comments in this interview on the peace agreement with the FARC and the processes underway in the framework of "total peace". Several organizations are demanding that the United States contribute to the strengthening of the Special High-Level Body on Ethnic Peoples (IEANPE, by its Spanish acronym), and formulate a strategy for the implementation of the ethnic chapter of the 2016 peace agreement. Despite various initiatives, abuses persist in this country.

A new report and video by the International Crisis Group analyzes why Peru has the highest rates of dissatisfaction with democracy and government institutions in all of Latin America. Without progress to curb political polarization and state dysfunction, mass protests and repressive response could be repeated.

The Regional Institute on the Study and Practice of Strategic Nonviolent Action in the Americas continues to document nonviolent resistance in conflict situations. In the face of the dire situation in Gaza, this podcast highlights the efforts of Arab and Israeli women to promote nonviolence.

The foundation Seminario de Investigación para la Paz (SIP, Spain) promotes the workshop Cultivar la paz [Cultivating Peace]. Here the culture of peace and non-violence is analyzed, while this link deals with education for peace.

For its part, WOLA delves in this podcast into the importance of migration in an election year in the United States, and in this video into the situation of defenselessness faced by migrants in Colombia between government absence and criminal control.

  • A collective of experts in public management and scientific research in Argentina have just created En Foco, an institute for policies on crime, security and violence. The objective is to debate and design democratic security policies that guarantee the rights of the entire population, promoting alternatives to the old policies that install ineffective repressive discourses and practices. The topics of En Foco are criminal and penitentiary policy; working conditions and the professionalization of members of the police and security forces; criminal intelligence and the production and analysis of criminal information; alternative conflict management, and security policy communication. It also carries out diagnoses and designs security policies at both the local (subnational, municipal) and national levels, and conducts training and capacity building programs for public male and female officials in the political sphere, as well as for the security forces.
  • The Centro Brasileiro de Relaçoes Internacionais (CEBRI) is Brazil's leading international relations think tank. Their Newsletter contains information on publications, courses, events, and other materials. Subscribe for free here.
  • The BRICS Policy Center, affiliated to the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, analyzes global transformations and their impact on Brazil and the Global South, and contributes to the debate and formulation of policies within the BRICS framework. Subscribe to its Newsletter here.
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Newsletter of the Latin American Network for Inclusive Security

Edited by Mariano Aguirre and Mabel González Bustelo

Translated by Yenni Castro (Valestra Editorial)

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