Monthly Risk Spotlight: July 2020

Author: On Call International’s Global Security Team

AMERICAS

Business as Usual for Mexican Criminal Organizations

With the Mexican government focused on the current pandemic, and the resulting economic fallout, large and small criminal groups continue their operations across Mexico. While some groups seek to take advantage of the global crisis to extend their hold over territories, other groups have grown more brazen in their targeting of rivals and government officials getting in their way. Recent months have seen a number of noteworthy incidents. From the distribution of aid in the form of food and cash, to bold armed assaults against senior government officials, by all accounts, the pandemic seems to be exacerbating the challenges posed by organized crime to citizen security and national security in Mexico.

Several incidents in recent weeks illustrate the magnitude of the organized crime crisis in Mexico amidst the pandemic. In late June, at least a dozen heavily armed gunmen in the back of a large truck ambushed the top security official in Mexico City, firing some 150 rounds into his armored SUV. The target, Omar García Harfuch, survived with three gunshot wounds, while two of his bodyguards and a 26-year-old woman caught in the crossfire were killed. García Harfuch blamed the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal networks. The attack is notable not only for its high-ranking target, but for the fact that it occurred in Mexico City’s exclusive Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood. Mexico City, especially its affluent areas where the country’s political and business elite reside, has in recent years escaped the violence that has rocked other regions of the country.

In early June, gunmen assassinated a federal judge in one of Mexico’s most violent hotspots for criminal activity, Colima. On July 1st, at least 26 people were massacred in a mass shooting at a rehab clinic in Guanajuato. On Sunday, July 5th, at least a dozen gunmen belonging to the Cartel del Noreste (CDN) were killed in a running gun battle with soldiers in downtown Nuevo Laredo, a few miles from the U.S. city of Laredo along the border. Footage widely circulated online showed soldiers unleashing light machine gun fire from their vehicles as they raced through the city at high speeds.

The violence comes as governments, everyday citizens, and criminal groups adjust to the effects of the pandemic and resulting lockdowns. Crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, sex trafficking, cargo theft, and property crimes could continue to expand as criminals seek opportunities outside of the drug trade. Until the Mexican government finds the political will to comprehensively combat criminal groups, crime is expected to remain a leading challenge to the country’s wellbeing.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Diplomatic Campaign Against Israel’s Plan to Annex Parts of the West Bank

The 1st of July was the date set by the Israeli government to begin an annexation plan of 30 percent of the occupied West Bank. The plan has not come into effect as planned, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu awaits US backing. President Donald Trump is a strong supporter of Netanyahu, and has repeatedly faced criticism from the international community for supporting harmful Israeli plans, which violate Palestinian rights in the West Bank.

The West Bank has continuously been a disputed territory between the people of Israel and the people of Palestine. Millions of Palestinians occupy the area, perceived as the ancestral land of Jewish people by Israel. The annexation announcement came as no surprise, Israel has threatened to capture these territories of the West Bank for years, but it has continuously faced diplomatic roadblocks. What is presently worrisome is the high probability of President Trump giving the green light to Israel to pursue this endeavor. Germany, France, Egypt, the United Kingdom, Jordan, and others have recently issued statements denouncing the move as a clear violation of international law. The United Nations (UN) has reiterated that the annexation plan of 30 percent of the West Bank is an infringement of the Charter of the UN and of the Geneva Convention, as all peoples have the right to self-determination, and the plan strips Palestinian people from exercising that right. If Israel goes along with the plan, the country could potentially face serious diplomatic consequences, in the form of economic sanctions, rupture of diplomatic ties, etc. All efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict to date have failed. This plan could further destabilize the region, increase violent conflict, and extremism. The international community is urging Netanyahu to consider a two-state solution, which should allow a peaceful transition to two independent and prosperous Israeli and Palestinian states. Israel is adamant on beginning the annexation this summer, it is unclear what it will take to get the government to back down.

ASIA-PACIFIC

Tensions Along the Line of Actual Control Result in Clashes Between Chinese and Indian Troops

The shared border of China and India has often been a point of contention. Following the Sino-Indian War of 1962, China and India maintained the Line of Actual Control that defined the territories of either country; albeit, both countries claimed territories held by the other. Today, contested border regions range from portions of Kashmir in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east. Clashes along the Line of Actual Control occur intermittently, however, actual fatalities resulting from these clashes are a rarity. That was until, a clash on the 15th of June, which resulted in several fatalities and a heightened level of military posturing by the nuclear armed neighbors.

The recent Sino-Indian border conflict occurred in the Galwan Valley between Chinese administered Aksai Chin and Indian administered Ladakh. It is unclear why the scuffle broke out, as both sides claim the other instigated the situation by crossing into the territory of the other. What is known is that Chinese and Indian troops clashed with fists, stones, clubs, and nails. In addition, many Indian soldiers died as a result of having fallen into the freezing waters of the Galwan River. Indian soldiers report they were highly outnumbered by their Chinese counterparts. While initial reports indicated that three Indian soldiers had been killed, this number was later revised to twenty. Chinese casualties are also suspected to have resulted from this incident; however, the Chinese government has not released any figures. This skirmish marks the first time since 1975 that there have been fatalities resulting from military actions between China and India along the Line of Actual Control.

Following the incident, both the Chinese and Indian militaries began amassing troops along disputed border territories. As the Indian media began reporting on the clash, anti-Chinese sentiment in India began to grow. Calls for boycotts against Chinese goods and the dissolution of various agreements between the Indian and Chinese governments became a rallying cry. In India, some were even calling for military retaliation against China. The Chinese media, being controlled by the Chinese government and thus the Chinese Communist Party, hardly reported on the incident.

Ultimately, the tense situation de-escalated as both countries entered into negotiations to ease tensions. However, neither countries are major powers in the Asia-Pacific region, nor are they willing to forfeit their territorial claims as a point of national pride. How exactly this conflict will be resolved is impossible to say; however, the status quo of tense military posturing and occasional small-scale skirmishes along contested border regions is expected to continue.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Tension and Unrest in Ethiopia Following the Murder of an Oromo Musician and Activist

On the evening of June 29th, a 34-year-old Ethiopian singer and activist, Hachalu Hundessa, was shot and killed by unknown assailants in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. The investigation is at this time inconclusive, as vital information to the case remains unclear. A few suspects have been identified and arrested; however, their identities have yet to be revealed. The motive behind the targeted killing is also uncertain. A large population of the Oromo ethnic group, to which Hundesa belonged, believes the killing to have been an attempt at silencing the Oromo group. Hundesa has often used his music to speak out against the Ethiopian government, fight for justice, and empower his ethnic group. The Oromo people have longed been victims of discrimination in Ethiopian society. They faced and continue to face, to some degree, economic and political marginalization, despite forming the largest ethnic group in the country. Hundesa’s music propelled the 2018 election of incumbent Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, also of the Oromo ethnic group.

The incident triggered days of violent protests across the Oromia region and Addis Abba. Thousands of angry protestors demanded for justice to be served and denounced the killing as a political move. An election is due in the country. It was delayed as a response to the current pandemic, but the opposition has slammed the decision as a power holding move by Ahmed. Ethnic strife is a longstanding issue in Ethiopia. Ethnic identity is always political, which often translates into conflict. The protests were met with riots, burning of cars, and widespread bodily harm. The military was quickly deployed to restore order. An approximate 160 people have been reported dead, although the actual number cannot be determined due to the government shutting down the Internet; and thus making access to information almost impossible. Among the dead are 11 security officers. An additional 168 people were left severally injured, while close to 2,000 protestors were jailed. Things appear to have returned to normal in Ethiopia, however, the situation is tense, and peace is fragile.

EUROPE/CENTRAL ASIA

The Black Lives Matter Movement Crosses the Atlantic

In recent weeks, European countries have seen a wave of protest activity and civil unrest furthering the “Black Lives Matter” campaign in the United States. Protests have been large in size, with at least 10,000 activists participating in Zurich, 20,000 in Berlin, and 20,000 in Paris at the height of protest activity. Europe has not traditionally been a bastion for civil rights issues, despite being plagued by similar social problems to the United States including racism, anti-immigration sentiments, and police brutality against minorities. This lack of previous unrest could be attributed to Europe’s history of fostering a “unicultural” identity, expecting immigrants and minorities to conform to the dominant culture, while the United States has traditionally fostered a multicultural identity.

European countries have adopted the movement to address national grievances. Motivations have ranged from protesting historical colonial legacies, to protesting the government’s treatment of immigrant groups, and local police brutality against minority and immigrant populations. In some countries, including Belgium and the Netherlands, protesters have torn down statues of colonizers and called upon the Belgian and Dutch governments to apologize for the historical treatment of colonial times. In other countries including France, protesters have pointed to local police killings of minority populations and the government’s treatment of immigrants and refugees. Many European countries have also specifically addressed the United States’ treatment of minorities by protesting outside US embassies and consulates in solidarity with US protesters.

Civil unrest is common following pandemics, and is typically a driving force behind the spread of protest activity. Issues that were simmering in Europe prior to the pandemic, including the alleged mistreatment of minorities, have now come to the surface following various accusations of witnessed inequality during the pandemic. Protesters have alleged that European police have mainly targeted minority populations in enforcing lockdown measures and claimed that the medical and financial consequences have disproportionately impacted minorities. In previous decades, protest movements that started in the United States have also spread worldwide, including anti-Vietnam war sentiment in the 1960s and 1970s. Protest activity may increase in  Europe in the coming months due to the widespread use of social media and societal unrest in the midst of the pandemic.

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*The information provided to you within this report has been compiled from a multitude of available sources and is based on current news and analysis at the time of writing.  The security team at On Call International, LLC has provided this analysis, supporting advice and recommendations in good faith to assist you in mitigating risks that could arise.  However, no implied or express warranty against risk, changes in circumstance, or other fluid and unforeseen events can be provided.  By reading this report, you will agree that any reliance you place on this information is therefore strictly at your own risk and that you will not hold On Call International, LLC or the authors responsible for any inaccuracies, errors or oversights here-in.  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise without the prior permission of On Call International, LLC.

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