Americas Brief newsletter: 10-16 April

This version of the Americas Brief newsletter examined anti-government protests in Nicaragua, flight cancellations announced by airline Avianca Brasil, and a proliferation of cyberattacks in Ecuador. 

  United States & Canada

  • United States - Southwest and American announce new flight cancellations
  • United States & China - Chinese entities included in US's unverified list
  • United States & Mexico - Border agents redeployed to key Texas crossing
Mexico, Central America & Caribbean
  • Regional - New migrant caravan departs, increasing border risks
  • Nicaragua - Opposition groups set to protest, heightening travel risk
South America
  • Brazil - Avianca Brasil cancels 179 flights after aircraft repossessions
  • Brazil - Farmers rallies heighten risk of travel disruption
  • Colombia - IED attack damages oil pipeline in south-western department
  • Ecuador - Proliferation of cyberattacks following Assange arrest

United States & Canada


  United States ' Southwest and American announce new flight cancellations UNITED STATES ' Travel risk: Medium 

11 & 14 April: Southwest Airlines announced that it is removing flights on Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft from its schedule until early August. The announcement means that 160 flights per day which were scheduled to use Max 8 aircraft will now be cancelled. On 14 April, American Airlines announced that it was removing flights on the Max 8 model from its schedule until 19 August. The measure impacts approximately 115 flights per day. 

  Why it matters: The cancellations follow two deadly crashes of the Max 8 model in five months, after which multiple airlines and national aviation authorities ordered the grounding of the aircraft. In light of the announcements, individuals planning to fly with Southwest or American in the coming months are advised to re-confirm their flight status. 

  United States & China ' Chinese entities included in US's 'unverified' list UNITED STATES ' Political risk: Low CHINA ' Political risk: Medium 

10 April: The US Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added 37 Chinese companies and educational institutions to its Unverified List (UVL) of entities that US companies should treat with caution. These include Chinese schools and companies operating in automotive manufacturing, screen technology, aviation, optics, electronics, and machine tools. The updated list took effect on 11 April. 

  Why it matters: The addition of an entity to the UVL constitutes a de facto embargo, due to the licence-related complications involved with suppliers engaging with the entities on the list. A2 Global advises companies to factor the revisions into their operational and logistical planning, and assess the impact they will have on their supply chain. Companies should also factor the revisions into their compliance- and third-party due diligence procedures when engaging with Chinese organisations. They can be found on the Federal Register website. For guidance on the UVL, consult the BIS website. 

  United States & Mexico ' Border agents redeployed to key Texas crossing MEXICO ' Travel risk: High UNITED STATES ' Travel risk: Medium 

11 April: US congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who represents a district containing the border city of El Paso, Texas, announced that US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the country's main border control agency, will send an additional 100 agents to the El Paso-Ciudad Ju'rez crossing in an effort to reduce delays at the border. Escobar also announced that agents could be deployed to crossings in the Rio Grande Valley. These would likely include the Reynosa-McAllen and Matamoros-Brownsville crossings. 

  Why it matters: Routine border crossings have slowed considerably at numerous crossings in the past two weeks, after approximately 750 border agents were transferred to immigration duties amid a sharp increase in people seeking asylum in the US. The delays also coincide with US President Donald Trump's repeated threats to close the border over a perceived lack of action from Mexico and Central American countries El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to counter migrants' travel to the US's southern border. While yesterday's announcement is likely to cut wait times at the El Paso-Ciudad Ju'rez crossing, disruption is set to continue at other important crossings, such as the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa crossings in California.

Mexico, Central America & Caribbean


  Regional ' New migrant caravan departs, increasing border risks REGIONAL 

9 April: A new migrant caravan consisting of approximately 1,000 people departed the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on buses towards the country's border with Guatemala. The caravan's members are seeking to travel via Guatemala and Mexico to the US, and in many cases are fleeing violence, poverty and organised criminality. The caravan firstly travelled to the Agua Caliente border crossing, before entering Mexico. The migrants are then set to travel north until reaching the US border. Baja California and Tamaulipas states, on Mexico's Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines respectively, are likely locations for attempting to cross into the US. 

  Why it matters: While the caravan is large, it is smaller than one which sought to reach the US border in October 2018, which contained around 3,000 people. The caravan is likely to lead to disruption at border crossings and along Federal Highway 200, a key Pacific Coast route, if it enters Mexico. A2 Global advises firms which regularly move goods across the borders and within Mexico, particularly in Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Puebla states, to monitor the caravan's progress and factor possible disruption into operational planning in the one-month outlook. 

  Nicaragua ' Opposition groups set to protest, heightening travel risk NICARAGUA ' Travel risk: High 

16 April: A large rally organised by the National Blue and White Unity (UNAB) opposition coalition will take place in the capital Managua on 17 April to mark a year since the inception of an anti-government protest movement. Protesters will gather at 1400 local time at the Rotonda Centroam'rica, a large roundabout in the Distrito 1 area, before marching 1.5km north-west to the Alexis Arg'ello monument. Why it matters: Large anti-government demonstrations have been ongoing since April 2018, when President Daniel Ortega's administration presented a botched pension reform, sparking protests from opposition groups. The protests developed into a wider movement against Ortega's government, and led to months of violent confrontations between protesters and security services, who were supported by sympathetic paramilitary groups. Over 300 people were killed. Individuals in Managua should monitor updates, exercise heightened vigilance, anticipate a large security presence, and avoid the march as a precaution. Allow additional time for travel.

South America


Brazil ' Avianca Brasil cancels 179 flights after aircraft repossessions BRAZIL ' Travel risk: Elevated 

12 April: Avianca Brasil announced that it cancelled 179 flights between 12-17 April, following the repossession of nine of its aircraft by Aircastle, a major US-headquartered aircraft lessor. The announcement was made after the airline ' Brazil's fourth largest ' failed in an appeal to keep hold of the planes. The majority of cancelled flights were scheduled for 15-17 April, and include some on the route between S'o Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the country's most popular. As of 16 April, flights had also been cancelled on 18-20 April. A full list of cancellations was published on Avianca Brasil's website and is available here. 

Why it matters: In December 2018, Avianca Brasil filed for bankruptcy protection and press reports suggest the airline has missed several payments to aircraft lessors. A2 Global advises individuals with scheduled flights on the airline in the 48-hour outlook to re-confirm their flight status prior to travelling to the airport. 

Brazil ' Farmers' rallies heighten risk of travel disruption BRAZIL ' Travel risk: Elevated 

16 April: On 16-17 April, members of farmers' organisations and associated social movements will rally across the country as part of the 'Red April' movement. This is to commemorate land rights activists massacred by police in 1996, and call for farmers' rights and agrarian reform. Demonstrations are likely in central areas of towns and cities, and on key highways. Supporters of the movement are particularly active in north- and north-eastern states, including Alagoas, Bahia, and Par'. 

Why it matters: The rallies tomorrow coincide with the International Day of Peasant Struggle, and are therefore likely to be well attended. Individuals in major cities should monitor updates, exercise heightened vigilance, and avoid all large gatherings. In rural areas, some demonstrators are likely to participate in land occupations. Firms with sites in rural locations should review security measures and contingency planning as a precaution. 

Colombia ' IED attack damages oil pipeline in south-western department COLOMBIA ' Security risk: High 

12 April: An improvised explosive device (IED) attack on the Trasandino oil pipeline ' a 305km long pipeline in Colombia's south-west, connecting the Orito oil field with the Pacific port of Tumaco ' took place. This damaged the pipeline and led to a crude spillage. The attack, which targeted a section of the pipeline in Barbacoas municipality, in Nari'o province, was confirmed by state oil firm Ecopetrol in a statement on 13 April. The pipeline was not operating at the time of the attack. Separately, Ecopetrol announced it is investigating whether a recent crude spillage on the Ca'o Lim'n-Cove'as pipeline in Tibu municipality, in the north-eastern department of Norte de Santander, was caused by an IED attack. 

Why it matters: Attacks on energy infrastructure are frequent in Colombia ' the attack on the Trasandino pipeline was approximately the 20th on pipelines this year. Common perpetrators are members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country's largest guerrilla organisation, and individuals connected to smaller guerrilla groups. A2 Global advises foreign energy companies which operate in Nari'o department to review infrastructure security measures and surveillance in light of the recent attack, and anticipate likely disruption on the Trasandino pipeline. 

Ecuador ' Proliferation of cyberattacks following Assange arrest ECUADOR ' Security risk: Medium 

15 April: Deputy minister for information and communication technologies, Patricio Real, announced that Ecuadorian public institutions have been targeted by approximately 40 million cyberattacks since the arrest of Julian Assange at its embassy in London on 12 April. Institutions targeted include the central bank, foreign ministry, president's office, and several universities. The attacks reportedly blocked access to the webpages, although no theft occurred. Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, a website which anonymously publishes confidential information, had been living at the embassy since 2012, after being granted asylum by former president Rafael Correa. 

Why it matters: While the attacks have focused on public institutions, businesses with online operations in Ecuador should review their cybersecurity defences as a security precaution. If there is any connection between these attacks and the Wikileaks founder, firms with operations in countries involved in Assange's arrest and possible subsequent extradition, including the UK, US, and Sweden, are also likely targets. They should conduct similar reviews. Instruct staff to exercise vigilant online behaviour. This includes avoiding visiting suspicious webpages or clicking links in unsolicited emails.