Americas Brief newsletter: 8-14 May 2019
This edition of the Americas Brief newsletter analyses new US sanctions on Venezuela's security and defence sectors, likely delays at Bogot's airport, and student protests in Brazil.
United States & Canada
- Canada Christian acquitted of blasphemy in Pakistan arrives in Canada
- United States & Iran US government agency warns of Persian Gulf tensions
- United States & Venezuela US sanctions defence and security industries
- Cuba Shortages prompt increase in rationing, long queues
- Dominican Republic Reduced fuel availability in north-east on 16 May
- Honduras Power outages heighten operational risk, lead to protests
- Argentina Large demonstrations in capital heighten travel risk on 15-16 May
- Brazil Nationwide student protests increase risk of travel disruption
- Chile Striking workers block road access to capital's main airport
- Colombia Flag carrier warns of month-long delay risk at capital's airport
United States & Canada
Canada Christian acquitted of blasphemy in Pakistan arrives in Canada CANADA Terrorism risk: Medium
8 May: A Christian woman sentenced to death and subsequently acquitted in Pakistan arrived in Canada on 8 May. Asia Bibi's case led many countries to call for her release, while Islamist conservatives and extremists demanded her execution. The Catholic Church in Canada has offered Bibi support, while the state is expected to grant her anonymity and protection.
Why it matters: Bibi's departure from Pakistan heightens the threat that Islamists will seek to attack Canadian, Catholic, and other Christian targets in Pakistan and elsewhere. In 2011, the governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer and Pakistan's minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti were murdered due to their opposition to Bibi's blasphemy conviction. The threat is from organised groups and so-called 'lone wolf' attackers, with the latter almost impossible for the security services to detect or deter. Personnel of Canadian commercial interests operating in Muslim-majority countries and Christian places of worship should increase their situational awareness. In the event of any attacks against such targets the potential for a backlash against the wider Muslim community also increases. Companies should also factor this threat into their security planning.
United States & Iran US government agency warns of Persian Gulf tensions UNITED STATES Maritime risk: Low IRAN Maritime risk: High
10 May: The United States Maritime Administration, a government agency, warned that Iran could target merchant vessels, including oil tankers, in the Persian Gulf. The warning comes as Ayatollah Tabatabai-Nejad, a senior Iranian cleric, said that the US fleet could be 'destroyed with one missile'. Meanwhile, the US has deployed the USS Arlington, an amphibious warfare vessel which transports personnel, aircraft, and a Patriot missile defence system to the region. A statement from the Pentagon said the deployment was in response to indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against US forces or interests in the region. Iran said the move amounted to 'psychological warfare'. On 12 May, four ships were the subject of a 'sabotage' attack off the UAE's Fujairah port in the Gulf of Oman.
Why it matters: The warning underscores concerns that recent tensions between Iran and the US could escalate into an armed confrontation in the Persian Gulf. The development takes place against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the two countries, after the US decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal and impose new sanctions on Iran. A2 Global advises businesses with interests in the region, including international shipping companies, to monitor ongoing developments and factor these into their operational and contingency planning.
United States & Venezuela US sanctions defence and security industries UNITED STATES Political risk: Low VENEZUELA Political risk: Extreme
10 May: The US Department of the Treasury expanded its sanctions targeting the Venezuelan government to include defence and security firms, and imposed new sanctions on two shipping companies and two oil tankers. US and foreign firms working with Venezuela's defence and security services sectors can now be penalised under the US sanctions regime. Sanctions were imposed on Marshall Islands-based shipping firm Monsoon Navigation Corp, and Liberia's Serenity Navigation Ltd for delivering oil from Venezuela to Cuba on the companies respective vessels. Sanctions were also placed on Monsoon Navigation Corp's Ocean Elegance and Serenity Navigation's Leon Dias vessels.
Why it matters: The sanctions form part of the US administration's gradual ramping up of sanctions against Caracas in an effort to weaken the government of de facto President Nicol's Maduro and support the competing claim to power of national assembly president Juan Guaid. The sanctions are particularly likely to impact firms supplying the security sector with military spare parts or telecommunications equipment. Firms operating in Venezuela should adjust sanctions lists and practices to reflect the new measures.
Mexico, Central America & Caribbean
Cuba Shortages prompt increase in rationing, long queues CUBA Health risk: Medium
10 May: The government announced the widening of consumer goods rationing, amid growing shortages. Under the new measures, supermarkets will limit purchases of impacted goods, and some items will only be available through a ration book system. Impacted products include chicken, eggs, rice, beans, and soap. Social media reports show that shortages are prompting long queues at supermarkets.
Why it matters: Commerce minister Betsy Daiz Velzquez blamed the shortages on US President Donald Trump's hardening of the US embargo. However, the shortages are more a reflection of rapidly declining aid from crisis-hit ally Venezuela. In particular, oil supplies from Caracas have fallen by approximately two-thirds, reducing Cuba's power generation capabilities and limiting its access to foreign currencies, which it earned through on-sales of oil. Firms with staff and assets in Cuba should factor shortages and rationing into operational and strategic planning in the three-month outlook. Individuals visiting the island should mitigate the impact of shortages by ensuring they take essential supplies with them. Mitigate queues by visiting shops early in the morning.
Dominican Republic Reduced fuel availability in north-east on 16 May DOMINICAN REPUBLIC Travel risk: Elevated
14 May: Members of the ANADEGAS union, which represents fuel sellers across the country, will not sell fuel from their petrol stations in the north-eastern region of the country on 16 May, in protest against illegal sales from unregulated competitors. The union also announced that its members are planning to stage a march to the national palace, located in the Gazcue district of the capital Santo Domingo, on 16 May. However, the march route and timing were not disclosed.
Why it matters: The decision to halt fuel sales for one day is likely to cause severe disruption to hauliers in the north-eastern region, and may impact consumers in Santiago de los Caballeros, the country's second-largest city. Firms and individuals which operate in the north-eastern region should ensure their vehicles have sufficient fuel supplies the day before sales are halted, as availability is likely to be extremely limited on 16 May. Individuals in Santo Domingo on 16 May should exercise heightened caution in the vicinity of the national palace and avoid the march as a precaution.
Honduras Power outages heighten operational risk, lead to protests HONDURAS Travel risk: Extreme
8 May: Power outages across the country impacted at least 2 million people and led to multiple protests in the week to 8 May, local media reported. Areas most affected include the northern and central departments of Atl'ntida, Col'n, Cort's, Olancho, and Yoro. According to energy provider EEH, the outages were due to a recent increase in temperatures and consequent hike in demand. On 7 May, protests took place in affected urban areas, including San Pedro Sula, the business hub, where protesters put up barricades and burned tyres.
Why it matters: The power outages are likely to continue in the 48-hour outlook, given that both high demand and hot weather are set to persist. Firms operating in Honduras should assess their vulnerability to a loss of power supply, and consider acquiring off-grid electricity generators. Business travellers should monitor updates, exercise heightened vigilance, and travel with trained and vetted drivers.