Americas Brief newsletter: 27 March 2019 – 2 April 2019

This week’s Americas Brief analyses a possible closure of the US-Mexico border, protests in Chile, and attempts to resolve Venezuela’s power outages.

United States & Canada

• United States – Measles outbreak in New York county heightens health risks
• United States & Mexico – Trump threatens border closure over migration

Mexico, Central America & Caribbean

• Haiti – Gunmen attack ambassador’s motorcade
• Mexico & United States – New migrant caravan heads for U.S. southern border
• Nicaragua – Nationwide protests against president increase travel risk

South America

• Chile – Indigenous protests across country heighten travel risk tomorrow
• Colombia – Guerrilla attacks in south-western region heighten security risk
• Guyana – One mine worker dead from possible respiratory infection
• Venezuela – President announces 30-day power rationing amid protests


United States & Canada

Measles

United States – Measles outbreak in New York county heightens health risks
UNITED STATES – Health risk: Minor
26 March: On 26 March, Rockland County in New York state declared a state of emergency amid a severe measles outbreak. The announcement was made after 153 cases of measles were confirmed in the county since an outbreak began in October 2018. Individuals who have not had the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine have been barred from public spaces for at least 30 days, as of 0000 on 27 March. Those who do not comply could face punishment of a fine of USD500 and up to six months in prison.

Why it matters: Measles is a highly infectious virus which may cause serious health complications. According to press reports, the outbreak is concentrated among the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in the county, and could have spread from other Jewish communities in New York which have been affected by similar outbreaks, and among whom vaccination rates tend to be low. Individuals should ensure they have received the full two doses of the MMR vaccine.

United States & Mexico – Trump threatens border closure over migration
UNITED STATES – Political risk: Low
MEXICO – Political risk: Medium
29 March: U.S. President Donald Trump warned on 29 March there is a ‘very good likelihood’ that he will close the U.S.-Mexico border this week. Trump has blamed Mexico and Central American countries, particularly El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, for not doing enough to prevent illegal border crossings.

Why it matters: Closing the shared border would have significant negative consequences for both the U.S. and Mexico’s economies. Furthermore, it would be unlikely to stem illegal crossings, given the majority of these take place away from official ports of entry. The negative impact of a closure on the U.S. economy and integrated supply chains, as well as its large impact on states in which Trump’s Republican Party is strong – such as Texas and Arizona – mean a complete closure is unlikely. Trump may, however, seek to temporarily slow the flows of goods and people, in an attempt to persuade Mexico and Central American countries to increase measures to tackle illegal immigration. Firms with operations and supply chains which cross the border should monitor updates, factor a possible closure into operational planning, and review contingency plans as a precaution.


Mexico, Central America & Caribbean

Haiti flag

Haiti – Gunmen attack ambassador’s motorcade
HAITI – Security risk: Elevated
27 March: Five unknown gunmen armed with AK-47 rifles opened fire on the motorcade of Chile’s ambassador to the country, who had been visiting a clean water project. The incident, at approximately 1200 local time, occurred in the Boutin area, some 19km north-east of the capital Port-au-Prince. The ambassador was unhurt, however three individuals – two NGO workers and a Haiti civil servant – were reported missing after the attack.

Separately, opposition groups held protests across the country on 29 March to coincide with the 32nd anniversary of the ratification of the Haitian constitution. Protesters called for President Jovenel Moïse to resign, amid allegations of corruption and embezzlement of development funds from the PetroCaribe oil programme.

Why it matters: The attack on the Chilean ambassador’s convey – which had no readily apparent motive – highlights the extreme travel security risks present throughout Haiti. Travel to Haiti should only be undertaken with the planning and support of experienced security professionals. Individuals in the country, particularly in Port-au-Prince, should monitor local updates, exercise heightened vigilance and only travel if it is deemed safe to do so.

Mexico & United States – New migrant caravan heads for U.S. southern border
MEXICO – Security risk: Elevated
UNITED STATES – Security risk: Medium
26 March: A caravan of around 2,500 migrants was moving north through Mexico towards its border with the United States. On 26 March, the caravan had reportedly passed the town of Huixtla, in the southern state of Chiapas, and was moving north on Federal Highway 200, a key Pacific Coast route. Many of the migrants, who mostly come from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Cuba, are fleeing insecurity and poverty in their countries. The caravan is the largest to pass through Mexico in 2019.

Why it matters: In the two-week outlook, the migrants are likely to walk north through Chiapas into neighbouring Oaxaca state, from where they are likely to pass through the state of Puebla, before reaching the capital Mexico City. The migrants will likely then attempt to reach the frontier either via the state of Tamaulipas, on the Gulf of Mexico coast, or the Pacific’s Baja California. Logistics firms with operations on such routes should monitor updates and anticipate disruption on highways. Firms which move goods across the U.S.-Mexico border should anticipate heightened security measures, particularly as the caravan approaches the border. Factor possible delays at the border into operational planning.

Nicaragua – Nationwide protests against president increase travel risk
NICARAGUA – Travel risk: High
2 April: The National Blue and White Unity (UNAB) movement – a coalition of groups opposed to President Daniel Ortega – will hold so-called ‘express picket’ protests across the country on 2 April to demand the release of political prisoners. Express picket protests involve groups of at least 50 people holding short demonstrations in undeclared locations, and then disbanding before police officers arrive. The protests will take place between 1800 and 1900 local time. Likely locations for protests include public squares and the Cristo Rey and Centroamérica roundabouts in the capital Managua. UNAB also announced that it is planning a march in Managua; however a date and time has yet to be confirmed.

Why it matters: Anti-government protests began in April 2018, when opposition to Ortega’s botched pension system overhaul grew into a broader protest movement. Opposition groups are critical of the government, which they claim has not begun the process of releasing political prisoners which was announced on 20 March. A2 Global advises individuals in the country to monitor updates, exercise heightened vigilance, and avoid all large gatherings. If individuals find themselves amid a protest, they should leave the area immediately.


South America

Chile

Chile – Indigenous protests across country heighten travel risk tomorrow
CHILE – Travel risk: Medium
3 April: Members of the Mapuche community – Chile’s largest indigenous group, which inhabits areas of south-central Chile and south-western Argentina – will demonstrate in urban areas across the country on 3 April to call for Mapuche self-determination and oppose extractive industries. In the capital Santiago, demonstrators will rally at 2000 local time at Plaza de Armas, the city’s main square. Elsewhere, protests will be held at various times in the cities of Temuco, Puerto Aysén, and Valparaíso.

Why it matters: The protests, which are likely to be well-attended in Santiago and Temuco, close to where many Mapuche reside, heighten travel risks facing individuals in affected areas. At previous demonstrations held by Mapuche groups, violent confrontations broke out between radical demonstrators and the security services. There is a high risk of police deploying water cannon and tear gas if violent protests do occur. A2 Global advises individuals in the impacted cities to monitor local updates, exercise heightened vigilance, and avoid the protests as a precaution.

Colombia – Guerrilla attacks in south-western region heighten security risk
COLOMBIA – Security risk: High
27 March: Two improvised explosive devices (IED) detonated near a fuel station on the Pan-American Highway in Patia municipality, in the south-western department of Cauca, causing no injuries. Photos taken afterwards show that the explosion significantly damaged the road surface. Separately, a truck carrying staff of Compañía Energética de Occidente, a local energy provider, was targeted by gunfire from unknown gunmen, in a rural area of Patia municipality. No staff were injured in the attack; reports in the local press state that dissident members of the former rebel group FARC were responsible for the attacks.

Why it matters: The attacks highlight the deteriorating security situation in Cauca province, particularly around the Pan-American Highway, the region’s most important highway which has been impacted by blockades since late February. Firms which operate in south-western Colombia should factor the worsening security environment in Cauca and neighbouring Valle del Cauca departments into security assessments. Until there is a de-escalation in protest activity and blockades, logistics firms should consider moving goods through alternative transport methods, such as air cargo.

Guyana – One mine worker dead from possible respiratory infection
GUYANA – Health risk: Elevated
31 March: The Department of Public Information confirmed on 31 March that one mine worker had died, and eight others have been hospitalised, from a possible respiratory infection. All of the affected workers were Chinese nationals, with the exception of one Guyanese who is among those hospitalised. All are employed at a manganese mine owned by Chinese firm Guyana Manganese Inc (GMI). Health authorities are investigating a possible outbreak of severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) at the firm’s mine in the north-western Barima-Waini region, also known as Region One. Symptoms of the employees include fever, headache, joint pain, shortness of breath and moderate to severe respiratory syndrome. Several of the workers have been flown to a hospital in the capital Georgetown.

Why it matters: At present, the outbreak has only impacted workers at the mine in Region One. Until authorities reveal further details of the illness and its possible contagiousness, individuals in the country should minimise non-essential travel to Barima-Waini region. Individuals in the country should monitor local updates, exercise good personal hygiene, and consult a doctor immediately if they exhibit any symptoms listed above.

Venezuela – President announces 30-day power rationing amid protests
VENEZUELA – Travel risk: Extreme
31 March: De facto president Nicolás Maduro announced 30 days of nationwide electricity rationing in a bid to resolve the severe blackouts, which have impacted the country since 7 March. Maduro also announced that public and private sector employees will finish work at 1400 local time daily as part of the rationing programme, which is set to last throughout April. Separately, spontaneous protests triggered by the power outages occurred across the capital Caracas, including near the presidential palace in the Centro neighbourhood.

Why it matters: The power rationing is likely to severely impact companies with operations in the country. Since they began the blackouts have prompted disruption to running water supplies, public transport and health services, and led to looting in the western city of Maracaibo. Firms should adhere to the new rules on working times. Managers should adjust working hours of staff and service availability accordingly. Consider acquiring an electricity generator and factor rationing into operational planning. Amid the ongoing protests, monitor local updates, exercise heightened vigilance, and avoid non-essential travel, particularly to public squares and central avenues in major urban areas, locations often targeted by demonstrators.

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