Is this what Latin America needs?

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The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, last September 15, concluded in Mexico his visit to several countries of the region, with a new regional scenario favourable for “the arrival of friendly governments and the virtual disappearance of populist governments”, as affirmed by the General Director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry for Latin America, insisting that “Israel today looks towards Latin America as a strategic ally” [1].


Netanyahu therefore arrived with a team of officials and businessmen especially made up of representatives of the industrial-military complex: executives of Verint and Elbit, companies that offer services of cybersecurity and electronic defence; Israel Aerospaces Industries (IAD), manufacturer of aeronautical materials, representatives of Israeli Airlines and from the Mer Group. At first sight, his trip through Argentina, Colombia and Mexico seemed especially directed to strengthening the businesses of cybersecurity and electronic protection, increasing the sale of war materials, establishing or reinforcing bilateral treaties and to promoting tourism. But the relevance acquired by the promotion of the security business highlights the “historical” military presence of the public-private Israeli sector in the region, intimately related to the US military industrial complex, in addition to reflecting the center-periphery relations in political and security commercial terms.


Argentina, renewal of relations


Netanyahu’s visit took place in the framework of the 25th anniversary of the attack on the Israeli Embassy (March 17, 1992). The Israeli leader sought to reinforce the discourse, recalling in addition the attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in 1994, insisting on the implication of Iran and Hezbollah [2]. It is important to recall that the case of the AMIA and its connection to the death of the Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who carried out the investigation, constituted one of the most decisive points of the destabilizing of the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the months before the presidential elections of October 2015 [3], and also increased tensions with the State of Israel [4].


With the government of Mauricio Macri, relations are very different: it is a question of a strategic ally of Israel and the door for Argentina to “insert itself” into the global system. This is why Macri asked the Israeli Premier to support the entrance of Argentina into the OECD, the organism of neoliberal globalization par excellence, and predicted an “excellent” summit of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that will take place in December in our country [5].


Until last year, trade between Argentina and Israel was relatively low, representing only 196 million dollars annually, according to the Chamber of Commerce and Services (CAC), so that the visit served to readjust these relations; already trade agreements have been signed in questions of technological innovation for agriculture, as well as packages of cybersecurity. Both countries also agreed to promote investment. Netanyahu therefore travels with representatives of the Israel Export Institute, Verint (cybersecurity), Faception (new technologies), Cellcom Israel Ltd (telecommunications), Mitrelli Group (hydric resources and local development) and Taranis (agroindustry). In general, it can be said that the commercial interchange between both countries reflects the reproduction of center-periphery asymmetries. Argentina exports live animals and products of the animal realm to Israel, which involves 70% of the total of Argentinian exports to that country. Goods of the food industry, drinks and tobacco are around 23%. For their part, Israeli exports to Argentina amount to 118 million dollars in 2016, falling 2.5% with respect to 2015. The products that Israel sells to Argentina are manufactured goods and mainly from the chemical and related industries (42%) [6].


But the most worrying thing (considering the antecedents of Israeli military presence in the region) is that the government of Argentina has signed agreements for cooperation in public and internal security with Israel. The first agreement related to the struggle against organized crime, human trafficking, money laundering and cybernetic crime, in which the Israeli cybernetic companies contemplate signing future agreements and offering services. With respect to public security, the summits of the WTO and of G20 will be celebrated in Argentina, for which the Israeli Prime Minister asked the Argentinian government to guarantee security in the Summits [7].


Mexico: a door to the Latin American free market


Different to Argentina, Mexico and Israel have had significant trade relations for decades, as can be seen in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed in 2000, as well as close relations in questions of private security, cybersecurity and the training of police and the military. In the framework of the recent visit of Netanyahu, not only was the FTA renewed, but in addition, three agreements were signed.


1. Air services between both countries in order to achieve greater connectivity and for trade relations to achieve greater fluidity.


2. Exploration of aerial space for pacific ends


3. International cooperation on agriculture and “entrepreneurialism” [8].


With trade interchange above 600 million dollars and a balance favorable to Israel, the Israeli authorities believe that they are still far from reaching an ideal trade relationship with Mexico. But the idea of Israel is for Mexico to be their gate of entry for the links with other countries that identify with their politics, an objective that they intend to cover via an ever closer tie with the Pacific Alliance, where Mexico is the principal economy. In July, Israel will fulfill a year since their adhesion as an observer state, as will the United States [9].


Evidently, the commercial ties between Israel and Mexico indicate some growth in the last few years, in particular in Direct Foreign Investment (DFI) coming from Israel, which is noted by a quantity of arrival of DFI in general to Mexico, which in March of 2016 reached almost 8 billion dollars – in spite of the instability and political crisis, together with the violence and the wretched conditions of existence of over half of the population, which does not appear to benefit from the potential overflow that such investments should generate.


In concrete terms, Israel is the country with the second greatest index of foreign investment in the country, with over 25% of total DFI; this puts them just behind the colossal United States whose percentage of investment is 29.28% [10]. In 2016, the Israeli company Teva announced their plans to acquire the Mexican factory Representaciones e Investigaciones Médicas (RIMSA), for the sum of 2.3 million dollars [11]. With this, Israel reinforces its position as a strategic partner of Mexico and Latin America, in addition to strengthening their leading role in the development of science and technology in Mexico; [12] considering the type of asymmetric relations established with Mexico, it can be expected that this could result in greater benefits for the Israeli public-private sector, rather than the possibility of a takeoff in Mexican autonomous technological development.


However, the worrying fact is the links of Israel with the security and militarization business, in a country under siege due to a “war on drugs” (read: The Merida initiative as a continuation of Plan Colombia) that has become a war against any kind of dissidence and alternative that even “timidly” threatens the reigning order/chaos. Israel, in addition to providing drones, also sends arms to SEDENA. In 2011 alone, through the Fideicomiso para Equipo Militar, Mexico bought weapons for four billion pesos from various companies among which was the Israeli Weapon Industries, Ltd [13]. The Israeli company Elbit Systems Ltd. was also contracted last year for the service and maintenance of a drone “Hermes 450" acquired some years ago.


In June of 2017, it became known that various institutions of the Mexican government spied on journalists, human rights activists, including the international group that investigated the massacre of students in Ayotzinapa. The Mexican company Balam Seguridad privada S.A. de C.V. and their subsidiary Tech Bull, with connections with the Israeli Company NSO, were intermediaries in selling to the Mexican government the malware “Pegasus” of the Israeli company NSO, according to the New York Times [14].


It is fundamental to clarify that this is not an isolated case. Cybersecurity is one of the key markets in expansion in Latin America and Israeli companies have advanced in the region to sell their products. Israel Aerospaces Industries (IAI) created IC3, which is a programme of cybernetic security consortia that involves various Israeli companies, which obtained a millionaire contract in Latin America to establish a national cybernetic centre in a country (whose name is not specified in the information available). The IAI collaborates with intelligence agencies in the collection of information from cell phones and data stored in “the cloud” [15].


These practices, which have proliferated frequently with fewer obstacles after 9/11 (in spite of their illegality), reproduce the scheme of total surveillance in the war against “global terrorism”, according to what has been established by the US National Security Agency, the decrees that sanction cyberespionage [16] and the dozens of law bills elaborated by the US Congress directed to guarantee “national security” including the Patriot Act of 2002. The interconnection among security agencies, executive and legislative power responds to interests that amply surpass the superficial debate on “the privacy of the individual in times of democracy”, extending their networks and outreach to global geopolitics thanks to the connection with software corporations that operate at an international level [17]. It is no small thing, then, that Netanyahu and Peña Nieto have agreed to participate in the training of counterinsurgent Armed Forces during the Cold War [18] and work on issues of cybersecurity, an agenda established by the US within the Merida Initiative and the Regional Initiative for Central American Security [19].


Israel in Colombia: the security business and cybernetic threats


In Bogotá, Netanyahu met with President Juan Manuel Santos, who had visited Israel in 2013. Colombia is regarded as one of the most important allies of Israel in the region, in addition to Mexico. It is the only South American country that has not recognized Palestine as a State. The Free Trade Agreement with Colombia dates from 2012 and close relations of cooperation have been cultivated for various decades to combat drug trafficking and the guerilla. Every year a high level Colombian military delegation comes to Israel to “maintain a dialogue” with their Israeli counterparts [20].


According to official sources, the agreements signed in this recent visit are in matters of Agriculture, supplying drinking water to dry zones, cybersecurity, tourism and the establishment of an “innovation” fund [21]. However, the key sector, as in other countries, is that of cybersecurity, as Netanyahu himself has noted: “This is an area that has become important for all countries, but not only at the governmental level, even bank accounts: people save, deposit money and someone could come and steal the money. Thus this protection is needed”. In addition, he indicated that projects of training in cybersecurity would be carried out [22].


As in the case of Mexico, the security business is extremely delicate (and suspicious) in a country where at this moment there is an attempt to bring about a process of peace after decades of violence, militarization and paramilitarization. However, in contrast with Mexico, the scenario is more serious considering the struggle against the guerilla. Since the time when Juan Manuel Santos led the Colombian Ministry of Security (2006-2009) he contracted various Israeli advisors to discover the whereabouts of leaders of the FARC-EP. These advisors linked the Colombian government with the Global GST company (directed by the ex-general of division Israel Ziv) to provide military equipment and make strategic evaluations, not only against “internal threats” (FARC-EP) but also against “external threats” (Venezuela and Ecuador). According to information revealed by WikiLeaks, there were also contracts to acquire drones [23].


The size of the military presence of Israel in Colombia is such that it forms part of the Free Trade Agreement, recently ratified by the Congress, in which various controversial aspects stand out (or reveal the asymmetric relations of dependence, in addition to the strategic role of Israel in the reproduction of the hegemonic system).


1. The sector most favored in this FTA will be energy mining. In 2015, 89% of Colombian exports to Israel corresponded to coal, the exploitation of which is in the hands of multinational companies [24].


2. One of the more questionable points of this FTA is the increase of imports of arms and military equipment. Although the Ministry of Commerce has attempted to hide this, the official documents confirm that the imports to Colombia from Israel are centered in the military sector (49.6% of the total in 2010), imports that will grow with greater facility with the FTA [25].


3. Of the 312 Israeli companies that exported their products to Colombia between August 2014 and August 2015 at least four have their headquarters in territories illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 [26].


4. Colombia is the Latin American country that gets the most scholarships for training in Israel. From 2012 to 2017, over 900 Colombian specialists and functionaries were trained in Israel in post-graduate courses [27].


5. The Government of Israel is another great partner for Colombia in questions of intelligence, so much so that the Israeli embassy in Bogotá has financed the organization of the fair and annual conference Cibercolombia [28].


What is fundamental is that Netanyahu sees Latin America as a ‘strategic partner” and what he has revealed in his visit is that the fundamental sector in this relation is that of cybersecurity, that might even appear as something “new”. Nevertheless, this is easily linked to an unquestioned trajectory of the State of Israel in the provision of weapons, security equipment and training for the armed forces of Latin America, in particular for counterinsurgency forces during the Cold War and for “the war against drugs” at the present time – a role that it occupies with the approval of the US [29]. Meanwhile, cybersecurity represents a key market, especially since bodies such as the OAS and the Inter-American Development Bank noted in a report of 2016 that Latin America “presents potentially devastating vulnerabilities” in this area [30].


It is not by chance that the interests of Israel are complemented by the scenario described by inter-American bodies along with the prioritization of “problems” according to the US government (Trump renewed without hesitation the executive orders of Obama against malicious activities in internet [31]; and Congress, that appears divided on various aspects, appears unanimous on questions of internet that threaten national security) [32]. The problem is cybersecurity and someone will need to monopolize and control this space, beyond laws or obstacles that are interposed. The net of surveillance operates not only against “private” information but also works against the sovereignty of States, the self-determination of peoples and is at the service of individuals and enterprises whose interests are rooted in the reproduction of an unequal system, intimately tied to the generation of permanent war. For this Israel is prepared: it provides weapons and equipment to avoid cyberespionage... but is this what Latin America needs?


(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)


- Aníbal García and Silvina Romano are researchers with CELAG.




































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