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South America Overview: May 2023

Written by Leonardo Wanderley, Contributing Analyst

Map May risk level South America


Security risk: Moderately High

  • Since President Petro’s reforms have faced resistance from moderate and right-wing sectors in Congress, the left-wing president has remained pragmatic in his negotiations. In early May 2023, legislators finally approved President Petro's four-year development plan expanding Colombia’s social protection network.

  • On May 8, the National Police captured 6 members of a criminal organization dedicated to the laundering of assets valued at over USD 1.1 million. In a simultaneous operation in the departments of Huila, Cundinamarca, Risaralda and Valle del Cauca, the National Police dismantled the organization, which employed legally constituted companies to generate fictitious exports and ship drugs to Belgium or Spain.


  • On May 25, an international criminal organization involved in cocaine trafficking between South America and Europe was dismantled following an operation involving Ecuadorian and Colombian authorities, and US homeland security personnel.

  • The organization shipped cocaine from the port of Cartagena in Colombia to Barcelona and from Guayaquil in Ecuador to Valencia. The drugs were seized in containers in the Spanish ports of Barcelona and Valencia.


Security risk: Moderate

  • Political turmoil ensues as the president dissolves Congress. President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the opposition-controlled parliament amid an impeachment trial launched on grounds that Lasso allegedly engaged in embezzlement. He faced an imminent vote that could have ousted him from office. Lasso now has up to six months to govern by decree before fresh general elections are held.

  • An upsurge in organized crime has been reported as the country is facing an unprecedented level of violence. This is linked to the drugs trade and criminal gangs vying for territorial control of transport routes. Public authorities have largely been unable to address the problem due to corruption and political instability.


Security risk: Moderate

  • Petroleum company, Petrobras, filed a request with the federal environment agency (IBAMA) to analyse the license for oil exploration in a sensitive Amazonas basin area. The state-owned oil company seeks to reverse IBAMA’s ban to start drilling the exploratory well in block FZA-M-059 located in deep waters, 175 kilometres off the coast of the Amapá state;

  • The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (Mapa) confirmed three more cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the country, bringing the number of cases to 13. Nine of the cases were registered in the Espírito Santo state, while Rio de Janeiro has three cases and Rio Grande do Sul notified one case of avian flu.

  • The Federal Police (PF) carried out Operation Uru Praesidium, inside the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau Indigenous Land in Rondônia, to combat land grabbers, illegal loggers and miners. The operation was supported by the Federal Highway Police, the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) and the federal agency for the protection of indigenous peoples (FUNAI).

  • Meanwhile, the Federal Police seized 928.9 kg of cocaine at Guarulhos airport (SP), the largest and busiest airport in the country, in the first four months of 2023.


Security risk: Moderate

  • Conservatives won control of the Constitutional Council in a blow to President Boric’s coalition. José Antonio Kast’s far-right Republican Party now holds more than three-fifths of the committee needed to approve articles for a new constitution. A nationwide referendum is set to be held on December 17, 2023, to determine whether the public agrees with a new political constitution drafted by the Constitutional Council.

  • This shift to the right could be explained by the security concerns faced by the Chilean public as they demand a tougher stance on crime.

  • Causes for the rise in violent crime include human trafficking, drug trafficking as well as theft of natural resources. Chile’s relative affluence makes it a tempting target for transnational crime syndicates, especially as a destination for migrants and narcotics.

  • On May 19, mining company, Codelco, announced the creation of Salares Chile, a subsidiary that will oversee the company’s lithium activities, including operations in Salar de Atacama, a salt flat in northern Chile.


Security risk: Moderately Low

  • The Colorado Party’s candidate, Santiago Peña was elected President of Paraguay gaining 42.7% of the votes. He will take office on August 15, 2023. The runner-up, Efraín Alegre, from the opposition coalition, Concertación Nacional, had 27.4% of the vote. The “Colorados” also won 15 of the country's 17 departments and most seats in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

  • Alegre questioned the result and protests were seen in the streets of Asuncion by supporters of the third-placed Paraguayo Cubas, a former far-right senator, who received 23% of the votes. Cubas was in turn arrested and held in preventive detention under an order by the attorney general’s office that is accusing him of breaching the peace.


Security risk: High

  • Frequent power failures throughout the country are once again a concern for citizens and experts, who fear a wide-scale general blackout. The power cuts are allegedly due to both a lack of maintenance of a deteriorated system and to electric overloading.

  • Rural areas have been disproportionally affected as a consequence of the government’s effort to ensure a steady supply of power to urban areas. The Committee of People Affected by Blackouts has registered a continuous increase in the number of failures, going from 3,296 cuts in January to 10,013 in the month of May. The increasing frequency of power cuts have strangled the economy in the countryside and pushed rural residents further into poverty.

  • Power failures can take place any time and can go on for several hours. Blackouts have been reported in at least 13 of the 23 states, from Zulia, Falcón and Lara, in the West, to the Andean states (Táchira, Trujillo, Mérida), the Capital District and the eastern towns, including Nueva Esparta and Anzoátegui.

  • On May 29, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva welcomed Venezuelan President Maduro to a regional summit in Brasília, taking his side against Washington. Lula dismissed charges of human and civil rights abuses against Maduro and condemned U.S. sanctions on his government as “worse than war.” Maduro may be gaining a stronger position in South American political relations as the region shifts leftwards.

202305 South America News Round-Up
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About the author: Leonardo Wanderley

Leonardo is a Brazil-based security threat analyst helping businesses operate and thrive in Latin America. Leonardo holds a BA in Business and has done research into Latin America integration, defense industry and hemispheric security. He speaks Portuguese, Spanish and English. You can reach Leonardo at

This publication was edited by Diana Coman.

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