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Forecast Podcast: As Colombia cracks down on cartel violence, the country braces for more

Dairo Antonio Úsuga is in the center of a photo. He, the inprocessing person to the left and the guard to the right, is wearing a medical mask. The guard is armed and in uniform. The inprocessing person is wearing a lab coat.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Irene Villora discuss recent violence by Colombia’s Clan del Golfo cartel, plus more on Sweden considering NATO membership, Somalia’s presidential election, Turkey’s foreign minister visiting the US and Australia’s election.

These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

Note: Our podcast (and the weekly Forecast email) will be off next week, but we’ll be back on May 26. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Twitter where we’ll still be posting breaking news.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors David Wyllie, Vivian Wang, Irene Villora and Jeff Landset.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note: hello@factal.com.

Podcast Transcript

JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:

Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is May 12th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got Sweden considering NATO membership, Somalia’s presidential election, Turkey’s foreign minister visiting the US, Australia’s election and a look at recent cartel violence in Colombia.   

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Sweden announcement on NATO decision

Information compiled by David Wyllie

JIMMY: We should be one step closer to knowing if Sweden will join NATO on Sunday.

That’s when the country’s ruling Social Democrats will announce whether they have decided to end a decades-long opposition to joining NATO, paving the way for the country to join the military alliance.

For much of its modern history, Sweden has rejected military alliances, preferring to act as a neutral third party concerned with ending conflicts through dialogue. 

Through the Cold War it dealt with the Soviet threat with defense spending aimed at defending itself. 

However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shifted public opinion and Sweden quickly pledged to provide defensive aid to the country, and now public support favors joining NATO.

Now, it’s possible an application to join NATO would be made shortly after the decision, potentially coming as a package deal with fellow EU member Finland, which has also historically remained outside the alliance

Both countries with their advanced, well-equipped militaries and a history of cooperation with NATO would likely be fast-tracked through the process

Russia has warned both countries of consequences if this were to happen.

Somali presidential election

Information compiled by Vivian Wang

JIMMY: Somalia is finally having a presidential election.

If things go as planned on Sunday, the country’s parliament will select a president from a list of nearly 40 candidates, including incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmajo. 

Of course, the election comes following more than a year of delays marked by political deadlock and violence.

Somalia has faced a national leadership crisis since April of 2021, when President Farmajo controversially extended his presidential mandate, triggering an ongoing feud with Prime Minister Mohammed Roble. 

After missing multiple deadlines, Somalia’s parliamentary elections were finally completed last month, paving the way for this weekend’s presidential elections. 

Now, the Somalia-based Islamic insurgency group Al-Shabab continues to stage attacks in the country with deadly regularity, targeting politicians and African Union forces in its most recent attacks. 

Still, this election is scheduled to take place in a heavily-guarded and fortified airport hangar in Mogadishu where Somalia’s parliamentary proceedings are sometimes held. 

Somalia is under pressure to establish a new government by May 17, or risk losing budget support from the International Monetary Fund, though the country has asked for a three-month extension

Finally, with important political figures gathering for the elections, al-Shabab may attempt to find another opportunity to disrupt the proceedings.

Turkish foreign minister visits US

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu will visit the United States on Thursday. It will be the first bilateral talks in three years.

Çavuşoğlu will fly to Washington to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in order to discuss the purchase of 40 F-16 jets as part of a Strategic Mechanism, which sets trade and cooperation goals between both counties. 

The parties will also discuss Turkey’s relation with Russia. 

Of course, the relations between the U.S. and Turkey have been tense in the past due to issues like Turkey’s purchase of Russian air defense missiles and different stances on the war in Syria. 

Now, this is the first high profile visit of a Turkish official to Washington since the Biden administration took office. 

Turkey hopes to obtain approval from the U.S. Congress to purchase defense materials after a slight improvement in relations with Western countries. That improvement, due to Turkey’s mediation efforts between Russia and Ukraine since the start of the invasion.

Australia election

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: People across Australia will decide next Saturday if they want three more years of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his center-right coalition or a change with Anthony Albanese and his center-left party.

It will be the country’s first federal election since Morrison’s surprise win in 2019. 

Back then, his coalition upended opinion polls following a campaign that focused on cutting immigration and not messing with the economy. 

This time around, Morrison has been campaigning on his response to the pandemic.

Now, voters appear to be favoring the opposition this time at an even larger clip than in 2019. 

Recent polls have shown Albanese’s Labor party well ahead of Morrison’s Liberal-National Coalition. 

Albanese has been campaigning on lowering the cost of living and promoting job growth. 

Finally, a Labor Party win would lead to a large upheaval in the status quo for Australia’s economy.

Colombia’s Clan del Golfo armed strike

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the recent attacks by a Colombian paramilitary group known as Clan del Golfo. For more on that I spoke with Factal editor Irene Villora.

JIMMY: Hi, Irene. 

IRENE: Hi, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: All right, before we get into the recent events, can you give folks just a brief overview of who or what Clan del Golfo is? Is it just a paramilitary group?

IRENE: Well, actually, the Clan del Golfo comes from a paramilitary group. It’s been one of the most powerful criminal organizations in Colombia since the early 2000s and it was sort of like a natural evolution of the paramilitary group that was known as the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia. But actually, these days, we talk about Clan del Golfo as a drug cartel.

JIMMY: I see. And what’s the latest? What’s the cartel’s recent violence all about?

IRENE: So Clan del Golfo called an armed strike on May 5 after the extradition to the United States of its leader, known as alias “Otoniel,” and it lasted for four days. It was actually one of the worst armed strikes that the country has seen in the past six or seven years with a total of, like, 300 acts of violence and at least six people killed in 11 Columbia municipalities. This, according to authorities, but the numbers could actually be more. What an armed strike is, basically, is a criminal organizations in Colombia tend to urge civilians to not leave their homes, go to work or carry out any sort of, like, activity during a determinate amount of days under, like, threats of violence or even death. And this happens usually in retaliation for government actions. So in this specific case, the leader of Clan del Golfo, alias “Otoniel”, was extradited to the United States after what I believe was a search of almost seven years under charges of drug trafficking, and international crime,

JIMMY: When was “Otoniel” caught? And where is he now?

IRENE: So “Otoniel” was finally captured by Colombian authorities in October 2021 in the Antioquia region. That’s where the group mainly operates. And after his arrest, there was criminal actions started in Colombia. There was actually a bit of a controversial point because the Special Jurisdiction for Peace received a list from alias “Otoniel” in which he named several politicians and organizations that had supposedly collaborated with the cartel throughout its history. And after this, the United States asked for the extradition and Colombian courts authorized it. This also created a bit of discontent in Colombia because some of the relatives of victims of members of the Clan del Golfo were scared that the cartel and “Otoniel” were not going to respond for their crimes in the country. But the decision to extradite him was finally taken and he arrived in New York at the beginning of May.

JIMMY: Well, Irene, I know, it’s hard to guess what might happen, especially considering a cartel is involved, but what do you think folks should be watching for next?

IRENE: So “Otoniel” had his first hearing already in a US court. The next one has been scheduled for June 2 after he declared himself innocent of all charges and a final trial date is still to be determined, but it’s unlikely that it will happen before at least, like, eight months to a year. According to experts, and according to the charges he’s facing, it’s very likely that he will face something between 20 years and life imprisonment in a maximum security center in the US. But most importantly, I think we should focus on, like, what we are going to see back in Colombia. After the four days of armed strike, the Colombian government announced that they were going to try to extradite 16 more members of the organization. In fact, they have actually extradited the sister of alias “Otoniel” and they have offered monetary rewards to anyone who has any information about any member of the group or its activities. They have already announced significant deployment in the areas where the group is active and I would expect to see a back and forth of violence between the Clan del Golfo members and the authorities.

JIMMY: Well, Irene, we are out of time, but I really need to thank you for your time today. This is obviously a very important story and I fear it might be flying under the radar a bit. Thanks for catching us all up to speed.

IRENE: Thank you very much.

JIMMY: Take care

JIMMY: One note before you go, the podcast will be off next week so our next show will actually be May 26th. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Twitter where we’ll still be posting breaking news. 

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors David Wyllie, Vivian Wang, Irene Villora and Jeff Landset. Our interview featured Irene Villora and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello@factal.com

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Lead Photo: Colombian authorities captured cartel leader Dairo Antonio Úsuga (center) in October 2021 after he evaded arrest for years. Úsuga has now been extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges. (Photo: Colombian Ministry of National Defense)

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