The independent resource on global security

3. Armed conflict and peace processes in the Americas


Overview, Marina Caparini

I. Key general developments in the region, Marina Caparini and Ian Davis

II. Armed conflict in North America and the Caribbean, Marina Caparini

III. Armed conflict in Central America, Marina Caparini and Ian Davis

IV. Armed conflict in South America, Marina Caparini and Ian Davis

Several armed conflicts meeting the non-international armed conflict (NIAC) threshold under international law were active in Colombia and Mexico. Six additional countries in the Americas—Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras and Venezuela—experienced high levels of armed violence in 2021 and were also defined by SIPRI as having armed conflicts on the basis of the number of battle-related fatalities involved. There were three multilateral peace operations active in the Americas in 2021: two in Colombia and one in Haiti.


North America and the Caribbean

Three NIACs existed in Mexico: between the government and the Sinaloa Cartel; between the government and the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG); and between the two rival cartels. In addition, hundreds of smaller gangs and factions were involved in crime and violence, and there were widespread human rights violations by state forces.


In Haiti the assassination of the president deepened political instability. Mass displacement surged, driven by the compounding effects of extreme poverty, corruption, pervasive gang violence and natural disasters.


Central America

Armed conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in 2021 were all related to gang violence. Two of the most infamous street gangs in the Americas—rivals Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and the 18th Street Gang (Barrio 18)—have an especially strong influence in all three countries. El Salvador and Guatemala saw growing violence, authoritarianism and corruption in 2021, while the year closed on a more hopeful note in Honduras, with the election of Xiomara Castro, the only female leader in Central America, as president. Even so, the country remains beset by high levels of poverty, violent crime and corruption.


South America

In Colombia at least three parallel and overlapping conflicts continued in 2021: between the government and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN); between the government and dissident armed groups of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revo-lucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo, FARC-EP); and between the ELN and the Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC).


Brazil saw a rise in estimated battle- and other conflict-related deaths in 2021, and violence against civilians caused as many deaths as battles. The nature of armed conflict in Brazil is complex and difficult to define. Approximately 57 per cent of the 2620 battle-related deaths were attributable to violence between state forces and unidentified armed groups, or violence between police and political militias, while 42 per cent involved inter-political militia violence.


In Venezuela government forces committed acts of violence as the state challenged its loss of control over swathes of territory to gangs and armed groups.

Dr Ian Davis and Dr Marina Caparini