US Militarizing Latin America
than 15 years after the end of the Cold War, the United States government
is increasingly militarizing its relationship with Latin America
and the Caribbean, according to a new report released here this
military aid to the region has risen sharply since 2000, according
to the report, which noted that, even during the height of the Cold
War, military assistance was only a third or less than the amount
of assistance the U.S. provided in economic aid to Latin America.
2003, however, military aid came to US$860 million dollars, just
short of the $921 million spent on economic and humanitarian assistance
in the same year. If recent trends hold, military aid may actually
exceed economic assistance, according to the new report, "Blurring
the Lines: Trends in U.S. Military Programs in Latin America."
vague new doctrines propagated by the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom),
such as "effective sovereignty'' which considers that U.S.
security may be threatened by Latin American governments' failure
to exercise control over vast "ungoverned spaces" within
their borders, are providing new rationales for regional militaries
to assert their power over civilian authorities.
with considerably more financial and other resources than the State
Department or other U.S. agencies, Southcom is increasingly defining
the U.S. role in Latin America, according to the report which was
co-produced by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the
Latin America Working Group (LAWG), and the Center for International
the Lines" is a reference to the distinct roles that are supposed
to be carried out by military and civilian institutions in government,
and the major theme of the report is that Washington is encouraging
Latin American militaries to encroach on what should be the jurisdiction
is not academic question," said Joy Olson, WOLA's executive
director. "It goes to the heart of democracy, particularly
for countries where transitions away from brutal military dictatorships
are far from complete.
military programs are strongly encouraging Latin American militaries
to carry out internal roles that civilians can fill, such as crime-fighting,
road-building, and protecting the environment."
in his annual "Posture Statement" in early 2004, Southcom
Commander Gen. James Hill, presented a list of emerging threats
in Latin America that went far beyond the military's normal purview,
identifying "radical populism" and street gangs as major
new threats facing the region with the suggestion that the uniformed
military rather than the police or other civilian-led institutions
has a role in dealing with them.
risks politicizing the armed forces," said Adam Isacson, CIP's
program director. "Too often in Latin America, when armies
have focused on an internal enemy, the definition of enemies has
included political opponents of the regime in power, even those
working with the political system."
report characterized Hill's identification of "radical populism"
as "particularly disturbing" given the history the Latin
American militaries have played in repressing leftist and populist
groups in the name of "national security," the doctrine
that the U.S. promoted in building up the region's armies during
problem identified by the report is Southcom's application of what
it has called the "war on terrorism" to a whole variety
of problems. "Terrorists throughout the Southern Command area
of responsibility bomb, murder, kidnap, traffic drugs, transfer
arms, launder money, and smuggle humans," Hill testified in
his Posture Statement.
that may be an apt description of Colombia and its border zones,
it does not apply to the rest of Latin America," noted the
report, adding that also fails to distinguish between Colombia's
homegrown guerrilla and paramilitary organizations from al Qaeda
or other international terrorist groups that directly threaten the
United States and its territory.
fact, very little of the increase in military training and aid to
the region since 2001, according to the report, has been directed
to al Qaeda-type or related threats, although that justification
may be the most effective justification for the Pentagon to obtain
budgetary increases from the White House and Congress.
a sliver of security assistance goes to counter-terror programs
like port, airport, and border security," according to LAWG
director Lisa Haugaard. "What we're seeing are the same old
programs to fight drugs and guerrillas re-packaged as part of the
war on terror."
the 22,855 Latin Americans trained by the U.S. military in 2003
50 percent more than in 2002 the greatest number, 5,506, took
Light Infantry courses, which teach such traditional basic military
skills as small-unit tactics, operations in difficult terrain, and
1,650 Bolivian police took a civic action course, while 1,234 soldiers
from a variety of countries took riverine skills for counter-drug
and counter-insurgency operations, according to the report.
anti-terrorist assistance just a fraction of the total was
used for anti-kidnapping programs in Colombia and border security
programs in Mexico.
war-torn Colombia was by far the largest recipient of military aid
and training in the region. The U.S. provided training to almost
13,000 Colombian soldiers in 2003, almost 4,000 more than it provided
to Iraqis and almost 8,000 more than to Afghans.
the administration has pushed Congress to increase the 400-man legislative
ceiling on the number of U.S. troops and contractors operating in
Colombia in order to increase training and other operations in-country.
Pentagon is also increasingly using its own programs to fund training
rather than those, such as the International Military Education
and Training (IMET) program, which are controlled by the State Department.
concerns raised in the report were the strong increase in the number
of Bolivian troops more than 2,000 in 2003, a year
that was characterized by political upheaval and serious abuses
committed by its army and police; Washington's efforts to press
Latin American and Caribbean governments to sign bilateral "Article
98" agreements granting U.S. forces immunity from the jurisdiction
of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for acts committed in
their countries; and Washington's support for creating a multinational
naval force through its "Enduring Friendship" exercises.
report said "the most egregious example of U.S. military training
blurring the line between civilian and military roles was the training
of nearly 2,000 Colombian National Police and 100 Panamanian National
Police in light-infantry tactics during 2003. The training, which
is clearly military in nature, was even conducted by U.S. Special
Forces, rather than military police, the report noted.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 One World