United States military relations with Latin America grow less and less transparent
by David Brooks
United States Special Forces are ever more present in Latin America for jobs of training and intelligence gathering and for other military missions that, along with other US aid programs to the region, are carried out under the heading of the old war on drugs scheme, despite calls for a change in anti-drug policies, a new report on United States security assistance in the hemisphere concludes.
The report, published today by three centers for research and analysis – the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF), the Center for International Policy (CIP) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), which maintain a joint data bank on United States assistance programs for Latin America – shows that although the level of US assistance has been reduced to one of the lowest in a decade, what is of concern is a greater emphasis on less transparent military relations and deafness to the growing chorus throughout the hemisphere in favor of a rethinking prohibitionist drug policies.
“Much of what takes place may not show up as large budget amounts, but it is shrouded by secrecy, poor reporting to Congress and the public, and a migration of programs’ management from the State Department to the Defense Department,” the report, “Time to Listen: Trends in U.S. Security Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean” [“Hora de escuchar: tendencias en asistencia de seguridad de Estados Unidos hacia América Latina y el Caribe”] stresses.
The report indicates furthermore that during the past few years “the United States has expanded its direct involvement in counternarcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere,” especially in Central America.
The report emphasizes that, as in almost all other areas, the Barack Obama administration has favored the use of Special Forces in it security policies and that they will be used more and more for training and organizing armies in Latin America. “Such missions carry out functions that go beyond the mere provision of training. They allow the Special Forces units to become familiar with the terrain, the culture and key officials in countries where they may some day operate,” the report states. It adds, “They allow United States personnel to gather confidential information about the host countries.”
There are also programs to establish more specialized military and police units and other élite forces that are trained and operate with the supervision of the United States and become “a low-cost mechanism for maintaining the presence and influence of the United States in the war on drugs,” the report claims. There are other teams like the Sensitive Investigative Units or SIU, ultra-secret élite groups of agents in the region under the supervision of the DEA and the CIA, operating in several countries, recently including Mexico. In fact, the DEA has more officers in Mexico than in any other of its foreign posts.
The report also stresses the broader role of Colombia in training and aid, as well as the export of its model to other Latin American countries in the context of the anti-drug effort, including Mexico, where Colombia has taken part in the training of thousands of Mexican police officers.
Failures of the “war on drugs”
At the same time, it states that 40 years after declaration of the “war on drugs,” with its empirical failures (since 2000, for example, Washington has spent approximately 12.5 billion dollars on anti-drug programs in Latin America, with minimal results), prominent voices in both civil society and the government favoring reformation of the anti-drug strategy and consideration of alternatives are gaining ever more force in the region, something Washington continues to ignore. “We have a fundamental request for our government: it is time to listen… to hear the call for new policies on drugs, for us and for the region,” the document emphasizes.
The report also includes data on United States military and police assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean, by region and country, from 1996 to what is planned for 2014. Mexico received 44.8 million dollars in 2006, a figure that has grown more than tenfold to reach 508 million in 2010, 166 million in 2012, 154 in 2013 and 127 million in 2014.
The report also broaches the topic of human rights and offers a series of recommendations.
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Tags: Center for International Policy, Central Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Agency, Latin America, Latin America Working Group Education Fund, narco-trafficking, Sensitive Investigative Units, war on drugs, Washington Office on Latin America