Friday, July 13, 2012
Friday, July 13, 2012
Monday, June 25, 2012
All the information “Just the Facts” presents about U.S. assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean comes from official government reports. We only cite what we find in writing.
After many years of gathering such reports, we’ve accumulated hundreds of budget requests, “posture statements,” counter-drug strategy reports, human rights certifications, required reports to Congress, GAO and CRS studies, and much more.
We have the equivalent of a few file cabinets’ worth of documents. And as of this morning, we are pleased to be able to share them with you.
Our new Official Reports library is an unparalleled resource for official data about U.S. relations with Latin America. We’re launching it with 260 editions of 106 different reports, and will be adding to it regularly. There’s nothing online quite as extensive.
Here’s how to use it. First, either go directly to http://justf.org/reports or, within “Just the Facts,” hover your arrow-pointer over the word “Links” in the top menu bar, and click on the word “Reports” that appears.
The first thing you’ll see is a brief form with some search options. This is pretty self-explanatory. Or, if you’d prefer to browse all reports in our database, click on “view them all.” This will present them in the order in which they were submitted, newest to oldest.
For this lesson, though, ignore all that. Let’s say we want to see all reports that deal specifically with Central America.
Click on “Reveal more search options.”
This will reveal a large, optional form that may appear intimidating, but is very useful if you spend a moment with it. In the “regarding aid to” list on the right, click on “Central America Regional.” then click on the pink “Search for Reports” button at the bottom.
You will be presented with a page that — as of today — offers twelve editions of nine U.S. government reports specifically about aid to Central America. (Note that this excludes reports about aid to the whole world, which may also have something to say about Central America.)
Let’s say you’re interested in the first report in the list, the 2011 spending plan for the CARSI program, but you’re not sure you want to leave this page. Click on “Click to view.”
Every report in the entire library is a single file in PDF format. (Some of them are rather large.) The PDF of the CARSI Spending Plan will open up in a preview window, which you can expand to full-screen size if you wish.
To make the preview window go away, click on “Click to disappear.” To download a PDF copy of the CARSI Spending Plan for yourself, click on “Click to download a copy.”
That’s the end of the lesson — but there are other features not covered here. (Click on links in the report descriptions, for instance.)
Most of the documents we have collected over the years are in this online library. We’re not quite finished yet, though: there are still a few reports sitting on our hard drives, and many — especially from the 1990s — which we have yet to scan and upload.
Meanwhile, we’re constantly obtaining new reports in order to keep “Just the Facts” as up-to-date as possible. You will see listings for reports that haven’t been submitted yet. Some of these are overdue from the agencies that are supposed to produce them, or at least we haven’t found them yet. If so, we indicate what we’ve done to try to obtain them.
For us, this new section of the website is a big convenience, as it offers quick access to our reference materials and alerts us to what we need to find. We hope that it will be useful to you too.
While we wrote the code for all of this, though, we’re not professional programmers. You may find mistakes or odd behavior. Bug reports and suggestions for usability are very welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
This map comes from testimony [PDF] given today in a House Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing by Coast Guard Rear Adm. Charles Michel, who heads the U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S). Based in Key West, Florida, Adm. Michel’s agency monitors all suspicious air and sea traffic headed toward the United States from the Andes and across Central America and the Caribbean.
The map shows the effect that JIATF-S is measuring from “Operation Martillo” (Martillo = Hammer), a “surge” operation to increase surveillance and patrolling in waters near Central America. Operation Martillo began in January, and Southcom (especially the Navy’s 4th Fleet) and the Coast Guard are coordinating it with several Latin American and European security forces.
The map shows an apparent decrease in cocaine flows in most areas, especially the Caribbean, with one very big exception. In response to Operation Martillo, cocaine trafficking appears to be spiking in the eastern Pacific, with a dense concentration of boats leaving Colombia’s Pacific Coast.
The Colombian Pacific is a flashpoint of the country’s armed conflict right now. Often in cooperation with the FARC guerrillas, paramilitary successor groups, especially the “Rastrojos” and the “Urabeños,” are moving many tons of illegal drugs out of port cities like Buenaventura and Tumaco, and using long-neglected afro-Colombian communities in Chocó, Valle, Cauca and Nariño as staging areas. Nariño continues to be Colombia’s number-one coca-producing department. (See our report about Tumaco, Nariño’s main Pacific port, from last year.)
In his written testimony, meanwhile, Adm. Michel estimates that “go-fast” surface boats carried “490 metric tons of cocaine from South America toward the United States.” Approximately another 330 metric tons per year, he added, come to the United States in semi-submersible craft or crude submarines.
That is a total of 820 tons of cocaine coming to the United States, to which much be added cocaine which comes via aircraft, which according to Michel’s testimony is 20 percent of the total.
From that, we get a JIATF estimate of roughly 1,000 metric tons of cocaine headed each year from South America towed the United States.
(Update as of 4:45PM: There was no need to extrapolate an estimate here. Southcom Commander Gen. Douglas Fraser's March 2012 Posture Statement (PDF), on page 6, already provides an estimate of 1,086 tons of cocaine headed toward the United States in 2011, and an expected 775-930 tons in 2012.)
This figure clashes with the estimate from the State Department, which prefers to extrapolate from the amount of coca-leaf cultivation detected and eradicated. The State Department’s latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report speaks of “700 metric tons of cocaine shipped annually from Colombia and other producing nations intended for the U.S. markets.”
One agency says 700 tons, another says about 1,000 tons. Estimating cocaine trafficking is admittedly a very inexact science, but this is a 43% discrepancy.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
The House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the 2013 foreign aid bill on May 17. The Republican-majority committee would impose deep cuts on many assistance programs, and would strip out human rights conditions or limitations on military and police aid to Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.
The bill is likely to change significantly after it is reconciled with the very different version that will emerge from the Democratic-majority Senate. In fact, the bill’s passage into law is very unlikely until after the November 6 U.S. presidential and legislative elections.
As is the norm, the Committee included a narrative report [PDF] along with the bill, making a number of non-binding recommendations. Among these are a series of reports that executive-branch agencies must produce next year. These reports must be produced, on pain of angering the committee that funds these agencies.
The committee report contains no less than ten reports with relevance for aid to Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Department of State must “determine and report that providing assistance” to Bolivia “is in the national security interest.” Aid may not be made available to the Bolivian military and police until the report is received.
The Department of State must submit a report “on the activities that were conducted with previous appropriations” under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), a package of aid through several programs, “and the achievements associated with those funds, as well as activities that will be funded in fiscal year 2013 and the goals that are expected to be reached.” The report is due within 45 days after the bill’s eventual passage.
The Department of State must submit a report “on the activities that were conducted with previous appropriations” under the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CBSI), a package of aid through several programs, “and the achievements associated with those funds, as well as activities that will be funded in fiscal year 2013 and the goals that are expected to be reached.” The report is due within 45 days after the bill’s eventual passage.
The Department of State must report “on the proposed uses of funding for Colombia’s judicial agencies. The report should include how assistance is designed to reduce impunity and protect due process, and include any associated benchmarks that have been established for the offices of the Colombian Attorney General, Inspector General, and Ombudsman.” The report is due within 45 days after the bill’s eventual passage.
The Department of State must report “on the efforts the Colombian Armed Forces are taking to address human rights. The report shall include steps taken to: 1) suspend members who have been credibly alleged to have violated human rights, or to have aided, abetted or benefitted from paramilitary organizations or other illegal armed groups; 2) promptly refer these cases to civilian jurisdiction; 3) cooperate fully with civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities; 4) sever links with and dismantle paramilitary organizations or other illegal armed groups; 5) respect the rights of human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, and other social activists, and the rights and territory of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities; and 6) implement procedures to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their operations.” the report is due within 60 days after the bill’s eventual passage, and the Department of State must “consult with Colombian and international human rights organizations not less than 30 days prior to submitting this report.” (The House committee’s bill includes this report in lieu of conditions holding up some military aid until the Department of State can certify in writing that Colombia is making these improvements. For the second year in a row, the House is seeking to strip out this longstanding provision, which is likely to remain in the Senate’s version of the bill.)
USAID must submit a report on how its programs address the root causes of violence and instability in Mexico. The report is due within 90 days after the bill’s eventual passage. The committee report notes that a similar report, due in March 2012, had not yet been submitted as of mid-May.
The Department of State, in consultation with the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, must submit a report “describing the implementation of assistance for Mexico since fiscal year 2008,” along with “an assessment of the transnational criminal organizations operating in Mexico, including an assessment of the income-generating activities of these organizations and recommendations on how to combat the operations, financial networks, and money laundering techniques of such organizations. This report, or a portion thereof, may be submitted in classified form if necessary.” The report is due within 45 days after the bill’s eventual passage.
The Department of State must submit a report “on the efforts of the Government of Mexico to investigate and prosecute in the civilian justice system, in accordance with Mexican and international law, military and police personnel who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights; to enforce prohibitions on the use of testimony obtained through torture; and the efforts of the Mexican military and police to cooperate with civilian judicial authorities in such cases.” The report is due within 60 days after the bill’s eventual passage. (The House committee’s bill includes this report in lieu of conditions holding up some military aid until the Department of State can certify in writing that Mexico is making these improvements. For the second year in a row, the House is seeking to strip out this longstanding provision, which is likely to remain in the Senate’s version of the bill.)
International Military Education and Training (IMET program)
The Department of State must submit “a report on the proposed uses of all program funds under this heading on a country-by-country basis, including a detailed description of proposed activities.” The report is due within 45 days after the bill’s eventual passage.
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) program
The Department of State must submit a report “on the proposed uses of all funds on a country-by-country basis for each proposed program, project, or activity,” adding that “this report should serve as a baseline spend plan for the fiscal year.” The report is due within 45 days after the bill’s eventual passage, and 2013 INCLE funds may not be spent until the report is received.
Organization of American States (OAS)
The Department of State must issue a report on efforts the United States is taking to push the OAS to uphold all aspects of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The report is due within 90 days after the bill’s eventual passage.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
The southern Colombian town where FARC guerrillas captured French journalist Romeo Langlois last weekend has a difficult history. La Unión Peneya is an object lesson in how difficult “counterinsurgency” is, even in a country that has substantially weakened its largest insurgency.
In 2004, Colombia’s armed forces launched one of the biggest offensives in its history. Backed by U.S. advisors and logistics personnel, “Operation JM,” the second and largest phase of what was known as “Plan Patriota,” sent about 18,000 Colombian soldiers deep into a broad swath of the southern departments of Caquetá, Meta and Guaviare that had been a FARC stronghold for decades.
As they launched the offensive from bases in western Caquetá, the first major town the troops hit was La Unión Peneya, a coca boomtown along the Caguán river in the municipality of Montañita. By the end of 2003, Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper writes, the town had “7 pool halls, 20 bars, 2 bordellos, 4 drugstores, 3 gas stations and about 20 stores selling fine clothes and trinkets, as well as 5 apartment buildings and 400 houses.”
In January 2004 the FARC, aware of the coming offensive, told everyone in La Unión Peneya to clear out. The town center’s entire population of 2,500 displaced. According to a different El Tiempo report:
Even as the Army established its presence in the town center, la Unión Peneya remained a ghost town for at least three years. As “Plan Patriota” wound down in 2007, authorities announced plans to rebuild the abandoned town and the population began to trickle back. This rebuilding, and provision of other services, has been very slow as the government later decided to dedicate more resources to the “La Macarena” zone just to the northeast.
Today, more than eight years after the U.S.-backed “Plan Patriota” rolled through, the town where it all began still has a very heavy FARC presence, and a lot of coca and cocaine production.
Last Saturday, troops from the Colombian Army’s U.S-backed Counternarcotics Brigade helicoptered into the rural part of La Unión Peneya on a mission to destroy cocaine laboratories. They were accompanied by two embedded journalists: French reporter Romeo Langlois (creator of a documentary about Cauca’s “Indigenous Guard”) and Italian reporter Simone Bruno (creator of the documentary “Falsos Positivos”).
The army column and the reporters came under heavy guerrilla attack. A police officer and three soldiers were killed. Langlois was wounded in the arm and taken by the FARC. In a phone call yesterday, a guerrilla spokeswoman told reporters that Langlois is safe, but that because he was wearing a military helmet and jacket at the time, the FARC is holding him as a “prisoner of war.”
Since Langlois’s status as a journalist for France24 TV is confirmed, the FARC’s claim is invalid according to international humanitarian law. (Meanwhile, Colombian Air Force video seems to show the FARC fighters themselves wearing plainclothes, which also violates IHL.) The FARC must release Langlois immediately.
Last weekend’s tragedy highlights the frustrations of Colombia’s approach to counterinsurgency. With a constant military presence in the town center since 2004, La Unión Peneya today should not be the sort of place where the FARC can carry out this sort of attack, much less maintain cocaine laboratories. But the fatal flaw of “Plan Patriota” was that over the past eight years, the government presence has been almost entirely military. Behind the troops came nothing: the civilian part of the state failed to appear with roads, schools, health care, land titles and other services one would expect from a government.
This lopsided approach did not bring governance, and did not convince the population that it lived under a credible government. And so La Unión Peneya remains ungoverned.
Friday, April 27, 2012
WOLA’s report about U.S.-Mexico border security, published last week, says that the Defense Department is not using drone aircraft for surveillance on the U.S. side of the border zone.
The main reasons for this are that most Pentagon drones are being used in war zones, and because there are still concerns about air traffic control (the possibility of drones crashing into commercial planes). The Homeland Security Department’s Customs and Border Protection agency, however, runs six Predator-Bs, plus one maritime variant, out of Sierra Vista, Arizona and Corpus Christi, Texas.
In fact, WOLA’s report is already out of date on this issue. Testimony last week by the Pentagon’s top homeland security official, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Stockton [PDF], reveals that, as of this year, four Defense Department drones are now operating out of Arizona.
They aren’t Predators or Global Hawks, though. They’re RQ-7Bs, far smaller craft with a 14-foot wingspan, usually launched by a catapult.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander, U.S. Southern Command, testifying in the House Armed Services Committee, March 6, 2012:
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, aboard an aircraft en route to Colombia, April 23:
Fraser talks about diplomatic and economic contacts, and possible Iranian “connections” to fundraising for terror groups’ activities in the middle east.
Panetta, on the other hand, sees the IRGC potentially “expanding terrorism” right here in the hemisphere.
The two Defense officials don’t quite contradict each other, but the difference in emphasis — especially on a topic as important as Iranian influence in Latin America — is still worth noting.
Friday, February 24, 2012
Last November, Colombia’s government proposed to reduce the civilian justice system’s ability to try and punish human rights abuses committed by the country’s U.S.-aided military. On this blog and elsewhere (PDF), the organizations participating in the “Just the Facts” project expressed concern about this proposal. Late last week, the Colombian government withdrew it — or at least, delayed it and modified it substantially. Despite some continued concerns, we applaud this step.
Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón quietly added the original proposal to a larger package of judicial reforms moving through Colombia’s Congress. It sought to have all crimes committed by soldiers, including human rights abuse, be considered “acts of service” and thus sent to Colombia’s military justice system, which has a very poor track record of investigating and punishing abuses within the ranks.
The proposal, which would have been a big step backward for the cause of human rights in Colombia, appeared to be a response to military pressure to end what officers called “judicial insecurity.” The term refers to a perception within the ranks that human rights investigations and trials, including over 2,500 extrajudicial execution cases mostly from the past decade, were making it difficult for the troops to carry out operations.
Indeed the civilian criminal justice system, as a 2006 Defense Ministry order was being interpreted, had become the first body to investigate and review every combat death, whether an abuse was alleged or not. Perhaps because the government at the time denied that an “armed conflict” existed, the result was a conflation of international humanitarian law and criminal law.
This was not the intent of the Colombian human rights community’s decades of efforts to curtail impunity by moving abuse cases out of the military justice system. But the November proposal, which was passing through Colombia’s Congress with little debate and with strong military backing, would have moved the bar way too far in the other direction. It would have sent all cases first to a military justice system that suffers from a severe lack of capacity, and whose judges are military officers within the chain of command and subject to potential retribution for decisions that do not please their superiors.
Faced with an outcry among human rights defenders and quiet expressions of concern from U.S. officials, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos sent the proposal to an ad hoc “Commission of Experts.” The Commission was made up of two former Supreme Court judges, a former Justice Ministry official (and right-of-center newspaper columnist), and two retired generals, one from the police and one from the army.
The commission determined that the November proposal should be withdrawn from the justice reform bill. It suggested that a different proposal be considered in a standalone bill. Santos government officials say that this new proposal will likely be issued in about a month. The new bill would send allegations of the most serious human rights crimes immediately to the civilian justice system: crimes against humanity, torture, forced disappearance, and extrajudicial executions.
However, while jurisdiction about specific crimes remains to be determined, this proposal would likely send other violations of international humanitarian law — such as theft, assault, accidental killings of non-combatants during combat, or indiscriminate bombings — to the military justice system. Complicated or disputed cases (for instance, when relatives or human rights defenders allege that a military “combat kill” was an extrajudicial execution) would go first to a mixed commission made up of military and civilian judicial police, which would review the evidence.
We applaud the Santos government’s decision to step back from a proposal that was too radical, and to establish a more open, deliberative process to clarify responsibilities in line with international humanitarian law.
Some Colombian observers have alleged that the course change in Bogotá owes to pressure from U.S. NGOs, as well as quiet Obama administration diplomacy. (Under U.S. law, Colombia may have stood to lose millions of dollars in military aid if the State Department could not certify that Colombia is sending abuse cases to civilian courts.) We do not know if this is true.
In this author’s view (speaking as Adam Isacson and not in the name of the entire “Just the Facts” project), Santos government officials themselves likely had little enthusiasm for their original, radical proposal, but were under intense pressure to move it forward. If anything, vocal advocacy from U.S. groups merely helped to counter-balance that pressure, creating political space for these officials to adopt a more moderate course.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
The State Department yesterday released the first document outlining its foreign assistance request for 2013. Yesterday's "Executive Budget Summary" provides few details and lacks country-by-country totals for many programs.
Still, it allows us to provide a crude "snapshot" of how U.S. aid to the region looked in 2011, how it's looking this year, and what the Obama administration has in mind for next year.
Here is our best estimate of how U.S. military and police aid to Colombia, Mexico and Central America look between 2008 and 2013.
A few notes about these tables:
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
This chart, from a Colombian Defense Ministry document (PDF), shows Colombia's armed forces and police with a combined 452,475 members at the end of 2011, their highest number ever and 4 percent higher than 2010.
Contrast that to this chart, from a January 2012 report, using Defense Ministry figures, by the Center for Security and Democracy at Bogotá's Sergio Arboleda University. The data show a sharp decline in combat actions initiated by the Colombian armed forces -- so sharp that, in 2011, the FARC may have attacked the armed forces more often than the other way around.
This trend is likely continuing in 2012; guerrillas attacked the security forces 132 times during the first 20 days of the year. The Sergio Arboleda University study also finds 2011 increases in guerrilla kidnappings and attacks on infrastructure (though it also notes a 5% decrease in homicides).
But why would Colombia's security forces, though at the height of their strength, be responding less? The author of the Sergio Arboleda University's study, former Colombian defense ministry advisor Alfredo Rangel, claims that the problem is military morale. The troops' morale is low, Rangel asserts, because the civilian justice system is trying to hold them accountable for human rights violations.
"Without a doubt, the legal uncertainty to which members of the security forces are submitted as a consequence of the abolition -- in practice -- of military jurisdiction [el fuero militar] and the disarticulation of the military justice system, is the element behind their de-motivation in combat, which explains the drop in the level of their offensive operations against guerrilla groups. The Colombian military forces are the only army in the world that fights a war without the legal guarantees that military jurisdiction should offer the state's combatants." (Our emphasis.)
Rangel goes on to list as "arbitrary" several of the civilian justice system's recent landmark verdicts for human rights crimes. These include verdicts against Gen. Humberto Uscátegui for permitting the Mapiripán massacre (2009), and against Col. Alfonso Plazas (2010) and Gen. Armando Arias Cabrales (2011) for crimes committed during the 1985 Palace of Justice takeover. Rangel also criticizes as "devastating" (fulminante) the 2008 decision by then-Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos to fire officers whose units were involved in "false positives" killings of civilians.
Since 1997, Colombian jurisprudence and government directives have required that cases of military human rights abuse be transferred to the civilian justice system. The military's own justice system had proven to be too lenient, with the armed forces incapable of punishing their own ranks for crimes against non-combatants. To this day, military defense lawyers routinely fight to move their clients' cases out of the civilian system in the hope of escaping guilty verdicts and prison sentences.
Only very recently has the civilian justice system begun successfully trying senior officers for human rights abuses. This is an advance -- one that may soon be reversed by legislation that would require any future human rights cases to begin in the military courts.
But according to Rangel's analysis -- which is shared by organizations of retired military officers -- this human rights advance has left much of Colombia's huge military demoralized. Angry at the justice system, troops are remaining in their barracks, unwilling to carry out operations.
In fact, much of this drop in activity occurred before the first verdicts were handed down: the Rangel study shows military-initiated combat beginning to fall in a year (2008) of extremely high morale, when the armed forces killed top guerrilla leaders and bloodlessly freed hostages. But never mind that: it's an insult to Colombia's armed forces to argue that their morale hinges on their abusive members not being held accountable to justice.
If true, this would also reflect poorly on U.S. assistance. Colombia's security forces have received US$6.3 billion in U.S. aid since "Plan Colombia" began in 2000. U.S. officials frequently contend that this assistance has been instrumental in helping the Colombian armed forces become more respectful of human rights and the rule of law. These claims are hollow, though, if Rangel is right -- if, after so many years of U.S. aid and training, much of Colombia's army is on a sit-down strike to hold out for more impunity.
That would be shameful. We hope that there is another reason for this reduced military activity, and that Alfredo Rangel's study has simply missed it.