Friday, February 8, 2013

Recent U.S. security involvement in Latin America and the Caribbean

Recently there have been several reports and articles about the increasing militarization of the drug war, particularly in Central America. U.S. government investment and involvement in security throughout Latin America and the Caribbean has also been given much attention in the media. Below is a compilation of articles describing recent U.S. security-related activity in the region.

U.S. security spending and investment in the region

  • The Associated Press put out a great article Monday, "U.S. military expands its drug war in Latin America," reporting that "as the drug war in Latin America continues to gain momentum, the United States continues to do everything possible to try and combat it." The article provides a good overview of "the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War." Some key findings from the article include:
    • The U.S. authorized sale of "$2.8 billion worth of guns, satellites, radar
      equipment and tear gas to Western Hemisphere nations in 2011”
    • Over the past decade, defense contracts jumped from $119 million to $629
      million.
    • In 2012, “almost $9 out of every $10 of U.S. law enforcement and military aid
      spent in the region went toward countering narcotics."
    • At all times, 4,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Latin America.
  • A short article in Wired magazine, "Here’s What Your $97 Million Drug War in Central America Actually Bought" examines the nearly $100 million over four years that the U.S. has spent on advanced gear and training for Central American forces. The article concludes, "So, for $97 million, the U.S. has gotten drug smugglers to shift their routes and lined the pockets of a human rights abuser. Don’t you feel safer?"
  • A report by John Lindsay-Poland of the Fellowship of Reconciliation ( reposted on Just the Facts) examined Pentagon contracts in Latin America for 2012. Lindsay-Poland found that the Defense Department issued $444 million in non-fuel contracts and made $130 million in fuel purchased to companies in Latin America. He found "Only nine percent of the $574.4 million in Pentagon contracts signed in 2012 (including fuel contracts) were with firms in the country where the work was to be carried out. In the Caribbean, there were virtually no local companies that benefited from the $245 million in Defense Department contracts."
  • The North American Congress on Latin America published an interesting article today, titled "The Drug Trade and the Increasing Militarization of the Caribbean." The piece looks at U.S. military involvement in the Caribbean, including its increasing use of drones and the Department of Homeland Security's "border security training" for the region's armies.
  • Puerto Rico

  • This week Puerto Rico's Resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi announced that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to invest millions of dollars to combat drugs and arms trafficking on the island. According to EFE and InsightCrime, DHS plans to "send reinforcements to boost stretched law enforcement agencies, namely the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Coast Guard." According to El Nuevo Dia newspaper, advisors to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the department is close to announcing new "concrete and substantial steps" to combat drug trafficking in the territory. Puerto Rico has seen an increase in smuggling and crime as it is more and more becoming an important transit country for cocaine smugglers.
  • This week it was also announced that Carlos Cases will be the FBI's new director for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Cases was previously the director of criminal investigations for Latin America and the Southwest border for the organization.
  • Mexico

  • On Tuesday, the New York Times published an in-depth piece on the United States' influence on Mexican security, reporting that it played a key role in Mexican President Peña Nieto's defense minister selection. According to the article, the Obama administration prevented a general it believed was skimming money off defense contracts and had ties to drug traffickers from becoming the country's defense minister. The Mexican government denied the allegation, while State Department spokesman William Ostick said, "Decisions on the selection of Mexican officials belong only to the government of Mexico."
  • According to the BBC, a post-mortem report showed that a Mexican teenager was shot dead last year by U.S. Border Patrol agents. The agents apparently opened fired when suspected drug smugglers began throwing rocks at them.
  • In early January, the director of the Trans-border Institute at the University of San Diego briefed U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) on Mexican security for 2013 at the command's base in Colorado. The briefing, "The Drug War in Mexico: U.S.- Mexico Security Challenges in 2013 and Beyond," looked at the changing security context given Mexico's new government and reviewed the findings of a report released this week by the Justice in Mexico Project on drug violence in Mexico. The report found that killings related to the drug war in the country were waning.

    It was reported earlier this year that the recently-created Special Operations Command North would be training elite military units in Mexico to track drug cartels much like U.S. teams have tracked Al Qaeda. Fox News has a good article on concerns that "that U.S. training could fuel human rights abuses -- and even be exploited by the cartels themselves."

  • Honduras

  • Last week House Democrats called on the State and Justice Departments to investigate the DEA's role in the murder of four civilians in Honduras last May.
  • U.S.Navy SEALs spent 6 months setting up a 45-man Special Forces anti- trafficking unit within the Honduran Navy. The new unit is called the Honduran Fuerza Especiales Naval or FEN.
  • The United States Southern Command

  • Last week, the American Forces Press Services published an interview with Army Brig. Gen. Sean P. Mulholland, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command South (SOUTHSOC). Mulholland noted that he is pushing for increased U.S. military engagement in Latin America and the Caribbean and that “On any given day, I have over 300 people deployed downrange to Central and South America, including members of every service’s special operations force and their civil affairs and military information support teams.”
  • U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Commander Gen. John F. Kelly visited Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Haiti to address continued military cooperation and common security issues. The general’s discussions with each nations’ leaders focused on cooperation in combating transnational threats like organized crime and drug trafficking, support responses to natural disasters, and training engagements.

    In a statement following meetings in Trinidad and Tobago, Kelly said, “Security challenges have also changed and today we need to confront or counter threats ranging from stateless actors engaged in illicit trafficking of drugs, arms, money and people, to natural disasters.” In Jamaica, following his meeting with senior defense and government leaders, Kelly met with the U.S. Ambassador to the country, Pamela Bridgewater to "discuss U.S. military support to the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative and U.S.-Jamaica bilateral relations." In Haiti, Kelly met with U.S. Ambassador Pamela White and discussed U.S. government assistance efforts in Haiti and security cooperation focus areas with the UN's MINUSTAH mission and the Haitian National Police.

  • U.S. Army South hosted the Central American Regional Leaders' Conference at its headquarters in Texas from Jan. 28th - Feb. 1st. Senior military and security force leaders from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and El Salvador, along with Panama's border guard, gathered to give presentations on the security situation in
    each country and "build upon the relationships" the region shares with the U.S. The leaders were also given a presentation on the Texas Military Forces and U.S. Border Patrol's joint counternarcotic operations.
  • Infosur Hoy published an article describing how Colombian government agencies are targeting cybersecurity in the country. The article highlights the U.S. military's cooperation with Colombia through SOUTHCOM's Joint Cyber Center.Analyst James Bosworth provides a larger analysis of the piece, looking at how cybersecurity is handled in the United States.
  • A few reports on U.S. policy and spending in the region were put out this week, including:

  • The Congressional Research Service released a report on US-Honduran Relations.
    as well as one on Argentina's debt.

  • The Government Accountability Office released a report on U.S. aid to Central America
  • Cynthia J. Arnson of the Wilson Center put out a policy brief, "Setting Priorities for U.S. Policy in Latin America"