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Monday, August 12, 2013

Secretary of State Kerry in Colombia: His Check List for a Just and Lasting Peace

This post first appeared as an op-ed in Colombian newspaper El Espectador on August 11, 2013, as Secretary of State John Kerry met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. It was written by Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has a lot of thorny matters on his mind: who the United States should support in Egypt, should a reluctant United States get involved to any degree in Syria, how to address Russia, where relations are so frayed that the United States actually cancelled a presidential summit.

So Colombia, which is such a reliable partner of the United States, and where President Juan Manuel Santos has shown inspirational leadership in opening peace talks, may seem like an easy stop.

But Colombia is never easy.

Secretary of State Kerry comes bearing strong diplomatic support for the Colombian peace process. That’s good and important. As long as both sides are at the negotiating table, the Obama Administration stands strongly behind this process. Within the U.S. Congress, the voices raised concerning the peace process are in support, as an April letter from 62 members of Congress made clear. John Kerry is a man who believes in peace; now trying again the impossible task of moving forward a Middle East peace process, he also was involved in ending Central American wars and supporting Central American peace accords.

The United States can be counted on to provide substantial support for peace accord implementation.

We hope Secretary Kerry will also contribute to a just and lasting peace in Colombia by encouraging the negotiating teams to include the voice of victims of violence, especially as the discussion on victims approaches. If this peace is to be sustainable, victims of violence must help to build it.

If this peace is to be sustainable, it must have strong pillars of truth and justice. An independent truth commission is an essential step.

We know Secretary Kerry’s message will start with support for peace negotiations, but we hope his message does not end there. Even if an accord is signed, and on the long road to peace, Secretary Kerry would be a good friend to Colombia by talking about and helping address the still grim human rights situation on the ground.

This means talking frankly about the constitutional reform of its military justice system that leaves loopholes so that false positive cases could return to military courts. There must be justice for the over 3,500 ejecuciones extrajudiciales. U.S. security assistance is conditioned on respect for human rights, with the law stating that Colombia must effectively investigate and prosecute in civilian courts members of the security forces credibly alleged to have committed gross human rights violations. Secretary Kerry, as a U.S. senator, called on the State Department not to certify Colombia due to army abuses and lack of progress in prosecuting these crimes.

For the Obama administration, relying on the Colombian armed forces to "export" safety lessons to other countries seems a cost-effective solution to US budget woes. This is certainly a topic of discussion during the visit. But the fact that so many abuses by the armed forces remain in impunity makes it deeply concerning that the United States is encouraging the Colombian armed forces’ role in training other nation’s military forces.

Supporting a just and lasting peace also means Secretary Kerry should talk frankly about the ongoing assassinations of human rights defenders. Thirty-seven human rights defenders were assassinated in the first half of 2013. To stop the violence, threats and murders of defenders must be investigated and prosecuted. To stop the violence, the Santos Administration must do more to dismantle illegal armed groups, including paramilitary, BACRIM and guerrillas, and to prosecute the members of the armed forces, companies, politicians y public officials who finance and support them.

It also means talking frankly about the Labor Action Plan that both governments signed in order to achieve passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. There’s still far to go to carry out this plan. The Colombian government can highlight the fall in the murder of trade unionists as an important and positive change. Unfortunately, this has been the only positive change for a trade union movement that continues to struggle against illegal third-party subcontracting, constant harassment, and arbitrary dismissals for any degree of union activity. The Colombian government must act in favor of workers against these labor violations, implement effective inspection and sanction mechanisms to discourage the use of labor practices that restrict labor rights.

To pave the way for a just and lasting peace, the United States should encourage as well as fund the creation of meaningful protection for returned and returning communities, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. Effective protection plans can only be designed in careful consultation with the communities they are intended to benefit. The United States should continue to fund the innovative Victims’ Law. But it must be done with real protection.

So no, it’s not an easy stop. But the right words and actions from Secretary Kerry could mean a lot for a just and lasting peace in Colombia.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Five false assumptions about the "war on drugs" in Latin America

As organized crime and drug trafficking groups extend their reach across Latin America, some in Washington suggest that militaries should play a bigger role in the fight against these threats. Their argument, however, is based on five false assumptions and conceptual misunderstandings. These assumptions must be corrected and clarified to paint an accurate picture of the region’s biggest security threat.

Assumption 1: Drug trafficking and organized crime exist evenly across Latin America and have the same effect in every country in the region.

Quite to the contrary, drug trafficking and all other types of illicit transport have vastly varied presence and impact across Latin America. In 2008, the International Crisis Group (ICG) published a report describing each country’s role in drug production and trafficking. It found sharp differences between different sub-regions of the hemisphere.

The ICG characterized the region’s heterogeneous narcotrafficking patterns as follows:

Largely in response to massive U.S. demand, Mexico is the site of not only drug production but also traffickers moving illicit drugs northward. Mexico has three main trafficking groups and has also organized groups of hitmen. They operate across Mexico, and are responsible for moving drugs into the United States.

Because of their geographical position in transit zones, Central American and Caribbean gangs are generally more involved in facilitating the trans-shipment of illicit goods, and less with production.

To the contrary, the Andean countries are known to be mostly producers of drugs, but also participate in trafficking. The most notorious case is Colombia. While for decades Colombian cartels dominated drug markets (particularly cocaine), their role has diminished due to U.S.-supported anti-cartel efforts, an ongoing armed conflict, and Mexican cartels’ increased domination of trafficking. Today, Colombia is still the number-one cocaine producer, but there have been reductions and drug trafficking is decentralized among smaller trafficking groups.

Pressure on drug production in Colombia is leading to a rise in coca production elsewhere, particularly in Peru. According to ICG: “Peru remains the second largest coca-cultivating country, with 33 per cent of global leaf production”, and is also involved in cocaine production. Bolivia also produces coca leaf and cocaine.

As is the case in several countries across the region, however, the roles played by gangs in Peru and Bolivia have shifted over time and now include transport. Peru’s trafficking organizations have operated in “tightly organized, next-of kin groups,” but they have not reached the same level of organization as Mexican and Colombian gangs. ICG also describes how “Peruvian clans are the leading organizations in the export, transportation and distribution of cocaine and ‘paco’ in the booming drug markets of the Southern Cone.” Mexican illegal groups operate in Peru as well, where they are the ones carrying out drug exportations out of Peru. Colombian traffickers are also present in the Peruvian drug industry. Unlike Peru, “no large trafficking organizations are based in Bolivia, where small, compact, difficult-to-infiltrate family clans are the norm.” These operate mainly in La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.

Unlike its neighbours, Ecuador is mainly a transit country, used as well for storage of Colombian and Peruvian drugs. The main drug being trafficked through Ecuador is thus cocaine. Groups involved in the illicit transportation of drugs are loosely aligned groups of Ecuadorians, Colombians and Peruvians. Last week, Ecuadorian police working with the DEA’s assistance, discovered a “narco-submarine” close to the border with Colombia, meant for cocaine transportation.

Venezuela is an important transit country because of its long and porous border with Colombia. There are no known local kingpins taking part in the transshipment of drugs, but according to the ICG, there is presumed participation of police and military forces.

In the last few years, Brazil has become the biggest cocaine and marihuana consumer market in South America. It is also “an important trans-shipment hub for cocaine to Europe and North America,” according to the ICG report. Colombian led groups that employ Brazilians to run the operations, are the ones in charge of trafficking drugs destined to Europe and North America. Brazilian criminals in turn are responsible for distribution and retailing. The most well known and larger in organization and structure involved in the drug business are Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), Comando Vermelho, Terceiro Comando, and Terceiro Comando Puro. Worth mentioning is the fact that the ICG mentions no presence of Mexican illegal groups in Brazil.

Lastly, the Southern Cone is primarily a transit zone, but neither drug trafficking groups nor transnational organized crime networks have a strong presence in the sub-region. In Argentina, Peruvian organizations dominate most cocaine and “paco” distribution. Chile is also a transit zone for the US and according to ICG, “a trans-shipment point for larger cocaine shipments coming mostly from Colombia through Ecuador and Peru.”

The exception to this is Paraguay, the biggest marihuana producer in South America. It has always been used as the “region’s smuggling centre,” and is thus a key transit zone for Bolivian, Peruvian and Colombian cocaine en route to Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Europe. Family clans operate the illegal drug businesses. Paraguay is where most Brazilian traffickers hideout from police persecution.

Ultimately, drug production, illicit trafficking, and organized crime take diverse and dynamic shapes across the region, and there is certainly no monolithic or uniform “drug problem” awaiting a forceful solution.

Assumption 2: All police forces in Latin America are corrupt and inefficient in their attempts to maintain law and order and fighting drug trafficking.

This argument is frequently used to justify militaries’ participation in anti-drug missions. Although drug traffickers and organized crime agents have penetrated many countries’ police forces, in addition to being plagued by endemic corruption, other nations have strong professional law enforcement bodies capable of confronting internal threats.

Among them, Chile’s Carabineros police force is known to be one of the best law enforcement agencies in the region. Nicaragua’s community police forces are an exemplary success story. While many Latin American countries do not enjoy strong, transparent, or effective policing, we should view those that do as role models and not exceptions to an inescapable downward regional trend.

Assumption 3: Military forces are immune to corruption, and will be effective in combating drug trafficking and transnational organized crime.

Militaries do not have some fundamental characteristic that makes them innately better equipped against internal threats than are the region’s police forces. The ineffectiveness of police forces does not necessarily mean that the armed forces will be better able to confront illegal armed groups. In fact, it often means the opposite.

Many militaries in Latin America are small, and lack the capabilities and training to be effective against drug traffickers and organized crime groups. In some countries, they may be constitutionally prohibited from engaging in law enforcement-related activities.

Quite contrary to what we might hope, militaries are highly susceptible to corruption in certain contexts. Hector Saint Pierre has warned of the power that gangs still have over the armed forces, penetrating them through bribery and intimidation. When employed as police forces, military structures are even more vulnerable to corruption given low salaries and bad working conditions. The Brazilian daily O Globo, for example, has reported on military personnel selling weapons to traffickers. Similarly, the ICG’s report explains that pervasive corruption in Venezuela’s armed forces makes it difficult to stop trafficking of drugs through Venezuela. While it would be a mistake to assume that all Latin American police forces are free of corruption and inefficiency, it would be an even bigger error to assume that all militaries are immune from those ailments.

Assumption 4: Latin America is homogenous, and generalized security policies can be applied regionally.

Advocating the use of the military in counternarcotics across the region implies the assumption that all Latin American countries have relatively analogous defense and security systems. Said another way, to implement a one-size-fits-all militarized anti-drug strategy would require a certain level of systemic uniformity across countries. However, there are not one but many defense-system models in Latin America.

The Latin American Security and Defense Network (Red de Seguridad y Defensa de America Latina) has published “A Comparative Atlas of Defense in Latin America” which examines the defense system of each country in the region. Using the atlas as a principal source, we can see four main sub-regional tendencies regarding defense systems in Latin America.

The Southern Cone can be distinguished from the rest of the region for having the strongest, most professional defense systems. This is the case principally because Chile, Argentina and Uruguay all have constitutional legislation separating defense and police roles. Institutionally, these countries also have ministries, commanded by civilian leaders, for each force.

In Brazil’s case, the armed forces are primarily tasked with the external defense of the nation, but are not expressly prohibited by law from engaging in internal functions. This lack of legal precision has allowed for the use of the military within favelas to fight drug trafficking groups. The military has carried out other subsidiary functions in development like combating hoof-and-mouth disease in the southern region, distributing water in the semi-arid “nordestito”, and facilitating medical and dental attention to the riverbank population of the Amazon region.

While countries in the Andean sub-region (from Bolivia to Venezuela) have varying security and defense systems, they share an important commonality: their militaries are all-encompassing, multipurpose forces whose functions range from traditional national defense missions to law enforcement, development, and even business. For example, Bolivia’s armed forces take part in humanitarian programs focused on social inclusion, development, and national sovereignty. In addition to their traditional defense roles, they also guard borders and engage in counternarcotics missions. More extreme still, the most distinguishing characteristic of the Ecuadorian armed forces is their ownership of several businesses used to gain additional military financing. These include industrial corporations that produce ammunition, clothes, and shoes for military use; companies that develop car parts; an airline; a banana and shrimp export company; and supermarkets and banks, among others.

After the end of the conflicts that spanned the 1980s, the initial aims of Central America’s militaries were peacekeeping missions and support to civilian authorities in case of natural disasters. However, rising crime rates and pervasive violence in these countries has led to heavy military involvement in the fight against crime, gangs, and drug trafficking. In fact, unlike southern cone countries, the constitutions of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala allow for the possibility of expanding military tasks to unconventional roles.

Finally, Mexico’s armed forces have always characterized themselves as one of the most professional forces in the region, proud to have never carried out a coup against a civilian government. However, as in Central America, the rise in violence caused by increasingly well-armed drug traffickers and organized crime groups has pushed the Mexican government to involve the military in counternarcotics. In addition, the armed forces are called to support citizens in cases of public need; carry out civic and social works aimed at the country’s progress; maintain public order; and offer assistance to people and their assets as well as with the reconstruction of areas affected by natural disasters.

Assumption 5: Fighting drug trafficking and organized crime can be equated with “citizen security.”

More than an assumption, this is a conceptual misunderstanding that confuses related but not equivalent phenomena. More and more we hear the term “citizen security” or “citizen safety” used in defense and military circles in Washington. It is crucial that we distinguish the broad notion of what undermines citizen security from the particular threats represented by drug trafficking and organized crime.

Illicit trafficking and transnational organized crime are described as intermestic threats because they are transnational in nature, but their effects are felt at a local level among populations and in the streets. In other words, they do hinder domestic citizen security. But a population’s safety is also affected by a wide range of uniquely domestic factors that surface in muggings, robberies, assaults, and even kidnappings.

It is thus dangerous to conceptually mix counternarcotics with citizen security. Because the borderline between counternarcotics and law enforcement is so thin, it is crucial to highlight that the armed forces cannot be involved in citizen security because the risks are too great. Soldiers are not trained to act in communities and with citizens. They are not trained either to arrest criminals or collect evidence for use in trials. Quite simply, they are trained to eliminate an adversary with overwhelming force -- and this is an extremely dangerous capability to have in the streets.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stepping Forward: A Look at the History of the Armed Forces in Latin America

In a region challenged by increasingly resilient drug trafficking and organized crime networks, policymakers and scholars in defense and security circles are debating whether Latin American militaries should be involved in law enforcement activities, especially counternarcotics. This would be a serious error with grave implications for civil-military relations and democracy.

Viewing the military and law enforcement debate in light of Latin America’s history makes clear the risks of including the military in police missions. Following a volatile past marked by military dictatorships and civil conflict, many countries have been struggling to build democratic defense systems, in the context of a region-wide democratic transition. Halting but important progress has been made in getting the military out of politics and out of roles that do not require a military structure or training. Mixing military and non-military roles in Latin America is a step backward, and a dangerous one.

Hector Saint Pierre, an Argentine-Brazilian scholar, has argued that since the foundation of the American nations, each country's armed forces have played a central role in the region’s political configuration. Militaries were prominent throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a result of the independence wars against the metropolis. But that early prominence extended long after the colonizers were defeated. Armies were the first autonomous institutional structures to emerge in the newborn states. For many countries, "the creation of a permanent army" was, in Alain Rouquie’s words, "the foundation of state sovereignty."

Ever since, the armed forces have played a central role in many Latin American nations' political construction. From the ranks of military leadership emerged the decision-makers who spearheaded independence movements and influenced the development of early state structures. At the same time, Latin American societies were shaped by paternalistic, authoritarian, and repressive social relations between European descendants, hundreds of indigenous cultures, and black Africans brought to work as slaves in the region’s agricultural sector. Saint Pierre explains that in such a conflictive and plural social context, achieving internal order required the use of force. Ever since, the coercive force required to maintain that order has persisted in the form of extensive military presence.

Augusto Varas, explains that the armed forces emerged not only as one of the most legitimate State institutions, but also in possession of a special prestige due to their professionalism and role in the creation of the nation-state that was hard to dispute. Viewing themselves as key political actors and the guardians of national values, military leaders took responsibility for their countries' internal development and international positioning. From the start, they sought to maintain social order while spearheading economic development, strategic autonomy, and national unity. Their dominant presence undermined the development of autonomous civilian state institutions capable of fulfilling obligations and responsibilities to the populace.

Subsequently, Latin American states, trapped by their own impotence facing social demands, have chosen to employ the armed forces as the sole tool to affect structural and social change. As “saviors of the homeland,” militaries began to incorporate subsidiary missions delegated by national governments, reducing the States’ capacity and further increasing their internal dependence on military forces.

By the late 1940s and early 1950s, the United States’ National Security Doctrine had achieved wide influence across Latin America. The doctrine effectively defined, both internally and internationally, whom Latin American countries should view as allies and enemies. While the Warsaw Pact personified Latin America’s foreign enemy, communist groups, social activists, politicians, and students were vilified domestically. Likewise, political, economic, and social matters were transformed into issues of security. This led to a securitization of nearly all aspects of daily life and opened the door for military intervention in internal matters. Together with the perception that the armed forces were multipurpose and immensely powerful, the new security paradigm led to multiple dictatorships across the region from the 1960s onwards. The consequences were dreadful: gross human rights violations and the complete destruction of civilian states' capacities.

Since the democratic transitions that began in the 1980’s, Latin American countries have struggled to reform their military institutions to avoid repressive authoritarian tendencies and to place democratically elected civilian leaders firmly in command. The generally understood objective is to build professional armed forces that are respectful of human rights and the rule of law. To do so requires that governments draft clear and legally defined military missions, separate from police imperatives, directed by civilian leaders. Perhaps the strongest evidence supporting such a strategy is the success of the U.S. model of separate law enforcement and military missions, established by the 1870’s Posse Comitatus Act.

However, much of Latin America is far from achieving democratically determined police and military institutions. The ever-increasing firepower of drug trafficking and organized crime groups has once again prompted the inclusion of the military in issues of internal security. When states are weak, it is sometimes understandable that they employ such measures. But, as any survey of Latin American history tells us, widespread military involvement hinders the establishment of a strong, legitimate and democratic institutional model of defense and law enforcement. Steps forward on internal security must be informed by history in order to avoid seeing it repeated.