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Friday, March 14, 2014

Southern Command Doesn't Have Drones, Commander Says

Here is a striking exchange from yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Northern and Southern Command. At about the 46 minute mark, the commander of all U.S. military forces in the Americas (excluding Mexico) says that, “generally speaking,” he never gets to use any of the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of surveillance drones.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), committee chairman: Under the FY15 budget, the Air Force is going to cap the fleet of unmanned aerial systems, which are mainly the Predator and Reaper drones. They’re going to reduce the growth in that fleet from 65 to 55 combat air patrol. Is that something that would make it more difficult for you to meet your full ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance] requirement?

Gen. John Kelly, commander, U.S. Southern Command: Right now, Senator, I don’t get any of those systems, generally speaking, right now. I was actually hoping, and only found out yesterday, about the caps. I was actually hoping that as the war in Afghanistan, Middle East, started to wind down, and those assets maybe be made available, I was hoping to get some of those. So, very disappointed yesterday when I was told that we’re going in that direction.

We found it surprising that the Defense Department isn’t using drones at all for surveillance in Latin America, neither over the Caribbean or Pacific, nor in the airspace of countries, like Colombia, that might allow it.

We know that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (part of the Homeland Security Department) uses drones over the Caribbean, Pacific, Mexico, and possibly parts of Central America, if not further south. And we can only guess what the intelligence community is up to. But contrary to what we’d expect, the U.S. military isn’t employing them, apparently for budget reasons.

Southern Command still uses lots of manned aircraft, like Navy P-3s operating out of El Salvador and Aruba-Curacao (and maybe Colombia). Gen. Kelly was quite emphatic yesterday that he doesn’t have enough of those, either.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Week in Review

This week, the world's most wanted drug trafficker was captured in a joint U.S.-Mexico military operation, U.S. Southern Command said it didn't have enough money to interdict the majority of drugs at sea, robots started patrolling drug tunnels at the border and Venezuela announced a new ambassador to the United States. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Thursday the State Department released its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013” The Colombian government was particularly upset by the report, which cited impunity and inefficiency in the justice system as principle human rights infractions in the country. Vice President Angelino Garzón responded by saying the report was an “intrusion” into Colombia’s internal politics and that the United States had no place to preach about human rights given its maintenance of the Guantánamo Bay prison facility.

    Some other topics touched on in the report include Mexico’s negligence in accounting for thousands of “disappeared” citizens, extrajudicial killings by security forces in El Salvador, and rampant corruption in government institutions and security forces in Honduras and Guatemala. For Politico, Dana Frank examined the United States’ continued to security relationship with Honduras despite these abuses and current President Juan Orlando Hernández’s own shady past.

  • The heads of U.S. Southern Command and Northern Command (Mexico and the Bahamas fall under its purview) gave their posture statements at a hearing before the House’s Armed Services Committee. Northcom commander General Jacoby underscored that the U.S.-Mexico security relationship remains closer than ever despite recent grumblings suggesting a distancing, pointing to the recent capture of Mexican drug trafficker “El Chapo” Guzmán in a joint military operation as evidence. General Jacoby’s posture statement can be read here (PDF).
  • Among several other topics, Southcom commander General Kelly discussed the effect of budget cuts, claiming he now watches 74 percent of cocaine passing through Honduras’ maritime corridor go by due to insufficient vessels and equipment. He touched on human rights vetting and noted his ever-growing concern over shifts in the drug trade towards the Caribbean. The video can be watched here and General Kelly’s posture statement can be read here(PDF).
  • The Associated Press reported on budget cuts to the Coast Guard, despite an increase in maritime trafficking routes. The article noted, “While security has tightened at the U.S. border, drug smugglers are increasingly turning to the high seas.” InSight Crime argued this indicates a politicization in funding for the drug war. An example of this increased border funding can be seen in the recent deployment of remote control robots to patrol tunnels used to smuggle drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • In another hearing this week, “The Posture of the U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Transportation Command,” Colombia was heralded as a military and human rights success story, particularly given that it is now training other countries’ security forces.
  • Colombia's military will soon send "senior officials from the Army specialized in education, training and protocols” to help train national police officers in Guatemala, reported U.S.-Southern Command-sponsored news site InfoSur Hoy.
  • Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón was in Washington D.C. this week for a series of meetings with top U.S. officials, including “High-Level Partnership DialogueSemana published part of a leaked copy of his agenda, noting that he would ask for continued U.S. support in programs like aerial fumigation and other counternarcotics operations.

    While in town Pinzón gave a talk at Center for American Progress where he “laid out an extremely expansive vision of the role of the armed forces post-peace accord, ranging from border security to confronting drug trafficking, transnational crime and continued armed violence in an accord’s aftermath; and from addressing climate change to expanding the military’s role in development,” according to Lisa Haugaard, director of Latin America Working Group. He also strongly emphasized increasing Colombia’s role in security training particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, some of which is done with U.S.-funding. See here for concerns about Colombia’s exportation of training.

  • There were two informative English-language explainers this week about the amassing corruption scandals rocking the Colombian military, one from Reuters and the other from the Latin American Working Group. The latter noted that the Army's new commander, General Juan Pablo Rodriguez, oversaw a unit implicated in the false positive scandal.
  • Brazil and the European Union approved an undersea communication cable with the stated purpose of reducing dependency on U.S. fiber optic cables and to “guarantee the neutrality of the internet,” protecting Brazil Internet users from U.S. surveillance.
  • An article in Foreign Policy questioned the Pentagon’s support for Suriname’s government, given President Desi Bouterse has been convicted of drug trafficking in the Netherlands and is accused of maintaining links to traffickers currently. His son, Dino Bouterse, was arrested by the DEA and extradited to the United States after he stuck a deal with “Mexican smugglers” (undercover DEA agents) to allow “Hezbollah militants” to train in Suriname. See Just the Facts’ Suriname country page for more information on security assistance to the country.
  • The U.S. State Department announced Tuesday it had given three Venezuelan diplomats 48 hours to exit the country in response to last week’s expulsion of three U.S. consular officials in Venezuela. That same day, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced he would be appointing an ambassador the United States. Though Venezuela and the United States have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 they have maintained embassies. See here for more detailed information on Maximilien Sánchez Arveláiz, the new Venezuelan ambassador to the United States.
  • As the protests continue to rage throughout Venezuela, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored a resolution “asking the administration to study and consider putting in place strong individual sanctions against individuals in the Venezuelan government who hold assets, property and travel visas to the U.S.”
  • The Congressional Research Service published a new report: “Gangs in Central America.”
  • “El Chapo” Guzmán, the world’s most wanted drug trafficker, was captured this weekend in a joint U.S.-Mexico military operation. While Guzmán’s capture was a huge win for the Mexican and United States governments, the general consensus is that it will have little impact on the drug trade while another leader in the Sinaloa cartel will step up to fill his role. Several analysts weighed in on what comes next for narcotrafficking in Mexico -- particularly InSight Crime, which posted a series of good analysis on what his capture means. See our Mexico news page for links to these articles.

    According to reports, the United States’ main contribution was providing intelligence and technology leading up to the capture, while the Mexican Navy, the United States’ main security partner in Mexico, carried out the final capture. Although several indictments have been filed in cities throughout the United States, it is unlikely that Guzmán will get extradited any time soon as lawmakers want him to first face justice in Mexico. President Peña Nieto said he extradition would be possible later. On Thursday the U.S. Treasury Department placed Kingpin Act sanctions against the financial networks of several of Guzmán’s associates. Prensa Libre published a timeline of OFAC sanctions on the Sinaloa Cartel from 2007-2014.

  • Thursday, May 30, 2013

    Latin America Security by the Numbers

  • Between the two of them, President Obama and Vice President Biden have visited five countries in the region and met with or attended meetings with leaders from 25 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the month of May. In June Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala will visit the White House.
  • The $1.6 billion "Mérida Initiative" has funded the training of nearly 19,000 Mexican police since it was launched in 2008, a U.S. State Department official testified at a hearing on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation.
  • Between 2010 and 2012, 9,200 soldiers and police from 45 countries were trained in Colombia or by Colombians. In the past five years, 350 Costa Rican officials have been trained. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said Colombia plans to increase training in Central America and Mexico.
  • El Salvador spent 2.8 percent of its GDP on security and justice in 2011, more than any other country in Central America, according to the World Bank. A recent report showed in 2010, El Salvador spent 2.4 percent, Nicaragua and Panama spent 2.3 percent, Honduras spent 2 percent and Guatemala spent 1.7 percent. The same report also showed that El Salvador invested 22 percent of its GDP on public investment, while the regional average was 28 percent of GDP.
  • Mexico's Executive Secretary of the National System for Public Security (SESNSP) reported homicides in Mexico City dropped 70 percent in the first four months of 2013. In December 2012, the government reported 214 homicides (homocidio doloso) and in April reported just 63 homicides. The Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) has called for a government review of statistics.
  • On May 20, 2013 Mexico sent 6,000 military and police into the embattled Michoacán state. Seven years before, in December 2006, then-President Felipe Calderón sent 6,000 troops to Michoacán, which was considered the beginning of a militarized drug war.
  • So far this year, approximately 500 FARC guerrillas have deserted, a 6 percent increase on the same period last year, according to the Los Angeles Times. In all of 2012, 1,000 guerrillas defected, while in 2008 almost 3,500 guerrillas left the group.
  • Colombia's military has over 50 drone aircraft. Those used by the country's air force can fly for more than 10 hours and provide high-definition videos, even at night. Colombia has two programs underway - one led by the military and the other by a university in Bogotá- to build its own drones. The country recently rolled out its first domestically-built drone flight simulator. Colombia is still buying UAVs on the international market, as the military recently deployed nine drones made by U.S. company Aeroviroment for ISR missions and is considering buying nine more.
  • The U.S. military tested two UAVs during an exercise in Honduras, an Aerostat and Puma UAV, and is reportedly operating 10 predator drones in the Caribbean.
  • Joint Interagency Task Force South director Charles D. Michel said sequestration spending cuts are letting 38 more metric tons of cocaine into the United States. Michel estimates that cocaine interdictions will drop between 20 and 25 percent this year. Last year, SOUTHCOM seized 152 tons of cocaine.
  • The U.S. Army wants to commission 20 radio novela episodes for its Military Information Support Operations (MISO) team based in Colombia that would be used to counter illegal armed groups recruitment efforts and promote demobilization and disarmament.
  • Monday, January 14, 2013

    Drones in Latin America

    The military use of robotics, especially unmanned aerial vehicles or “drones,” is growing worldwide, and Latin America is participating fully in the trend. Countries are purchasing drones, and even developing their own, for a variety of purposes. For the most part, they are doing so without U.S. involvement.

    Using secondary sources, WOLA Intern Anna Kroos put together this list of recent drone-related activity in the region.


    Brazil leads the way on global commercial drone boom,” - John Otis, GlobalPost, January 6, 2013

    Brazil, which spent $350 million for 14 Israeli drones in 2010 to monitor Amazon rainforest and border regions, “is now grappling with both the benefits and the Big Brother concerns.” For now, Brazil has suspended plans to use drones to monitor crime in favelas, due to air traffic control concerns.

    Brasil utiliza aviones no tripulados en la frontera” – La Razón (Bolivia), October 19, 2012

    For the first time, the Brazilian air force used drones to patrol its border with Bolivia. Brazilian police used images provided by the UAV to intercept a suspicious vehicle that tried to run an army roadblock. Part of the larger Operation Agata VI operation, the UAVs assist 7,500 soldiers deployed to reinforce Brazil’s borders with Bolivia and Peru against drug trafficking and smuggling. The troops are deployed for two weeks.

    Por Primera vez Brasil usa aviones no tripulados para vigilar frontera con Bolivia” - Xinhua (China), October 19, 2012

    The Brazilian air force used drones for the first time in a training mission near the border-zone town of Cáceres. Two drones were used in a training mission implemented by the Federal Highway Police as part of Operation Agata VI, a joint army, navy, and air force mission in which fighter jets, combat helicopters, patrol boats, soldiers, and now drones are used to patrol the Brazilian borders with Peru and Bolivia.

    Brasil utilizará mas aviones no tripulados en sus fronteras” - Agence France Presse, October 21, 2012

    Brazil’s Minister of Defense, Celso Amorim, announced the end to Brazil’s two-week operation in which troops and drones were deployed along the Peruvian and Bolivian borders. The Minister reported the seizure of 1.1 tons of cocaine, 14 vehicles, 221 boats, and 8 arrests.

    Brazil Tests Drones to Monitor Rio Favelas” - Victoria Rossi, InsightCrime, Sept. 11, 2012

    Brazil is trying out drones that could be used to track criminal activity in favelas. Drones, manufactured using Israeli technology, would be used to clear drug gang controlled favelas before the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Brazil has also donated drones to Bolivia to help find illegal coca plantations.

    Brasil comenzara a operar aviones no tripulados desarollados en el pais” – Xinhua (China), July 25, 2012

    Brazil is beginning to operate 4 drones that were developed and constructed by engineers from the Istituo Militare Ingenieria (IME). Three will be used for security, surveillance, and remote monitoring while one will be used for environmental surveillance. The drones cost Brazil 180,000 reales (US$90,000). They plan on selling the models to other countries.

    Argentina y Brasil quieren fabricar en conjunto avion no tripulado” – Associated Press, April 17, 2012

    The foreign ministers of Argentina and Brazil are cooperating to produce drones to be used in the fight against drug trafficking and to protect borders. Using technology from Israel’s Elbit Systems, Brazil and Argentina will develop and sell drones.


    Chile está fabricando aviones no tripulados” - El Sol (Mendoza, Argentina), November 27, 2012

    The Chilean government announced that it will begin manufacturing drones, embarking on the next “generation of drones.” It plans to have 18 unmanned aircraft operational for the Chilean Air Force by March 2014. Authorities were reluctant to release this announcement, fearing that Peru and Bolivia will become threatened by this new tool of war. The drones will be used for military objectives but also for the search and rescue of people, and a tool in aiding forest fires. Chile already has an aircraft purchased in 2010 from Israel.

    Chile se lanza a la carrera regional para fabricar aviones no tripulados” - Carlos Vergara, La Nación (Argentina), November 27, 2012

    The Chilean military successfully tested the first drone developed in the country. It will be used for rescue tasks, monitoring rivers, volcanoes, and disasters. Funds are also being allocated for the development of 18 additional drones, operational by March 2014. The government has handled the news discreetly given the controversy with the United States’ use of drones in the Middle East, in addition to Bolivia’s apprehension about a stronger Chilean military. Though worry surrounds Chile’s new development, drones are becoming prominent in the region with Brazil’s purchase of 2 Hermes drones from Israel, and an expected 14 Heron to be completed before the World Cup and Olympics. Ecuador has 6 Heron, Venezuela 2 Iranian Mohajer. Possible legislation has been discussed that would force Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile to use drones only for peaceful purposes.

    Chile adquirió aviones no tripulados para vigilar frontera con Peru” - El Comercio (Peru), October 6, 2011

    Chilean Minister of Defense Andrés Allamand confirmed Chile’s purchase of UAVs from Israeli company Elbit Systems. Allamand noted the drones will be used for border control, particularly on the Peruvian and Bolivian borders. They will be used to defend, but also to combat drug trafficking. Jorge Montoya, the former Chairman of the Peruvian joint chiefs, said this is important considering the drones’ ability to fly undetected and the ability to equip them with cameras and explosives.


    Colombia vende hasta aviones no tripulados” – Revista Dinero (Colombia), October 31, 2012

    Brazil and some Central American and Caribbean countries have expressed interest in acquiring Colombian drones and technology. Juan Carlos Pinzon, Colombia’s minister of defense, made the announcement at Expodefense, an international security exhibition in Bogota drawing 100 domestic and foreign companies. Previously drones were only used to protect economic infrastructure, like pipelines; now they will be able to adapt to military attacks as well. Colombia first acquired drones from the United States in 2006 to help find 3 U.S. citizen contractors held hostage by the FARC.

    Colombia celebra Expodefensa con ‘drones’ y radares en fase de constucion” - EFE, October 30, 2012

    Expodefense, in its third year, brought in 67 international and 27 Colombian vendors in attempts to establish itself as a reference in Latin American defense technology. The exhibition provided the context for Colombia to announce its future use of drones for military. Colombia’s security budget reflects this desire for development, with $14,426,000 allocated to defense and security. Colombia wishes to develop its drone technology similar to Korea’s and Israel’s development.

    Colombia to develop its own drone program to combat drug trafficking” - Fox News Latino, October 26, 2012

    Colombia announced its intention to begin developing drones for military use. Up to this point, drones were used strictly for civilian missions like monitoring pipelines often attacked by FARC, hostage rescue efforts, and general surveillance. The government was vague on whether the drones are fully equipped for combat operations.

    ‘Drones’ - Laura Gil, *El Tiempo (Colombia), May 1, 2012; English translation by Douglas Myles Rasmussen

    Noting the use of U.S. drones in Colombia in 2006 for use in a U.S. hostage situation, the article documents the recent use of the drones to gather information on FARC and to track drug traffickers. Moving from civilian use of drones to military use, Colombia looks to the Israeli firm Elbit to purchase $50 million armed Hermes 900.

    Colombia considers purchase of Israeli unmanned drones” - Marc Hall, Colombia Reports (Colombia), April 17, 2012

    Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón and Ehud Barak, Pinzón’s Israeli counterpart, met in April to discuss Colombia’s purchase of drones from Israel. Pinzón discussed the desire for drones as an effort to “continue strengthening the military capacity of Colombia.” The drones will be used to fight transnational crime.

    Israel estudiará la venta de aviones no tripulados a Colombia” – EFE, April 12, 2012

    Pinzón and Barak are negotiating Colombia’s possible purchase of drones from Israel. Limitations and restrictions are being placed on the possible transaction. The two defense ministers are also working to create a “strategic dialogue, share information, share doctrine, and have a dialogue more permanent than a business relationship.”

    Colombia quiere aviones no tripulados en lucha contra las FARC” - Sergio Gomez Maseri, El Tiempo (Colombia), March 30, 2012

    U.S. and Colombian officials are negotiating Colombia’s attainment of drones and spy helicopters. Colombia justifies their need for drones as the quickest and most effective way to implement “Espada de Honor,” a strategy to combat FARC. Colombia wants 10 Black Hawk Helicopters and an uncertain number of drones. The U.S. government is reluctant, and Colombian officials must convince Washington that the drones are necessary.

    WikiLeaks: Colombia began using U.S. drones for counterterrorism in 2006” - Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post, March 23, 2011.

    The United States supplied Colombia surveillance drones for counterterrorism, then-U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William B. Wood states in documents released by WikiLeaks. The drones were initially sent to support U.S. hostage rescue efforts but the document noted that they could also be used to combat terrorists and interdict drugs on rivers.

    Dominican Republic:

    Napolitano’s visit heralds drones over Dominican skies” – Dominican Today (Dominican Republic), July 16, 2012

    Janet Napolitano, U.S. secretary of homeland security, visited the Dominican Republic in July to sign an agreement allowing the Dominican Republic to use drones to track drug cartels who cross Dominican territory to transport drugs to Puerto Rico.

    RD tambien usara avion no tripulado contra narco” – El Día (Dominican Republic), July 4, 2012

    The Dominican Republic will be using drones to monitor and fight drug trafficking. Monitoring the maritime region between Venezuela/Colombia and the Dominican Republic, drones will promote maritime vigilance similar to technology used on the U.S.-Mexico border. Local staff will be trained by U.S. specialists.


    La nueva apuesta de la Semar: aviones no tripulados en Mexico” - Guillermo Guerrero, Milenio (Mexico), Aug 28, 2012

    Mexico is building drones, similar to the ones the U.S. government uses to monitor the border. The drones will be used in floods, natural disasters and to combat organized crime. So far they have 3 aircraft with the latest technology and are designing two models, a larger model with an undercarriage and a mini model to be used in the field.


    El primer avión no tripulado de Perú” – Perú21 (Peru), December 14, 2011

    Peru’s air force (FAP) has developed an unmanned aircraft with electronic warfare using 100% domestic technology. It will continue to develop drone technology in 2012 hoping to develop an autonomous aeronautics industry. The FAP hopes to develop 12 more aircraft and continue developing drone technology to strengthen its deterrent capability, allowing for civic action flights to remote villages on the Amazon and the border; the FAP also hopes to use this development in a technology transfer.

    Conozca los drones peruanos aviones no tripulados fabricados en Peru” -, July 12, 2012

    Peru has developed three different kinds of drones for use in intelligence gathering. The FAP, under Carlos Ocio, began its own research in 1999 successfully developing one prototype before unsuccessfully crashing another. The program was revived in 2004 under the name Condor Project developing a FLIR (forward-looking infrared) system, equipped with four cameras. The program lacked funding so it wasn’t until CONCYTEC and Comando Conjunto formed an association before all 3 models were successfully developed.

    Peru construirá aviones no tripulados” - TV Perú (government of Peru), Auguast 2, 2012 (video)

    The Peruvian air force (FAP) will coordinate with the National Council for Science and Technology and Technological Innovation (CONCYTEC) to begin producing drones. They hope to mass produce the drones with the hope of financing the venture.


    Venezuela detecta con avion no tripulado una avion en frontera Colombia” – EFE, September 26, 2012

    President Hugo Chávez announced that Venezuela had captured a plane, presumably carrying drugs, on the Colombian border; the plane was detected by a drone Venezuela developed with Iran. The government highlighted the use of the drones, saying it “helped a lot.” The drone was built in June for the “defensive power of the nation” and as Julio Morales Prieto, president of Cavim (Venezuelan military industrial corporation) noted, it is the second best in South America and will be used for reconnaissance.

    Aviones no tripulados venezolanos: Defensa, soberania, y revolucion” - Anais Lucena, Radio Mundial (government of Venezuela), June 27, 2012

    In cooperation with Russia, China, and Iran, Venezuela developed 3 drones, manufactured in the country with training and technology from Iran. The drones, equipped only with cameras, are for the purpose of safeguarding national security and to monitor rivers. President Chávez and the government highlight the benefit of drones in dangerous or inaccessible places and note the necessity of modernizing the military. Venezuela joins other South American countries Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia, which have contracted to obtain drones, as well as Argentina, Mexico, and Peru which developed their own. Chávez denounces the United States’ criticism of this development, noting the double standard in American use of armed drones in Afghanistan.

    Venezuela fabrica avion no tripulado con apoyo de Iran” – Reuters/EFE, El Universo (Guayaquil, Ecuador), June 15, 2012

    The announcement of Venezuela’s development of drones comes at the same time the U.S. government seeks to limit Iran’s influence in Latin America. The Venezuelan drones, developed with Iranian technology, were being investigated by the U.S. prior to Chavez’s announcement on June 13, 2012. Venezuela maintains the use of the drones is solely defensive.

    Chavez presentó el primer avión no tripulado fabricado en Venezuela” – DPA, June 14, 2012

    Venezuela contracted with Russia to develop drones, among other defense projects funded with US$4 billion in credits from Russia, said Gen. Julio César Morales, head of the state defense industry corporation (CAVIM), the drones’ manufacturer. President Chávez expressed the need to consolidate defensive power in order to ensure the independence of Venezuela.

    Chávez muestra primer avión no tripulado para uso militar” - Agénce France Presse, June 14, 2012

    Chavez announced that with the support of Iran, Russia, and China, Venezuela has its first drone for military and civilian use, and affirms that it will begin exportation. They have already manufactured 3 drones and will continue to manufacture for defense, reconnaissance, and to protect pipelines, forests, roads, and dams. The parts are made in Venezuela and assembled by military engineers trained in Iran.