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Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Twilight Struggle over Fumigation in Colombia

The U.S. government has spent billions since 1994 on a program that eradicates coca—the plant used to make cocaine—by having Colombian police and contractors fly over it spraying herbicides.

This “fumigation” program has been controversial. The spraying destroys legal crops, and restitution is very hard to obtain. It has generated many health and environmental complaints. It sends a terrible message to people in poorly governed parts of Colombia: “we will spray you overhead, but will not provide you basic services.” And it has done little to reduce coca-growing.

After 20 years, the fumigation program could be coming to an end. Its termination is a main demand of the FARC guerrillas, who are negotiating a peace accord with the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba. Since November, the negotiations have been discussing drug policy.

The Colombian government appears likely to concede on fumigation. Colombian officials have begun to break to U.S. officials the news that it is preparing to end or cut back the program—a step that newly confirmed Ambassador Kevin Whitaker said would be “a great mistake” during his December confirmation hearing.

  • Two non-governmental Colombian sources who have met with President Juan Manuel Santos say that when Santos visited Washington in early December, he raised with U.S. officials the possibility that Colombia might stop the spray program.
  • On a mid-March visit to Washington, where he met with Attorney-General Eric Holder, Colombia’s minister of justice, Alfonso Gómez Méndez, proposed that funds used for the spray program be applied for other purposes. “As we need less spraying, it would be ideal if these resources could be directed toward what we call attacking the causes of illicit crops,” Gómez Méndez explained in an interview. “That proposal was accepted for review.”

U.S. officials may be a bit confused, though, by mixed messages from the Colombian government. The country’s powerful Defense Ministry appears to be set against ending the spraying program, which it administers through the National Police Anti-Narcotics Directorate.

  • When Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón visited Washington in February, his staff accidentally leaked a briefing book to press. According to this document, among Pinzón’s talking points with U.S. officials was “State the importance of continuing the Counternarcotic programs as aerial spraying.” (The document was written in English.)
  • In an interview Sunday with Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, the chief of Colombia’s National Police, Gen. Rodolfo Palomino, emphatically opposed the Justice Minister’s proposal to curtail U.S. aid for fumigation. “Fumigation is fundamental because while there’s pressure from illegal armed groups, especially the guerrillas, to stimulate and force illicit crops, we have to keep hitting hard, counteracting it with full rigor. And that implies continuing with fumigation.”

Meanwhile, inside the Obama administration, the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), which runs the fumigation program, is planning to forge ahead with spray operations. The program was halted after guerrillas shot down two spray planes shot down, for the first time in a decade, in September and October. This resulted in a more than 50 percent reduction in spraying last year, to 47,000 hectares—the lowest spray acreage since 2000.

(Data Table)

The fumigations began again in February, though, and last week the long-serving assistant secretary for INL, William Brownfield, had his picture taken (above) visiting the Air Tractor, Inc. plant in Olney, Texas where the spray planes are produced and maintained. “The people who work for Air Tractor here in Olney have played an important role in forcing this repulsive, repugnant, violent, homicidal terrorist organization to come to the table,” Brownfield said, referring to the FARC.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Latin America in the 2014 foreign aid law

This post was drafted by WOLA Program Assistant Ashley Davis.

Last month the U.S. Congress approved, and President Obama signed into law, a 2014 Omnibus appropriations bill, funding most of the federal government’s budget for the rest of the year. The bill includes funding for the State Department and foreign aid. Below are some highlights of how it affects aid to Latin America and the Caribbean.

(The full text of the law can be found here. See “Division K: Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2014.” See also the explanatory statement (PDF, go to Division K) prepared by the House-Senate conference committee that resolved differences between both chambers’ versions of the bill. The Latin American highlights from the 2012 consolidated appropriations bill can be found here. For 2013, the Congress did not manage to approve a foreign aid bill; a “continuing resolution” maintained funding levels, and restrictions, that were laid out in the 2012 bill.)


Foreign Military Financing (FMF): in the bill’s explanatory statement, Congress specifies that $28 million should go to Colombia through FMF, the main non-drug military aid program in the foreign aid bill.

International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INCLE): $149 million are mandated for Colombia from this program, which funds both military/police and economic/institution-building programs. INCLE in Colombia pays for coca eradication, drug interdiction, and judicial reform, among other priorities. The bill specifies that $10 million of the INCLE outlay should go to the Human Rights Unit of Colombia’s Attorney-General’s Office (Fiscalía).

Economic Support Fund (ESF): $141.5 million are earmarked for Colombia from this USAID-administered program, to continue alternative development and institution-building activities. Within this category, the bill specifies the following priorities and amounts.

  • Transfer to the State Department-administered Migration and Refugee Assistance account $7 million
  • Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities $15 million
  • Human rights program $6.5 million
  • Biodiversity $3 million
  • Children disabled by violence $500 thousand

As in previous years, the U.S. government has attached human rights conditions to Colombia aid, and will withhold 25 percent of assistance to Colombia’s armed forces (not police) until the State Department certifies that:

  1. Members of the Colombian military alleged to have committed human rights violations, or have aided or benefitted from illegal armed groups, are tried in civilian courts, and the military is cooperating with investigations;
  2. Paramilitary groups are being dismantled, the government is protecting the rights of human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, and other social activists, as well as respecting the rights and territory of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities; and
  3. The government is investigating and punishing those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes, and is not offering amnesty to such persons.

All of the above conditions are similar to those of 2012–13, though the language about amnesty appears for the first time. This addition has implications for the peace process and transitional justice in post-conflict Colombia: if the country’s peace process succeeds, and it adopts a framework that amnesties military and guerrilla abusers, some U.S. military aid could be frozen. The Senate’s version of the conditions had included even stronger language: it would have frozen the aid even if a post-conflict framework tried abusers but suspended their sentences.

Additionally, this year 10 percent of funds appropriated to the Colombian national police for aerial drug eradication programs may not be used for aerial spraying of chemical herbicides until the State Department certifies that:

  1. Herbicides do not pose health risks or have adverse effects on humans (including pregnant women and children) or the environment; and
  2. The government will investigate any complaint that aerial spraying is harming licit crops, and fair compensation will be paid for such claims.


The bill appropriates $17.5 million for ESF programs in Cuba, but they cannot fund new programs or activities there. It will continue existing programs to support civil society in Cuba, like the activities for which USAID contractor Alan Gross continues to be imprisoned in Cuba.


As in the past, U.S. aid is withheld from the Guatemalan Army–as it has been since the early 1990s, though some aid flows to it through the Defense Department budget. However, it is worth noting that the language in the 2014 law has changed from an outright ban on aid to the Guatemalan Army, to having conditions pending a certification process. Nevertheless, assistance to the Army remains frozen unless the State Department certifies that the Guatemalan Army:

  1. Has a narrowly defined mission focused on border security and external threats, and a credible plan to end the army’s involvement in law enforcement (which does not look likely, as President Otto Perez Molina has expanded the military’s internal security role via the creation of Citizen Security Squads [Escuadrones de Seguridad Ciudadana], or groups of soldiers that patrol high-crime areas).
  2. Is cooperating with civilian investigations and prosecutions of human rights cases involving current and retired military officers, with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and with the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala; and provides the investigators timely access to witnesses, documents, forensic evidence, and other relevant information.
  3. Is publicly disclosing all military archival documents relating to the internal armed conflict in a timely matter.
  4. In addition, this year the bill explains that, “There is a concern with the failure of the Government of Guatemala to implement the Reparations Plan for Damages Suffered by the Communities Affected by the Construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam (April 2010),” and the government of Guatemala must take credible steps toward implementing this plan.

Also new to this bill is the withholding of all funds to the Guatemalan Armed Forces (from both the Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training programs) until the State Department certifies that the Guatemalan government has resolved all cases, or is making significant progress toward resolving all cases involving Guatemalan children and American adoptive parents that have been pending since 2007.

The law renews the $5 million in assistance to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN body that investigates illegal security groups and related corruption in Guatemala.


All assistance to the central Government of Haiti is frozen until the State Department certifies that:

  1. Haiti is taking steps to hold free and fair elections for a new parliament;
  2. The government is respecting judicial independence; and
  3. The government is combating corruption and improving governance, including passing the anti-corruption law, and implementing financial transparency and accountability requirements for government institutions.


The 2014 law not only maintains human rights conditionality that appeared in the 2012 bill, but increases the amount withheld, pending certification, from 20 to 35 percent of all assistance to the Honduran military and police. This aid will be frozen until the State Department certifies that:

  1. The Government of Honduras is reducing corruption, including by prosecuting and removing corrupt officials from office;
  2. The government is implementing agreements between the United States and Honduras concerning counter-narcotics operations, including assistance for innocent victims;
  3. Freedom of expression, association, assembly, and due process of law are protected, including in the conflictive Bajo Aguan Valley, the site of land disputes and attacks on activists; and
  4. Military and police alleged to have committed human rights violations including forced evictions, or to have aided any armed groups involved, are being investigated and prosecuted in civilian courts, and the Honduran military and police are cooperating with investigations.

This law does not apply to assistance to promote transparency, anti-corruption, border security, and the rule of law within the military and police forces.


Foreign Military Financing: The explanatory statement sets aside $7 million in FMF for Mexico.

International Narcotics and Law Enforcement: The explanatory statement assigns a very specific amount: $148.131 million. Much INCLE in Mexico has supported police and judicial reform efforts.

Economic Support Fund: The bill sets aside $45 million for Mexico through this USAID program. The State Department and USAID are required to consult with the Committees on Appropriations on the uses of the funds.

The bill expresses “concern with reports of abuses by Mexican security forces,” and as in previous years, the law freezes 15 percent of aid to the Mexican military and police until the State Department certifies that:

  1. Military personnel alleged to have committed human rights violations are investigated and prosecuted, and the government is codifying this practice into law by reforming Mexico’s military court of justice;
  2. Prohibitions against torture and the use of testimony obtained through torture are enforced;
  3. The Mexican military and police are promptly transferring detainees to civilian custody and are cooperating with civilian authorities; and
  4. The Government of Mexico is searching for victims of forced disappearances and is investigating and prosecuting those responsible.

The bill appropriates $161.5 million in new funds for the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), which supports military, police, and civilian funds for public security and judicial reform in Central America. $61.5 million would go to USAID’s Economic Support Fund program, and $100 million to the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program.

The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), which pursues similar objectives in the Caribbean, would get $54.1 million: $29.1 million through ESF and $25 million through INCLE.

Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)

Although $898.2 million has been appropriated worldwide for the Millennium Challenge Corporation—an independent US foreign aid agency that gives grants to countries based on their policy performance—the explanatory statement voices concern about the indicators used to establish candidate countries’ eligibility:

Weak judicial systems and official and private sector corruption are significant impediments to democratic institutions and economic development and growth in many potential MCC compact countries. There is concern that anti-corruption indicators for eligibility are not sufficiently rigorous, and do not properly reflect adherence to the rule of law in candidate countries including the influence of criminal enterprises and enforcement of private sector contracts.

Sen. Patick Leahy (D-Vermont), who chairs the Senate subcommittee that appropriates foreign aid funds, voiced concern about El Salvador’s weak record of corruption this summer, when the country’s second MCC aid package ($277 million over five years [PDF]) was approved. He argued that the MCC was designed to reward countries whose governments are taking significant steps to address corruption and strengthen the rule of law, but that corruption and money laundering are widespread, and democratic institutions remain weak, in El Salvador.

The law advises the MCC to improve its eligibility criteria in this area, and to consult the Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce and USAID regarding their evaluations of corruption and rule of law in MCC candidate countries.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Funds were earmarked for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Offices in Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico. The Senate Committee recommends a $5.5 million U.S. voluntary contribution to the UNHCHR, of which:

  • $1 million is to support an office in Honduras;
  • $500 thousand is to support an office in Colombia; and
  • $500 thousand is to support an office in Mexico.

The Honduras office will be a start-up (both the main office and any field offices), and the above funds are contingent on whether the UNHCHR actually sets up an office there.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Podcast: The Week Ahead, August 2, 2013

Adam looks at the foreign aid bill that's moving through Congress, the state of the gang truce in El Salvador, and Venezuela's latest effort to fight crime by sending soldiers into the streets.

Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.


Friday, April 12, 2013

U.S. Aid to Latin America since 1996: 3 Charts

(The table used to make these charts, which lists every country in the region, is here.)

Click image to enlarge

Here is all $17.3 billion in military and police aid that the United States has given to Latin America between 1996 and the 2014 request. The trend since 2010 has been downward.

2 spikes on this graph:

  • 2000 - Plan Colombia initial appropriation.
  • 2008-2010 - Mérida Initiative aid to Mexico.

Click image to enlarge

And here is all $23.6 billion in economic and civilian institution-building aid that the United States has given to Latin America between 1996 and the 2014 request. The trend since 2012 has been downward.

2 spikes on this graph:

  • 1999-2000 - Hurricane Mitch relief for Central America, and Plan Colombia initial appropriation.
  • 2008-2010 - Mérida Initiative aid to Mexico, and Haiti earthquake relief.

Click image to enlarge

Finally, putting those two charts together, here is all $40.9 billion in total aid that the United States has given to Latin America, both military and non-military, between 1996 and the 2014 request. The trend since 2010 has been downward.

2 spikes on this graph:

  • 1999-2000 - Hurricane Mitch relief for Central America, and Plan Colombia initial appropriation.
  • 2008-2010 - Mérida Initiative aid to Mexico, and Haiti earthquake relief.

These charts use new data that were included in the Obama administration's 2014 foreign aid request to Congress, which was released on Tuesday. However, some important aid accounts have not yet been reported -- especially those in the Defense budget -- so we have had to estimate some 2012-2014 amounts by repeating the last available year.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Six observations about last week's Southern Command "Posture Statement"

Marine Gen. John Kelly, the commander of U.S. Southern Command since November, gave his first testimonies last week in the U.S. Congress. Before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, he presented the annual “Posture Statement” for Southcom the “regional combatant command” that manages all U.S. military activity in the Western Hemisphere (excluding Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas).

Gen. Kelly took command just in time for “sequestration,” the deep cuts in federal spending, including Defense spending, that went into effect on March 1. As Latin America is clearly a lower U.S. national security priority than other regions of the world (Middle East, Pacific Rim, Europe), these cuts are hitting Southern Command disproportionately. Its Miami headquarters is trimming 26 percent from its budget, Gen. Kelly testified. These cuts’ effect, in fact, was the central theme of his testimonies last week.

  • 1. Reduced drug interdiction. Due to budget cuts, Gen. Kelly foresees a sharp drop in the number of planes and boats available to look for drug-smuggling and other trafficking activity along Central America’s coasts and in the Caribbean. He raised the possibility that the U.S. Navy may resort to “stopping all naval deployments to the Caribbean and South America,” something that would leave Southcom’s naval component, the 4th Fleet, with little to do.

As a result, Gen. Kelly foresees a drop in the number of tons of cocaine that Southcom will seize in Central America and the Caribbean, from 152 last year to 90 this year. (See the chart below, which is also interesting because it contends that U.S. interdiction dropped after Ecuador refused to renew a U.S. presence at its Manta airbase in 2009.). The cuts will spell the end of “Operation Martillo” (“Hammer”), a surge of U.S. interdiction boats and planes that began last year along Central America’s coastlines. Two Navy frigates currently participating in the operation will return to port soon. The 90 tons of expected seizures this year, however, represent only a modest drop from the non-Martillo level of 117 tons measured in 2011.

  • 2. Trafficking appears to be moving westward, to the Pacific. The Posture Statement offers these estimates of how trafficking activity has shifted as a result of “Martillo.”

    • 21% drop in aircraft smuggling to Central America (mainly Honduras).

    • 57% drop in aircraft smuggling to Hispaniola island (mainly Haiti).
    • 36% drop in boats smuggling near Central America’s Caribbean coast.
    • 38% drop in boats smuggling on Caribbean high seas near Central America.
    • 71% increase in 2012, but 43% drop so far in 2013, in boats smuggling near Central America’s Pacific coast.
    • 12% increase in 2012, and 51% increase so far in 2013, in boats smuggling on Pacific high seas near Central America.

The “balloon effect,” it would appear, continues to illustrate illicit trafficking activity in the region.

  • 3. Southcom is cutting back on exercises, military-to-military contacts, and Special Forces training deployments in 2013 as a result of “sequestration.” The command, Gen. Kelly says, has been forced to “scale back deployments of Civil Affairs and Special Operations Forces teams to the region.” Southcom has chosen to scale back the annual “Panamax” canal-defense exercise, and to cancel the following exercises:

The Posture Statement also says that the National Guard’s “State Partnership Program,” a series of smaller deployments, has canceled more than 90 events. In 2012, this program alone carried out 223.

Exercises that appear to have survived the cut include the “Beyond the Horizon” series of humanitarian exercises, UNITAS, the Southern Partnership Station series of naval events, and the Caribbean exercise Tradewinds.

  • 4. Iran’s efforts aren’t getting traction in the region. “I share the Congress’ concerns over Iran’s attempts to increase its influence in the region,” General Kelly says. However,

“The reality on the ground is that Iran is struggling to maintain influence in the region, and that its efforts to cooperate with a small set of countries with interests that are inimical to the United States are waning. In an attempt to evade international sanctions and cultivate anti-U.S. sentiment, the Iranian regime has increased its diplomatic and economic outreach across the region with nations like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina. This outreach has only been marginally successful, however, and the region as a whole has not been receptive to Iranian efforts.”

Southcom nonetheless remains vigilant, Gen. Kelly says, even though its “limited intelligence capabilities may prevent our full awareness of all Iranian and Hezbollah activities in the region.”

  • 5. China is now being explicitly cited as a competitor. Gen. Kelly notes “an unprecedented three naval deployments to Latin America since 2008, including a hospital ship visit in 2011” from China. Whether three deployments in five years should be cause for concern is unclear, but the Commander, mindful of his congressional audience, contrasts them with the current budget cuts:

“China is attempting to directly compete with U.S. military activities in the region. I believe it is important to note that sequestration will likely result in the cancellation of this year’s deployment of the USNS Comfort [a U.S. Navy hospital ship] to the region, an absence that would stand in stark contrast to China’s recent efforts.”

  • 6. The document’s annex provides a glimpse of current assistance to Colombian forces fighting in that country’s armed conflict. Note these fragments from the section on Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), the Southern Command’s Special Forces component.

    • “SOCSOUTH elements provided assistance to the Colombian Special Operations Command, the new joint interagency task forces that are conducting operations against key FARC concentrations. SOCSOUTH also provided counternarcotics, small unit tactics, and riverine training to Colombian National Police and military forces.”

    • SOCSOUTH supported Colombian War Plan ‘SWORD OF HONOR’ by helping build intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination capacity in newly established joint interagency task forces fighting the FARC.”
    • “In 2012, SOCSOUTH provided subject matter expertise to enable key Colombia partner units to establish a sustainable weapons-repair capability and initiate the development of an aerial delivery capability.”
    • “By partnering with academia, SOCSOUTH seeks to build critical thinking skills of key partner unit leadership, helping them to better confront complex irregular warfare challenges. In 2012, SOCSOUTH sponsored a “Counter FARC Ideological Activities” seminar in Colombia, and a “Counterterrorist Operations Planning” seminar in Peru in support of counter narco-terrorist operations.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

With and without U.S. aid, Colombia's training of other security forces increases

Chinese Army participants in a marksmanship course pose with their Colombian instructors last August (source).

In its public statements about Colombia lately, the Obama administration has praised the South American country as a “security exporter.” As a June 2012 Defense Department release put it, “Colombia now serves as a regional training base to help other nations in their counterdrug efforts.”

Colombia is now not only the Western Hemisphere’s largest recipient of U.S. military and police assistance. Its security forces are also training, advising and otherwise assisting those of third countries. “Colombia, for example, offers capacity-building assistance in 16 countries inside and outside the region, including Africa,” according to an April 2012 Defense Department news release. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón told the Miami Herald recently that his forces have trained more than 13,000 individuals from 40 countries since 2005.

This trend is accelerating. As part of an ongoing “High Level Strategic Security Dialogue,” in early 2012 the U.S. and Colombian governments developed an “Action Plan on Regional Security Cooperation,” through which they intend to coordinate aid to third countries. According to a joint press release:

“Both countries will develop complementary security assistance programs and operational efforts to support hemispheric and international partner nations afflicted by effects of transnational organized crime. Increased coordination of U.S. and Colombia defense and security support activities, which are aligned with efforts by both countries to strengthen civilian law enforcement capacity and capabilities, will support whole-of-government strategies and produce a greater effect throughout the hemisphere and West Africa.”

We don’t know the extent of these “defense and security support activities,” or what portion of them are funded by the United States (probably the majority). However, a combination of primary and secondary sources yields the following examples of what has been happening.

With funding from the State Department-managed Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), Colombia’s National Police participate in a Central America Regional Police Reform Project. “[T]he Colombian National Police provides training and assistance in such topics as community policing, police academy instructor training, and curriculum development in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama,” reads an April 2012 joint press release. “To complement this police training by Colombia, the United States trains prosecutors in these countries.”

“Colombia sends mobile training teams to El Salvador, Panama and Costa Rica,” the commander of U.S. Army South, a component of U.S. Southern Command, noted in June 2012. Colombia trains police in Honduras and Guatemala, a senior U.S. defense official said in April 2012.

That month, members of the Colombian Navy’s new Coast Guard Mobile Training Group traveled to Honduras for its first foreign training mission, with 47 Honduran military students. In July 2012, this unit gave an 11-day course to 37 members of Panama’s National Police, National Border Service, and Institutional Protection Service. According to a July 2012 release from Colombia’s armed forces, the Navy Training Group planned to offer similar courses to the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and again Honduras during the second half of 2012.

In November 2012, 12 enlisted men from Panama’s security forces were receiving training alongside fifty counterparts from Colombia’s army in Tolemaida, Tolima, the Bogotá daily El Tiempo reported. The Panamanian government paid the training costs for some, while others received grants, El Tiempo indicated, without indicating these grants’ origin. “The militaries of Ecuador, Argentina, and Central American nations have requested spaces [in this course],” the director of the Colombian Army’s Non-Commissioned Officers School (Escuela Militar de Suboficiales), Col. Juan Felipe Yepes, said. “We’ve now had more than 100 [students] from other countries, and more requests keep coming.”

In May 2012, the Tolemaida army base graduated 22 members of Panama’s National Border Service who took part in “International 81-Millimeter Mortars Course No. 02.”

Colombia is also offering training to some neighbors in South America. In August 2012, Peru sent two naval officers to Coveñas, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, for an explosives technician course. “The Navy of Colombia has invited the Navy of Peru to send Navy personnel to participate in several courses, among them the Marines course, during the 2012 academic year,” reads a Peruvian government resolution [PDF]. That month, seven Colombian Special Forces and Army helicopter pilots paid a visit to Junín, Peru for a 15-day “exchange of experiences” with about 90 representatives of that country’s security forces. In October 2012, the commander of Peru’s army paid a visit to the Colombian Army’s Tolemaida base, where he “highlighted the training, capacities and skills that his men acquire” there, according to a Colombian Army release.

The U.S. government has encouraged Peru to work more closely with Colombia. “The United States stands ready to work with Peru on joint planning, on information sharing, trilateral cooperation with Colombia to address our shared security concerns,” said outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during an October 2012 visit to Lima.

In January 2013, the director of Ecuador’s military academy paid a visit to the Colombian Army’s Tolemaida base “to learn about the academic procedures the Colombian Military uses to educate and train its own soldiers.” In October 2012, the commanding officers of the Marine Corps of Ecuador visited Colombia’s Marine Training Base, where they viewed a demonstration of some of the training that the facility offers. The release from Colombia’s Navy did not indicate whether Ecuadorian personnel have received, or will receive, training at this base.

Training of forces from the Caribbean has included the Colombian Naval Academy’s December 2012 graduation of two cadets from the Dominican Republic.

Colombia’s training relationship with Mexico is quite extensive. It has included the instruction of “thousands of Mexican policemen,” as the Washington Post reported back in January 2011.

“Early one morning shortly before dawn, Colombian police commandos barked orders like drill sergeants at six Mexican policemen and two Mexican soldiers during a mock attack here outside Cajica, a town on a frigid mountain in central Colombia. The target in the training exercise: a heavily defended rebel camp.

It was the tail end of four months of training that included lessons on how to carry out operations in the jungle, jump from helicopters, defuse bombs and conduct raids on urban strongholds.”

“Colombian service members have trained more than two dozen Mexican helicopter pilots” as of April 2012, a U.S. Defense official said in a Pentagon news release.

Sixteen Mexican students — 15 federal police and one army soldier — participated in the grueling 19-week course given by the Colombian National Police’s (CNP) elite Jungla commando unit between July and December 2011. Also taking part in the course, at the Jungla base in Tolima department, were about 58 students from ten other Latin American countries: Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and Paraguay. (Not all of them graduated.) “This Colombian initiative is supported by the U.S. Embassy through its Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) and the DEA,” reads a U.S. embassy press release. “Since 2007, the NAS-financed CNP National Training Center in Pijaos has trained nearly 300 international students. NAS has allotted nearly 8 million dollars in the construction of the training center’s initial phase, inaugurated in 2008.”

Sources reveal several other multi-country training events. The Colombian Army’s Lancero Special Forces unit, similar to the U.S. Army’s Rangers, now offers an international course at the Tolemaida base. Colombia’s armed forces report that 581 trainees from 18 countries have taken the Lancero course including, in December 2012, 15 graduates from Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, and Peru.

The Colombian Armed Forces’ Superior War College hosted the April 2012 Inter-American Naval War Games, in which representatives from Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, the United States, Mexico, Peru, and the Dominican Republic participated in threat simulations to coordinate joint action.

In June 2012, Colombia hosted Fuerzas Comando, an annual competition between Latin America’s Special Forces sponsored by U.S. Southern Command. Those competing at the Colombian National Training Center in Tolemaida included the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Uruguay.

Another multi-nation event took place in Cartagena in June-August 2012, where Colombia’s Navy trained officers from Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panamá, Paraguay, Peru, and the United States. They received coast guard instruction, according to a Notimex article: “maritime interdiction procedures, maneuvers, exercises with interceptor craft, defense and survival techniques.” Since this course’s inauguration in 2012, Notimex notes, Colombia has given it to 114 students from 24 Western Hemisphere countries. A new session of this two-month Coast Guard course began in September 2012 with the participation of 14 trainees from Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, and Peru.

In October 2012, Colombia’s Army hosted a “First International Doctrine Symposium” in Bogotá, with the presence of representatives from Brazil, Chile, China, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Colombia is also training some personnel from outside Latin America. “People’s Republic of China Colonel Deng Yubo said that [Chinese personnel] have been in Tolemaida for a month receiving marksmanship training,” reported Colombia’s Colprensa wire service in August 2012. The ten-week course took place at the Colombian Army’s Lancero School.

Police from ten African countries were in Santa Marta, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, in January 2013 to take part in a Colombian National Police-hosted port and airport security seminar. According to an April 2012 Pentagon news release, “[T]he Defense Department is looking to Colombia and Brazil, both of which already have deep ties to Africa and now provide assistance there, to help U.S. Africa Command with peacekeeping and other efforts there.”

Even as they face their country’s own unresolved armed conflict and organized crime challenges, Colombia’s security forces will be increasing their training of other countries’ militaries and police. This will often happen with U.S. support. This was a chief topic when top officials from both countries met in Bogotá last November to continue the U.S.-Colombia “High Level Strategic Security Dialogue.” An unnamed Defense Department official said in October, “we’re building a detailed action plan where we and the Colombians will coordinate who does what … so we leverage … the resources and capabilities we have to effectively do capacity building and training and other things in Central America and in other places.”

While Colombia has a lot of experience with the type of operations that police around Latin America must carry out today — organized crime investigations, drug interdiction, efforts to arrest kingpins — the expansion of its training raises concerns, especially when the U.S. government is paying the bill.

  • What human rights messages are Colombian trainers conveying, both inside and outside the classroom? Colombia’s armed forces continue to confront allegations, including judicial cases, of thousands of abuses in the past 10-20 years. Some of the most prominent are a wave of extrajudicial executions during the mid-2000s and widespread collaboration with murderous paramilitary groups in the 1990s and early 2000s. Colombian military officials frequently express disdain for, or outright anger at, the country’s judicial system and non-governmental human rights defenders, and their institution recently pressed successfully to reduce civilian courts’ jurisdiction over them in human rights cases.

  • Especially when the U.S. government is paying, what assurances do we have about the quality and rigor of the training and education being provided? Colombian officers have long experience in combat and fighting organized crime, but their ability as trainers and the quality of their instructor courses is unknown.

  • When the U.S. government is paying, how can citizens and congressional oversight personnel get information about courses given, recipient countries and units, the identities of trainers, the number of trainees, and the overall cost? Training by U.S. officials generally shows up in the State Department’s annual Foreign Military Training Reports, but the work of U.S.-funded Colombian trainers rarely, if ever, appears in these reports. This raises a critical transparency issue.

  • When the U.S. government is paying, and information about training events is unavailable or difficult to obtain, how can we verify that human rights conditions in foreign aid law are being respected? How can we be sure that the units and individuals giving and receiving the training are clear of credible allegations of past abuse?

(WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman contributed much research to this post.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Trainee data, charted

Here are the countries of origin of U.S. military and police trainees from Latin America and the Caribbean since 1999, according to the past 13 years’ State-Defense Department Foreign Military Training Reports.

The table for this data is here.

As is evident, Colombia continues to contribute the most trainees. Training appears to have declined somewhat lately; this may be due to reduced U.S. resources, but it may just be the result of incomplete reporting of the training that occurs. The recently released 2011 Foreign Military Training Report, for instance, comprises three volumes, two of which are classified.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Freeing up, and redirecting, aid to the Honduran National Police

Honduran National Police Chief Juan Carlos Bonilla being sworn into office in May.

Over the weekend, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. government had decided to withhold some aid to Honduras’s National Police. The partial freeze owed to concerns about the force’s chief, Juan Carlos Bonilla, who stands accused of involvement in death-squad activity during the 1990s.

The U.S. government is withholding funds to Honduran law enforcement units directly supervised by their new national police chief until the U.S. can investigate allegations that he ran a death squad a decade ago, according to a State Department report released this week.

That report is here [PDF]. The State Department produced it in order to comply with a requirement in the 2012 foreign aid budget law. Section 7045(d) of that law freezes 20 percent of aid to Honduras’s military and police until the State Department certifies that its human rights record is improving (more specifically, that it is supporting freedom of expression and prosecuting abuses in civilian courts).

Last week’s report is this certification, which frees up the 20 percent of aid that had been “on hold” all year. Its text makes clear that no aid to the Honduran National Police is in fact being frozen. It is being redirected.

The Department is aware of allegations of human rights violations related to Police Chief Juan Carlos Bonilla’s service a decade ago, and has established a working group to examine thoroughly the allegations against him to ensure compliance with the Leahy Law. While this review is ongoing, we are carefully limiting assistance to special Honduran law enforcement units, staffed by Leahy-vetted Honduran personnel who receive training, guidance, and advice directly from U.S. law enforcement, and are not under Bonilla’s direct supervision.

We are not yet clear how police units can be within a National Police commanded by Bonilla without being under his direct supervision, but will post an explanation when we get one.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

House appropriators want a lot of reports

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.

Central America

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, February 29, 2012

The 2013 foreign aid request

On February 13, the Obama administration released its 2013 budget request to Congress, which includes its request for State Department and Foreign Operations assistance in FY2013.

Below are a few things we observed in the new foreign assistance budget for Latin America and the Caribbean. You can also download a printer-friendly PDF of this post here.

*** It is important to note, that these observations and graphs do not discuss or include all U.S. aid to Latin America. The U.S. Department of Defense also provides military aid to the region, which could increase the military aid amounts in this post by as much as one-third. Also, smaller economic and social aid programs are not included, as they are not reported by region in the preliminary aid request. As a result, economic aid numbers could be about one-seventh higher than they appear in this post.

  • The 2013 foreign operations aid request includes about $1.74 billion in new aid to Latin America and the Caribbean. This is the lowest amount since 2007 and a 12% reduction from the estimated 2012 budget.
  • The aid "spike" that began with the Mérida Initiative in 2008 crested in 2009 and continues to fall, showing a reduction of 31% from 2009 to 2013. (The large spike in 2010 is aid for Haiti after the earthquake).

  • From 2009 to 2013, military and police aid to the region would fall by 47% through this budget request. This will be the lowest amount of military and police aid ($463 million) from foreign operations assistance to the region since the start of Plan Colombia (the significant drop in military aid in 2001 is a result of the significant spike in 2000, when aid to Colombia was appropriated for a two-year period). Again, these aid amounts do not include assistance from the Department of Defense, which could increase the military aid amounts in this post by as much as one-third.
  • Aid to Colombia's armed forces and police continue to decline to levels last seen before 1999, the year "Plan Colombia" began.
  • Aid to Mexico's security forces, while still higher than pre-Mérida Initiative levels, continues to decline from the 2008-2010 period of large-scale purchases of expensive helicopters and aircraft.
  • While military and police aid to the entire region from this budget request shows a downward trend, military and police assistance to Central America would increase in 2013 by 3.5%. From 2012 to 2013, military and police aid to Honduras, Costa Rica and Belize would more than double, as a result of significant increases in Foreign Military Financing funds to those countries.

  • With Mexico and Colombia--the region's two largest recipients of U.S. military and police aid--removed from the picture, military and police aid to the rest of the region, via the State Department and Foreign Operations budget, actually increases from 2009 to 2013, from $185 million to $212 million.

  • 25.85% ($450.6 million) of the 2013 State/Foreign Operations budget would be military and police aid, while economic and social aid would make up 74.15% ($1.3 billion) of the budget (compared to 2007, when 40% of the State/Foreign Operations budget was military and police aid).