Operation Martillo: What is it?

Since January 2012, the United States, in partnership with various European and Latin American nations, has been conducting Operation Martillo (Martillo = Hammer), a multi-national, interagency and joint military operation to combat aerial and maritime drug trafficking off Central America’s coasts. It began in January 2012 and has no end date, though its end is believed to be a few months away.

Who are the key actors?


  • Operation Martillo is led by U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S), with strong support from the Departments of Homeland Security (particularly the Coast Guard), Treasury, State, Justice and Defense.
  • Headed by a Coast Guard rear admiral and based in Key West, FL, JIATF-S is a 600-person multiagency task force that monitors air and sea traffic headed toward the United States across Central America and the Caribbean. In addition to JIATF-S, Southcom provides the ships, sailors and aircraft of the U.S. Navy’s 4th Fleet.
  • Fourteen partner nations in Europe and Latin America work with JIATF-S on the mission: Belize, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama and Spain.
  • Martillo is run from JIATF-S’ intelligence fusion center in Key West, where intelligence agencies and officers from partner nations join U.S. government officials and officers. From the fusion center, JIATF-S cues engagement for the 4th Fleet (US Naval forces southern command), Coast Guard and partner nations.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection contributes to the mission with long-range patrol aircraft that operate from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida and NAS Corpus Christi, Texas.


How is it funded?

  • Most of the costs of the United States’ military contribution to the operation are largely funded by the Department of Defense, with some covered by Homeland Security. Central American countries’ participation in Operation Martillo is funded through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), managed by the U.S. State Department.
  • CARSI, funded under the State Department’s Western Regional program, provides equipment, training, and technical assistance to seven Central American nations: Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras. For 2013 President Obama requested $107.5 million for CARSI.
  • Assistance goes to civilian and judicial institutions as well as military and police forces. CARSI supports anti-corruption, judicial reform, anti-gang, community policing, crime prevention, law enforcement and counternarcotics programs in Central America.

What does it do?


  • The operation targets drug boats before they land in Central America where the cargo is then divided and sent to the U.S. As part of Operation Martillo, four frigates patrol in two zones off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of South America, and two transshipment points in Guatemala and Honduras. Partner nations also contribute dozens of smaller boats. Numbers from the State Department’s 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report indicate that about 80% of drugs headed to the U.S. initially travel through Central America.
  • For 2013, the mission plans to focus on targeting types of transport vessels beyond go-fast boats and semi-submersible submarines, like container ships. In an interview with the Southern Command-sponsored InfoSurHoy website, JIATF-S director Rear Admiral Charles D. Michel said the mission has recently stood up a container intelligence cell at its Florida headquarters.
  • Operation Martillo directly seized or assisted in the capture of 127 metric tons (279,987 pounds) of cocaine in 2012, according to InfoSur Hoy. After seizing a large cocaine shipment, Joint Interagency Task Force-South headquarters raises a flag with a large image of a cocaine snowflake with a larger red “X” across the center.


How will U.S. federal budget cuts affect it?

On March 1, $85 billion in automatic federal government budget cuts went into effect. This year the Navy’s budget for operations was cut by $9 billion. In response, the Navy has announced it is suspending some deployments supporting the drug war in Latin America and the Caribbean.


  • The Navy will not be replacing two frigates (USS Gary and USS Thach) once they return in the end of April. Instead they will focus with even greater intensity on the departure points for most drug shipments in the region: the coasts off of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, the Associated Press reported.
  • According to a recent article in Wired Magazine, SOUTHCOM’s director of operations, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Vincent Atkins, has told his troops, “The fight we were in yesterday is not the fight we are in today, and we have to go and figure out how we are going to do this job.” According to JIATF-S, the mission will have to depend on partner nations.
  • The Wired article also described how the Navy has been testing much of its new technology in fighting drug traffickers in Latin America before deploying it to other parts of the world, like Afghanistan and Africa. According to the report, this will likely no longer be the case.


Critiques and concerns

U.S. involvement in counternarcotics operations

Operation Martillo is part of a growing trend of U.S. involvement and investment in counternarcotics military missions in Central America and the Caribbean.

Although no participant in Martillo has been involved in civilian deaths, citizens in places like Guatemala, where armies have recent histories of gross human rights abuses, are wary of U.S. military training their home country’s troops for internal missions.

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The overall increased U.S. military presence, particularly around Central America, has drawn attention to the region.

Notable Operation Martillo activity in Central America:

According to an investigative report by the Toward Freedom website, Marines were unofficially deployed to Guatemala for Martillo in July, just two days after a SOUTHCOM-led military interaction/humanitarian exercise known as “Beyond the Horizon” ended in Guatemala. The same article reported that two days after Operation Martillo soldiers left, members of the U.S. Navy construction battalions came to Coban, Alta Verapaz for a security cooperation mission with local troops.

  • The first phase of Martillo focused on the Honduran Gulf before it shifted to Guatemala, where 171 Marines and four helicopters were sent last August, making it the largest Marine operation since the United States first stopped giving the country U.S. military aid in 1978. Although aid to the army is still suspended (this suspension goes back to 1990) to Guatemala, the ban does not apply to the country’s navy or air force or Department of Defense assistance, which is why the U.S. can still fund Operation Martillo (and other operations) there.
  • The deployment came just two months after four civilians were killed in a U.S-backed counterdrug operation in Ahuas, Honduras by DEA agents.
  • “This is the first Marine deployment that directly supports countering transnational crime in this area, and it’s certainly the largest footprint we’ve had in that area in quite some time,” Marine Staff Sgt. Earnest Barnes told the Associated Press of the deployment.
  • Of note: SOUTHCOM signed two contracts in September for a “shoot house” and “improvements” at the training base for Guatemala’s elite Kaibil Special Forces unit in Petén. The Kaibiles have a violent reputation marked by human rights abuses and brutal training.

Operation Martillo has changed drug traffickers’ approach and apparently pushed drug trafficking routes towards the eastern Caribbean:


  • A map from a testimony at a House Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing last June showed a decrease in cocaine flows in most areas, particularly the Caribbean. It also showed a significant uptick in cocaine trafficking in the eastern Pacific, with most of the boats leaving Colombia’s Pacific Coast.
  • Since that time however, SOUTHCOM intelligence in September showed drug traffickers shifting back to using Caribbean sea routes in response to the increased pressure on trafficking in Central America. A U.S. Congressional report released in September found the amount of drugs passing through the Caribbean is against on the rise.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard testimony at a February 26 House hearing included a mapshowing the sites of major 2010-2012 drug seizures. According to the image, Puerto Rico has had the highest density of major seizures in the region recently.
  • According to InSight Crime, in 2009 many drug flights “flew directly from South America to Honduras. In the last two years, however, flights have increasingly gone via Caribbean islands with shipments later sent to the isthmus.”
  • This all supports a December 2011 testimony by William R. Brownfield Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs that predicated the Combination of Merida (U.S. assistance initiative in Mexico and CARSI would push the flow of drugs back towards the Caribbean:

    “In the 2000s, the Merida Initiative has, in turn, pushed the cartels increasingly into Central America. Although 90-95 percent of the cocaine from South America now transits the Central America/Mexico corridor, it is likely that the combined efforts of Merida and CARSI will force the traffickers to once again use the Caribbean as a conduit to the U.S. market.”


Recent activity

SOUTHCOM’s Operation Martillo page can be found here, but the mission’s most recent reported activity is as follows:


  • On January 24, 2013, the Coast Guard intercepted 1,400 pounds of cocaine, an estimated wholesale value of more than $17 million from a go-fast vessel in the southwest Caribbean Sea, Jan. 24, 2013.
  • On January 20, 2013, a frigate, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Thach (FFG 43), with a crew of 220 sailors was deployed for 6 months to conduct Counter Transnational Organized Crime (C-TOC) operations. The deployment consisted of the ship’s Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) team, U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and is being supported by an embarked helicopter detachment, HSL-49, Det. 2 based at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, CA.


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 aboutColombia 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.

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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 Tiemporeported. 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 Lancerocourse 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?

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.

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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” – Peru.com, 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.

Latin America security by the numbers


  • Venezuela gave Nicaragua US$2.56 billion in assistance, much of it oil or energy related, between 2007 and the first half of 2012.
  • “In 2010, Brazil spent more than US$350 million on 14 Israeli-made Heron UAVs for surveillance of the Amazon rainforest and border regions,” reports John Otis in GlobalPost.
  • Mexico’s Milenio newspaper, which keeps a count of organized crime-related homicides, counted 12,394 such murders in 2012.Crime and frauds are a common thing in every walk of life. Trading is one field which is full of fraudulent and swindled trading software and it is very important that the traders stay aware of this fact. Yes, today`s trading market is deluged with fraudulent and fake trading software that people realize and understand their foolishness only after taking a big, unexpected hit from them. But at the same time, a clear and constructive study of this market would also protect them and keep them braced from such software. And along with this, they would also introduce them to some of the reliable and authentic trading platforms like the Fintech Ltd. which has been in this field and benefitting the traders in the recent past.
    This is up slightly from 12,284 in 2011 and down from 12,658 in 2010. The newspaper counted 54,069 organized crime-related homicides during the six years when recently departed President Felipe Calderón intensified Mexico’s fight against trafficking organizations.
  • In a six-day span between January 3 and January 8, Colombian guerrillas, probably the ELN, bombed the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline twice in Norte de Santander department.
  • El Salvador’s coroner’s office recorded 2,641 homicides in 2012, 39% lower than the 4,360 homicides it counted in 2011. The office also recorded a drop in forced disappearances after a March 2012 pact between the country’s principal street gangs (maras).
  • Guatemala counted 5,174 homicides in 2012, down 8.9 percent from 2011. It was the third straight year in which homicides fell.
  • Colombia’s police counted 14,670 homicides in 2012, the lowest number in 27 years, for a homicide rate of 31 per 100,000 people, down from 70 per 100,000 ten years ago.
  • Colombia’s Defense Ministry estimated that the FARC guerrillas now have less than 8,000 members, and the ELN guerrillas have less than 1,500 members.
  • Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, recorded 750 homicides in 2012, down from 2,086 in 2011 and 3,116 in 2010.
  • Demobilized paramilitary members participating in Colombia’s “Justice and Peace” process have confessed to committing 1,064 massacres, over 25,000 homicides and 3,599 forced disappearances.
  • Mexican military courts have convicted 16,460 soldiers for the crime of desertion since 2006.
  • Peru’s Interior Ministry has set aside US$32.5 million to improve police presence in the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro Valley (VRAEM) region in Ayacucho department, which is dominated by remnants of the Shining Path guerrilla movement.


Unraveling Justice: Military Jurisdiction Expanded in Colombia

This post is cross-posted with the Latin America Working Group Education Fund’s LAWGBlog. It was written by LAWG-EF Executive Director Lisa Haugaard

On December 11th, the day after International Human Rights Day, the Colombian Congress approved a justice “reform” bill that will likely result in many gross human rights violations by members of the military being tried in military courts—and remaining in impunity. The bill, along with a separate ruling by the Council of State, unravels the reforms put in place after the “false positives” scandal in which over 3,000 civilians were killed by soldiers.

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In 2007, I participated with a dozen lawyers, human rights activists, a forensic scientist and a judge in an International Verification Mission on Extrajudicial Executions and Impunity in Colombia. We heard from witnesses, family members and lawyers about 130 cases of extrajudicial executions committed in seven different regions of the country. These were not about civilians killed in crossfire or with excessive use of force. The stories we heard were chillingly similar: young men who were seen being taken from their homes, farms and streets by groups of soldiers. When their families came looking for them on a military base, these mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers were shown a dead body, now dressed up as a guerrilla. There was their loved one, dead, and called a guerrilla killed in combat.

Now we know that the scandal was far, far worse than we knew then. In 2008 when the Soacha scandal broke, we learned that members of the army were paying criminal “recruiters” to pick up young men whom they thought would not be missed, and delivering them to soldiers to kill in staged battles. When the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Philip Alston, came to investigate in June 2009, he not only documented the enormous scope of the problem, but also noted that soldiers were carrying out these killings for to win incentives such as bonuses or days off. Murder to up their body counts.

The Attorney General’s office is investigating more than 3,000 civilians murdered by soldiers, most between 2004 and 2008. The coalition of human rights groups in Colombia known as the Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos (CCEEUU) has documented 3,512 extrajudicial executions between 2002 and 2010 committed in 31 out of 32 provinces. Of the 80 percent of these cases for which a presumed perpetrator could be identified, 89.2 percent involved members of the armed forces, 8.6 percent the police, and the remainder were from the air force, navy and the prison system. At least 21 territorial brigades and 19 mobile brigades were identified as perpetrators. More than 44 percent of extrajudicial executions were in the zones where the First and Seventh divisions of the army operated.

Under international pressure, the Colombian government put in place some reforms that helped bring the numbers of new extrajudicial executions down dramatically. It established an accord that allowed the Attorney General’s office to investigate the scene of the crime where extrajudicial executions were alleged and make the determination of whether cases should go to civilian or military courts. It began to enforce the Constitutional provision that stated that grave human rights abuses committed by soldiers should be tried in civilian, not military courts, and hundreds of cases were transferred to civilian jurisdiction. But while Colombia did make progress in investigating and prosecuting extrajudicial executions, prosecutions were slow, and higher-level officials under whose command multiple extrajudicial executions took place escaped justice. Indeed, some were promoted.These still limited advances are at risk with the new law. What are the problems with the law?

Which human rights crimes are excluded from military jurisdiction.
The initial version excluded very few crimes from military jurisdiction. After much pressure from Colombian and International human rights groups, the UN, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the U.S. government, the draft law excludes from military justice what sounds like an appropriate list of grave abuses: genocide, crimes against humanity, forced displacement, sexual violence, forced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial execution. That does sound like an improvement. According to the government, the changes will not “generate impunity.”

But, as always, the devil is in the details: For example, in Colombian jurisprudence, there’s no official crime listed as “extrajudicial executions.” Most of the “false positive” cases have been tried as “homicides of protected persons,” a crime that is considered a violation of international humanitarian law rather than a human rights violation. Under the new law, violations of international humanitarian law routinely go to military courts. So, not only may new extrajudicial executions be tried in military courts, but many of the false positive cases could be transferred out of the civilian court system into the black hole of military justice. “Sexual violence” is also not a crime, using that phrasing, in the Colombian legal system. Moreover, other gross violations committed by members of the military will now go automatically to military courts, including cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and arbitrary detention.

Who is the first on the scene to investigate potential extrajudicial executions.
It is our understanding that the law gives the military justice system control over the initial investigations. If initial investigations are not handled well, the trail goes cold. Beyond what was established in this law, Council of State just declared void the important agreement between the Attorney General’s office and the Defense Ministry that ensured that the Attorney General would investigate alleged crime scenes for extrajudicial executions and make the initial determination of whether the case would go to military or civilian courts. With these changes, it is much more likely that extrajudicial executions and other crimes committed before execution, including torture, will go uninvestigated.

Who decides where cases go.
The new law sets up a new council (“Tribunal de Garant?as”) that will determine which cases go to military courts, and which to civilian courts, when there is a dispute. Half of the council members must be ex-military. Even if you had the perfect list of human rights crimes that should be excluded from military courts, if the decisions are made by a biased council, wrong decisions will be made.

Where soldiers and officers serve their time.
The new law makes official what has been happening in practice: soldiers and officers accused of the most heinous crimes will serve their pre-trial detention not in prison but in “centros de reclusión,” and those convicted can serve their time either in prison or special military detention centers. Semana magazine uncovered the luxurious conditions at the Tolemaida center, where convicted officials were able to leave for vacations, run businesses and even teach courses for current military members.

A special fund to defend soldiers.
Soldiers accused of grave human rights violations will have a taxpayer-funded defense.

Why the change?
Members of the military have been clamoring for “judicial security,” claiming that they are being unfairly prosecuted and that they need protection in order to carry out their combat duties. The Santos Administration, under pressure from the military, has shepherded this bill through the Congress. In the final debate, 54 senators voted in favor, 5 against. Senator Juan Manuel Galán, the bill’s sponsor, sounded a nationalistic and defiant note: “This bill isn’t a bill for impunity, but here we are not legislating because some international human rights organizations have come to Colombia during the final debate to tell us Colombians, us legislators what we have to legislate.”

Now that the Colombian Congress has taken this huge step backward, what recourse is available? First, the Colombian government has indicated that it could take steps to ensure that “extrajudicial executions” and “sexual violence” be defined in Colombian law, making it thus more likely that those crimes would go to civilian courts. The international community should hold the Colombian government accountable for this. And all eyes should be on the review of alleged extrajudicial execution cases in civilian courts—as we fear that many such killings will get transferred back to military courts.

But major damage to Colombia’s commitment to human rights has been done. The U.S. State Department should withhold military aid, as the new law violates conditions that require that gross human rights violations allegedly committed by the military be tried in civilian courts. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which just removed Colombia from its watch list, could reconsider. And the International Criminal Court, which has been watching Colombia, is another potential point of pressure.

I keep thinking about the mother of a young man who was offered a job as a bricklayer, but who was taken by soldiers and killed. Just in her area of the Caribbean coast, several dozen young men were similarly offered bricklaying jobs, disappeared and killed, presumed victims of soldiers seeking to increase their body counts. These mothers want the bodies of their sons returned to them, with dignity. And they want justice for their sons. The passage of this justice “reform” bill has just made that just demand harder to achieve.

“Just the Facts” Conference: Security, Civil-Military Relations, and U.S. Policy in the Americas Today

On September 28, 2012, the Center for International Policy (CIP), the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) held the first “Just the Facts” conference to discuss security trends in the Americas. The goal of the event was to take the pulse of regional security at a key political moment for the United States.

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Videos of the conference are available below, along with resources and powerpoint presentations provided by the panelists.

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View this panel with Spanish to English translation here.

PANEL 1: The response to organized crime and other citizen security threats
Faced with worsening violent crime, how are countries responding? When, if at all, is military response to internal security concerns appropriate? How is the U.S. government assisting countries that request help to combat violent crime? What is the U.S. government’s view of appropriate military and police roles?

  • Christopher Ashe, Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State
  • Helen Mack, Fundación Myrna Mack, Guatemala
  • Leticia Salomón, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, Honduras
  • George Withers, WOLA
  • Moderator: Lisa Haugaard, LAWGEF

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PANEL 2: The Defense Department’s role in U.S. regional security policy
How is the Defense Department using its own budget to assist Latin American militaries today? Who sets the priorities for this assistance? What are the pros and cons of Southern Command’s effort to become a more “interagency” institution? Is the U.S. military’s foreign policy role growing as many observers attest?

  • Stephen Glain, author, State vs. Defense
  • Lora Lumpe, Open Society Foundations
  • Frank Mora, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense
  • Moderator: Adam Isacson, WOLA

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View this panel with Spanish to English translation here.

PANEL 3: Human rights and U.S. security assistance
When human rights abuses do occur in the region, has the probability of justice or accountability increased? Does U.S. security assistance increase or reduce this probability? What has been the experience of human rights conditions attached to U.S. assistance?

  • Leana Bresnahan, Human Rights, J7, U.S. Southern Command
  • Stephanie Brewer, Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, Mexico
  • Col. Juan Carlos Gómez, Human Rights and IHL Directorate, Defense Ministry of Colombia
  • Alberto Yepes, Coordinación Colombia-Europa-Estados Unidos, Colombia
  • Gastón Chillier, CELS, Argentina
  • Lisa Haugaard, LAWGEF
  • Moderator: Abigail Poe, CIP


  • “U.S. Security Assistance and Human Rights in the Americas Today: This Much at Least Must be Done”, by Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund [PDF]
  • “U.S. Security Assistance to Mexico: The Urgent Need to Stop Contributing to a Human Rights Crisis,” by Stephanie Brewer, Centro Prodh [PDF]
    • “Ejecuciones extrajudiciales en Colombia, 2002-2010: Crímenes de lesa humanidad bajo el mandato de la política de defensa y seguridad democrática,” by the Mesa de Trabajo sobre Ejecuciones Extrajudiciales of the CCEEUU [PDF]

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).

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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

UN and U.S. Estimates for Cocaine Production Contradict Each Other

Last Wednesday (July 25) the UN Office on Drugs and Crime issued a report with its latest findings about coca, the plant used to make cocaine, in Colombia.

The 112-page report explains that, from 2010 to 2011:

  • the area cultivated with coca in Colombia increased, from 62,000 to 64,000 hectares (1 hectare = 2 1/2 acres).
  • because traffickers were able to extract a bit less cocaine per hectare of coca, the country’s production of cocaine dropped slightly, from 350 to 345 metric tons.

The UN agency has not yet produced estimates for the world’s two other coca-growing countries, Bolivia and Peru. Its report got a lot of press in Colombia, though, because for the first time since 2007, it did not show a decrease in coca cultivation. Despite over 100,000 hectares sprayed with herbicides and 34,000 hectares of coca bushes physically uprooted by eradicators, the amount of coca left over actually increased last year.

Cocaine per Hectare Estimates in 2010. U.S. estimate for Colombia is far lower than for other countries.Estimates of coca and cocaine production are only produced by two sources: the UNODC and the U.S. government. Washington had not issued any estimates for 2011 cocaine production when the UNODC released its report. However, five days later, Monday July 30, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy produced a press release.

This 600-word document explains that, from 2010 to 2011:

  • the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia fell by 25 percent, from 270 to 195 metric tons.

The press release doesn’t say how much coca was grown in Colombia last year, or even whether the land area increased or decreased. Nor does it say whether growers were extracting less cocaine from the coca they harvested, and if so why or how much less. The document did tell us that Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer since the mid-1990s, has now fallen behind Peru (325 metric tons) and Bolivia (265 metric tons).

This is mysterious because in 2010, the last year for which the U.S. government and UNODC have coca-crop estimates for all three countries, Colombia and Peru show nearly the same amount of coca, and Bolivia shows about half as much as the other two. For Bolivia to be producing more cocaine than Colombia from half as much coca is difficult to fathom.

(All available coca and cocaine data from the U.S. and UN since 1999 is at the bottom of this post.)

The Bolivia result is especially surprising because the country’s coca cultivation, in both U.S. and UN estimates, had stayed about the same in 2008-2010. Why would cocaine producers be getting so much more of the drug from the same land area planted with coca?

Asked that very question by a Bolivian interviewer in mid-July, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires John Creamer explained that Bolivian cocaine producers are using “Colombian methods.” These methods, however, are apparently not at work in Colombia.

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Here, using the data below, is a chart of how much cocaine the U.S. government believes that producers are deriving from each hectare of coca. It shows producers in Colombia getting less than half as much of the drug out of coca bushes than their counterparts in Bolivia and Peru. A hectare of coca in Peru produced 6.1 kilograms of cocaine in 2010. In Bolivia, it produced 5.7 kilograms of cocaine. In Colombia, it produced only 2.7 kilograms. (The difference may be even greater in the 2011 estimates, but since the U.S. government has not issued coca cultivation land-area estimates for 2011, we can’t calculate it.)

Cocaine per Hectare - U.S. Estimate

This discrepancy may be a result of frequent eradication in Colombia, which may force growers to replant more often and thus harvest from smaller bushes. However, the UNODC doesn’t reach the same conclusion. The UN estimate of how much cocaine Colombian producers extracted from coca in 2011 (5.4 kilograms per hectare) is closer to the Bolivia and Peru estimates, and more than twice the U.S. figure. (The UNODC, meanwhile, has not even ventured a guess for Peru’s and Bolivia’s cocaine tonnage since 2008.)

Cocaine per Hectare - UN Estimate

Since the U.S. government is not at all transparent about how it gets its cocaine production numbers, this kilograms-per-hectare discrepancy leaves a strong impression that a political agenda is involved. Washington has a strong incentive to reward close ally Colombia and to show that the billions spent on forced coca eradication since 2000 are “working.” It has a strong incentive to prod Peru, whose center-left government may be tempted to take a nationalistic, independent course, to toe the line of the current strategy. And it has a strong incentive to punish Bolivia which, though controlling illicit coca cultivation far better than neighboring Peru, has a government that sharply (and sometimes unfairly) criticizes the United States and is perceived as opposing other U.S. interests.

We want to think that these numbers are not pulled from the U.S. anti-drug bureaucracy’s nether regions, and are based on a considered, reasoned process. But with no transparency at all over how these tonnage estimates are derived, the U.S. cocaine-production numbers are wide open to charges of politicization.

How much cocaine did Colombia produce last year?

UN Office on Drugs and Crime, last Wednesday:

“[P]otential cocaine production in 2011 remained stable at 345 tons, down 1 per cent from 350 tons in 2010.”

White House Office of National Drug Policy, today:

“[T]here has been a 72 percent drop in cocaine pure production capacity in Colombia since 2001… to 195 metric tons in 2011. The latest estimate is a 25 percent reduction from the previous year.”

The UN (working with Colombia’s National Police) and the U.S. government are the only two bodies that attempt to estimate cocaine production in the Andes. And their estimates of Colombia’s production potential, publicized within five days of each other, diverge by 77 percent

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Tradewinds 2012: A week of military exercises

Between June 14th and 24th, U.S. Southern Command (Southcom), led by U.S. Marine Forces South, sponsored ten days of military exercises in Barbados aimed at “improving cooperation and security” in the Caribbean basin. This was the 28th annual Tradewinds exercise and featured U.S. military personnel and law enforcement officers working with 16 other nations from the region. These nations are: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados (host nation), Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.

This is a smaller group of countries than last year’s exercise, which included 21 nations. This year, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama did not participate

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The objective [PDF] of the exercise, according to Southcom, is to “enhance the collective abilities of the Partner Nations’ Defense Forces and constabularies to Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) and conduct Humanitarian Aid/ Disaster Relief (HA/DR) operations.” This translates into the following exercises:

  • Conduct joint, combined and interagency training,
  • Focus on increasing regional cooperation in countering transnational organized crime,
  • Support humanitarian assistance/disaster responses,
  • Conduct interoperability training for multinational staffs,
  • Build capability to plan and execute complex multinational security operations.

Skills Demonstrated:
The above skills were tested later on in the exercise through a five-day command post exercise in which,

Barbados was just hit by a simulated tsunami in the midst of dealing with a virtual terrorist hostage situation, a collapsed stadium and a bombing that damaged an oil tanker causing an oil leak into the bay, all while preparing for the impending threat of a hurricane.

Alongside the exercise, a meeting was held between upwards of 40 diplomats, ministers of national security, chiefs of defense, ministers of defense, agency directors and senior military officials from the region to discuss the areas the combatants were being trained in through the Distinguished Visitor Program. Larry Palmer, U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean said, “There is a tremendous value to the region for all of these representatives to get this kind of experience – they get to create the kinds of relationships they will need in order to do their jobs when called upon.”

U.S. Southern Command has also been in Peru in recent weeks as part of the ongoing New Horizons 2012 exercise which, paired with the Beyond the Horizon exercises, is taking place between April and October 2012. Both of the exercises are taking place in Peru, Guatemala, and Honduras and are being executed by U.S. Army South and U.S. Air Forces Southern.

This blog was written by CIP Intern Anna Moses.