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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How we got here

This blog was written by Joy Olson, the Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America, who founded Just the Facts with WOLA's Adam Isacson.

Please note that this is the last day we will be updating Justf.org! We are excited to announce that starting tomorrow, Just the Facts will become the Latin America section of Security Assistance Monitor, a website that expands the scope of the project to include data on U.S. military and police aid worldwide. See here for more information.

As the Just the Facts project goes global in the form of the Security Assistance Monitor, it seems like a good time to reflect on how this all started and what we have achieved.

We started this project in 1997 because we wanted the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) coalition to have informed opinions about U.S. security policy and programs in Latin America.

To build this picture, we gathered all of the publicly available information we could find on US military programs with the region. As we researched, it became clear that security programs were funded out of many different parts of the budget. For political reasons, State Department-funded programs had to justify their existence to Congress and had congressionally-mandated reporting requirements, so there was information with which we could work. Defense Department-funded programs had no such reporting requirements. We held numerous interviews with military officials, congressional staffers, and Defense and State officials.

While this was all public information, some of it was incredibly hard to find, and even harder to put together to create a full picture. We did not submit Freedom of Information Act requests, but asked congressional offices to submit requests for information. In the early years, this was a remarkably effective technique for acquiring information.

When our first book, Just the Facts: A civilian’s guide to US defense and security assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean, was published in 1998, we knew that we had made something useful. It was being used, not just by our target audience – the NGO sector – but by academics, journalists, congressional staffers, and even the Defense Department. The day the book was released, we got an order for 40 copies from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. They told me that they didn’t have this information compiled in one place.

After a couple of years, the annual Just the Facts books were curtailed and replaced by an online tool. Back then, that was a cutting edge move. The government didn’t have any of its congressional presentation documents or other mandated reports accessible online. To get the government’s information, you had to go to www.justf.org. Today, there are about 9,000 visitors a month to this site.

In the policy advocacy realm, there are few times when you can draw a direct line between your work and concrete change. However, I am confident that there are both direct and indirect ways in which Just the Facts has made a difference. Our grousing to congressional staffers about how there wasn’t any information about Defense Department-funded training coincided with House appropriators learning that foreign military training that they had prohibited through State’s budget was being funded through Defense. Out of that intersection, what is now the annual Foreign Military Training Report (FMTR) was born. That report puts together all forms of military training funded through State and Defense. The FTMR is now available online, and it is not just for Latin America--it covers the world.

Just the Facts helped congressional oversight committees do their jobs. These important committees are understaffed, and we shared our research with them and let them know where information was missing and where their attention might be needed.

As new Defense Department counter-drug or counter-terror legal authorities arose, Congress increasingly made sure to include reporting requirements so that at least some information was available to the public. This is in part because we followed these laws closely and advocated for transparency.

Transparency over military training and aid programs is also essential if there are to be any human rights conditions or requirements related to aid. You can’t implement human rights conditions like the Leahy Law if you don’t know who is being trained with U.S. tax dollars.

Prior to Just the Facts, few people outside of the Pentagon understood the extent of the Defense Department’s involvement in counter-drug aid to other countries. For example, we learned that DOD had provided large-scale counter-drug training to the Colombian military prior to the Clinton administration’s request to Congress for hundreds of millions of dollars in helicopters and other “Plan Colombia” aid. The U.S. military trained the Colombians on the quiet and then, when they needed to equip them, went to Congress for approval.

After a few years of research, we realized that we had become experts on what the U.S. military had already done, because data was produced after implementation. But we wanted to have input on current programs and future plans. That required talking with the Southern Command (Southcom).

The first times we requested meetings with Southcom and the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South, there was skepticism on both sides. Dialogue between our sectors was not at all common. I would say that mutual respect grew over time. We knew how to speak defense language, and could ask informed questions. Over time they began asking us questions as well.

While I have critiqued many a US military program in Latin America, I must say that there has been continual useful dialogue between the Just the Facts project and Southcom. We meet with the Commander at least once a year. I think that this has been a constructive dynamic, especially about the importance of human rights to successful military engagement.

My biggest concern has always been about what I don’t know. This project is about transparency. When we began, less information was restricted, but it was very hard to access. Now, the government puts more information online, but it is harder to get access to new information. More things are classified as “for official use only,” meaning they are not really classified, but congressional staff can’t share them with us. We know from past experience that information from the Special Operations Command is hard to come by. As this Command becomes more active in Latin America, we are likely to know less about what has been done in the region, and the direction that work is headed. That is, unless Congress pushes for more public reporting on Special Operations.

Finally, this is a good moment to say thank you. Adam Isacson and I started this project when he was at the Center for International Policy and I was at the Latin America Working Group. It was my idea, but his capacity and imagination made it happen and sustained it for years. When I came to WOLA, Lisa Haugaard took over this work for the LAWG. George Withers, who brought unprecedented experience and expertise to the project, has been a vital collaborator for almost ten years. Abigail Poe, who was trained by Adam at CIP, has now become the driving force behind the Security Assistance Monitor. This has truly been a group effort.

None of this would have been possible without foundation support. I want to thank Cristina Eguizábal, the Program Officer at the Ford Foundation who first supported Just the Facts, when it was only an idea. Over the years this work has been supported by the Ford and MacArthur Foundations, and by the Open Society Foundation. Open Society, which is dedicated to transparency and accountability in government, is taking this project global. That is a very important and timely choice. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Accounts that Pay for U.S. Drug War Aid to Latin America

This post is cross-posted with Adam Isacson's personal blog. The original can be read here.

I wrote the text below in a follow-up email to some congressional staff with whom I’d met last week. It occurred to me, though, that it might be helpful to share it more widely than that.

There are only three U.S. programs that specifically pay for counter-drug aid in Latin America. Together, though, they make up about 81% of all U.S. military/police aid to the region over the last 10 years. (And 12% of economic/civilian aid.) They are:

1. International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE): the biggest single aid program to Latin America by far. The only program I know of in the U.S. foreign aid budget that can pay for both military aid (helicopters etc.) and economic aid (alternative development programs etc.)

  • Administered by the State Department Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
  • Funded through annual State / Foreign Operations budget appropriation.
  • Authorized by Sections 481-489 of Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 USC, Chapter 32, Subchapter I, Part VIII )
  • Total aid to Latin America 2005-2014 $7.01 billion ($5.11 billion military/police, $1.90 billion economic/civilian.)
  • Best official report breaking down aid: INL Program and Budget Guide
  • 2. Section 1004 Counternarcotics: the Defense Department’s non-permanent, but regularly renewed, authorization to use its own budget for several specific kinds of military and police aid to other countries (and to US civilian law enforcement). After INCLE, the second-largest source of military/police aid to Latin America.

  • Administered by Defense Department, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics (under Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.)
  • Funded through annual Defense budget appropriation.
  • Authorized by Section 1004 of the 1991 National Defense Authorization Act, as amended.
  • Total aid to Latin America 2005-2014 $3.47 billion.
  • Best official report breaking down aid: reporting is poor. Armed Services Committees sometimes require reports, sometimes don’t. All reports we’ve obtained are at http://bit.ly/QLm2GQ.
  • 3. Section 1033 Counternarcotics: another Defense Department counter-drug military aid program, which pays for a few additional kinds of aid that 1004 doesn’t. Begun in 1998 for Colombia and Peru, since expanded to 39 countries worldwide.

  • Administered by Defense Department, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics (under Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.)
  • Funded through annual Defense appropriation.
  • Authorized by Section 1033 of the 1998 National Defense Authorization Act, as amended.
  • Total aid to Latin America 2007-2014 $192 million. (In our estimates, some earlier years’ aid is probably included in “1004” above.)
  • Best official report breaking down aid: reporting is poor. Armed Services Committees sometimes require reports, sometimes don’t. All reports we’ve obtained are at http://bit.ly/QLm2GQ.
  • Friday, April 4, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the Associated Press uncovered that USAID tried to "trigger a Cuban Spring" through a secretly-established social media platform, the DEA said Mexican cartels were setting up shop in Colorado and Washington to cash in on black market marijuana, and the United States stopped sharing radar intelligence with Honduras. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • The Associated Press published an incendiary investigation this week revealing that USAID used front companies to secretly establish a now defunct Twitter-like social media platform in Cuba in 2010, with the intended purpose of stirring social unrest that might "trigger a Cuban Spring." The platform was also used to collect private data from its 40,000 users.

    On Thursday USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said that while the program was not covert, "parts of it were done discreetly." The White House echoed those claims, saying the program was debated in Congress and reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.

    The Pan-American Post posted an excellent piece outlining the key points of the length AP report, while political analysts Greg Weeks, James Bosworth and Marc Hanson of the Washington Office on Latin America also provided helpful commentary.

  • During a hearing on U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation on Tuesday, James Dinkins, executive associate director for homeland security at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told the Committee on Homeland Security that "We have the best relationship with our Mexican counterparts that we've ever had." He pointed to the coordination between U.S. and Mexican agencies involved in the capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera as evidence of the strengthening relationship.

    The head of U.S. Northern Command, General Charles Jacoby, emphasized this same point several weeks ago in the wake of reports claiming U.S.-Mexico cooperation had suffered since Mexican President Peña Nieto mandated all contact with U.S. law enforcement go through the Ministry of the Interior.

  • During a budget hearing for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the House’s Committee on Appropriations Tuesday, DEA head Michele Leonhart criticized marijuana legalization measures in Washington and Colorado. She claimed Mexican drug traffickers were "setting up shop" and "are ready to come and sell cheaper" marijuana on the black market in the two states. She also accused many marijuana shops of being supplied by cartel-controlled growing operations. Leonhart's formal testimony can be found here.
  • United States Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske testified during a budget hearing for the agency on Tuesday. His testimony and a webcast of the hearing can be found here.
  • The United States confirmed this week that it stopped sharing radar intelligence with Honduran authorities on March 23 in response to a recently-passed law that permits the military to shoot down aircraft suspected of trafficking drugs. A U.S. embassy spokesperson said the move is unlikely to grossly disrupt either interdiction efforts or cocaine flows, as “80 to 90 percent of illegal drugs that enter Honduras (do so) via maritime routes,” and not by air.
  • In an interview with El Universal Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández noted that increased security cooperation with Colombia and Mexico would be key following the United States' decision to end sharing radar information, as both are equipped with better intelligence technology.
  • Uruguay President Jose Mujica will meet with President Obama at the White House May 12. On the agenda will be Uruguay's recent decision to receive six Guantanamo Bay detainees as well as the country’s recent decision to regulate the sale of marijuana.
  • Colombia’s top court halted U.S.-backed coca crop fumigation in national parks, although as WOLA’s Adam Isacson asserted, crops sprayed in these areas did not account for much of the total acreage affected by the practice. He also described the "quiet but intense" debate over aerial eradication in the country.
  • U.S. Southern Command head General John Kelly, discussed regional counternarcotics strategies with military and civilian leaders from 14 nations in Guatemala City April 1-3 at the annual Central American Regional Security Conference. The participants discussed lessons learned from Operation Martillo, the U.S.-led and funded counternarcotics surge operation in Central America's coastal waters.
  • Some reports this week on U.S. training security forces in the region:
    • The AFP reported 42 members of Guatemala's National Police would be trained in Miami through funding from the Central American Regional Security Initiative April 5 to May 4 and August 30 to September 28. The Guatemalan officers will replicate the trainings for 400 of their counterparts when they return to their country.
    • The Georgia Army National Guard trained members of Guatemala's counternarcotics task force as part of the Defense Department's Regionally Aligned Forces program. According to Southcom, members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Border Patrol and DEA were involved in the trainings.
    • Green Berets assigned to an airborne Special Forces Group trained with Dominican Republic Special Operations Forces (SOF) as part of a month-long training program that focused on medical skills, marksmanship, and airborne operations.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández this week, the first visit in six years of a Mexican leader to the Central American country. The two leaders announced they would be forming a "regional front against organized crime" and would re-launch high-level bilateral security talks.
  • Also of note this week: an InSight Crime investigation on violence and the flow of drugs at the tri-border area of Brazil, Colombia and Peru; an informative article in the New Republic about increased migrant deaths on U.S. soil as a result of the crackdown along the U.S.-Mexico border; and an analysis of the five major shortcomings of Brazil's pacification program, which has kicked up in recent weeks, written by Americas Society/Council of the Americas's researcher Rachel Glickhouse for her RioGringa blog. Both Al Jazeera and Rio on Watch published excellent photo essays of the favela occupation.
  • Wednesday, April 2, 2014

    Justf.org is going global!

    Due to the success of Just the Facts, the Center for International Policy and its partners are expanding the scope of the project to include data on U.S. military and police aid worldwide.

    Just the Facts will soon become the Latin America section of Security Assistance Monitor, a new website that tracks U.S. security assistance to the rest of the world. SecurityAssistance.org will offer all the same resources as Just the Facts, but with better usability.

    Aside from being more aesthetically pleasing than our current site, Security Assistance Monitor will include some new features:

  • A database that allows visitors to interact with and view the data in a way that was not possible before. Securityassistance.org will feature interactive data sets that allow users to automatically create downloadable trend graphs, tailored to the exact programs, countries or regions for which they want data.
  • Data will now be downloadable in Excel and .pdf formats.
  • Key sections of the site translated into Spanish and Portuguese.
  • Country pages will have interactive trend charts for military and police aid, trainees and arms sales.
  • Easier ways to search and sort the wealth of other resources (besides the data) that we offer, including: daily news links, relevant legislation, U.S. government policy statements, events, other governments’ policy statements, and official government reports.
  • Detailed FAQs and screencasts to walk you through how to filter the site and its data to get to the information you want.
  • The goal of Security Assistance Monitor is to provide a comprehensive, comparative look at the United States’ security assistance to different regions of the world. While the new site will house data for U.S. assistance globally, it will provide “Just the Facts”-style analysis and resources for Africa, the Middle East, Central Eurasia and of course, Latin America and the Caribbean.

    But don’t worry; we aren’t going to make you sift through heaps of global information to get to the data, news and policy information about Latin America and the Caribbean currently offered on Just the Facts.

    Users only interested in Latin America and the Caribbean will be able to filter the site to show only information relevant to the region, so your current user experience won’t be lost – just enhanced.

    An example of how data visualizations will appear on the new site:

    Here's a trend graph showing U.S. assistance to counternarcotics programs in Colombia from 1996-2014:

    And another showing economic aid to Colombia from 1996-2014:

    We will use SAM as we’ve used Just the Facts – as a tool to highlight troubling trends, high-priority issues and promising alternatives. We hope that you will find the new site useful and provide feedback of how we can make it even better.

    As we have created our new website site with you in mind, we want to hear from you about your experience. Please email sam@ciponline.org with any questions, concerns or feedback.

    Friday, March 28, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week Honduras made plans to double the number of military police in its most violent city, federal troops were deployed to one of Rio's largest slums and the Venezuelan military reaffirmed its support for the government after three air force officers were arrested for allegedly planning a coup. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s administration “is in diplomatic talks” to reschedule her official visit to meet with President Obama after canceling her previous visit in September following revelations of NSA espionage. According to Brazil’s ambassador to the United States, it is unlikely that this visit would occur before October’s presidential elections in Brazil.
  • Today marks the conclusion of the week long 150th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in which cases relating to a range of issues – from freedom of speech in Ecuador, to the ousting of Bogotá’s mayor, Gustavo Petro, to the justice system in Peru or indigenous rights in Nicaragua – were heard. On Tuesday, the commission held its first-ever hearing on drug policy and human rights abuses in the Americas at the request of 17 human rights organizations, which argued that the fight against drug trafficking justifies repression and abuse in the region. Animal Politico laid out several of the presenters’ arguments and has a video of the hearing.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Caracas announced Sunday that it would suspend issuing visas to first-time applicants. The embassy said it did not have enough staff to process the paperwork after three consular officers were kicked out of the country by the Venezuelan government, which has also delayed authorizing new personnel.
  • On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced three air force generals had been arrested for allegedly planning a coup after supposedly meeting with members of the opposition. Hours after the announcement the military issued a statement pledging its “monolithic” support, saying it would continue "protecting our people, guarding our homeland's sovereignty and supporting the constitutionally elected president and commander in chief." Also on Tuesday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court sentenced opposition mayor Marina Corina Machado to one year in jail for “inciting violence.”
  • President Maduro has agreed to enter talks with the opposition with the help of an outside facilitator, a move proposed by a visiting delegation from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). According to the Pan-American Post, it has been suggested foreign ministers from Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador would take the lead on creating conditions for the talks, while the Associated Press noted Maduro has agreed to create a human rights commission to investigate abuses committed by the security forces.
  • Honduras’ military police chief, Coronel German Alfaro, announced plans to double the number of officers on the streets of San Pedro Sula, the most violent city in the country, from 1,000 to 2,000. According to Alfaro, the military police force has been a success in the country’s most violent city and the government will continue to roll out its plan to deploy 5,000 officers throughout the country. In an update on the national police reform process, Honduran newspaper La Prensa reported 536 police were fired after failing vetting tests and another 221 resigned.
  • On Tuesday the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing, “newspaper U.S. disengagement from Latin America: Compromised Security and Economic Interests.” While much of the discussion focused on Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and Russia, Inter-American Dialogue President Michael Shifter did note that the U.S. is not disengaged and, on the contrary, has been positively and heavily engaged in the region.
  • In addition to Uruguay, the United States also askedBrazil and Colombia to take in inmates from Guantanamo Bay. Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said the government was analyzing the request, while Uruguay agreed to take five inmates earlier this week.
  • Federal troops were sent to one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest slums and will stay there until the kickoff of the World Cup in 76 days. The military deployment comes after a serious of bombing, murders and attacks on police bases. InSight Crime published an on-the-ground perspective of one of these pacification operations in one of Rio’s most violent favelas, Vila Kennedy.
  • Locals in a major coca-producing region in Bolivia clashedwith police over the construction of a military base. According to the Associated Press, the counterdrug base is being built with $1.3 million in European Union funding.
  • On Tuesday, El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announcedthat FMLN candidate Salvador Sanchez Céren would officially be the country’s next president, after the body formally rejected the ARENA party’s petition for a ballot-by-ballot recount on Wednesday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) releaseda statement Tuesday congratulating Sanchez Céren that noted a “calm and orderly” election but recognized there were “pending legal matters.”
  • Brazilian think-tank Igarapé, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, launched an impressive interactive online database of citizen security programs throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. As Spanish news agency EFE noted, 66 percent of security policies in Latin America have been concentrated in Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
  • Also of note this week: an article by Ander Izagirre in El Pais on Colombia’s false positives, a piece on the massacre of 260 Central American migrants in 2010 and 2011 by Oscar Martinez in El Faro, in Vice on violence against local communities involved in mining conflicts in Guatemala, and an investigation published by El Faro, in Inside Costa Rica on the effectiveness of panic buttons in busses in San Salvador, El Salvador.
  • Thursday, March 27, 2014

    United States Counternarcotics Assistance in Central America from the 2013 INCSR

    This post was drafted by CIP intern Elijah Stevens

    The U.S. State Department’s recently released International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) identified all seven countries in Central America as major transit countries for drug trafficking. While there are serious efforts to combat drug trafficking in these countries, many of which are backed by various forms of U.S. assistance through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the report found that 80 percent of illegal drugs destined for the United States are still trafficked through Central America.
    Countries throughout this region are plagued, to varying degrees, by limited funds for improving capabilities and resources, problematic and weak judiciary systems, corruption at various levels of security institutions, and lack of professionalization in their security forces.

    The INCSR explains some of the initiatives the United States has supported and continues to support, the majority of them through CARSI:

    Belize

  • Trained and supported the Coast Guard to establish Belize’s first Sea, Air and Land Team (SEAL).
  • Established a Mobile Interdiction Team in December 2012 whose mission is to interdict narcotics at ports of entry throughout border regions. This is in addition to the provision of training and equipment to the country’s police force.
  • A maritime counternarcotics bilateral agreement, and a U.S.-sponsored Multilateral Counterdrug Summit with 11 other participants from Central and South America
  • Currently, Belize’s government is exploring the possibility of decriminalizing marijuana in small quantities as an alternative strategy in combatting narcotrafficking and crime.

    Costa Rica

  • Updated police academy curriculum and continued implemention of the COMPSTAT crime-tracking system.
  • Providing training and equipment for Costa Rica’s police to perform anti-gang law enforcement and also support for community policing with equipment, vehicles and training.
  • A maritime counternarcotics bilateral agreement to target offshore narcotrafficking. Although the U.S.’ antidrug surge mission in Central America’s coastal waters, Operation Martillo, has been constrained by Costa Rica’s reluctance to allow other countries’ military ships into its waters, an uptick in drug trafficking in the country has meant the government has been more open to granting permission.
  • Helped create, train and support the newly established Border Police, including building a critical checkpoint in southern Costa Rica to monitor traffic from Panama.
  • There has been an increasing presence of transnational criminal organizations in Costa Rica, which has grown hand-in-hand with continued perceptions of corruption in the police, judiciary and government. Although violence is relatively low in Costa Rica, homicide rates held steady in 2013 and assaults increased nearly 19 percent.

    El Salvador

  • Providing equipment and training for law enforcement agencies to interdict narcotics shipments, combat money laundering and public corruption, and enforce the anti-gang law.
  • Helped establish a joint Interagency Task Force “Grupo Conjunto Cuscatlán” (Cuscatlán Joint Group or GCC) in 2012 to better integrate the National Civil Police (PNC), customs and port authorities, and local military
  • Donation of three helicopters and six boats to the GCC, which is made up of the PNC, the Armed Forces of El Salvador (FAES) and the Attorney General’s Office (FGR)
  • Initiated and sponsored two large polygraph sessions in 2013 administered by U.S-trained Colombian polygraphists
  • A number of reforms were also launched in El Salvador to address issues within the legal system. The Anti-Narcotics Division (DAN) of National Civilian Police was organized to confront retention issues, staffing shortages and leadership problems. According to the report, “The vetted counternarcotics unit (GEAN) within the DAN is responsible for conducting sensitive counternarcotics investigations, but few operational results have been achieved since 2012.”

    Guatemala

  • The transfer of title and operational control of six UH-1H II helicopters, effectively nationalizing the aviation interdiction program
  • Collaboration with the National Police (PNC) to form a 38-man land interdiction unit for mobile check points along with additional efforts to modernize and expand the PNC force
  • Financial and technical support to three special prosecutorial units for criminal cases, and a special task force for investigation and preparation of high-impact narcotics cases.
  • The report noted that narcotics traffickers might be attempting to increase the domestic market in Guatemala by paying local couriers in drugs rather than cash. President Pérez Molina has increased cooperation between the police and military to combat crime and drug trafficking.

    Honduras

  • The United States has provided training to Honduran police, prosecutors and judges:
    • Directly trained 1,200 individuals
    • Helped establish a Criminal Investigative School
    • Funded Colombian trainers through the U.S.-Colombian Bilateral Action Plan for several trainings with government officials and security forces
    • Funded Chilean trainers to train Honduran police
  • Helped create the Inter-Institutional Task Force to improve investigative capacity, protect human rights and reduce impunity.
  • U.S. support for several counternarcotics operations, including Operation Armadillo, a mission in the major drug trafficking corridor of the Gracias a Dios region and another joint DEA-Honduran Navy interdiction operation.
  • Helped the government design several police reforms, none of which have passed into law.
  • While drug-related violence remains extremely high in Honduras, a blow was struck against narcotics trafficking with a major law enforcement operation against the Los Cachiros drug trafficking organization in September in which over $500 million in assets was seized. The country has immensely weak institutions and in 2013, several high-ranking security officials resigned or were fired. The government established a new police unit and two military police battalions in 2013 to combat the soaring crime and violence. Honduras has counternarcotics agreements with the United States, Belize, Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela and Spain.

    Nicaragua

    The U.S. State Department ceased providing funds to certain Nicaraguan government agencies in 2013 due to ongoing concerns over fiscal transparency. This phased out several bilateral programs and prompted some counternarcotics funds to be redirected towards drug eradication and non-governmental drug demand reduction programs. The United States does continue to assist Nicaragua’s counternarcotic efforts in some ways:

  • Using funds from 2012, donated four Mobile Tracers narcotics detectors valued at $168,000 to the Nicaraguan National Police’s (NNP) Drug Unit, and provided associated training to 15 anti-narcotics police officers.
  • Donated interdiction equipment and two boats with the capacity to intercept offshore speedboats, constructed an anti-drugs operation center, storage warehouse and boat ramp valued at $5.4 million.
  • Also using funding from 2012, donated four drug detector units valued at $87,000 and provided interdiction training to 12 naval officers.
  • Panama

  • Established an asset-forfeiture sharing agreement that will provide $36 million from past investigations to the Panamanian government.
  • Supported prison reform and anti-corruption classes, which will continue as several security-service members were detained for narcotrafficking in 2013.
  • Provided support to modernize and maintain Panama’s Air Naval Service (SENAN), Panamanian National Border Service (SENAFRONT), Panamanian National Police (PNP) vessels and facilities for interdiction, including funding Colombian trainers to work with SENAN and SENAFRONT. Members of SENAFRONT are now training security forces in Costa Rica, Belize and Honduras.
  • According to the INCSR, through strong U.S. support, Panama was able to achieve some successes in combating narcotrafficking, especially with the use of the Panamanian National Border Front (SENAFRONT) to end the FARC’s permanent presence in the remote Darien Gap region.

    Friday, March 21, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week Mexico's national security commissioner resigned, U.S. Southern Command deployed more ships to help Honduras' Navy interdict drugs and Colombian security forces were deployed to the country's primary cocaine port, where neo-paramilitary groups are terrorizing residents. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • Colombian Minister of Justice Alfonso Gomez asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield to divert U.S. security assistance away from aerial coca fumigation and towards preventative, development programs like alternative crop incentives. According to Gomez, doing so would free up resources to "attack the causes" of the illicit drug trade, which he asserted needed to be viewed as "an economic and social problem."
  • The Washington Office on Latin America released a report on Colombia’s training of foreign forces throughout the region. The United States strongly supports this practice, as the use of Colombian facilities and trainers can be up to four times cheaper than using U.S. assets. The creation of an International Cooperation Division to help coordinate trainings at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, allocated $15 million in the 2014 budget, suggests this is no passing trend.
  • Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has said his country would receive five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, although U.S. Ambassador Julissa Reynoso said the two countries are still "in consultations and dialogue." As the Pan-American Post noted, if an agreement is reached, Uruguay would become the second Latin American country to accept Guantanamo detainees, after El Salvador accepted two prisoners in 2012.
  • Honduran Defense Minister Samuel Reyes announced U.S. Southern Command would be ramping up its activities off the coast of Honduras to work with the Honduran Navy on counternarcotics operations. SOUTHCOM’s new deployment includes four armed vessels, two cutters and two frigates, one to the Atlantic and the other to the Pacific.
  • On Thursday, Human Rights Watch released a report on the security crisis in the Colombian port city of Buenaventura. The report highlighted the violence, torture and extortion committed by the two predominant paramilitary successor groups in the area, the Urabeños and the Empresa, which caused the displacement of 19,000 people from the city in 2013 alone. El Espectador also profiled the security situation, while freelance journalist James Bargent noted the relatively recent U.S-Colombia free trade agreement has exacerbated the problem.
  • El Tiempo reported that almost 600 soldiers and marines have been deployed to Buenaventura in hopes of wrangling control from the Empresa and the Urabeños, which is said to be Colombia's most powerful criminal group. As the Los Angeles Times noted, "the Buenaventura situation is especially alarming because the Colombian and U.S. governments have poured millions of dollars in aid into the city over the past decade."
  • A sobering but excellent interactive feature (and phone app) from Colombian investigative news organization Verdad Abierta and Colombia's National Center for Historical Memory chronicles 700 massacres that have taken place in the country from 1982-present.
  • Military budgets in Latin America and the Caribbean grew by three percent in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The study found Nicaragua increased its budget by 27 percent, while Honduras and Guatemala increased their budgets by about 18 percent.
  • Honduran authorities discovered opium poppies for the first time during a greenhouse raid in the western part of the country, IPS News reported Monday.
  • On Sunday, El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) named left-wing FMLN candidate and former guerrilla Salvador Sanchez Céren as the country's next president, following a contentious post-election standoff with the conservative ARENA party. Sanchez Céren and his vice-president Oscar Ortíz will begin their terms on June 1. As Central American Politics noted, Sanchez Céren, has appointed six other former leftist rebels to his transition team.
  • As Salvadoran journalist Hector Silva highlighted in an op-ed for El Faro, while the U.S. government historically "does not like to dance" with the country's political left, there are a number of issues, like drug trafficking and immigration, that inextricably link the two nations. There were a number of other helpful articles examining the challenges Sanchez Céren now faces given his razor-thin victory, including these from Al Jazeera, Prensa Libre, and Americas Quarterly
  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew traveled to Brazil this week in hopes of repairing relations with the country, which were strained following revelations of NSA espionage earlier this year. Lew also met with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson visited the region this week as well to meet with government officials from Brazil and Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes. Following her meeting with Cartes, Jacobson said the United States was looking to increase cooperation with the South American nation in the fight against organized crime.
  • On Thursday, five members of the U.S. Congress met with Bolivian President Evo Morales to discuss improving bilateral relations.
  • The head of Mexico's National Security Commission and federal police, Manuel Mondragon, stepped down on Monday. President Enrique Peña Nieto nominated lawyer Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia to be his replacement, profiled by El Universal here. As the Los Angeles Times noted, this is the second high-level Mexican security official to step down in less than two months, noting the resignation of Colombian security advisor General Oscar Naranjo in late January.
  • Brazilian think-tank Igarape Institute released a report, "Changes in the Neighborhood:Reviewing Citizen Security Cooperation in Latin America," which examined a shift in security strategies towards “softer” policies focused on regional cooperation and citizen participation. InSight Crime published an analysis of the report, including an examination of the United States’ role in citizen security throughout the region.
  • Peruvian investigative news website IDL-Reporteros critiqued the Peruvian government’s militarized forced eradication strategy in the VRAE region, which now produces more coca than any other place in the world.
  • Friday, March 21, 2014

    U.S. Southern Command's 2014 Posture Statement

    This post was drafted by CIP intern Matt LaLime

    General John Kelly of U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) and General Charles Jacoby Jr. of U.S. Northern Command (Northcom) released their annual posture statements on February 26th. Both commanders testified before the House and Senate Armed Service Committees on February 26th and March 13th, respectively.

    The main concerns echoed last year’s posture statements as both Northcom’s General Jacoby and Southcom’s General Kelly expressed concern with military budget cuts, reiterating that the decrease in funds would limit both homeland defense strategy and constructive engagement with regional allies.

    They highlighted a few noteworthy developments regarding joint U.S.-Latin American security cooperation:

    Mexico

    Despite media reports citing public officials claiming U.S.-Mexico cooperation has slowed since President Peña Nieto took office in December of 2012, Gen. Jacoby said joint U.S.-Mexico military activities and exercises have increased, noting the United States helped train over 5000 Mexican soldiers this past year.

    Drug Trafficking

    As multiple media outlets highlighted, Gen. Kelly estimated Southcom failed to intercept 80 percent of the drugs flowing out of Colombia, and around 74 percent of all maritime drug trafficking. He linked the drop in interdictions to a lack of equipment, intelligence resources and overall funding.

    Gen. Kelly asserted the goals of Operation Martillo, the United States’ counternarcotics surge operation in Central America’s coastal waters, “might no longer be achievable,” and that Southcom “will seek to employ non-traditional solutions within our current authorities, to partially mitigate detection and monitoring shortfalls” in the year ahead.

    Southcom interagency cooperation

    As a way to maximize the effectiveness of funding, Southcom deepened its interagency counternarcotic partnerships. General Kelly noted:

  • Southcom currently works with both the Department of Treasury and the Department of Homeland Security to map and combat the flow of illicit proceeds and is likely to deepen these partnerships following the success that financial sanctions have had on weakening the Los Cachiros drug cartel in Honduras.
  • Southcom would “rely heavily” on the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection (which now provide the majority of the ships and aircraft used for interdiction) and continue to work with DEA Foreign Deployed Advisory and Support Team (FAST), along with nine DEA Special investigative Units (SIUs)
  • In cooperation with the State Department, Southcom is planning to extend its program working with Colombia’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization to assist the military “in countering the threat of improvised explosive devices” to the rest of the region.
  • Plans for 2014

    Gen. Kelly also pointed to other engagement activities Southcom is planning on continuing or creating this coming year:

  • Gen. Kelly said Southcom would continue to support Colombia in its newfound role as a “regional security exporter.”
  • In Peru, Southcom will continue to aid security forces in their fight against the Shining Path, through further assistance and military training.
  • In 2014, Southcom will begin working with Northcom, Guatemala and Belize to support Mexico’s new southern border strategy. Gen. Kelly emphasized that current restrictions on foreign military financing, particularly to Guatemala, limit the extent of this engagement.
  • Although “broader bilateral challenges” have adversely affected U.S.-Brazilian defense relations, Gen. Kelly maintained military-to-military cooperation has remained strong, and said Southcom is planning to cooperate with Brazil and other Latin American on strengthening their cyber security institutions. This includes working with Brazilian security forces in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
  • In 2014, Southcom plans to continue existing multinational exercises and humanitarian assistance to countries across the region. For Kelly, these humanitarian missions help to safeguard national security, reduce perceptions of U.S. “militarization,” and help promote respect for human rights in the region. Kelly noted that last year Southcom canceled over 200 engagements in the region.
  • Gen. Kelly voiced his concern over the tenfold increase in Haitian migrants passing through the Mona Passage and urged Washington to pay closer attention to this and other immigration issues in the Caribbean in 2014. He also underscored his concern about an uptick in narcotrafficking in the Caribbean and mentioned the lack of U.S. funding for engagement in the region.
  • Southcom’s posture statement’s annex details information about operations and trainings that took place in the previous year. These can be useful in identifying trends and Southcom priorities in the region. For example, in 2012, Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) continued to be most active in Colombia and very present in Peru. It also reported on the results of Operation Martillo and various Southcom units like JTF-Bravo, stationed in Honduras.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

    DoD security aid to Latin America and the Caribbean: 2008-2012

    We recently obtained reports from the Defense Department that detail the department’s allocations and spending on foreign-assistance related programs in Latin America in 2011 and 2012. The programs included in the report were Section 1033 Counter-Drug Assistance, Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance and the Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program (also known as Counter-Terrorism Fellowship Program). The DoD funds a couple other security assistance programs in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the majority goes to counternarcotics assistance through these programs.

    Based on these new numbers and other available DoD data, here's some of what we know about DoD security assistance to the region:

    The top five recipients of Department of Defense military and police aid to Latin America and the Caribbean in 2012:

    1. Mexico: $71,608,748
    2. Colombia: $60,353,979
    3. Western Hemisphere Regional: $16,425,000
    4. Guatemala: $12,525,080
    5. Honduras: $ 8,473,271
    Everywhere else: $54,146,129

    Total:$223,674,189, or about 31 percent of total U.S. military assistance to the region in 2011 ($719,903,342)

    The top five recipients in 2011:

    1. Colombia: $112,436,613
    2. Caribbean Regional: $93,022,000
    3. Mexico:$85,543,892
    4. Western Hemisphere Regional: $66,844,000
    5. Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao): $22,603,000
    Everywhere else: $101,331,939

    Total:$481,781,444, or about 46 percent of total U.S. military assistance to the region in 2011 ($1,041,075,954)

    In 2012, Pentagon foreign-assistance spending in the region was cut in half. The biggest drops were seen in assistance to Colombia, which was cut by almost half, from just over $112 million to just over $60 million, the Caribbean, which was reduced from $93 million to $7 million, and the Western Hemisphere regional account, which dropped from almost $69 million to $16 million. Mexico only lost about $15 million in funding and overtook Colombia as the region’s top recipient of Pentagon foreign assistance.

    The "Netherlands Antilles" has received heightened DoD funding since about 2004 for counternarcotics assistance. The Dutch territory was dissolved in 2010 and its constituent islands -- Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire, Dutch St. Martin, Saba and St. Eustatius -- now have varying legal statuses within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, however the Dutch government is still responsible for the islands' defense. In 2011, the Pentagon gave just over $20 million to the island of Curaçao, right off Venezuela's coast, where the Dutch maintain a naval base and the United States maintains an airbase. The Dutch have been a key partner to the United States in antidrug operations in the Caribbean and participate in Operation Martillo, the United States' counternarcotics surge operation in Central and South America's coastal waters. The islands received no funding in 2012.

    Because of the enormous drop in spending in the Caribbean and the Netherlands Antilles after 2011, Guatemala and Honduras slid up into the top spots for Pentagon foreign assistance in 2012, although both countries received greater sums in 2011 than in 2012.

    Guatemala received just over $20 million in assistance from the Pentagon in 2011 and just over $12 million in 2012. Much of this went to the Guatemalan Army, which until this year was banned from receiving any funds from State Department-managed programs due to human rights concerns. Because these human rights conditions do not apply to Defense Department spending, the United States was able to get around this ban. For 2014, aid to the Guatemalan Army through the State Department is technically allowed, but has strong human rights conditions attached that Secretary of State Kerry must first certify Guatemala is meeting before any funding is released.

    Among the several initiatives the Defense Department is funding in Guatemala is the Joint Task Force Tecún Umán, along the Mexican border, Joint Task Force Chortí, currently being set up along the Honduran border, a planned joint task force near the El Salvadoran border, and a Naval Special Forces unit operating in coastal areas. Guatemala is also a participant in Operation Martillo.

    The top five recipients from 2008-2012 and the total amount each country received in those five years were:

    1. Colombia: $601,529,271
    2. Caribbean Regional: $445,380,000
    3. Mexico: $310,692,603
    4. Western Hemisphere Regional: $294,199,000
    5. Netherlands Antilles: $93,290,000
    Everywhere else: $450,534,672

    Total: $2,202,225,546 or about 36 percent of total U.S. military assistance to the region over those five years ($6,043,212,995)

    As the above and below charts show, spending to the region overall is in decline. As this Mother Jones article from January of this year highlighted, although big spending in the region for the Pentagon is down, there may be no similar decline in the number of Special Operations Forces in the region performing counternarcotics operations and “building partner capacity.”

    However, according to this year’s Quadrennial Defense Review, which broadly outlines DOD strategy and priorities, “If sequestration continues, there would be fewer U.S. military forces in other regions, such as the Western Hemisphere and Africa, than there are today.”

    With the exception of 2011, the Pentagon has tended to spend a little over half of what the State Department has allocated. In 2011, the budgets for both were close, but this had more to do with a large drop in counternarcotics funding to Haiti and the large allocation of Mérida funds to Mexico in 2010 ($416,139,000) than it did with a change in Pentagon spending levels. For the most part, the State Department allocates more funding than the Defense Department, with notable exceptions in regional-specific spending and countries where, for either political reasons (Ecuador) or human rights reasons (Honduras and Guatemala), State Department funding is low.

    Friday, March 14, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the head of Southcom said he can't stop 80 percent of drugs coming from Colombia, the U.S. government made increasingly critical statements against Venezuela's government and El Salvador almost got a new president. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Thursday, the heads of U.S. Southern Command and Northern Command (Mexico and the Bahamas fall under its purview) testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. As in his appearance before the House last week, Southcom commander General Kelly said that he is "unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug smuggling," because of severe budget cuts that have pared down assets like intelligence equipment and vessels. Kelly said he needed 16 ships capable of transporting helicopters in order to reduce the flow of drugs by 40 percent. He also noted
    that he does not get to use the U.S. Air Force’s surveillance drones.
  • General Kelly also said he had to cancel more than 200 engagements due to the tightened defense spending and that some Latin American leaders are "in disbelief" over legalization in the United States given its push for the drug war. A video of the hearing can be accessed here and General Kelly’s comments from the Pentagon briefing room here.
  • While testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry called on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to "end this terror campaign against his own people,” one of his strongest statements to date about the protests in the country. Kerry said the United States was prepared “to get involved in various ways,” mentioning sanctions but noting that “the economy there is already quite fragile.” A video of the hearing can be viewed here.
  • During the hearing Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) called the statement from the Organization of American States, released last Friday, "shamefully weak," a sentiment shared by Human Rights Watch Americas director José Miguel Vivanco, who said the statement “describes Venezuela as if natural disaster had struck, ignoring government censorship and abuses.” The United States and Panama added lengthy footnote objections to the statement, ultimately pushing for stronger language on demanding dialogue.
  • In an interview with Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, Biden called the situation in Venezuela “alarming,” accusing the government of backing armed militias and not respecting basic human rights. An unofficial source told the Associated Press Biden mentioned the possibility of third-party mediation.
  • The Union of South American Nations met in Chile the day after the inauguration to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. The group released a statement supporting dialogue and resolved to send a delegation to Venezuela to facilitate “dialogue between the government and all political forces and players.”
  • President Maduro announced the government would be stepping up security measures in areas where violence has spiked since the protests started one month ago. According to Reuters, the death toll has reached 28 and Venezuela State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, said 1,293 detainees had been released and 104 remained in custody. Venezuela Politics and Human Rights published a post tracking the deaths to date, while the Center for Economic Policy Research has a consistently updated blog feature, “Venezuela: Who Are They and How Did They Die?” See our Venezuela news page for links to several articles about the current situation.
  • Guatemala, the United States and Mexico are creating a coalition to ramp up security along their borders, Spanish news agency EFE reported.
  • For the first time, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a hearing on March 25 to discuss the negative impact of the drug war on human rights in Latin America, reported the AFP. The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is currently holding a review of global drug policy and for the first time has updates available to the public on its blog.
  • The State Department published its 2000-2010 estimates of world military budgets and arms transfers.
  • On Wednesday night, El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared left wing FMLN candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén the winner of the country's presidential election. The final tally was 50.11 percent for Cerén to 49.89 percent for Norman Quijano. Quijano's conservative ARENA party has filed numerous petitions calling for the election to be set aside for several reasons, which are laid out by Tim Muth on his blog. ARENA has also submitted alleged proof of electoral fraud to the Attorney General's office. Before the TSE can ratify Cerén, these petitions must be addressed. According to Muth, the TSE will meet Sunday and announce on Monday whether the election will be set aside or if Cerén will be El Salvador’s next president.
  • Last weekend Colombia held congressional elections that many regarded as a referendum on the government's peace process with the FARC. Former President Alvaro Uribe, who has opposed the peace talks, won a Senate seat and his newly formed Democratic Center party won almost 15 percent of the seats in the Senate and 10 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. Although President Santos's U party maintained a majority, the Democratic Center's strong showing could pose political difficulties for Santos going forward, however as Adam Isacson noted in World Politics Review, "his agenda as a whole will survive." Analyst James Bosworth has a succinct analysis of what the elections mean for Colombia's political landscape on his blog.
  • Several of the newly elected members of Colombia’s congress have been linked to paramilitary groups, including Senator Uribe. The estimates of the exact number of members with ties to paramilitaries has varied between 30, as Inter-Press Service reported, and 70, as Colombian organization Fundación Paz y Reconciliación determined. Colombian investigative news website Verdad Abierta published an excellent report and infographic on the issue, while La Silla Vacía included profiles of the members of congress linked to the paramilitary groups.