The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Friday, June 14, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Friday, April 26, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
As the Pan-American Post reports, President Obama "has not been particularly vocal" about the abuses, and if he does speak up during this trip, "he will likely do so in the context of applauding the Peña Nieto government's response to victims of the violence" with the passage of a law for victims' compensation.
Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch published an illuminating report on disappearances in Mexico, prompting the government to release an official database of over 26 thousand disappeared between 2006 and 2012.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) responded to budget cuts to Cuba as "a terrible precedent, a terrible idea." The planned reduction would cut aid to the island by 25 percent -- from $15 million to about $11.25 million. Senator Menendez also questioned the reduction, asking, "why are we cutting democracy assistance to Cuba? Will cost us when there will be a major political or environmental crisis in the region."
On Monday the country's minister of prisons, Iris Varela, called Capriles the "intellectual author" of the violence and said she was "preparing a cell for him," while National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello has launched an investigation into Capriles' role in the violence that killed nine and injured at least 60.
As James Bosworth points out, some media and citizens have provided evidence showing the government has lied about the violence. He writes, "Clinics allegedly destroyed by opposition mobs have been photographed as being just fine. Photos shown on state media of injured 'chavistas' have turned out to actually be opposition supporters who were beaten by pro-government thugs." It was also reported this week that the government is threatening to "throw out" any workers suspected of being Capriles supporters -- over 300 government employees have said to be fired over such claims already. The Associated Press reported that Capriles supporters are being arrested, beaten and threatened by the hundreds. Capriles has reportedly warned that the audit process risks becoming a joke and that he will challenge the election results in court.
Here are the poll numbers:
19%: Xiomara Castro
Despite Flores' rulings, the Constitutional Court will decide if the proceedings were legal. So far the court has voted on six of twelve petitions in the case, but has yet to rule if the testimonies will be annulled.
The United States, in a show of support for the proceedings, sent its Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J. Rapp to the country to meet with officials and civil society groups about the trial.
For a more complete run-down of events, check the Pan-American Post, Open Society's Justice Initiative's blogs and the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala.
This post was written with CIP intern Marissa Esthimer.
Friday, January 11, 2013
Thursday, November 8, 2012
President Barack Obama was re-elected Tuesday night, winning over 300 electoral votes and the popular vote by 2.6 million over Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Romney led the popular vote for most of the night, until western states like California closed their polls and counted their ballots. In the end, Obama handily took the electoral college with 303 vote to Romney's 206 and the popular vote with a narrow margin of victory, winning 50% of the vote to Romney's 48%.
Tuesday's election was historic in the United States for several reasons -- marijuana was legalized in two U.S. states, same-sex marriage was passed in another three -- but also of particular note was the increase in the Hispanic electorate's importance. President Obama won just over 70% of the Latino vote, compared to Romney's 27%, ensuring his slight victory in a number of battleground states like Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Nevada.
Leading up to the election, many analysts, politicians and voters were disillusioned that Latin America was noticeably absent from both candidates campaigns, especially in relation to issues such as the Mexican drug war that has claimed some 60,000 lives since 2006, the re-election of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the Cuban embargo and Brazil's growing economic presence.
Before the election took place, regional analysts and leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes and OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, said they expected few changes with regards to U.S. policy in the region, regardless of the outcome.
Reactions to President Obama's victory throughout the region held a similar tone. There was a general consensus that Obama was the preferred victor of the two candidates, but that the region expected more attention and cooperation from his administration in the next four years.
Aside from the usual congratulatory messages, many leaders took the opportunity to voice their concerns over a domestic problem that reverberates throughout the region -- immigration reform -- reminding Obama that he owed a large part of his victory to Latinos.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos congratulated President Obama saying his re-election was "good news for Colombia," and noting that now the two countries can "continue to work in cooperation, with the same proposals and objectives and getting results."
Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón also applauded Obama's re-election as something "positive for the United States and Colombia," but said President Obama had to fulfill his obligation to the international community and the region as a whole, which "expected more" from him. Garzón highlighted the contentious immigrant situation in the U.S., saying "It's good to point out that Colombian immigrant workers have rights that must be respected, human rights, including the right to have American citizenship and residence."
Ecuador's deputy foreign minister, Marco Albuja, echoed these sentiments on Twitter, asking Obama to "always remember the transcendental latino vote." He added that he hoped the new administration would pass immigration reform to "find a definitive solution to the more than 10 million people in [the US] without a defined migrant status."
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who showed his support for President Obama during the campaign, extended his congratulations, calling Obama "an extraordinary person," but also commenting that he expected little change because "the foreign policy of the United States is inertial and they will need many years to change it.... Everything will practically be the same in Latin America."
Paraguay also weighed in on the immigration issue with Foreign Minister José Félix Fernández Estigarribia pressing Obama to recognize that "part of his win he owes to our Latin American compatriots," and he hoped "President Obama contributes to improving relations with [the rest of] Latin America and to solving the latino immigration problem."
For Honduras, President Porfirio Lobo's government, which enjoyed strong support by Obama in its 2011 election following a contentious 2009 coup, said it did not expect "much change in general relations with the United States," but secretary of planning, Julio Raudales, did comment that "Obama's reelection is good news." Former Honduran President Ricardo Maduro told local television he hoped Obama would focus his attention "towards the south."
Bolivian President Evo Morales had a more critical response to Obama's re-election. After condemning the U.S. electoral process, he suggested Obama settle the score with Latino voters by doing away with the Cuban embargo. He also took a jab at Obama's refusal to extradite Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, a former president accused of corruption and genocide in Bolivia.
"He was reelected thanks to latinos and the best thing he could do to recognize their vote is end the embargo in Cuba," Morales said. "If he wants to dignify his government, it would be important to stop protecting delinquents that escape from many countries, Bolivia included."
With respect to the country's economy, the Bolivian leader gave little clout to the U.S. election, saying "who wins in the United States does not affect the Bolivian people... We should export but [the US] market cannot define our political economy."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has not commented since the election, but during the campaign he said that if he were an American, he would vote for Obama, although he later said he did not expect much change in U.S. foreign policy.
Cuban President Raul Castro has also yet to publicly respond, however Cuban state-run news website CubaSi reiterated the general feeling of indifference, saying "The news of Barack Obama's triumph in yesterday's general elections in the United States was received with some relief and without great optimism."
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner congratulated President Obama with a letter and also via Twitter, adding that it is "his turn" to "take his place in the history of his people and the world," and assume his "role as global leader to overcome this political and economic crisis."
In this election the Republican Party, as it is wont to do, adopted a more aggressive stance towards the region, particularly with regards to leftist governments, that signaled a possible unwelcome return to the diplomacy of Bush's presidency. Across the board, there was more a sense of relief that Romney lost than excitement that Obama won.
While in practice the policy differences might have been marginal, a Romney presidency would likely have included bellicose rhetoric towards Venezuela and Cuba and potentially cause greater political polarization in the hemisphere, as Inter-American Dialogue president Michael Shifter noted most recently in Foreign Policy magazine.
As Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas points out in the Miami Herald, there are several pending situations could force a change in the region's political and economic landscape, pulling more attention to it, such as the death of Hugo Chavez, the death of Fidel Castro or his brother Raúl, the possible success of peace talks in Colombia, and China's financial growing financial involvement.
Although the issues that shifted the rhetoric away from Latin America during the campaign are still front and center-- Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, jobs, etc-- there is hope that going forward Obama will prioritize the region, and at the very least immigrants looking for a home in the United States, in his second term.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
This post was authored by WOLA Fellow Lucila Santos.
In mid-July, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner launched Operation Escudo Norte (Northern Shield), a major border-security effort. Among other items, the operation includes the installation of 20 Army land radars, patrols conducted with Pucara aircraft and the installation, in Santiago del Estero, of the first 3D radar built by INVAP (an Argentine high-technology company).
Escudo Norte is to support Plan Fortin II, a government strategy to protect Argentina’s borders. At the launch event, the President stated that this was an intelligent articulation of the Defense Ministry and armed forces with the new Security Ministry and its forces in the fight against drug trafficking. At least 6,000 officers from the Gendarmerie and Coast Guard and 800 men from Army Special Forces will be assigned to the Plan. Therefore, almost 7,000 members of the security forces will be working to improve controls at Argentina’s ports of entry, maritime ports and airports, and within the country, as well as to investigate crimes related to drug trafficking and organized crime.
The 3D radar is part of a prototype that has already been tried in military exercises; it is also part of a request for 6 military radars assigned to INVAP by Argentina’s Planning Ministry. The cost of the first radar was 165 million pesos (around 39 million U.S. dollars) and the contract for the total of 6 radars amounts to 460 million pesos (around 111 million dollars). The radar has an estimated reach of 400 km (248 miles). It is expected that the rest of the military radars built by INVAP will be established in the north of the country over the course of the next two years. In September of this year, another radar, a FPS113 donated by Spain, might become operative and will be located in Posadas, the capital of a province bordering Brazil. A similar radar is already in activity in Resistencia, capital of a province bordering Paraguay. These surveillance systems are replacing all mobile radars from the 1970s, which could not be employed for more than 6 hours a day. Moreover, two other TPS44 radar devices from the Army will be installed in Tartagal, Salta (over the border with Bolivia) and Las Lomitas (close to the border with Paraguay). The 20 Rasit radars from the Army won’t be used to detect illegal flights since their reach only allows them to observe an aircraft for less than four minutes; instead, they will be placed in areas used by traffickers to introduced drugs by land. These will be used by 180 military officers.
Even though the Air Force and the Army were already exercising control of air space, the use of military radars to control ports of entry is a novelty for Argentina. Different opinions have been voiced since the announcement of Operation Escudo Norte. On one hand, some debate has been ignited regarding the role of the armed forces in the fight against drug trafficking, and whether this is a proper and legal role for them to carry out. The Argentine Defense Law establishes that the military’s mission is solely the defense of the national territory against another country’s armed forces. Complementing this, the Internal Security Law mandates that internal security is the police forces’ responsibility. However, the government has argued that article 27 of the Internal Security Law allows the armed forces to provide logistical support to the police. The radars would fall under this provision. Yet for this to happen, their use should be requested by an internal security crisis committee.
In this regard, Defense Minister Arturo Puricelli explained that the Armed Forces won’t have “any role” in the fight against drug trafficking, but instead will just provide logistical support in the control and surveillance of the national aerial space to intercept potential irregular planes carrying drugs. The security scheme devised by Operation Escudo Norte establishes that the radar signals observed by Air Force specialists that could indicate potential illegal flights have to be communicated to the Gendarmerie, the police force responsible for border security. The procedure would only require the military to detect any irregular flight, register the plane’s license or plate number and type of aircraft, its route and the landing procedure, and automatically transmit this information to the security forces, either Gendarmerie or Coast Guard, so that they may act. Military aircraft can only perform tracking tasks since they are not authorized to bring down planes.
The other debate or criticism ignited by Operation Escudo Norte regards the fight against drug trafficking in Argentina. Congressmen from center-right opposition parties have stated that the Plan is just hiding the government’s passivity in terms of security, that it is just a mere patch to a very porous border, and that the fight against drug trafficking should be centralized in a federal agency with operational capacity.
These debates aside, there have been no criticisms of the use of the radars, or their importance as tools of surveillance and monitoring over the borders. Even though the mission seems benign in terms of the military participating in a related-internal security issue, it would be good for this support mission to be regulated by existing laws and overseen by the Congress. With the right transparency, accountability and legislative devices, making use of military radars to have more control over borders would seem to be an appropriate step in the fight against drug trafficking.
Monday, June 6, 2011
On May 27, 2011, the South American Defense Council (SADC) presented its Constitutive Treaty at an event in Buenos Aires hosted by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. In attendance were the General Secretary of UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations), María Emma Mejía, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, and the defense ministers of all UNASUR member countries. The SADC, whose pro-tempore presidency is currently held by Peru, was created in 2008 with the aim of consolidating South America as a zone of peace, creating a South American “defense identity,” and generating consensus to strengthen regional defense cooperation.
At the official event, President Fernández stated that “defense” is not only military; on the contrary, in her view, the primary defense of a country is the economic development that allows for the social inclusion of all its citizens. The military part, then, should accompany this. As an example, she reminded everyone of the role the armed forces played in Argentina’s development by creating state companies that produced strategic equipment and materials.
In addition, the Argentine President stressed that the SADC is the initial step in the creation of defense organisms that seek to preserve natural resources. In effect, Fernández emphasized that since natural resources will be a key strategic issue in the 21st century, defense mechanisms will have to be created to defend water, oil, gas and arable land coveted by other nations.
She also pointed out that the great powers have always been paternalistic towards developing countries, “telling us how to solve conflicts,” when in reality South America has been able to face and solve its own problems.
Fernández’s comments were echoed at a later event held that same afternoon to launch the Center of Strategic Studies of Defense (CEED for its Spanish acronym), which attained definitive status after the SADC’s Constitutive Treaty’s presentation that morning. The CEED was introduced by Argentina’s defense minister, Arturo Puricelli, to an audience that included the defense ministers of the region and María Emma Mejía. The CEED will depend of the SADC and will be established in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It will be headed by Alfredo Forti, current Secretary for Strategy and Military Affairs of Argentina’s Defense Ministry. Article 12 of the CEED Statute maintains that it will be made up of up to two delegates from each member country of the SADC, appointed by their respective ministries of defense.
Puricelli and Forti addressed the main goals of the center, as stipulated in the Statute. Some central points can be taken from their presentations. First, the CEED will produce analysis and discussion of common elements to build a shared South American view in defense matters. In this sense, it will work to identify challenges, risk factors and threats, opportunities and relevant scenarios for defense and regional and global security.
Second, it will promote the exchange of information and analysis on regional and international defense dynamics and situations.
Third, the center will aim to articulate a shared vision that allows joint approaches to defense and regional security issues, challenges, risk factors and threats, opportunities and previously identified scenarios, so that the South American countries can adopt joint regional positions in multilateral defense forums. The challenge here, according to Jose Manuel Ugarte, will be to try to unify the conceptual divergences about, and different approaches to, defense and regional security that prevail among all the member countries.
Puricelli added that the idea is for the center to be a generator of regional strategic thinking, placing diagnoses and other products at member countries’ disposal. Furthermore, Argentina’s defense minister stated that the Center will help build a South American identity in terms of defense. Likewise, Forti stressed that the center will be the first permanent and collective body of the continent’s twelve defense systems, created to study, analyze and propose to the SADC and UNASUR policies pertaining to a genuine, solely South American, geo-strategic thinking.
Unasur’s Secretary General, former Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Emma Mejia, also spoke at the event. She indicated that until recently, the region depended on others for its defense doctrine. She added that bringing transparency to military expenditures, implementing confidence-building policies, and having a democratic clause (requiring members to be democracies) are all important contributions to world peace, which will help to define South America’s own doctrine.
Following President Fernández, Puricelli and Forti discussed natural resources in defense terms. Puricelli stated that in light of the growing global scarcity of natural resources, and considering that South America is a huge reserve of such resources, the challenge is to provide capacities so that the region’s defense instruments are in a condition to protect them. Forti added to this that the abundance of strategic natural resources, an immeasurable wealth in biodiversity, water, energy, food and strategic minerals, is what defines South America in the world. Quoting an expert on natural resources, Forti explained that for those states that have natural resources, it is strategic to have control over them while for those states dependent on such resources it is strategic to assure access to them.
In light of this, speakers insisted that it is important for the CEED to address the resource issue, because talking about the region’s capacities and potentialities as nations and as a region cannot be done without addressing natural resources’ strategic value and implications for defense. Forti noted that sources of information on this are currently found overseas and not within the region; they are governmental institutions, multilateral agencies and private organisms in places like London, New York, Stockholm, Washington and Beijing.
The ideas exposed at these events indicate that UNASUR and SADC are proving to be a dynamic engine for South American integration and cooperation. This, especially in defense and security, is a goal worth pursuing and crucial to avoid armed conflicts. In that sense, the SADC and its scholarly center seem to be adequate steps in that direction.
However, South America has had difficulty in the past carrying through with integration schemes and achieving permanent, lasting regional institutions. Can it be different this time? For that to happen, political will and resources are needed. South America seems to be at a good moment, both economically and politically, to achieve this.
It is also worth noting that, although the approach taken to present the CEED contained a hint of anti-imperialism (whether against the US or against the European countries), it is still commendable that one of its goals is to create independent organisms and independent and original thinking. It is a fact that for years, the realm of defense and security studies has mainly been dominated by first-world countries. Hence, it is an important objective that South America develops its own thinking and doctrine on defense and regional security.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that the natural resource issue was a major and recurring theme on that day in Buenos Aires. South America seems to consider that future conflicts may arise because of natural resource scarcity. Given the wealth in natural resources that the countries in this region have, it seems appropriate that they are thinking along these lines. On the other hand, this can also be indicative of the absence in the region of more traditional threats and conflicts. Either way, studying this issue is a positive thing; militarizing the natural resource issue is not. Hopefully, the CEED will succeed in building knowledge on how to avoid – and not to prepare militarily for – conflicts over natural resources.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
In a cross-post with the new WOLA podcast, Adam looks at Peru's upcoming, and up-for-grabs elections; Washington's discussion of the Homeland Security and Pentagon role in Mexico border security; political violence in Colombia; and much else.
Friday, March 11, 2011
The following post was authored by WOLA Fellow Lucila Santos.
In recent months, controversy has arisen over U.S. agencies’ training of Argentine police officers. As different political actors in Argentina argue about whether or not this training is appropriate, legitimate and/or useful, it is worth reviewing the extent of Argentines’ participation in U.S. training programs and exercises. We can do so by consulting reports presented to the U.S. Congress.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. Department of State (DoS) jointly present each year a report to Congress required by Section 656 of the Foreign Assistance Act. Some of this report is classified, but much is unclassified, published and accessible on the internet. In the unclassified volume of the report “Foreign Military Training and DoD Engagement Activities of Interest,” information on the number of foreigners by country trained by U.S. programs is available.
According to this information, Argentina ranks eighth in the list of countries to have sent the most military and police officers to be trained by U.S. programs from 1999 till 2009. The total number of Argentines to have participated in U.S. programs in those ten years is 5597. In 2009, Argentina ranked fourth in the list of countries that participated in U.S. training programs, with 688 students. The “Foreign Military Training and DoD Engagement Activities of Interest” report for 2009-2010 details the programs that these 688 students participated in and which U.S. agency was in charge of them.
To begin with, 51 of the 688 participated of the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP), a Defense Department program. These students belong to different Argentine agencies: the Argentine Counter Terrorism Intelligence Special Unit; the Federal Police; the Argentine Navy Intelligence Directorate; the Intelligence Delegation Mar del Plata; the Criminal Intelligence Directorate; the Counterdrug directorate; the Air Force; the Witness Protection Corps; Police Agreements Audit Section; Prefectura San Fernando Operations division; Mounted Police Horse Department; Federal Police International Affairs; etc. Argentines from the military as well as from the police participated in this program. CTFP’s courses, which are run by DoD, are on Civil-Military responses to Terrorism, Combating Organized Crime, Intelligence in Combating Terrorism, Joint Operations Mobile Training Team (MTT, in which U.S. instructors visit the country), and Legal Aspects of Combating Terrorism, among others.
According to the report, Argentina started receiving CTFP funding in 2004. These funds are destined for training in counterterrorism techniques and the conduct of small-to-medium scale operations. The report acknowledges that counterterrorism is the Argentine Police’s responsibility and highlights that this agency has “a strong special operations group, skilled at real world hostage rescue and good marksmanship skills.” CTFP funds also pay for training of Argentina’s Gendarmerie and Coast Guard personnel, and for Argentines’ participation in Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies courses – in which many of the students are civilians – in the United States.
In addition, 358 Argentines participated in the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program in 2009. Unlike CTFP, IMET is administered by DoS. Argentine officers came from the II Air brigade, Military academy, I Air Brigade El Palomar, Directorate General for Defense Logistics Service, Army Secretariat, Ministry of the Interior, Senate Defense Committee, and others, almost all of them military units. The courses taught by IMET were: Air Defense Artillery Captains Career, Air Intelligence, Air War College, Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course, Avionics Instrument Systems, Captains Career Common Course, Corrosion Control Technologies, Disaster Planning Methodology, International Logistics/Supply Management Course, and Methodology of International Defense Transformation, among others.
In 2009 three Argentines from the Air War College and Joint Chief of Staff participated in Professional Military Exchange (PME) training, dictated by DoD. Moreover, 47 Argentines participated in trainings offered by Latin America’s Regional Center, that is, the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS). This is funded by DoD. According to the report, the “Regional Centers for Security Studies support the U.S. Defense Strategy and DoD security cooperation priorities with programs designed to enhance security, deepen understanding of the US, foster bilateral and multilateral partnerships, improve defense-related decision-making, and strengthen cooperation among U.S. and regional military and civilian leaders.”
Finally, Section 1004, “Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities: Counter-Drug Training Support (CDTS),” the Defense Department’s counter-narcotics aid program, funded the training of 86 Argentines from the Counterdrug Operations Center, the Drug Trafficking Department, the Criminal Intelligence Directorate, the Gualeguaychu 56th Squadron, the Guardacostas GC- 79 Rio Deseado, the Buenos Aires Intelligence Special Unit, the Mounted Unit, the Federal Police, Infantry Unit, Federal Police, and Interior Security Intelligence Department, among others. In this case, almost all officers belong to law-enforcement related institutions. The squadrons are part of Gendarmerie and Prefectura –the Argentine version of the U.S. Coast Guard. Both agencies integrate the military system but function under the command of the Minister of Security and have law enforcement responsibilities. The courses these officers took were, among others, the Spanish Military Decision Making Process (taught by a visiting Mobile Training Team), Counterdrug Operations-Spanish, and Counter Narco-Terrorism Information Analyst, among others.
Less detailed information is available on the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, through which the Argentine security forces paid for their own training. The report indicates that 42 Argentines were trained through this account, but there is no information on the Argentine agencies that supplied these students nor what courses they took. Likewise, 69 Argentine students participated of Non Security Assistance (SA), UC, and Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) programs, likely taught by visiting U.S. Special Forces, but no further information is available on this.
Some observations are worth highlighting. First, that police agents from Argentina, like from the Federal Police, have participated widely in training given by the U.S. military (DoD). Second, though Argentina’s armed forces are proscribed from playing a law enforcement role, the CTFP program trained an Air Force student in “Combating Organized Crime” in 2009. Third, in DoD’s Section 1004, courses dictated by the “Spanish Military Decision Making Process Mobile Training Team (MTT)” were taught to students from the Federal Police Mounted Unit and students from the Gendarmerie and Coast Guard. Fourth, some of the students listed in the report’s section on Argentina are actually from Uruguay – most likely, participants in a joint training event held in Argentina. This could actually reduce the real number of Argentines who received U.S. training in 2009.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
An incident surrounding the contents of a U.S. military plane has Washington's relations with Argentina in crisis. Adam discusses the episode, and its context, with Lucila Santos of WOLA.
See below for a fact sheet about the incident prepared by Lucila Santos.
Argentina and the United States have been struggling for the last week with a diplomatic dispute over a U.S. Air Force plane that landed in Buenos Aires’ International airport on February 9th. Below is a fact sheet on the dispute.
The plane: On Thursday February 10, a U.S. Air force plane C-17 Globemaster III, license 77187 was delayed in the Bs As' International Airport (Ezeiza) due to alleged irregularities. It was bringing weapons and equipment for a U.S.-funded training exercise to be conducted with Argentina's Federal Police.
The course: The course, previously approved by the Argentine government, was to be taught to the Special Operations Special Group from the Federal Police (Grupo Especial de Operaciones Especiales de la Policía Federal- GEOF, similar to a U.S. police SWAT team), which was to take place during February and March. La Nación reported that these security courses have taken place since 2009 with the Federal Police. The courses train local agents in rescue of kidnappings, anti-terrorist techniques, and marksmanship. It was to be taught by 12 US Special Operations’ officers.
The course was initially set to take place in August of 2010, but due to a similar incident, in which the plane bringing the equipment also landed with items that had not been declared, the course was postponed to February 2011. On that occasion, U.S. Ambassador Vilma Martinez sent the plane back to North Carolina. The weapons’ serial numbers did not coincide with the numbers on the Ambassador’s list. The Argentine government estimated that the total cost of the equipment’s transportation, and of the course, was approximately 2 million dollars.
The equipment: The Argentine government stated that the plane was carrying undeclared "sensitive material." Apparently, there were machine guns and rifles and ammunition, in addition to a strange suitcase, which had not been previously declared. The military and defense attaches, Colonels Edwin Passmore and Mark Alcott, were waiting for the plane. All boxes were stamped with the insignia of the U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group, with headquarters in North Carolina. Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman stated that the plane contained a range of weapons and drugs, including doses of morphine. It also, he said, contained equipment to intercept communications, various sophisticated and powerful GPS devices, technological elements containing codes labeled secret, and a trunk full of expired medicine.
The dispute: The State Department requested an explanation of the Kirchner government about the incident, and communicated its discomfort with the situation. The Argentine Foreign Affairs Ministry replied that it would send a formal protest to Washington and that it would require the U.S. government’s cooperation in its investigation. The Argentine ambassador in Washington was called to the State Department, and later Valenzuela called Timerman to express again the U.S. government’s discomfort and unease with the situation.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that his department was "puzzled and disturbed by the actions of Argentine officials.” Crowley stated that the plane’s search was "unusual and unannounced" and that minor discrepancies in the manifest “were the kind of thing that could have been cleared up on the ground by customs officials.”
Subsequently, Matthew Rooney, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, stated that that it was a misunderstanding. The Argentine Foreign Ministry appreciated Rooney’s words. Rooney explained that even though there might have been discrepancies with the aircraft’s load, there was no intention to import into Argentina undeclared material. Argentina understood this as a positive sign towards reconciliation.
However, Frank Mora, who talked to the Argentine news channel TN, said that the information given by Timerman was false, and requested that the items retained by the Argentine Customs agency be returned to the United States immediately, in order to resolve the dispute. Aníbal Fernandez, the Chief of Cabinet, asked Mora to apologize for having accused the Argentine Foreign Affairs Minister of lying.
A U.S. State Department official told the Associated Press that all the key materiel in the shipment was properly declared and authorized by Argentina, describing the undeclared equipment as a minor problem with the plane's manifest that could have been resolved privately. For example, the official said, according to AP,
This has been the only detailed explanation heard so far from the US side.
Argentina continues to insist that its laws were made to be enforced, and since Argentina respects the laws of other countries in their territories, any country should respect Argentina’s laws as well. This was emphasized by the Interior Minister, Florencio Randazzo. During a public presentation, President Fernandez de Kirchner also alluded to the importance of defending national sovereignty. Finally, Chief of Staff Aníbal Fernandez has said that under Argentine customs laws, Argentina can destroy the equipment seized. Meanwhile, an Argentine federal judge is demanding a full accounting from the foreign ministry, and some lawmakers vowed to hold investigative hearings.