Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
U.S. military personnel carry out a very regular schedule of exercises and training deployments throughout Latin America. Here, based on official releases and press reports, is a glimpse of these activities in February and March, in alphabetical order by country.
- Leading up to the “New Horizons” humanitarian exercise scheduled to take place in the spring, construction equipment and materials are scheduled to being arriving into ports in Belize. The exercise is being overseen by U.S. Southern Command and planned by Air Forces Southern. It will last approximately 90 days and involve construction projects as well as medical service events.
- The U.S. Navy 4th Fleet’s Southern Partnership Station 2013 exercise involves port visits to Belize, Guatemala and Honduras by the USNS Swift, a high-speed catamaran. “The assigned units are focusing on locally identified needs, such as port security, noncommissioned officer professional development, operational risk management, medical readiness, outboard motor maintenance and patrol-craft operation.” In Belize, U.S. Seabees and Riverine Squadron 2 members helped with infrastructure building and training. In Guatemala, the assistance focuses on explosive ordnance disposal teams, as well as improving infrastructure at the Army’s Kaibil base.
- More than 500 personnel from U.S. Army South, U.S. Southern Command and other military units and government agencies deployed to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as part of an exercise called “Integrated Advance” from Februrary 7–17. The exercise focused on mass migration in the Caribbean and Army South and SOUTHCOM abilities to support the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State in a humanitarian crisis scenario.
- “Joint Task Force Jaguar,” the U.S. Army South Component that will soon hold a “Beyond the Horizon” humanitarian exercise in El Salvador, tested itself in March by conducting a “mass casualty exercise” in Sonsonate. It is designed to simulate the stress caused during a real crisis.
- Members of the U.S. and Honduran militaries, along with Panama’s border service and civilians, carried out a Medical Readiness Training Exercise supported by Southern Command’s Honduras-based Joint Task Force-Bravo component between Feb. 28 and March 1. The exercise sought to test their ability to conduct expeditionary medical operations. Personnel provided medical care to around 1,200 patients in two villages in the Darién region of Panama.
- Operation “Ñepohãno 21” took place in Paraguay from February 16-17 as part of a joint civic-humanitarian action in Cruce Liberación, San Pedro. U.S. military personnel, together with about 220 Paraguayan military and police, offered free medical care including general practice, minor surgery, pediatrics, gynecology, and ophthalmology.
Research for, and some drafting of, this post was carried out by WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Marine Gen. John Kelly, the commander of U.S. Southern Command since November, gave his first testimonies last week in the U.S. Congress. Before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, he presented the annual “Posture Statement” for Southcom the “regional combatant command” that manages all U.S. military activity in the Western Hemisphere (excluding Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas).
Gen. Kelly took command just in time for “sequestration,” the deep cuts in federal spending, including Defense spending, that went into effect on March 1. As Latin America is clearly a lower U.S. national security priority than other regions of the world (Middle East, Pacific Rim, Europe), these cuts are hitting Southern Command disproportionately. Its Miami headquarters is trimming 26 percent from its budget, Gen. Kelly testified. These cuts’ effect, in fact, was the central theme of his testimonies last week.
- 1. Reduced drug interdiction. Due to budget cuts, Gen. Kelly foresees a sharp drop in the number of planes and boats available to look for drug-smuggling and other trafficking activity along Central America’s coasts and in the Caribbean. He raised the possibility that the U.S. Navy may resort to “stopping all naval deployments to the Caribbean and South America,” something that would leave Southcom’s naval component, the 4th Fleet, with little to do.
As a result, Gen. Kelly foresees a drop in the number of tons of cocaine that Southcom will seize in Central America and the Caribbean, from 152 last year to 90 this year. (See the chart below, which is also interesting because it contends that U.S. interdiction dropped after Ecuador refused to renew a U.S. presence at its Manta airbase in 2009.). The cuts will spell the end of “Operation Martillo” (“Hammer”), a surge of U.S. interdiction boats and planes that began last year along Central America’s coastlines. Two Navy frigates currently participating in the operation will return to port soon. The 90 tons of expected seizures this year, however, represent only a modest drop from the non-Martillo level of 117 tons measured in 2011.
The “balloon effect,” it would appear, continues to illustrate illicit trafficking activity in the region.
3. Southcom is cutting back on exercises, military-to-military contacts, and Special Forces training deployments in 2013 as a result of “sequestration.” The command, Gen. Kelly says, has been forced to “scale back deployments of Civil Affairs and Special Operations Forces teams to the region.” Southcom has chosen to scale back the annual “Panamax” canal-defense exercise, and to cancel the following exercises:
The Posture Statement also says that the National Guard’s “State Partnership Program,” a series of smaller deployments, has canceled more than 90 events. In 2012, this program alone carried out 223.
Exercises that appear to have survived the cut include the “Beyond the Horizon” series of humanitarian exercises, UNITAS, the Southern Partnership Station series of naval events, and the Caribbean exercise Tradewinds.
- 4. Iran’s efforts aren’t getting traction in the region. “I share the Congress’ concerns over Iran’s attempts to increase its influence in the region,” General Kelly says. However,
“The reality on the ground is that Iran is struggling to maintain influence in the region, and that its efforts to cooperate with a small set of countries with interests that are inimical to the United States are waning. In an attempt to evade international sanctions and cultivate anti-U.S. sentiment, the Iranian regime has increased its diplomatic and economic outreach across the region with nations like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina. This outreach has only been marginally successful, however, and the region as a whole has not been receptive to Iranian efforts.”
Southcom nonetheless remains vigilant, Gen. Kelly says, even though its “limited intelligence capabilities may prevent our full awareness of all Iranian and Hezbollah activities in the region.”
- 5. China is now being explicitly cited as a competitor. Gen. Kelly notes “an unprecedented three naval deployments to Latin America since 2008, including a hospital ship visit in 2011” from China. Whether three deployments in five years should be cause for concern is unclear, but the Commander, mindful of his congressional audience, contrasts them with the current budget cuts:
“China is attempting to directly compete with U.S. military activities in the region. I believe it is important to note that sequestration will likely result in the cancellation of this year’s deployment of the USNS Comfort [a U.S. Navy hospital ship] to the region, an absence that would stand in stark contrast to China’s recent efforts.”
Friday, March 1, 2013
WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman attended the February 28 hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere Subcommittee entitled "Overview of U.S. Interests in the Western Hemisphere: Opportunities and Challenges." This was the first hearing to be led by a new subcommittee chairman, Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Arizona). Here are her notes.
House Committee on Foreign Relations: Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere
February 28, 2013
Rep. Salmon (R. Arizona. Headed Hearing)
Rep. Sires (D. New Jersey)
Rep. Meeks (D. New York)
Rep. Faleomavaega (D. American Samoa)
Rep. Deutch (D. Florida)
Rep. Duncan (R. South Carolina)
Rep. DeSantis (R. Florida)
Rep. Radel (R. Florida)
The Honorable Roberta S. Jacobson Assistant Secretary Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs U.S. Department of State [full text of opening statement]
The Honorable Mark Feierstein Assistant Administrator Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean U.S. Agency for International Development [full text of opening statement]
I. Opening Statements
· Sees neighbors as critical to US security and economy
· US has job to combat criminal and terrorist organizations, promote democratic values and free enterprise
· Alluded to the successes of the Merida Initiative, the US’s interests in promoting security
· Importance of US-Mexican trade relations
· Thinks US should re-assert its role in trade and investment in the region, especially in places like Brazil
· Placed an interesting emphasis on the importance of tourism throughout the region and the damaging effects of terrorism and narco-trafficking on the tourism industry
· US needs a sound policy with regards to Cuba
· US needs to watch out for Venezuela and the possible ties it is developing with Iran and Hezbollah
o We should also try to strengthen democratic institutions in Venezuela
o Promote free and fair elections
· Latin America deserves more attention and focus in US Foreign Policy, current policy is too narrow
· Our reactive responses are insufficient, and the current patchwork of initiatives is also insufficient
· Concerned about Iran’s influence in the region (mentioned the recent development of the joint truth commission in Argentina regarding bombing against Israeli embassy)
· We should pressure Cuba’s authoritarian regime
· Must be ready in case Chavez dies in order to secure a democratic and peaceful transition of power
· We should continue to support Colombia
· Peña Nieto – how much will he work to combat drugs? Will he build off of the Merida initiative?
· Very eager
· Previous journalist who traveled throughout Latin America
· Sees Colombia as an example of our US foreign aid has played a huge positive role
· Cuba, Venezuela and Chavez
· Concerned about Iran, drugs, laundry list of problems
· Concerned mostly about the plight of afro descendants throughout the region
· US objectives are strongly linked to afro descendants and indigenous communities
· Impact of narco-trafficking on these groups
· Entered OAS report into the official record on the situation of Afro Americans
· Also primarily concerned with the indigenous community and the lack of autonomy that they have due to colonial and modern state practices
Roberta Jacobson –
· Under Obama administration, State has focused on the 4 goals presented at the summit of the Americas
· Free trade = prosperity and economic expansion in the region
· US has helped with contributing to security in Colombia
· Mexico is a similar situation
· Partnering important in both Colombia and Mexico
· Purpose of development aid is so that eventually the countries can graduate out of foreign assistance programs
· We should strengthen the economic capacities of countries
· The nature of development work automatically presents challenges – violence and criminality impede progress
· Colombians - Training with Latin American and Central American Police has been a big advancement for regional security and development efforts
· In Peru, lots of progress on helping coca farmers transition to legal products
· Lots of talk about Alan Gross in Cuba
II. Question and Answer
· Q: about corruption in Latin American governments and private sector investment.
· A from Jacobson: State Dep. Is working with governments to reduce corruption.
· Q: Colombia as a great example for US in the region in combatting drug trafficking and terrorism. Sees a reduction in kidnapping in the last 12 years by 90%, less poverty, lots of improvements. What lessons can we take from Colombia to apply to other countries in Latin America, like Mexico?
· A from Jacobson: have to remember that the two countries are structurally different but there are still many similarities. Looking to training that has occurred for police and helicopter pilots that they have done without our encouragement. Colombia is having more influence on Central America. They are better at training other domestic forces than we are sometimes. Our cooperation with Colombia is helping the region.
· A from F: Colombia is also a model for USAID. Bilateral cooperation from USAID and military cooperation.
· Q: About Plan Colombia and its shift to social change. Where are we with that? Mostly concerned about the human rights components of afro-indigenous programs
· Q: who is overseeing the Iran monitoring program in the Western hemisphere at the State department?
· A from Jacobson: She is overseeing it. In response to Iranian activities in the region, the US is working with other partners in the hemisphere. They help other countries to protect and monitor themselves and Iran’s activities within their own countries.
· Q: ICE just release a huge number of illegal aliens, aren’t Central American governments upset about that?
· A from Jacobson: those illegal aliens were not criminal detainees to her knowledge, and there has been no response from those countries as of yet. She doubts that they will have a strong reaction though.
· Just really only cares about indigenous populations and the development of indigenous rights, education, poverty, and economy.
· Q: Concerned about Florida and Cuba. What will happen with Cuba over the next 5 years?
· A from Jacobson: she hopes that there will be changes in political rights just as much as in economic rights. There has been increased contact with Americans (church and education groups, etc…) Hopes that will help in promoting ideals for democracy and human rights.
· Q: concerned with Cuba and Allen Gross. Also concerned with deforestation in the Amazon. What can the US do to protect environmental sustainability?
· Wanted more information
· Q: asked state to submit budget priorities and embassy security priorities
· A from Jacobson: we are focusing a lot now post Benghazi on embassy security. We have to recognize that the western hemisphere doesn’t face the same kinds of threats as the Middle East does. We are reviewing all embassies with all embassy staff.
· Q: when will the western hemisphere report on 2012 on Iran come out. Iran is training Hezbollah in the Middle East
· A: the report will come out in June; they want to make sure all of the credible information is reviewed before it goes out. A good section of the report will be classified.
· Q: Venezuela and Chavez in failing health. Post-Chavez Venezuela is there a role that the US can, should, or could play in ensuring free and fair elections?
· A: yes, with a small amount of foreign assistance they believe they can make an impact on elections. There are programs that support civil society, election programs, and human rights group programs
- Q: will CBSI have a social impact? Also asked about the FARC Colombian peace process
- A from Jacobson: a lot of work to be done on CBSI. State is currently implementing programs through CBSI. There has been an increase in information sharing and cooperation. Donor coordination has had success too and the UK and Canada have meant more in terms of contributions.
- Made a comment on the general number of people who have been killed by Cartels in Mexico due to guns and violence.
Salmon Closing remarks
- Believes that crop transitions for current coca farmers are good.
- Sees Colombia as an enormous success story.
- Thinks Brazil is doing the right thing in terms of economic development and growth.
- The US should work to eradicate the drug cartels in Mexico.
- Wonders what the US can do to keep Mexicans in their own country. Are they afraid to stay there? How can we work on that?
III. What Was Left Out
- There was no mention, apart from Colombia’s role as a training country, of bi-lateral or regional military involvement or strategy.
- Other than Salmon’s closing remarks, nothing was said about the border or border security.
- Nothing was said about immigration reform.
- There was nothing said about Central American immigrants, it was as if the committee members present believed that everyone in this country who is a Hispanic immigrant has come from either Mexico out of fear of the drug cartels, or from Cuba, out of fear of being repressed.
- Although violence caused by narco-trafficking and organized criminal activity was mentioned, nothing was said about US domestic gun reform and the potential impact that could have on violence in Central America.
- While crop-transitions were mentioned for current farmers of coca, nothing was mentioned about the UN’s recent decriminalization of traditional uses of the coca leaf in Bolivia.
Friday, February 15, 2013
U.S. military personnel carry out a very regular schedule of exercises and training deployments throughout Latin America. Here, based on official releases and press reports, is a glimpse of these activities in December and January, in alphabetical order by country.
The Southern Command’s Honduras-based “Joint Task Force-Bravo” component and the Belize Ministry of Health carried out a joint Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) on January 15, 2013, at the Copper Bank Primary School in Copper Bank, Belize.
On a January visit to Rio de Janeiro, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert met with the commander of the Brazilian Navy and toured multiple Brazilian naval facilities, including the Aramar Nuclear Facility. Greenert stated that the “U.S. Navy will assist Brazil with lessons learned from the development of the U.S. nuclear submarine program to help foster Brazil’s subsurface capabilities.” The Brazilian navy and Marine Corps carried out a live amphibious assault exercise and performed a simulated pilot rescue mission in honor of Greenert’s visit.
In December the USNS PATHFINDER, part of the U.S. Southern Command Oceanographic Southern Partnership Station, assisted the Chilean Navy’s Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service to re-survey the seafloor in and around the Bay of Concepción and Golfo de Arauco. In addition to the survey, reads a U.S. embassy release, “Chilean Navy and U.S. Navy hydrographers and oceanographers will also use this time to share their expertise and learn from one another.”
Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, commander of Southcom’s U.S. Army South component, met in December with “key” leaders of the Salvadoran army and traveled to remote areas where “Beyond the Horizon 2013,” a U.S. Army South exercise deploying military engineers and medical professionals, will take place.
In January “The Message Program,” a U.S.-based non-profit, worked with the Military Group at the American Embassy in Guatemala and the Guatemalan Army’s 6th Brigade to supply and equip two clinics and one school in Alta Verapaz department. The clinics and schools are part of the Southern Command’s “Beyond the Horizon” series of construction and humanitarian aid exercises.
Servicemen from Joint Task Force-Bravo completed a four-day Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) in Chiquimula, Guatemala from December 11-15, 2012.
Members of U.S. Naval Special Warfare Unit 4, including 10 members of SEAL Team 18, recently completed six months in Honduras. There, they train a newly created naval Special Forces unit, Fuerzas Especiales Naval (FEN). In total, 45 Honduran personnel completed training over the course of two eight-week Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL style training courses.
In December, U.S. Northern Command completed the first phase of training for more than 400 Mexican firefighters in seven cities as part of its Humanitarian Assistance Program. Phase One focused on fire chiefs, Phase Two will focus on lieutenants and captains, and Phase Three will focus on frontline firefighters. Training was conducted by Chemonics, a U.S. company contracted by Northcom.
As U.S. Northern Command pursues closer engagement with Mexico, Army Major General Francis G. Mahon, Northcom’s director for strategy, plans and policy, said in January that he hopes to begin bilateral exercises with Mexico. U.S. and Mexican military officials will begin to plan their first bilateral air defense exercise this month. which is expected to take place later this year.
Last year, Mexican military leaders participated in several “tabletop” simulation exercises, and sent observers to Northcom’s “Ardent Sentry” exercise last spring.
“It’s all about getting comfortable with each other and hopefully, advancing in the relationship,” Gen. Mahon said. “It would be wonderful, someday, to take a Mexican company [about 200 soldiers] to the National Training Center to train with an American battalion or brigade.”
This would be a big break with tradition in Mexico, explains the Defense Department news release that cites Gen. Mahon.
Mexico’s constitution explicitly prohibits foreign forces from operating on Mexican soil. But as SEDENA and SEMAR, Mexico’s army and navy, respectively, shed their internal focus, they are becoming increasingly open to combined training and subject matter expert exchanges, Mahon said.
Research for, and some drafting of, this post was carried out by WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
This blog first appeared on the LAWG Blog. To read the original version, click here.
That was the title of the January 30th Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to consider how Congress should move forward to address gun violence. Emotions ran high as the hearing began with a statement from Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman from Arizona who survived a gunshot wound to the head two years ago. She still struggles with speech, but as she faced the Senate members, she spoke with a determination and force belying the gravity and urgency of her message. “Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”
President Obama, Democrats, and Republicans alike have expressed the desire to enact “common sense legislation” around guns in the wake of what Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) refers to as the “wake up call,” the horrific shooting of twenty children and six adults in Newtown, CT on December 14th. Although the Senate hearing reflected agreement that such tragedies must be prevented in the future, there is a lack of consensus on what constitutes a “common sense” solution. From our vantage point, five policy proposals withstood questioning in the four-hour hearing and should be key components of upcoming legislation. Here is a snapshot of these measures:
1. Make background checks a universal practice, and close the gun show and private vendor loopholes.
Background checks are required at gun stores but not necessarily at gun shows or in a private sale, which, according to hearing witness James Johnson, Chief of Police in Baltimore County, MD, allows forty percent of guns to be purchased without a background check. When Wayne La Pierre, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA), argued that universal background checks will not be effective because criminals will not submit to them, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) emphatically exclaimed, “That’s the point!” LaPierre said that improved prosecution of gun-wielding criminals is the solution. Yes, prosecution is important, but Johnson responded, “The best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun in the first place is a good background check.”
2. Improve the background check system by ensuring relevant (mental health) data is available.
Hearing witness Captain Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords and co-founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, described how Jared Loughner, his wife’s shooter who was acknowledged to be mentally ill, was able to buy a gun despite having been submitted to a background check because no record of his illness existed in the background check system. His illness was not on any official record, but even if it was, the state of Arizona, as confirmed by Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, has over 120,000 disqualifying mental health records that are not accessible in the current background check system. Mr. LaPierre agreed that mental health records must be made accessible in a national background check system.
3. Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
LaPierre and the other anti-gun control witnesses, Lawyer Gayle Trotter and Professor David Kopel, argued that banning specific weapons or limiting gun magazines is by definition arbitrary, ineffective, unnecessary, or against the freedoms of the Second Amendment. However, Chief Johnson maintained that high capacity magazines are not necessary for hunting and the law should limit them to provide a “window of escape” while a shooter reloads. The National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, which he chairs, fully supports the proposed bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
4. Address the “matrix of failure” and adopt a holistic approach to improve our mental health system.
Captain Kelly was the first to acknowledge that “behind every victim lays a matrix of failure and inadequacy.” Everyone agreed upon the need to improve the mental health system. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) announced he will propose the Mental Health in Schools Act, while warning to be “careful here that we don’t stigmatize mental illness.” Kelly agreed with Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and President Obama’s stated plan that funding for counselors and psychological providers in schools be increased.
5. Enact a gun trafficking bill.
Senator Leahy has proposed a trafficking bill to cut down on straw purchasing. This measure received the least air time and no one in the hearing discussed trafficking in terms of Mexico. Please see previous LAWG blog on how new legislation could affect the gun flow and violence in Mexico. As Gabby Giffords said, “too many children are dying.” Children are disappearing and dying in Mexico by the thousands. Combating gun trafficking makes sense across international as well as state borders.
Tensions ran high, as usual, over the interpretation of the Second Amendment in terms of gun legislation, but Senator Leahy concluded that in upcoming sessions there should be “some areas of agreement.” Prior to the hearing, Mark and Jackie Barden published the article in the Washington Post “Make the Debate over Guns Worthy of Our Son.” Their son Daniel, a bright and considerate seven-year-old, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. Their family member created the Facebook page “What Would Daniel Do?” to celebrate his life and inspire others to act as Daniel did, listening and making room for dialogue. Congress should continue discussion of gun control legislation with that philosophy in mind, remembering the tragedies that have brought it to the table, always keeping in mind that the impact of lax U.S. gun policies reach far beyond the U.S. border.
Friday, January 25, 2013
Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), the Obama administration’s nominee to be the next Secretary of State, had his confirmation hearing yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. U.S. policy toward Latin America came up several times.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) — who, if Kerry is approved, will be the new Foreign Relations Committee chair — asked Sen. Kerry about U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere. Menendez mentioned several things that make him hopeful for better relations with Latin America, including a potential transition in Venezuela, a strengthening relationship with Mexico’s new president, negotiations in Colombia with the FARC. He asked for Kerry’s thoughts on the region.
Kerry responded: “it is an opportunity that is staring at us. Hope we can build upon what secretary Clinton and President Obama have already done to augment our efforts in the region, you can add the Merida initiative to that list … the Central American Security Initiative, assistance to Guatemala and Honduras, the energy initiative with Brazil … and increasing economic integration in the region. But as we know there have been outlier states that have not been as cooperative, depending on what happens in Venezuela there could really be an opportunity for a transition there … also hope we could make progress with Bolivia and Ecuador. One of the great stories of Latin America is Colombia … President Uribe stepped up in a critical moment and began the process of rescuing that nation, President Santos is now doing an amazing job, we strengthened the relationship by passing the economic trade agreement. We have to build on that. And that is an example for the rest of Latin America of what awaits them… [Also] hope to bridge the gap with some of the other countries.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) asked about the strengthening of the relationship between Mexico, Central America and the United States, due to “common security goals.” One element of this relationship is judicial reform, but the Senator noted that the federal government and several Mexican states have still lagged behind on this issue – i.e. making the judicial systems in those countries less “inquisitorial.” How, he askd can the United States better work with allies in Mexico to improve the judicial system?
Kerry responded that there are ongoing efforts with respect to the judicial system, with a lot of focus on guns and counternarcotics. He continued “I want to keep the existing efforts going, which could be subject to sequestration. … Mexico has been under siege, everybody know that. It has been very difficult. Lot of courage exhibited by military folk and police and I think there is an effort to move it somewhat away from military and into justice system, which is why we will have to double the efforts here and fund the personnel and program itself.”
Sen. Udall followed up that the new Mexican security strategy is to achieve a “Mexico in Peace,” and said he hoped that the government won’t abandon the fight against crime. How, he asked, can you assure that mutual areas of interest get the attention they deserve, especially cooperation along the border?
“President [Enrique] Peña Nieto is indeed trying to move this in a different direction. This has been a highly militarized and very violent initiative over the last years… one thing I learned [as a prosecutor] is that there is no one approach [to the fight against drugs], you’ve got to be doing everything that you’ve got to do, and that means domestically in the United States you’ve got to do education, and you’ve got to do treatment … we have a revolving circle of demand … we need a more comprehensive and less accusatory approach … I’ve always felt that this label the ‘war on drugs’ is kind of artificial because war implies it’s all-out … we have always failed to do our part when it comes to education and treatment and abstinence.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California): “Under Secretary Clinton’s leadership the State Department has fought to protect the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, to end the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Congo, to promote women’s economic empowerment in places like Asia, Africa and Latin America, and to ensure that women play a meaningful role as new governments take shape in the Middle East and North Africa. If confirmed, will you ensure that the position of global ambassador at large is retained and that the office is effectively resourced? ”
Kerry: “Yes. … Secretary Clinton has put an emphasis on human trafficking in the State Department, and I intend to continue that. … What you’re talking about with respect to women and girls, in South Africa, in Guatemala, in other parts of the world, women have stepped up as peace makers, women have made the difference in many of these instances as to the security of those communities, the attitude of the state, its willingness to reach out and be inclusive.”
Also mentioning Latin America, but not eliciting a response, were Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who when criticizing U.S. foreign policy asked why did the administration condemn what happened in Honduras [the 2009 coup] while helping to steal an election in Nicaragua; and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) who said he is worried about rising Chinese and Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere (especially Iranian sponsored Spanish-language broadcasts).
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) made a comment on Cuba that did not get a response from Kerry: “I’ve felt differently than perhaps some of my colleagues on this panel and thought that the best way to foster change and progress toward democracy is to allow free travel of Americans, to let them go as they wish. I don’t think that that is a weakness or any capitulation at all. I think it shows strength. In fact I’ve always thought that if we want a real get tough policy with the Castro Brothers, we should force them to deal with Spring Break once or twice. … This president has taken measures to allow more Americans to travel freely: relatives, travel for religious or cultural education purposes and I think that’s a good thing. I hope that you’ll find ways to continue that and continue more innovative approaches to deal with change there.”
Sen. Flake’s comment, however, angered Sen. Menendez, who replied, “To suggest that spring break is a form of — a form of torture to the Castro regime — unfortunately, they are experts about torture, as is evidenced by the increasing brutal crackdown on peaceful democracy advocates on the island just in the last year, over 6,600 peaceful democracy advocates detained or arrested. Just this past Sunday, the Ladies in White, a group of women who dress in white and march every Sunday with a gladiolus to church, tried to come together to go to church this past Sunday. And the result of that, these are individuals who are the relatives of former or current political prisoners in Castro’s jails … is that more than 35 of the Women in White were intercepted, beaten with belts, threatened [with] death by agents aiming guns at them and temporarily arrested.”
(This post was researched by CIP Associate Sarah Kinosian and WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman.)
Friday, January 18, 2013
For 26 years, U.S. Southern Command has had a Special Forces component, Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), headed by a general and based in Florida. It coordinates the activities of Special Operations Forces (elite “warrior-diplomats” like Army Rangers and Green Berets, or Navy SEALs and Special Boat Units) in Southcom’s area of operations, which includes all of Latin America except Mexico, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.
Mexico falls under the purview of the U.S. Northern Command (Northcom, founded in 2002), which did not have a formal Special Forces component — until now, apparently. Special Operations Command North was stood up on December 31, and its principal focus for now is to deepen training of elite military units in Mexico.
We know this not from Northcom’s website, which doesn’t even mention the existence of Special Operations Command North, but from a story reported yesterday by the Associated Press.
Based at the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado, Special Operations Command-North will build on a commando program that has brought Mexican military, intelligence and law enforcement officials to study U.S. counterterrorist operations, to show them how special operations troops built an interagency network to target al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden and his followers.
The special operations team within Northcom will be turned into a new headquarters, led by a general instead of a colonel. It was established in a Dec. 31 memo signed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. That move gives the group more autonomy and the number of people could eventually quintuple from 30 to 150, meaning the headquarters could expand its training missions with the Mexicans, even though no new money is being assigned to the mission.
This news brings up three points (not including persistent concerns about the human rights record of SOCNORTH’s Mexican military partners):
1. It signals a closer relationship with Mexico’s Defense Department (SEDENA) under the new leadership that came in with President Enrique Peña Nieto. SEDENA incorporates Mexico’s Army and Air Force, which during the presidency of Felipe Calderón were noticeably less enthusiastic than Mexico’s Navy (SEMAR) about cooperating with U.S. military counterparts. “Historically, suspicion of the United States has been a prime driver of a military bureaucratic culture that has kept SEDENA closed to us,” noted a leaked 2010 State Department cable. It is notable that U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta signed the order establishing SOCNORTH only a month after Peña Nieto assumed office, along with a new SEDENA secretary, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos.
2. It appears that one of SOCNORTH’s first tasks is helping the Peña Nieto government to stand up a new intelligence unit within the Interior Ministry. “The special operations program has already helped Mexican officials set up their own intelligence center in Mexico City to target criminal networks, patterned after similar centers in war zones built to target al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the AP story reports. That unit, the National Intelligence Center or CNI, will “concentrate in one entity, like the fusion centers or offices that we have in the United States, all intelligence information that is gathered by the Army, the Navy, CISEN [the existing civilian intelligence agency], the PGR [attorney-general’s office] and all other federal and even state agencies involved in the fight against narcotrafficking,” a U.S. consultant source told Mexico’s Proceso magazine.
3. This is an emblematic indication that the Obama administration’s “light footprint” strategy is moving ahead. The administration is unlikely to commit to any large, costly new “Mérida Initiative”-style programs in Mexico. Budget realities alone determine that. But as we noted last week, as Special Forces units leave Afghanistan ahead of the 2014 drawdown, there will be many more of them available for training and other missions in Latin America. The pace of Special Forces deployments — low-profile, under the radar, mostly for training, but also serving other purposes, like intelligence-gathering — is very likely beginning to pick up throughout the hemisphere. As that happens, the establishment of SOCNORTH to guide work with Mexico is an important milestone.
Friday, January 18, 2013
“For the first time in more than 25 years, an American Soldier has graduated from the Guatemalan special operations Kaibil School, in Poptún, Guatemala,” announces a December news release from U.S. Special Operations Command South.
“The Kaibil School is considered one of the most prestigious, vigorous, arduous military courses in Central America,” the release continues. “Their motto: ‘If I advance, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I retreat, kill me.’”
Guatemala’s elite Kaibil Special Forces unit is famous for more than just rigorous training and a medieval motto. Here are some facts that don’t appear in the SOCSOUTH release.
- “[Kaibil] training included killing animals and then eating them raw and drinking their blood in order to demonstrate courage. The extreme cruelty of these training methods, according to testimony available to the CEH, was then put into practice in a range of operations carried out by these troops, confirming one point of their decalogue: ‘The Kaibil is a killing machine.’” - Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification report
- “The Kaibiles are largely responsible for introducing the ghastly drug-war practices of severing rivals’ heads, including the 10 found outside Mexico City just last weekend, dismembering their bodies or slowly suffocating them to death. That’s little surprise, given how brutal Kaibil training has been since the unit was founded in the 1970s: members are forced to kill animals, even bite the heads off chickens to prove their ferocity, and perform field surgery on themselves, such as bullet extraction. They were the principal instruments of the Guatemalan military government’s “scorched earth” campaign of the 1980s against leftist guerrillas and communities suspected of backing them. That makes it all the more troubling, as Mexico’s drug cartels push into Central America, that not just former but current Kaibiles are defecting to more lucrative service under the Zetas.” - “Guatemala’s Kaibiles: A Notorious Commando Unit Wrapped Up in Central America’s Drug War,” Tim Padgett, Time, July 14, 2011.
- “The Kaibiles entered the town of Dos Erres on the morning of December 6, 1982, and separated the men from women and children. They started torturing the men and raping the women and by the afternoon they had killed almost the entire community, including the children. Nearly the entire town was murdered, their bodies thrown into a well and left in nearby fields. Of those  killed, 113 were under the age of 14.” - Kate Doyle, Jesse Franzblau and Emily Willard, “Ex-Kaibil Officer Connected to Dos Erres Massacre Arrested in Alberta, Canada,” National Security Archive, January 20, 2011.
- “In May 1978, the Kaibiles opened fire on an unarmed crowd of over 700 Kekchi Indians in the central square of Panzos, Alta Verapaz, who were protesting land exploitation by land investors. As many as 150 people were killed including women and children, none of whom were armed.” - “Guatemala: All the truth, justice for all,” Amnesty International, May 13, 1998
- “On September 24 , five hundred soldiers descended on Chajul. … While kaibiles (an ‘elite’ unit of the Guatemalan military) poured gasoline over the prisoners, the officer threatened the audience that this would happen to them if they aided the guerrillas. After setting fire to the prisoners and shouting ‘Long live the fatherland! Long live Guatemala! Long live our president! Long live the army!’ the armed forces withdrew, leaving the villagers to put out the fires and bury the dead.” - Grant Hermans Cornwell, Eve Walsh Stoddard, Global Multiculturalism: Comparative Perspectives on Ethnicity, Race, and Nation (Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001).
The U.S. military is unlikely to avoid contact with every foreign unit with a notorious human rights past. But the Guatemalan Army Kaibiles have an especially troubled reputation, and they have made no effort to reckon with, to atone for, or even really to acknowledge their past deeds. The closest the unit has come to accountability was the landmark 2011 conviction of four ex-Kaibiles for their involvement in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre.
Staff Sgt. Joel Rodriguez, the U.S. soldier who completed the Kaibil training, “did not want to say too much in order to protect the integrity of the course.” Given the Kaibiles’ history, though, it’s reasonable to question what Sgt. Rodriguez learned in Poptún, and why he was sent there in the first place. And also, to question why the U.S. armed forces would report on the event without even acknowledging the cloud that hangs over the Kaibiles. That cloud is too dark to pretend that it doesn’t exist.
(Thanks to WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman for her research assistance.)
Friday, January 11, 2013
Consolidating "Consolidation": Colombia's Plan to Govern Neglected Territories Stumbles
Colombia's government is negotiating peace with the country's largest and oldest guerrilla group, the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). If the talks succeed—a strong possibility—Colombia faces a big question: what will be different in the vast territories where the guerrillas have been in control, or operated freely, for decades?
In these areas, violence, drug trafficking, and warlordism have long been the norm, and the government’s presence has been virtually nonexistent. If the government does not establish itself in these jungles, mountains, plains, coasts, and borderlands, the FARC's negotiated end will make little difference; illegality and violence will continue to fill the vacuum. Colombia must follow a successful negotiation with getting the government into the country's ungoverned zones. And not just military occupiers: a real, civilian state whose members provide basic services, operate without impunity, and thus enjoy the population's support.
Will Colombia be able to fill the vacuum and end the cycle of violence? As WOLA’s new report Consolidating “Consolidation” describes, the record of the National Territorial Consolidation Plan—a five-year-old program with that very goal—should worry us that it might not.
Backed by at least half a billion dollars in U.S. assistance, this ambitious program seeks to bring the government into several areas of the country with histories of illegal armed groups, violence, drug trafficking, and statelessness. (It is often called the “La Macarena” program, after the southern Colombian zone where the most advanced pilot project has taken place.) Today, while “Consolidation” has brought security improvements and more soldiers and police to a few territories, the governance vacuum remains far from filled.
In the Consolidation zones, armed groups remain very active, especially outside of town centers. Soldiers are by far the most commonly seen government representatives, and the civilian parts of the government—such as health services, education, agriculture, road-builders, land-titlers, judges, and prosecutors—are lagging very far behind.
In Consolidating “Consolidation,” WOLA sought to identify the reasons why the Consolidation program's military-to-civilian transfer has stalled. Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy Adam Isacson found that while the U.S. and Colombian governments underestimated the difficulty of achieving security and the cost of “state-building,” much of the blame lies with civilian government agencies themselves, most of which have been very reluctant to set up a presence in Consolidation zones.
But we found something even more serious: the entire Consolidation model is losing momentum quickly and may have begun to deteriorate. Based on dozens of interviews and a very close read of available evidence, Consolidating “Consolidation” portrays a program lacking interest and backing at high levels of government. What was once a showcase program stagnated during a year and a half-long “rethinking,” followed by several months of infighting that culminated in the sudden exit of the program's director. Meanwhile, in places like Afghanistan, the United States is edging away from similar missions, which it calls “Stability Operations,” that sought to provide basic services to citizens in ungoverned areas. Instead, U.S. forces are relying more on Special Forces operations and drone strikes.
Programs continue in Consolidation zones in Colombia, thanks in great part to US$227 million in USAID contracts awarded since 2010. But Consolidation, which once promised to bring a functioning government to areas that never had one, may be on its way to becoming a politically driven handout program attached to an open-ended military occupation.
If Consolidation fades away, the report warns, it is not clear what will replace it in Colombia's neglected territories. As Colombia faces the possibility of peace in zones of historic guerrilla control, it is crucial that a plan be in place to prevent a re-emergence of violence. If the peace talks succeed, for a brief period Colombia will have a window of opportunity to bring the government to areas that have long generated violence, bringing their citizens into national civic and economic life for the first time.
The National Territorial Consolidation Plan could offer a way to do this, but only if it returns to its initial vision of a phased, coordinated entry of civilian government. If this scheme, or something like it, is to succeed, it will require political will from the highest levels to ensure that the civilians take over as quickly as security conditions allow. And it will require a renewed—but far more civilian-centered—commitment from the United States.
Please click here to read Consolidating "Consolidation."
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Once Congress gives the green light, the national security team for Barack Obama’s second term will have three new names at the top: John Kerry at State, Chuck Hagel at Defense, and John Brennan at CIA.
Kerry and Hagel are both Vietnam veterans turned Senators, both supportive of a strong, modern military but skeptical of large, open-ended military missions, sort of in the Colin Powell mode. Brennan is a career spy whose focus since the 1990s has been counterterrorism.
Only Kerry has much of a record on Latin America. In the 1980s, he was a leading opponent of the Reagan administration’s aid to abusive militaries, and to the Nicaraguan contra rebels, in Central America. He has also been a frequent critic of U.S. policy toward Cuba. In 2000, Senator Kerry shifted gears and supported a military aid package, President Clinton’s initial appropriation for Plan Colombia, though he later signed at least one letter criticizing Colombia’s human rights performance.
As David Sanger notes in today’s New York Times, all three nominees share a preference for a “light footprint” in the U.S. military’s activities abroad. Brennan, Sanger notes,
devised the “light footprint” strategy of limiting American interventions, whenever possible, to drones, cyberattacks and Special Operations forces. All are advocates of those low-cost, low-American-casualty tools, and all have sounded dismissive of attempts to send thousands of troops to rewire foreign nations as wasteful and ill-conceived.
With the notable exception of the 2009 Afghan “surge,” frequent but low-profile military and intelligence operations have been a hallmark of the Obama administration so far. With the ongoing drawdown from Afghanistan ahead of a planned 2014 pullout, the “light footprint” approach is going to accelerate.
How will this affect Latin America? Probably four ways, in declining order of importance:
- More Special Forces deployments to the region. President Obama and his new appointees share a fondness for Special Operations Forces: elite, highly trained, mobile military units used for non-traditional, often clandestine missions ranging from hostage rescues to hunting down wanted individuals to intelligence-gathering and “defense diplomacy.” Special Forces are likely to see their numbers increase despite upcoming defense budget cuts, and as the Afghanistan drawdown proceeds, there will be even more of them available to carry out missions in Latin America. Last year, the New York Times noted, Adm. William McRaven of the Special Operations Command was “pushing hard” to “expand their presence in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Delta Force, SEAL Team 6, and other JSOC units will be carrying out clandestine mayhem in places like Venezuela and Cuba. (And if it does, we’re unlikely to find out about it.) But a recent conversation with a Defense Department official confirms that, in the next few years, we are likely to witness an increase in Special Forces training missions in the region. More teams will be in countries throughout the Americas teaching courses as part of Mobile Training Teams (MTTs), and organizing exercises, some of them through the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program.
Such deployments fulfill more than just training missions, though. They allow Special Forces units to familiarize themselves with the terrain, culture, and key officers in countries where they might someday have to operate. And they allow U.S. personnel to gather intelligence on their host countries, whether through active snooping or passive observation.
A greater intelligence community presence is another likely consequence of a “light footprint” in Latin America. We can only speculate, but it is reasonable to expect fewer CIA assets in Afghanistan to mean more personnel focused elsewhere, including Latin America. Even more significant may be an increase in the presence of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Defense Department’s spy agency. As the Washington Post reported in December, the DIA expects to roughly double the number of clandestine operatives it deploys worldwide over the next few years.
Greater use of drones and robotics. The Obama administration has expanded the CIA and Defense Department use of armed unmanned aircraft to hunt down suspected terrorist targets. Brennan, the new CIA director, is known for being intimately involved this practice, which is extremely controversial because of reports that the drone program may have killed hundreds of innocent people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.
In Latin America, a few U.S. defense officials have confirmed to us recently, the U.S. military is not using weaponized drones, though it is employing some surveillance drones to detect suspect trafficking activity, particularly (but not only) above international waters. All officials have insisted that U.S. drones are not used extensively in the region, as they are costly to operate. However, as assets are drawn down from Afghanistan and as costs continue to drop rapidly, it is reasonable to expect the Obama administration to use them more frequently in the Americas.
The U.S. effort, however, may pale in comparison to Latin American countries’ own drone programs. Several countries — Colombia, Venezuela, and especially Brazil — are developing their own programs, and several more are buying drones, especially from Israel. While none of these drones are reportedly weaponized and there have been no reports of unauthorized cross-border drone flights, the increased affordability of drones, and the lack of norms governing their use, promises to pose a big challenge for Latin America within the next 5-10 years. (We will have a post on this topic shortly.)
- More emphasis on cyber-security. As today’s New York Times piece noted, cyber-warfare is an interest of all three of the Obama administration’s nominees. While it is unclear how this will play out in U.S. national security policy toward the Americas, it is reasonable to expect more resources devoted to cracking open, and even sabotaging, the computer networks of countries or organizations that the U.S. government views as a threat. (For more on cyber-security in the hemisphere, see the work of James Bosworth at Bloggings by Boz.)