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Mar 20th
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Militarization Rises PDF Print E-mail
Written by Christy Pardew   
U.S. Backed Militarization in Latin America Rises: SOA-style methods grow in the region, while development and humanitarian aid fall.
U.S. military aid, arms sales and training – in the United States at places such as the School of the Americas and in Latin America – have all increased sharply since the beginning of the war on terrorism. This trend is a reflection of the SOA-style approach of "solving" social and political problems with military means. These tactics exacerbate conflict and sidetrack development programs.
Through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, military aid has drastically increased during the Bush administration. In 2000, U.S. military aid to Latin America was $3.4 million, a tiny share of worldwide FMF spending of $4.7 billion. By 2006, overall spending on FMF actually decreased to $4.5 billion, after peaking at $6 billion in 2003. But military aid to Latin America increased to over 34 times its year 2000 levels, to $122 million.


In fiscal year 2000, the United States distributed almost $50 million in military training funding through International Military Education and Training (IMET), with $9.8 million or 18% allocated to the Western Hemisphere. This funding trained 2,684 soldiers from Latin American countries. Most soldiers who attend the School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/ WHINSEC), do so through scholarships funded by IMET.

Fast forward six years and into the midst of the war on terrorism; overall IMET funding worldwide has increased 75% to $86.7 million. Funding for military training in Latin America has increased at a proportional rate, to $13.6 million for 2006. This will fund training for 3,221 Latin American soldiers in everything from counterintelligence to helicopter repair.

Colombian soldier Colombia is the number one client of the SOA/ WHINSEC and tops the list for IMET, with $9.3 million in military training aid since 2000, an increase of almost 90% over six years. [IMET is just one aspect of aid; total military aid to Colombia in 2005 alone topped $643.3 million, 83% of all the U.S. aid the country received]. But other countries have received larger percentage increases over the same period. IMET funding to El Salvador and Nicaragua increased more than 200%, and their neighbor Panama received a 400% increase between 2000 and 2006.

At the same time that military aid and training are on the rise, U.S. economic aid to the region is dropping – the 2006 foreign aid request foresees a sharp drop especially in development, child survival and health programs. The request for the region represents a decrease of more than 40%.

WEAPONS SALES TO LATIN AMERICA: Hundreds of Millions and Counting

In addition to aid programs such as FMF & IMET, the United States sells military hardware through arms sales programs such as Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Direct Commercial Sales (DCS). The top 15 recipients of arms sales in Latin America took delivery of more than $3.5 billion in military hardware and weaponry between 2000 and 2003 (the last year for which full data is available).
Foreign Military Sales are conducted between the requesting government and the Pentagon. This process is usually reserved for larger orders and "package deals" that include delivery, training, spare parts, maintenance and even a warranty on equipment, in addition to the military hardware. Most of the weaponry sold through FMS either comes from the Pentagon's stockpile or from supplies of military hardware restricted from market sale. Direct Commercial Sales, however, are conducted between the requesting government and the weapons manufacturing firms. As a rule, these transactions take less time because they are not subject to the same level of Congressional intervention or Pentagon red tape. But, sales are drawn from a more limited inventory because of the above-mentioned market sale restriction.


In addition to military aid through Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training, Latin American police and security forces are receiving billions in "counter-narcotics" aid.

In 2000, countries in Latin America received $1.19 billion in International Narcotics Control (INC) funding, with most of that — $894 million — going to Colombia under the beginning of President Clinton's Plan Colombia. INC funding for Latin America (not including additional supplementals to Colombia) totaled $169 million between 2001 and 2005, and the State Department has requested $51 million for 2006.

The Andean Counter Drug Initiative is a separate program that includes considerable military and police aid. It is the umbrella under which "Plan Colombia" is supported and its stated goals are countering drug proliferation and stimulating economic development in the Andean region. Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela all receive some funding, but the lion's share continues to go to Colombia.

 U.S. Southern Command is the hub of the military's presence in Latin America. SouthComSOUTHCOM operates on a budget of $800 million a year and considers 19 countries in Central and South America and 13 in the Caribbean as its area of concern. Most SOA/ WHINSEC students come from countries in the SOUTHCOM Area of Responsibility. All of the courses support the objectives of the command.

The Command's size and budget, especially given the current military preoccupation with the Middle East, speaks to the United States' enduring influence in the Western Hemisphere— Washington's backyard. SOUTHCOM is staffed by 1,470 people— more than are tasked with the region by the Departments of State, Commerce, Treasury and Agriculture and the Joint Chiefs office and the Office of the Secretary of Defense combined.

UNGOVERNED SPACES: Al Qaeda in Latin America?
According to its public documents, Southern Command is interested in improving "effective sovereignty" in Latin America's "ungoverned spaces" like the "Triborder Area" between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, where national governments have little power, smuggling is rampant, and U.S. military experts allege that fundraising for Islamic terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah is taking place. Former SOUTHCOM head James Hill states that "branches of Middle East terrorist organizations conduct support activities in the Southern Command area of responsibility."[1]

When the head of US SOUTHCOM, Gen. Bantz Craddock, addressed graduates of the SOA/ WHINSEC's Command and General Staff Course last summer, he warned the soldiers that today's "complex" challenges include "transnational terrorism, narco-terror," and "radical movements."[2]
But many Latin America and security experts say that the terrorist threat there is overstated. Adam Isaacson, an analyst with the Center on International Policy, says that with the exception of Colombia, "terrorists are rather scarce in Latin America, and terrorists who threaten U.S. citizens on U.S. soil are scarcer still…To portray terrorism as a region-wide threat, from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego, seems like a tough sell."  The lack of a significant threat has done little to cool the rhetoric. Isaacson notes that "the word 'terrorism' appears as a justification for military aid in 16 of the Western Hemisphere country narratives in the State Department's 2005 Congressional Presentation document for foreign aid programs."[3]


Hugo Chavez While fanning concerns about the growing role of Islamic fundamentalists in Latin America and keeping a wary eye on "ungoverned spaces," what seems to concern Washington most is the leftward tilt of many Latin American countries.
In its 2004 Posture Statement, SOUTHCOM noted that "radical populism" is a major threat to stability in the region. At a briefing before the House Armed Services Committee in April 2004, then- SOUTHCOM Commander James Hill said that "terrorists throughout Latin America bomb, murder, kidnap, traffic drugs, transfer arms, launder money, smuggle humans." [4]

He elaborated that there are both "traditional terrorists," such as the criminal gangs in Central  America and paramilitary and guerilla groups in Colombia; and "emerging terrorists" such as the "radical populists" who tap into "deep seated frustrations of the failure of democratic reforms to deliver expected results." Radical populists apparently include Venezuelan President  Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, president-elect of Bolivia and a  former leader in that country's coca growers' union. [5]

In March, CIA Director Porter Goss testified before the House Armed Services Committee that the United States should pay greater attention to threats "in our own back yard." He noted that presidential elections will be held in eight South American and Central American countries in 2006 and warned that "destabilization or a backslide away from democratic principles...would not be helpful to our interests and would be probably threatening to our security in the long run."[6]

ON THE GROUND IN LATIN AMERICA: The U.S. Military in Paraguay
U.S. military bases, forward operating locations, and radar stations try to keep a low profile, but they are not as elusive as on-again, off-again military "training missions," such as those taking place in Paraguay this summer.
The United States military and the Armed Forces of Paraguay are conducting joint operations at a Paraguayan military base, including one that involves U.S. soldiers providing counterterrorism training to 65 Paraguayan air force officers.
While U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, have denied Washington's interest in a permanent military base in Paraguay, the location of the exercises raise suspicions. The military base is 200 miles from the Bolivian border and almost as close to the country's natural gas reserves and fresh water aquifers. It is also close enough to Brazil to be threatening. In late July, the Brazilian army launched military maneuvers along its border with Paraguay, parallel to the arrival of U.S. troops in Paraguay. According to InterPress Service, the United States has conducted 46 military operations in Paraguay since 2002. [7]

In addition to strengthening the militaries of Latin America through aid, training and equipment, the United States continues to stake out a claim on the use of Latin American territory for its own foreign policy objectives. Some of these bases are well-known (and in the case of the U.S. base at Guantanamo, notorious), while others — in Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador and the Caribbean islands — are open secrets.

This article was adapted from "The Bush Effect" by Frida Berrigan and Jonathan Wingo of the World Policy Institute. The World Policy Institute, drawing largely on the work of the Center for International Policy, has compiled a list of what is known about the United States' "military footprint" in the region. The list is available here: www.SOAW.org/mil

[1] Testimony of General James T. Hill, Commander, United States Southern Command, hearing of the House Armed Services Committee: "Fiscal Year 2005 National Defense Authorization budget request," March 24, 2004.
[2] Speech of Gen. Brantz Craddock, July 12, 2005.
[3] Adam Isaacson, "Closing the Seams: U.S. Security Policy in the Americas," NACLA, 2005.
[4] Testimony of General James T. Hill, Commander, United States Southern Command, hearing of the House Armed Services Committee: "Fiscal Year 2005 National Defense Authorization budget request," March 24, 2004.
[5] Jack Epstein, "General Seeks Boost for Latin American Armies," San Francisco Chronicle, April 30, 2004.
[6] Dana Priest and Walter Pincus, "CIA, White House Defend Transfers of Terror Suspects," Washington Post, March 2005.
[7] "Paraguay Says USA Not Interested in Setting up Military Base," BBC, August 17, 2005.
Resources for more information:
Just the Facts: A Civilian's Guide to U.S. Defense and Security Assistance, Center for International Policy (CIP) and the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) Education Fund.
Erasing the Lines: Trends in U.S. Military Programs with Latin America, LAWG, CIP and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), January 2006.
U.S. Weapons at War 2005: Promoting Freedom or Fueling Conflict? A World Policy Institute Report, June 2005.
Published in the Spring 2006 issue  
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