“Concrete actions are required: to pass long-awaited reforms of immigration laws, increase commercial relations and encourage mutual understanding, nourish cultural exchanges, lift the embargo on Cuba, close Guantánamo, and to be much more attentive and respectful toward Latin American countries and not treat them as the mere backyard of the nation they call ‘the Giant of the North.’”—
From Mexican historian Enrique Krauze, a concise list of steps the U.S. government could take to put behind its bitter past relationship with Latin America. All of them doable.
From a very good New York Timescolumn commemorating the April 1914 U.S. invasion of Veracruz, Mexico.
“Mr. García Márquez mythologized the history of an entire continent, while at the same time creating a Rabelaisian portrait of the human condition as a febrile dream in which love and suffering and redemption endlessly cycle back on themselves on a Möbius strip in time.”—I still haven’t finished reading yesterday’s New York Times cover story about Gabriel García Márquez, because of sentences like this one.
“When our first book, Just the Facts: A civilian’s guide to US defense and security assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean, was published in 1998, we knew that we had made something useful. It was being used, not just by our target audience – the NGO sector – but by academics, journalists, congressional staffers, and even the Defense Department. The day the book was released, we got an order for 40 copies from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. They told me that they didn’t have this information compiled in one place.”—
From the valedictory blog post written by my boss, WOLA director Joy Olson, at the website of “Just the Facts,” the project we founded in the 1990s to monitor U.S. military aid in Latin America.
Tomorrow, the “Just the Facts” brand-name (a lousy one but we could never think of anything better) disappears. From now on, you can find the same data and analysis in the Latin America section of Security Assistance Monitor, a new, global military aid-monitoring site coordinated by the Center for International Policy. Once it’s fully up and running, the new site is going to be a greatly improved resource.
“With [captured Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “Chapo”] Guzmán out of the way, the Zetas appear to have regained their brash form. Last week the group allegedly used Twitter and Facebook to warn Tampico residents of an imminent “gunbattle to the death” of what’s left of the Gulf cartel. The message warned residents to stay away from public areas. “We’re warning you now so you don’t whine later that you were caught in the crossfire,” it said.”—
Alfredo Corchado of the Dallas Morning Newspieces together why violence is spiking upward in the northeastern Mexican border state of Tamaulipas.
As in the past several years, the fighting is taking place mainly between the Zetas and the Gulf cartel (which initially spawned the Zetas). Mexico’s biggest cartel, the Sinaloa organization, has less of a presence in Tamaulipas, but had been propping up the Gulf cartel to aid its nationwide battle against the Zetas.
Apparently the February capture of Sinaloa leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has curtailed the flow of Sinaloa support to the Gulf cartel. As a result, the Gulf organization is weakened and splintering. The Zetas—still strong despite last year’s capture of its top leader—have responded by launching a bloody offensive.
Mexico’s security forces, it appears, are once again almost completely absent from this story.
As Possibility for Peace Grows in Colombia, a New WOLA Report Analyzes the Challenges Ahead
The U.S. has an important role to play and should start planning now to help Colombia consolidate peace
By Adam Isacson, WOLA Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy
It looks ever more likely that sometime in the next year, Colombia may reach a landmark peace accord promising to end a half-century of armed conflict. As this likelihood increases, the United States—which provided billions for Colombia’s war effort—must prepare now to help Colombia consolidate peace.
The new WOLA report, Ending 50 Years of Conflict in Colombia, strikes an optimistic note. Talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, Latin America’s largest and oldest guerrilla group, “are beginning to stick,” the report explains. “Negotiators in Havana, Cuba have gotten significantly further than ever before. It is not unreasonable to expect an accord by the end of 2014.”
With 30 graphics and videos helping to tell the story, WOLA’s latest report walks the reader through the challenges that remain at the negotiating table: finding a dignified solution for millions of conflict victims, devising transitional justice to hold the worst human rights abusers accountable, and overcoming objections from the negotiations’ political opponents.
Once an accord is reached, a new series of challenges awaits: implementing the commitments agreed upon at the table, demobilizing and reintegrating all ex-combatants, and getting a functioning government presence into territories long abandoned to illegal armed groups.
The U.S. role will be crucial, the report contends. Since 2000, the United States has provided Colombia with over US$600 million per year in mostly military aid. In the years following a peace accord, this aid should not only continue, it should increase and reorient toward civilian institution-building and economic needs.
Colombia will need help bringing government into lawless areas; demobilizing and reintegrating combatants; assisting displaced populations’ return; protecting rights defenders; helping to fulfill accords on land, political participation, and victims; supporting transitional justice and a truth commission; and guaranteeing a strong international verification and monitoring presence. The United States can leverage the strong relationship it has built with Colombia’s powerful armed forces to help them weather a difficult transition to a smaller post-conflict role.
As negotiations proceed, the Obama administration must continue voicing its support for the process. It must do so even if negotiators agree to changes in counter-drug policy—such as suspending crop eradication through aerial herbicide spraying—that parts of the U.S. government would prefer not to implement.
The time to help Colombia prepare for the post-conflict is fast approaching. The United States and other international donors must begin planning now, not on the day an accord is actually signed. Ending 50 Years of Conflict in Colombiaurges that this planning begin as soon as possible, while offering a roadmap to help guide it.
David Smilde evenhandedly narrates Venezuela’s vaunted, televised “dialogue” between the Maduro government and opposition leaders. After reading this, most other coverage of the negotiations seems either redundant or polarized.
Dudley offers a firm, reasoned takedown of alarmist claims that global terrorist groups are allying with Latin American organized crime groups to threaten the United States. When cooperation happens, he says, it’s more of a “one-night stand.”
Miroff travels to Mexico’s drug-producing heartland in Sinaloa where, as marijuana prices crater, growers are turning to poppies for the heroin trade. Cartels are aggressively marketing heroin in smaller U.S. cities as a cheaper alternative to synthetics like OxyContin.
Amid some maddening generalizations and blind spots (“the United States Government, jointly with the Government of Colombia, actually did this the right way”), the Assistant Secretary—nearing the end of his fourth year at this post—recognizes some past drug-policy errors and offers some very sound recommendations for the future.
“If you are a farmer and have children studying in town, you can only bring them home during their vacations. This creates a dilemma for the parents: whether to take them out of school or pay for their room and board, because the school does not provide it. (It is worth noting that the majority of schools offering education up to 11th grade are located in town centers.) If you are new in the area and decide to settle there, you may not leave the zone for a year—the time period it supposedly takes to gain the FARC’s trust—at which time the FARC will decide whether you may stay or not. If you live in town and have a farm in the rural zone, which is very common in these regions, you have to choose to live in one or the other, or pay someone else whom you trust to take care of the land for life, while paying all community taxes.”—
Life under the FARC’s July 2013 “Rulebook” for citizens of Putumayo, Colombia, as observed by longtime Colombian human rights defender Nancy Sánchez.
The guerrillas, paranoid about strangers and infiltration of the zones they control, have confined people to each county’s town centers and rural zones. And there is little the government is doing about it—even though Putumayo is where U.S.-supported military operations under “Plan Colombia” first got underway back in 2000.
“U.S. military and intelligence officials seem blind to both the character and the security implications of this type of corruption. Like an odorless gas, it fuels all these dangers without attracting much policy response inside or outside of Foggy Bottom.”—
DefenseOne runs a good piece by Sarah Chayes at the Carnegie Endowment, a former defense official. She recommends that U.S. officials start paying more attention to how corrupt a regime is before ratcheting up U.S. military cooperation.
This is a timely message, as the Pentagon and State Departments currently appear determined to “build partner capacity” for its own sake. Current defense policy exhibits a blanket belief that aiding pro-U.S. militaries worldwide will make us safer. Instead, Chayes suggests that publicly associating ourselves with notoriously corrupt regimes could make us less safe. She cites her experience in Afghanistan.
"Afghans were watching. ‘People think the Americans must want the corruption,’ a former Kandahar neighbor remarked when news of CIA payments to Karzai became public. Many, initially thrilled to be rid of the Taliban, became frustrated with the corrupt system they blamed the U.S. for enabling. And after a few years, they became susceptible to Taliban propaganda again, which blamed the U.S. for supporting Karzai’s mafia government. Thus, the very threat that the short-term thinking sought to minimize was instead expanded."
When a U.S.-friendly regime is woefully corrupt, Chayes recommends that Washington pull back some military assistance.
"Certain types of status-enhancing military equipment – such as fighter jets, tanks, or drones — might be withheld from such regimes. The U.S. might select which foreign security services to train and assist with more care, based on the role they play within the kleptocratic network, or a detested ruling clique’s ability to capture the military assistance as a rent. Forward-deployed units would have to know who they’re dealing with, and more realistically assess the costs and benefits of such relationships over time."
Though Chayes’s article includes no Latin America examples, its advice is certainly relevant for a region with some of the world’s highest perceptions of corruption. Groups like WOLA often advise against military aid to governments that abuse human rights with impunity. Chayes reminds us that we also do harm by aiding governments that steal, or engage in criminality, with impunity.
Foreign aid law attaches human rights conditions to U.S. military aid to Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. But there are no meaningful “corruption conditions” anywhere.
Perhaps the red flag that should warn U.S. officials about their military-aid partners isn’t merely “human rights” or “corruption.” It’s “impunity.” If there is a pattern of abusive or predatory behavior going uninvestigated and unpunished, our policymakers cannot ignore it. The United States makes itself less secure by publicly associating itself with it.
Backgrounder: Accounts that Pay for U.S. Drug War Aid to Latin America
I wrote the text below in a follow-up email to some congressional staff with whom I’d met last week. It occurred to me, though, that it might be helpful to share it more widely than that.
There are only three U.S. programs that specifically pay for counter-drug aid in Latin America. Together, though, they make up about 81% of all U.S. military/police aid to the region over the last 10 years. (And 12% of economic/civilian aid.) They are:
2. Section 1004 Counternarcotics: the Defense Department’s non-permanent, but regularly renewed, authorization to use its own budget for several specific kinds of military and police aid to other countries (and to US civilian law enforcement). After INCLE, the second-largest source of military/police aid to Latin America.
Best official report breaking down aid: reporting is poor. Armed Services Committees sometimes require reports, sometimes don’t. All reports we’ve obtained are at http://bit.ly/QLm2GQ.
3. Section 1033 Counternarcotics: another Defense Department counter-drug military aid program, which pays for a few additional kinds of aid that 1004 doesn’t. Begun in 1998 for Colombia and Peru, since expanded to 39 countries worldwide.
“I’m going to say this and it will be on tape, and so be it. The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their family’s dad who loves their children was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table, and they wanted to make sure their family was intact. And they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. it’s kind of — it’s a — it’s an act of love.”—
Actually, Governor Bush, if the person committing that “act of love” has one or more prior deportations on his record, it is a felony. And under “Operation Streamline,” that person may face months in a federal prison for being here. This is largely because of laws that your party’s leadership has championed.