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Militarizing Latin America Policy.

Deep within the Defense Department's civilian bureaucracy, the Clinton administration made a quiet shift in 1999 that speaks volumes about the current U.S. relationship with Latin America. The Pentagon's office for Inter-American Affairs was transferred from the Bureau for International Security Affairs--where it sat in the organizational chart alongside similar offices for Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe--into a bureau with the alarming name of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict. Under the reorganization, Latin America is the only geographic area assigned to an office that deals with issues like terrorism, drug enforcement, and other activities of Special Forces (defined as military units that specialize in "operations other than war").

The shift at the Pentagon is emblematic of the militarization of U.S. policy toward Latin America since the early 1990s. Militarization is not a new tendency, of course--the United States has treated Latin America's many social problems as "special operations" (witness the cold war emphasis on military aid instead of land reform or rural development). But militarization is intensifying, led by new antidrug initiatives and rapidly growing training and military engagement programs. Today, military contacts and activities are playing such a central role in bilateral relationships that they threaten to overshadow diplomatic ties, economic cooperation, and democratic development.

The highest profile example is the drug war. In response to social problems--addiction at home and desperately poor peasants in Colombia--the United States is sending Colombia's armed forces aid valued at $1.5 million per day during 2001. But antidrug operations are just the beginning.

The U.S. military presence in the region rivals--and perhaps surpasses--that of civilian diplomats. The State Department has about 16,000 direct-hire employees at posts throughout the world; Latin America accounts for a modest fraction of that total (about 4,000). Meanwhile, the Southern Command, the unit responsible for U.S. military activities in Latin America and the Caribbean, has a staff of 800 military and 325 civilian employees at its Miami headquarters, while two of its components--U.S. Army South in Puerto Rico and Joint Task Force-Bravo in Honduras--combine for an additional 570 military and 1,390 civilian staff. Another 107 officers work in Milgroups, managing security assistance programs at U.S. embassies throughout the region, and still more are assigned to Special Operations Command South in Puerto Rico and at "Forward Operating Locations"--support bases for U.S. counterdrug aircraft--in Ecuador, El Salvador, and the Netherlands Antilles. On temporary deployments, more than 55,000 military personnel, including National Guard troops and reservists, pass through Latin America in a typical year.

In contrast, economic assistance for the region has dropped sharply in the early 1990s. In 2000--for the first time since before John F. Kennedy's "Alliance for Progress" economic aid initiative--total security assistance to Latin America actually exceeded total economic assistance (roughly $900 million versus $800 million).

Beyond drugs, the main interest of U.S. military planners in the region is "engagement"--maintaining frequent contact with military counterparts everywhere in the hemisphere except Cuba. The main form of engagement is training--courses in the U.S. and overseas as well as dozens of yearly exercises and deployment--and such programs have expanded greatly since the early 1990s.

The United States trained some 13,000 Latin American military and police personnel in 1999, the last year for which data is available. At least two-thirds of those trained are instructed in their own countries by U.S. military Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) and during almost 200 yearly visits by U.S. Special Forces teams on Counterdrug Training Support (CDTS) and Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) deployments. In a typical year, Latin American trainees also take courses at over 100 military institutions on U.S. soil. This includes the 650 students trained in 1999 at the School of the Americas (recently renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) at Fort Benning, Georgia. Training also takes place through a robust program of about a dozen multilateral military exercises, regular exchanges, and courses offered at a new Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington.

Military-to-military engagement goes beyond training, however. Southern Command has increased its Humanitarian and Civic Assistance (HCA) program, in which U.S. troops build infrastructure or provide medical assistance (98 such projects took place in 19 Latin American countries in the region in 2000). And arms transfers are expanding, led by helicopters for Colombia and a likely $600 million sale of high-tech fighter aircraft to Chile. The new Forward Operating Locations offer fresh opportunities for contact, as does an expansion in Foreign Military Interaction seminars, conferences, and other events, most of them financed through budgets at the discretion of the general who heads the Southern Command.

Key Points

* The military is currently playing a major role in shaping U.S. policy toward Latin America, rivaling the role of diplomacy and economic assistance.

* The militarization of Washington's Latin America policy is being led by the drug war, training programs, arms transfers, and a wide array of "military-to-military contact" efforts.

* The U.S. military regularly "engages" with the armed forces of each country in the hemisphere except Cuba.

Adam Isacson <> has directed the Center for International Policy's Latin America Demilitarization Program since 1995. The program seeks to limit U.S. military involvement in the hemisphere and works with organizations in the region seeking to reduce military sizes and roles.
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Article Details
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Author:Isacson, Adam
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:May 30, 2001
Previous Article:Colombia & Drugs.
Next Article:Problems with Current U.S. Policy.

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