Toward a New Foreign Policy.
Similarly, the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom), searching for a new raison d'etre, was quick to fill the post-cold war policy void by enlisting Latin American militaries as part of its counternarcotics strategy. The U.S. has negotiated arrangements to upgrade and utilize existing airfields as "Forward Operating Locations" in Aruba, Curagao, Ecuador, and El Salvador, which will be used for counternarcotics, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance flights. These bases are intended to replace Howard Air Force Base in Panama, which was closed in 1999 when the U.S. government's contract with the Panamanian government expired. In July 2000, Congress approved $116.5 million for upgrades to the Forward Operating Locations as part of the Colombia emergency aid package. The U.S. plans to use the bases for at least 10 years, allowing the Pentagon to establish stronger ties with local security forces. The bases have already generated controversy in some Latin American countries, most notably in Ecuador, where some sectors of the population consider the base to be a threat to national sovereignty that will drag Ecuador into Colombia's war.
Washington lawmakers are moving in the wrong direction. The U.S. must act to reduce (not merely redefine) the role of militaries within societies. Currently, Washington is providing the training, resources, and doctrinal rationale for armed forces to take on new tasks (building roads and schools, offering health services, protecting the environment, controlling drugs) rather than acting to limit their role to the defense of national borders. Given the problems and risks associated with the militarization of antinarcotics programs in Latin America, Washington should cease financial and political support for Latin American military involvement in drug control operations.
The U.S. should reevaluate its costly, militarized, supply-side drug control programs, which have failed to produce results for the past 15 years. Rather than counterbalancing by merely increasing funding for programs aimed at promoting democracy and human rights while pursuing a militarized strategy that puts democracy and regional security at risk, Washington should take its international drug control strategy back to the drawing board. The Bush administration has an opportunity to adopt a new approach to drug control and ensure that budget priorities reflect the administration's stated belief that the supply of drugs will continue as long as demand persists. The U.S. can still provide critical support to its Latin American neighbors in their efforts to curb the drug trade and the related violence that it causes. But rather than directing assistance to militaries throughout the region, assistance should be directed toward building the capacity of civilian institutions to investigate and prosecute crime, strengthening respect for human rights and the rule of law, and spurring economic development.
But in the current political atmosphere in Washington, where drug control policy is fueled by the fear of being labeled "soft" on drugs, it is unlikely that either the White House or Congress will act to reduce the counternarcotics roles played by U.S. and Latin American militaries, despite their ineffectiveness in combating drug trafficking. Though oversight of these programs has improved somewhat in recent years, at minimum Washington needs to exercise greater control over the programs under which it provides training, equipment, and financial assistance to Latin American forces for antidrug operations.
Since 1998, Congress has required the state and defense departments to annually compile a comprehensive foreign military training report listing all U.S. trainees worldwide. Human rights advocates have welcomed this effort as an important step toward congressional and public oversight of the training programs, but several problems should be addressed to increase the utility of these reports. The Latin America Working Group (LAWG) recommends the declassification of information about completed training exercises, clarification of course descriptions, and standardization of reporting across funding categories. LAWG also recommends that the Defense Department's Section 1004 authority, now one of the main sources for funding counternarcotics training programs for Latin American security forces, not be reauthorized. To increase transparency, these training programs should be funded through the State Department, which has more thorough reporting requirements.
* The Bush administration must develop a broad, clearly defined strategy for strengthening civilian governments and reducing the role of the armed forces in Latin America.
* The U.S. should cease counternarcotics assistance to Latin American militaries and orient antidrug assistance for civilian police forces in order to strengthen their capacity to perform sound criminal investigations targeting drug traffickers.
* Though oversight of programs has improved in recent years, greater control needs to be exercised over the programs under which training, equipment, and financial assistance are provided to Latin American forces for antidrug operations.
Gina Amatangelo <GAmatangelo@wola.org> is a Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, specializing in international drug control programs in the Andes region.
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|Publication:||Foreign Policy in Focus|
|Date:||May 15, 2001|
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