Latin America Civil-Military Relations Update

Latin America and the Caribbean

This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Caroline Buhse.

In Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos replaced army, navy, and air force leaders not long after Human Rights Watch published a report showing military responsibility for thousands of extrajudicial killings of civilians between 2002 and 2008. Santos and the recently named defense minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, insisted that the leadership shakeup had nothing to do with the Human Rights Watch allegations. One of the officers named in the report, armed forces chief Gen. Juan Pablo Rodríguez, remained in his post.

The Dominican Republic is increasing military presence after a series of robberies and an increase in other violent crime. More than six thousand members of the armed forces and the national police will be on the streets to counter the rise in attacks. The patrols will begin immediately and the Chief of Police and the Ministry of Defense will jointly coordinate them.

The government of El Salvador deployed 600 soldiers to confront the boycott of public bus drivers enforced by the 18th Street Gang. BBC stated that the gang, in a show of strength, forced bus drivers to stay off the roads, completely obstructing the public transportation system. El Salvador has seen a heightened level of violence this year.

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro ordered the creation of a special unit of the Bolivarian National Army to deal with a “paramilitary threat.” The unit will be responsible for organizing strategy, tactics and operations to confront an alleged threat from Colombian-linked paramilitary groups.

Mexico’s Defense Secretariat replaced Col. José Rodríguez Pérez with Col. Álvaro Javier Juárez Vázquez as the head of the 27th Infantry Battalion in Iguala, Guerrero. Rodríguez headed the army unit in Iguala when 43 students were kidnapped by a criminal group linked to the local government in September 2014. The parents of the students say that, though the 27th Infantry Battalion was aware of the disappearances, it failed to intervene.

The National Commission for Human Rights in Mexico called on the military to revoke or change the use of the word abatir in their orders. “Abatir” roughly translates to bring down, but is considered to have a violent and sometimes fatal meaning. The formal request asks for removal of the word to avoid ambiguities and any possible confusion in military operations involving confrontations with citizens.

Cristina Kirchner, Argentina’s president, attended an annual dinner to build cooperation and camaraderie between the executive and the armed forces. The dinner was the first in the last two years without the presence of General César Milani, the former head of the Army and longtime military intelligence chief. In June 2015 Milani retired from his position citing personal reasons. General Ricardo Luis Cundom, a former pilot in the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas war, has replaced Milani.