Yesterday, Ecuador's Minister of Internal and External Security, Gustavo Larrea, was in Washington to meet with various members of Congress, the media, and to speak at an event hosted by CSIS and the Inter-American Dialogue. It seems that Larrea's visit was timed such that he could promote Ecuador's new Constitution, approved by the constituent assembly yesterday and up for referendum vote in September, and to make clear that while Ecuador hopes to maintain bilateral relations with the United States, it also will uphold its sovereignty. You can listen to Larrea's presentation at the CSIS and Dialogue event (in Spanish) here.
Here is how the Bolivian government's press agency (Agencia Boliviana de Información, ABI) portrayed yesterday's visit to La Paz of Thomas Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemishere Affairs.
The Senate Appropriations Committee finished work last Thursday on its version of the 2009 State / Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, the U.S. government budget legislation that supplies most U.S. aid to Latin America and the Caribbean.
Argentina's defense minister, Nilda Garré, and president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, at the annual civil-military "comradeship dinner."
Argentina: [A possible military pay raise] will be the central point at the traditional military dinner [the annual "comradeship dinner"], in which the entire national cabinet, Supreme Court judges and legislators share tables with the main military commanders. The appearance of the salary question as a fundamental concern at all levels, at a moment of political upheaval [Argentina's agricultural crisis], is taken by the officers as a symbol that the barracks' doors are closed, and have been for many years, to coup-plotting adventures. With no greater crises in view, the dinner's climate will be marked by a possible announcement about salaries."
Argentina: "The Minister of Defense ordered the Army High Command to relieve three officers of their command in the V Infantry Brigade (Salta), if it is proven that they tried to destroy a guard logbook in that city's Military Hospital. ... In the hospital was found a guard logbook corresponding to the 1976-1983 military dictatorship period."
Bolivia: "The government last night accused the Podemos and UN opposition parties of trying to split the armed forces and seek to pit them against the police, through a Senate committee's investigation of a [dynamite] attack on a communication medium [television station] in Yacuiba. ... They denied that Army Lieutenant Georges Nava, who is detained with 11 other people, is responsible for the deed. ... Yesterday [July 8] information on Nava's flash memory came to light indicating that the [Morales] government has the unconditional support of perhaps only three of the 56 regimental commanders."
Brazil: "250 soldiers began to leave [Rio de Janeiro's violent Providencia favela], obeying the order of a federal judicial tribunal that considered soldiers' participation in police functions to be unconstitutional. On Thursday June 26 the Federal Regional Tribunal's deadline for the Army to vacate the area completely will expire. The soldiers' presence to support a project sponsored by a political ally of Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was strongly criticized by the opposition, the press and Providencia's own inhabitants. The neighborhood's residents organized violent protests against the soldiers who had been there, accusing them of abuses of power and of being allies of narcotrafficking gangs.
Guatemala: "In his speech, [President Álvaro Colom assured that his government will support itself on 'a new modernized Army to recover diverse geograhic areas of the country' that are under the influence of organized crime gangs."
Mexico: "The debacle in Santiago in Sinaloa state, a stronghold of drug traffickers, is one of a series of blunders by Mexican soldiers waging a bloody campaign against narcotics cartels — a crackdown that the U.S. Congress is looking at supporting with up to $1.6 billion. Since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and sent out 25,000 troops to take on the mafias, soldiers have killed at least 13 unarmed civilians."
Peru: "A debate blew up in Peru after the government's decision to send the armed forces into the streets to reinforce security in the face of a July 9 national strike, in the belief that demonstrators opposing President Alan García will commit acts of violence."
Venezuela: "Venezuelan military officers have expressed growing alarm at attempts by President Hugo Chávez to turn the armed forces into a political instrument of his socialist revolution."
- Venezuela: "Hundreds of Venezuelan military officers are no longer assigned duties and have been relegated to their homes, quietly pushed aside for their dissent under President Hugo Chavez, according to former military commanders and a watchdog group."
The Just the Facts page as it appeared in December 1998 (thanks to the Internet Archive).
We began this project for ourselves. We didn’t even know whether anyone else would find it useful. “Just the Facts” is the name of an eleven-year-old collaboration between the Center for International Policy, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America. The project carries out citizen oversight and advocacy on the United States’ military relationship with the Western Hemisphere. During the 1980s, CIP, LAWGEF and WOLA were part of the citizen coalition working to limit U.S. military assistance to Central America. We continued to coordinate in the 1990s, as the Cold War wound down in the Americas and military aid to Central America declined rapidly. Despite that decline, we saw many indications that the United States’ relationship with the region’s militaries - many of them still abusive, unaccountable, unreformed institutions - continued to be robust. By the second half of the decade, we were aware of a continued steady flow of arms transfers, exercises, training programs and especially counter-narcotics efforts with the region’s armed forces - not just in Central America, but in nearly every country from Mexico to Argentina. Helicopters going to Colombia. Radar sites being built in Peru. New Special Forces collaboration with Mexico. A constant flow of soldiers and Guardsmen in the region carrying out construction projects. The lifting of a high-tech weapons sales ban to the region. Argentina’s designation as a “major non-NATO ally.” Clearly, a lot was going on and nobody was minding the store. There was a great need for us, as citizen overseers, to gather and present information about how the United States’ military relationship with the region was evolving. But getting a handle on it would not be easy. In 1997, LAWGEF and CIP drew up a proposal to create a publicly available compendium of data about the U.S. military relationship with Latin America. Thanks to a grant from the Ford Foundation, by 1998 what became known as the “Just the Facts” project had put out a book, a country-by-country narrative of U.S. military assistance with accompanying descriptions of the programs that fund it and the laws that govern it. All information was made available on a companion website. In the intervening ten years, the “Just the Facts” project, with support from Ford and, later, the Open Society Institute, has published three books and fourteen smaller publications, while keeping the website up to date. The project has allowed our organizations to monitor and sound alarms about trends like a growing Pentagon role in foreign aid decisionmaking, the difficulty of congressional oversight, the challenges of human-rights conditionality, and shifts in geographical priorities, among others. Over the years, our website has proven to be an inexpensive, efficient way to reach a large number of people in the United States and throughout the region. As we layered on year after year of data, however, coding hundreds of tables by hand, the old website became ever more unwieldy and unscalable. It came to require an ever larger time commitment for the same result. The website was beginning to creak under the weight of more than a decade of data managed with 1990s tools. In October 2007, the Open Society Institute approved a grant for the Center for International Policy to give the “Just the Facts” website a thorough overhaul. Nearly ten months later, as this inaugural blog post can attest, that top-to-bottom re-launch is nearly complete. The new “Just the Facts” is fully database-driven and has a long list of features that would have been prohibitively expensive and impractical even five years ago.
- Aid amounts are presented either country-by-country or program-by-program, all in sortable tables that can be restricted by year, subregion and type of funding program. Printer-friendly versions are available, and we will soon add spreadsheet (CSV) exports too. Many individual aid numbers are clickable, yielding even more detail about what sort of aid is being given.
- Training and arms sales work similarly, and each section offers a detailed search form allowing users to pull out specific data (such as all arms sales to Colombia since 2003 with the word "helicopter" in them, for instance).
- Deployments are still under construction - we've only got counter-drug operations and Humanitarian Civic Assistance deployments so far. The goal is to have bases, exercises, Special Forces deployments and Security Assistance Organizations complete by late September or early October.
- Links to news coverage. You'll notice that almost everything on these links pages is clickable - clicking on "Argentina" or "Civil-Military Relations" gives you links to every relevant news article we've seen about Argentina lately, or every article we've tagged "Civil-Military Relations." You can also search for news (but for copyright reasons, we can't share the text of articles), and browse a list of news outlets.
- You can read our own publications since 1998. Also, read what others are saying about security in the Americas, whether in the U.S. Government (including official reports), the U.S. Congress, other governments or NGOs.
- Any legislation that can be construed as relevant to security in the Americas is reproduced here. We update this page at least once a week, so it should reflect bill status quite closely. This section too is searchable.
- A calendar presents upcoming public events, hearings, official travel, reporting deadlines and similar date-specific data.
- An image gallery presents public-domain photos depicting U.S. engagement with Latin America, taken mostly from official U.S. government online sources. Images too are tagged and searchable.
- And of course, we've added something that the original "Just the Facts" sorely lacked: a search form that actually yields meaningful results. (See the top right corner of this and every other non-printer-friendly page.)
A few pieces of data remain to be added, mainly exercises, bases and deployments. Soon we will add a section highlighting reports and organizations laying out recommendations for what an alternative U.S. policy toward the region might look like. A professional design facelift awaits - the site's current layout (as of July 2008) reflects the fact that we are Latin Americanists, not designers. We want to add a lot more multimedia and interactive features. But the new site is already fully functional, and we're pleased to say that it is catching on: the number of unique visitors we've had over the past month (1,341 according to Google Analytics) grew by more than 50 percent over the previous month (869). In the coming year, we hope to use the “Just the Facts” website to highlight several troubling trends, high-priority issues, and promising alternatives. We hope that you'll join us and visit often.