During the opening session of the first Meeting of Public Security Ministers of the Americas, held in October 2008, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, emphatically claimed that “security-related issues have become one of the principal threats to stability, the strengthening of democracy, and the development potential of our region.” Insulza’s statement highlighted the fundamental role that citizen security plays in the consolidation of Latin America’s democracies.
Over the past nine years, an estimated 300,000 Colombian refugees have crossed their country’s border with Ecuador. They have fled persecution, threats, disappearances, murders, deliberate displacement, and recruitment by the parties to Colombia’s long, drug-funded war between government forces, leftist guerrillas, and paramilitary militias, all of which violate human rights with great frequency.
In 2000, the United States launched an ambitious rates of violent displacement, despite the partial aid program designed to help Colombia combat illicit drugs. The program, known as Plan Colombia or the Andean Counternarcotics Initiative, was also presented as a plan to help our neighbor “regain the citizens’ confidence and recuperate the basic norms of peaceful coexistence,” as well as build “an effective judicial system that can defend and promote respect for human rights.”1 Nine years later, despite military gains, these goals remain elusive. Colombia’s production of cocaine is virtually unchanged.
The Defense Department’s leadership of foreign military aid and training programs is increasing. The State Department, which once had sole authority to direct and monitor such programs, is ceding control. Moreover, changes to the U.S. military’s geographic command structure could grant the military a greater role in shaping, and becoming the face of, U.S. foreign policy where it counts—on the ground.
Ten years ago, our organizations launched a project to monitor U.S. military programs in Latin America. We did so out of concern that poor access to information made public and congressional oversight of such programs impossible. A myriad of funding mechanisms and programs presented a complex picture, and limited information was provided through a haphazard series of reports mandated by Congress. Today, the funding mechanisms and programs have only grown more numerous and complex, but some improvements in transparency have made it possible for a clearer picture to emerge.
Last year, our "Blurring the Lines" report discussed the confusion of military and policing roles in Latin America amid weakening civilian oversight of U.S. military assistance programs. Today, these trends are intensifying. The Defense Department is expanding its control over foreign military training programs that were once the exclusive province of the Department of State, lessening congressional oversight, and weakening the relationship between military assistance and foreign policy goals.