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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. 

The U.S. military relationship with Latin America decisions through a top-down, hierarchical structure is evolving rapidly, as the “war on terror” replaces the cold war and the “war on drugs” as the guiding mission for Washington’s assistance programs in the region. Though U.S. attention is fixed on other parts of the world, the scope of military aid is steadily increasing in our own hemisphere.

Since September 11th, the Bush Administration has moved forcefully to eliminate and scale back the reports required by Congress regarding military programs. Particularly alarming for public and congressional oversight of foreign policy are efforts to curtail reporting on training for foreign militaries. Behind- the-scenes attempts to remove public reports from law are increasing and threatening to reduce transparency over some of the U.S. government’s riskiest and most controversial overseas activities. 

In early September 2001, Congress was debating a number of national security issues involving Latin America, including the Bush Administration's new Andean counterdrug initiative and the continued U.S. military presence on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. While still critically important in the region, both dropped to barely perceptible blips on Washington's political ra- dar screen after September 11th. While U.S. military pro- grams will continue in Latin America, they are likely to undergo some changes as the United States responds to the terrorist attacks.

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