Just the Facts 2001-2002: A Quick Tour of U.S. Defense and Security Relations With Latin America and the Caribbean

Just the Facts 2001-2002In 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.

This year’s major assistance package to Latin America focuses on U.S. military support for counternarcotics ef- forts in Colombia and the Andean region. While major guerrilla groups operate in Colombia, the United States has so far restricted its rationale for assistance to counter-drug support. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, the already blurry line between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency in Colom- bia may be erased.

Human rights conditions on aid are also at risk as U.S. attention turns to terrorist threats. Efforts are underway to seek broad waiver authority to over- ride human rights safeguards on U.S. military pro- grams worldwide. Agreements with countries host- ing U.S. military Forward Operating Locations in Latin America restrict their use to counterdrug ac- tivities, but there may be pressure to use these facili- ties for counterterrorism purposes as well.

Beyond these potential changes, many of the programs the United States carries out with Latin American militaries will not be dramatically affected by recent events. Engagement is, and will continue to be, a primary objective for many U.S. military programs in the region. The other overriding rationale for U.S. military programs in this hemisphere has been counternarcotics, and these programs will certainly re- main high priorities.

Before September 11, congressional oversight of U.S. military programs with Latin America was limited, but steadily improving. Now, it is less likely that Congress will focus significant attention on the oversight of any programs outside of the terrorism response. While the shift in policymakers’ attention is understandable, U.S. involve- ment in the Colombian counterdrug effort, the build up of the Forward Operating Locations and large scale train- ing programs will all continue. Military-to-military activi- ties and priorities will move forward, whether or not policymakers are minding the store.