Pushing the Military in Latin America

The Posse Comitatus Act is one of the most important measures in this country imposing restrictions on the federal government and Executive power. It essentially prohibits the federal government from using the military for law enforcement, which, despite the problems with law enforcement, has helped solidify a separation of the army and police. This is why the Bush administration’s post 9/11 attempts to cripple that law were so disgusting and dangerous. It is a vital safeguard against outright militaristic rule here at home.

But, as this report from the Washington Office on Latin America details, the U.S. encourages very different practices in its drug war throughout Latin America. It “lays out the United States’ persistent, century-long tendency to help the region’s militaries take on internal security roles” and that this tendency “continues with today’s ‘wars’ on drugs, terrorism, and organized crime.”

Despite the occasional examples of disputes and over- reaching discussed in Section I, the Posse Comitatus model has served the United States well. U.S. military and police institutions alike have benefited from the clear separation between their roles and missions.

It is unfortunate and alarming, then, that Washing- ton has supported almost the exact opposite course in Latin America and the Caribbean. For the past century, and continuing today, U.S. assistance has encouraged the Western Hemisphere’s militaries to assume internal roles that would be inappropriate, or even illegal, at home.

[…] The U.S. government is by far the largest provider of military and police aid to Latin America and the Caribbean. Arms and equipment transfers, training, exercises, presence at bases, and military-to- military engagement programs send strong messages about military and police roles. So do diplomatic inter- actions with the region.

Instead of exporting the principle to which the United States adheres, though, these efforts often do just the opposite: encourage Latin American govern- ments to use their militaries against their own people. This is a longstanding tendency in U.S. policy toward Latin America, though it rarely gets framed in terms of the United States’ much different domestic model.

Take the Merida Initiative in Mexico as an example:

Following his election in 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calde- rón sent tens of thousands of soldiers into the streets in zones under the dominion of hyper-violent drug drug-trafficking organizations. Especially in cities near the U.S. border, Mexico’s Army now works hand-in-hand with police forces, and at times supplants them completely. The Bush administration rushed to endorse this model with a multi-year aid package, now totaling over $1.4 billion and mostly made up of military and police assistance. The largest items in the aid package – helicopters and surveillance aircraft – are for Mexico’s Army and Navy.

Mike Riggs, at Reason, blogged about recent updates of the Merida Initiative, explaining that it is expanding, continuing at least beyond 2012. Part of the expansion is a plan to have “local U.S. cops to train local Mexican police,” although there aren’t signs this will shift the anti-Posse Comitatus style status quo:

The Webb County Sheriff’s Department has never been bombed, its officers do not face daily the likelihood of execution, and they have never felt the urge to quit their jobs en masse for fear of execution. If the State Department believes local U.S. cops can help the situation in Mexico, they should explain how, especially since the U.S. military has been training Mexican cops and military members for years, with more mass graves and cartel in-fighting as the only measurable result. […] Thirty thousand people have died “in recent years” due to the increased pressure the U.S. has applied to Mexico’s cartels. If that’s winning, then yes, the U.S. is winning.

Another interesting example which clearly reveals Washington’s preferences for internal military control throughout Latin America isthe case of Honduras. The illegal military coup in June of 2009 was supported by the Obama administration despite having recognized it as unconstitutional and illegitimate, according to WikiLeaks diplomatic cables. The military basically kidnapped the President and forcibly removed him from power probably in the interest of a few rich thugs. What followed were a whole host of human rights violations – including 3,000 people killed in Honduras including journalists, lawyers, and leaders of popular organizations – most of which were never investigated. Nevertheless, Obama administration had “representatives from the U.S. Department of State [meet] with de facto president Porfirio Lobo Sosa to convene a working group in charge of the implementation of the Merida Initiative/CARSI.” A nice little anecdote to illustrate who Washington wants to reign over “the backyard” and why.