The AP is reporting that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is (pretending to be) concerned about military enforcement of domestic laws throughout Latin America:
Latin American nations must try to use their police and not their military forces to enforce the law, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday, telling defense ministers here that the U.S. will help them build their capabilities.
Speaking to a conference of defense ministers from the Americas, where militaries are often used to battle drug traffickers and other guerrilla groups, Panetta said the U.S. realizes that it’s sometimes difficult to decide if a threat requires the use of the military or law enforcement.
“In some cases, countries have turned to their defense forces to support civilian authorities,” Panetta said in remarks prepared for delivery. “To be clear, the use of the military to perform civil law enforcement cannot be a long-term solution.”
What isn’t included in the AP report is that the US has consistently pushed the military in Latin America and knowingly blurred the lines between policing and military-style rule.
This report from the Washington Office on Latin America details “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.
To take a specific example, recent US interventionism in Honduras has markedly strengthened that military’s ability to ravage the domestic populace, while undercutting police. In June, a group of academics from around Latin America plus the US wrote a letter to the State Department railing against the US military presence in Honduras and demanding that aid to the country’s abusive law enforcement apparatus be halted. They argued that “The direct effect of U.S. policy toward Honduras has been to further strengthen the hand of the very people responsible for plotting, carrying out, legitimating, and violently imposing the coup d’état,” among them “the armed forces.” They complained that “military officers who led the coup have been assigned top-level positions within the current administration,” which “has put our poorly respected civil liberties at greater risk by deputizing soldiers to act as police despite their not being trained for that function but instead having been trained to exterminate the enemy.”
Panetta can’t be ignorant of this. But he put a heartfelt expression on his face and pretended to be truly concerned about these trends, even as he helps carry them out.