Research: Publications

Just the Facts 2001-2002

October 1, 2001 | Report

By Adam Isacson, Joy Olson

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Just the Facts, 2001 - 2002 offers a quick tour of U.S. defense and security relations with Latin America and the Caribbean. 

In early September 2001, COngress was debating a number of national security issues involving Latin America, including the Bush Administration's new Andean counterdrug intiative 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 radar screen after September 11th. While U.S. military programs will continue in Latin America, they are likley to undergo some changes as the United States responds to security attacks. 

This year's major assistance package to Latin America focuses on U.S. military support for counternarcotics efforts 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 Colombia 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 override human rights safeguards on U.S. military programs worldwide. Agreements with countries hosting U.S. military Forward Operating Locations in Latin America restrict their use to counterdrug activities, but there may be pressure to use these facilities 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 remain 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. involvement in the Colombian counterdrug effort, the build up of the Forward Operating Locations and large scale training programs will all continue. Military-to-military activities and priorities will move forward, whether or not policymakers are minding the store.

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