Security Conference Vows to Push Drug War into Central America
Here’s a piece I did today for Upside Down World on what I consider to be a crucial event in Central America.
Published on Upside Down World, June 23, 2011.
This past week was a busy one for the masters of war in Central America.
Presidents and bankers gathered at a high profile meeting on the drug war in Antigua Guatemala from June 21-23, producing a familiar sounding series of commitments to fight organized crime in Central America. The event was rounded out with pledges of almost two billion dollars in foreign aid and loans, much of which will go towards intelligence gathering and training of police forces.
The International Conference in Support of the Central America Security Strategy brought together Central American heads of state, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, Mexico’s Felipe Calderon, and representatives from more than fifty countries, including Israel, Spain, Canada, and South Korea. Also present was Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), as well as representatives from the World Bank, the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and the European Union.
During Wednesday’s proceedings, Clinton clarified the kind of strategy that will be pursued in Central America. “We know from the work that the United States has supported in Colombia and now in Mexico that good leadership, proactive investments, and committed partnerships can turn the tide,” she said.1That the northern triangle of Central America, comprising Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is the most dangerous area in the world that’s not a war zone has become an oft-cited refrain as mainstream media outlets begin to beat the drums of war. By all indications, the U.S. led solution to this difficult situation is a simple one: bring open war back to Central America.
“We must remember that the war against organized crime and narcotrafficking is an extension of the war on terror, launched by the United States after the fall of the twin towers,” Maximo Ba Tiul, a Mayan Poqomchi analyst and professor explained to Upside Down World. “In Latin America, this must be understood as an extension of the cold war and the doctrine of national security, which were implemented to diminish the struggles of insurgent movements, of social movements, and of guerrilla movements to convert them into political parties and co-opt them into the very system of bourgeois democracy.”
Meanwhile, just across the border in El Salvador, a group of elite army commandos from throughout the hemisphere practiced sniper exercises, while their superiors swapped counter-terrorism strategies during military training competitions sponsored by U.S. Southern Command. The week-long event, known as Fuerzas Comando, is now in its eighth year.
“It’s the strategic level, with the commanders and strategic thinkers from that country, all the way down to the tactical level, where the teams that go and break down the doors and go save people, or, depending upon their requirement, they eliminate a threat,” Air Force Maj. Brett Phillips, the Fuerzas Comando planner for U.S. Special Operations Command South told the American Forces Press Service.2
Back in Guatemala, conference participants didn’t hide the fact that creating a better investment and business climate is a key aim of their program. “Insecurity threatens peace and social progress as well as the consolidation of democratic processes,” said Moreno. “It scares away investors, increases the costs of doing business for the private sector, and undermines social cohesion.”3
None of this comes as a surprise to Ba Tiul, who lives in Alta Verapaz, a region declared under state of emergency last December because of the presence of Los Zetas, a Mexican drug trafficking organization.
“What happened during and after the state of emergency here was this: the assassination of Indigenous people in Izabal, evictions in the Polochic Valley, control and threats against community leaders and social organizations, and now they’re trying to displace entire communities, the communities that are in strong resistance to corporations building electrical transmission lines,” he said.
“From Alta Verapaz, we understand that this meeting about security has two objectives: to limit the presence of narcotraffickers and organized crime, and to combat grassroots movements that are defending their territories, which are highly prized in today’s neoliberal [system],” Ba Tiul told Upside Down World.
For his part, Moreno announced that the IDB would make $500 million available for regional and national security programs in Central America. In addition to creating and maintaining intelligence gathering services and networks, funding police training and cooperation and reforms to the legal system, IDB money will be used to “search for innovative, efficient, and sustainable models for financing security activities.”
In a candid deviation from the carefully planned speeches of the rest of the conference participants, Colombian President Santos intoned that drug money had made its way into the very hall where he spoke. “I assure you, and pardon me for being so frank, that here in this meeting there are a lot of people who are on the payroll of narcotraffickers, and they are informing the narcos what is happening in real time,” said Santos.4
The conference was organized by the Central American Integration System (SICA), an organization which is comprised of the seven countries of Central America (including Panamá) and the Dominican Republic, as well as a host of regional and international observer states. Clinton indicated Wednesday that the U.S. government is now seeking observer status with SICA.