It’s getting harder to monitor U.S. policy toward Latin America, because so much is going on lately. Here are a few stories, all from just the past few days, that may not have made the front page of your local daily.
1. Ecuador’s president-elect, Rafael Correa, reiterated his refusal to renew an agreement allowing the United States to use a military base in the Pacific coast town of Manta. After U.S. troops left Panama in 1999, the U.S. and Ecuadorian governments signed a ten-year agreement allowing Manta to be used for counter-drug missions. The United States spent tens of millions of dollars on improvements to the base, and has stationed dozens, at times hundreds, of military personnel and contractors there. But the agreement expires in 2009.
â€œWe are respectful of international treaties,â€ Correa said yesterday, â€œbut in 2009, when the Manta agreement expires, we will not renew that accord… At that airstrip, which is one of the best in South America, will be built an intercontinental transfer airport, to capture the flights coming from Asia and Australia that can then make connections with Brazil and New York.â€
This all assumes that Correa remains in office until 2009, which is far from guaranteed.
2. After years of internal debate, and in the face of opposition from the Karzai government, the United States is to start fumigating the poppy crop in Afghanistan, according to Toronto’s Globe and Mail. Colombia will no longer be the only country where large-scale herbicide fumigation is allowed. As in Colombia, we can expect the winning combination of spraying-plus-insufficient-development-aid to have only marginal effect on the amount of opium poppy (which, by the way, is an annual plant that dies after harvest anyway).
The Taliban (whom a recent Christian Science Monitor article bizarrely compared to the FARC) must be celebrating the prospect of recruiting from thousands of angry farmers who will be left with no legal ways to feed themselves and their families. U.S. corporate contractor DynCorp, which has made hundreds of millions of dollars from the futile spray effort in Colombia, must also be celebrating.
3. Those of us who occasionally attend lectures and conferences at places like the Center for Strategic and International Studies or the National Defense University are familiar with Norman Bailey. A former Reagan NSC official, he’s an older, very well-dressed gentleman who usually sits all the way up in the front row. He is almost always one of the first to raise his hand with a question, and that question is usually sort of quirky.
Norman Bailey is in the news today because the White House’s â€œintelligence czar,â€ John Negroponte, has named him to a special post overseeing U.S. intelligence-gathering and analysis for Cuba and Venezuela. Spy chief for Latin America’s â€œleftist axisâ€ is a controversial post, and Bailey is a bedrock conservative praised in today’s Miami Herald by former Bush State Department official Otto Reich. But at least he’s quirky.
4. Colombia announced that it has exceeded its target for manual coca eradication, with 41,717 hectares of coca bushes cut down or pulled out of the ground so far this year – about 10,000 more than in all of 2005. (This is in addition to aerial herbicide fumigation, expected to total 160,000 hectares this year.)
Manual eradication is probably a bit more effective than fumigation – it destroys the plants completely, instead of killing off a harvest or two. With this level of manual eradication, we may indeed see some reduction in the amount of coca grown in Colombia between 2005 and 2006.
[Added at 3:30 PM, because I forgot to include it before:] Then again, we might not: sources in Putumayo (and one in Washington) note that the manual eradicators, who work very fast, normally do not destroy the coca plants that they cut down or uproot – they leave them lying on the ground. I’ve been told that the eradicators are often followed by scavengers who descend on the cut-down coca bushes, harvesting leaves and especially the plants’ valuable seeds.[End addition]
However, manual eradication unaccompanied by alternative development will ultimately be ineffective, as any Bolivian or Peruvian can tell you. Five or six years ago, U.S. officials were praising Bolivia’s â€œPlan Dignidad,â€ a heavy-handed model of forced manual eradication, as a model for the entire region. But the eradication dramatically outpaced development assistance, leaving in its wake thousands of angry, well-organized coca growers. Without â€œPlan Dignidad,â€ it would have been inconceivable for the head of Bolivia’s coca-growers’ union to be elected president.
5. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, who has taken a low-key, conciliatory approach to Latin America’s elected leftists, is to have a low-key, conciliatory meeting with Nicaraguan President-Elect Daniel Ortega.
Rather than ideological questions, let’s hope Shannon and Ortega discuss the urgent matter of corruption, and how the United States can help Nicaragua to confront it. In the latest example, my colleagues at CIP’s Central America Program note, as many as 1,300 mahogany logs, seized after being harvested illegally, have disappeared while being guarded by the Nicaraguan security forces. I’ve heard of captured cocaine disappearing while under police or military guard. But an entire forest?
6. The State Department is calling human rights NGOs to the latest quarterly meeting, required by law, to discuss Colombia’s compliance with human-rights certification conditions. By law, the State Department must certify that Colombia’s military is improving on several measures in order to free up 25% of U.S. military aid. Two certifications per year each free up 12.5% of aid.
This year, human-rights concerns have slowed the certification process: all 25% of 2006 military aid remains frozen.
The imminent NGO meeting does not necessarily mean a certification is forthcoming. But it wouldn’t be surprising: there is probably some pressure to get a certification out the door – and free up military aid – before January, when more human-rights-minded Democratic senators and representatives take control of key congressional committees.