Analysts of politics in Latin America have not paid too much attention to civil-military relations in the last few years. For the most part, the region’s militaries are staying out of politics, rarely abusing populations, and in some cases weathering cutbacks to their sizes and budgets. Military coups are considered beyond the pale in several countries where they were once common.
Yet the dance between military and civilian leaders remains a delicate one. There are still areas where civilian involvement is clearly not welcome, and much remains to be resolved about roles, privileges, and reckoning with the past. Though flare-ups are rare, the debate is frequent, and civilian leaders still feel frequent push-back from the generals.
Here are four articles published this weekend in the region’s press. They indicate that much remains under discussion throughout the hemisphere.
- Agénce France Presse, Chile: The high command of Chile’s army was to meet today following two high-profile expulsions from the institution in the wake of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s death. On Wednesday Pinochet’s grandson, Captain Augusto Pinochet Molina, was fired after his eulogy defiantly praised the general’s 1973 coup. On Thursday Gen. Richard Hargreaves, head of the division in charge of Santiago and number-seven in the army’s line of command, was dismissed after defending the coup in remarks to the media.
"In tomorrow’s meeting, Gen. [Óscar] Izurieta [the head of the Chilean Army] will inform the high command about the reasons why he applied these sanctions, based on legislation that prohibits members of the armed forces from deliberating and issuing political opinions. … Among retired generals, who formed part of Pinochet’s regime, the sanctions levied by Izurieta were interpreted as ‘impositions from the government [of Socialist President Michelle Bachelet],’ in the words of the president of their organization, Jaime Núñez."
- Perfil, Argentina: The paper reveals that, at the height of the country’s severe political crisis in December 2001, the armed forces were putting together a plan to fill the power vacuum.
"While those directly involved insist that it was not a classic coup attempt, during the December 2001 crisis the maximum military authorities elaborated a "contingency plan" to take power after the fall of President Fernando de la Rúa. … ‘The armed forces’ hypothesis was that, if the Congress stopped working, it would produce a power vacuum and someone would have to take charge of the situation. Their idea was to act as the guarantors of last resort of national order and unity. But it was never proposed as a classic coup d’etat, with tanks in the streets,’ affirmed José Pampuro, the secretary of the presidency during Eduardo Duhalde’s government and former defense minister under Néstor Kirchner. … The proposal involved the mobilization of 9,000 troops, included measures to suppor the police and the Gendarmería, and the protection of strategic objectives like the Casa Rosada, the Congress, nuclear facilities, hydroelectric dams, and public buildings."
- El Comercio, Ecuador: Ecuador’s congress is making amendments to the organic law governing the military. The debate has yet to touch one of the most contentious points: a proposed reform to the Ecuadorian armed forces’ extensive investments in the private sector. Through their pension and other funds, the military is one of the largest economic entities in the country.
"This reform was included even though the armed forces have had investments for several years in several economic sectors, with more than thirty businesses, of which ten were liquidated last September. … Gen. (r) René Vargas Pazos participated in the consolidation of the concept of strategic investments. In his opinion, this is part of the military’s fundamental tasks of working for the country’s social development and defense. … On the other hand, Juan Aguilar, member of the Civil-Military Relations Foundation, sees no justification for the armed forces to have investments in economic areas unrelated to defense. ‘It is understandable for the military to have their own factories for weapons, uniforms and esplosives, but there is no reason for them to move into activities like shrimp-fishing, flower-growing and cattle raising.’"
- La Nación, Costa Rica: At a meeting of Central America’s presidents, Tony Saca of El Salvador and Óscar Arias of Costa Rica disagreed openly about the need to have a military in the first place. (Costa Rica has been armyless since 1949.)
"The job they do in the social area, against crime and against natural disasters ‘is very large,’ argued Saca after being asked about possible support for a reduction of Central American armies. Just as a journalist tried to ask a question about another issue, Óscar Arias turned on his microphone to speak. ‘A few words about this topic… it is immoral for the world to be spending more than $500 billion per year on weapons and soldiers.’ … ‘To me it seems unfair to want to eliminate armies from the panorama, because they do an extroardinary job,’ Saca affirmed."