Expect fewer posts this week A murder in Putumayo
Mar 162005

Every year at about this time, the congressional armed-services committees meet to hear “posture statements” delivered by the four-star generals who head each of the U.S. military’s regional commands. These statements offer the military command’s view of the potential threats to U.S. interests in each region of the world, what the command is doing about them, any other goals the command is pursuing, and what it wants Congress to support in the coming year. Because the commands’ budgets and political clout are particularly high of late, these “posture statements” have become important declarations of U.S. policy toward each part of the world.

U.S. Southern Command "Posture Statements"

  • [HTML | Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format] Statement to the House Armed Services Committee by General Bantz J. Craddock, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, March 9, 2005
  • Statement to the House Armed Services Committee by General James T. Hill, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, March 24, 2004
  • Statement to the House Armed Services Committee by Gen. James T. Hill, commander, U.S. Southern Command, March 12, 2003
  • [HTML | Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format]Statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee by Gen. Gary Speer, Acting Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Southern Command, March 5, 2002
  • Statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee by Gen. Peter Pace, commander-in-chief, U.S. Southern Command, March 27, 2001
  • Statement to the House Armed Services Committee by General Charles E. Wilhelm, commander-in-chief, U.S. Southern Command, March 23, 2000

Gen. Bantz Craddock, who took over in November as head of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command – which coordinates U.S. military activities in most of Latin America and the Caribbean –presented his statement to the House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday, and did the same in the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. His statement makes clear that “prosecution of the war on terrorism” is Southcom’s number-one priority in the hemisphere. It adds, “The stability and prosperity of the SOUTHCOM AOR [area of responsibility] are threatened by transnational terrorism, narcoterrorism, illicit trafficking, forgery and money laundering, kidnapping, urban gangs, radical movements, natural disasters and mass migration.”

While still somewhat fire-breathing, the language of this year’s posture statement is far more measured than last year’s presentation from the now-departed Gen. James Hill, who warned that “terrorists throughout the Southern Command area of responsibility bomb, murder, kidnap, traffic drugs, transfer arms, launder money, and smuggle humans,” sounded alarms about the spread of elected leaders considered to be “radical populists,” as well as the proliferation of “ungoverned or ill-governed spaces and people, corruption, and clientalism [sic.].”

Gen. Craddock largely drops the “radical populism” rhetoric from this year’s statement; while this doesn’t necessarily mean that Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales can breathe easier, it is important that the Southern Command’s official statements do not hint at a view that such leaders are a threat requiring the sort of military response that is Southcom’s specialty. Gen. Craddock also includes a much more precise discussion of the terrorist threat in the hemisphere, recognizing that “we have not detected Islamic terrorist cells in the SOUTHCOM AOR that are preparing to conduct attacks against the US,” though such groups may do some fundraising in the region.

While there are many parts of the statement that we would agree with, none will mistake the newest Posture Statement for a document authored by CIP. Here are a few notes based on a reading of the statement.


"SOUTHCOM, through its joint interagency task force (JIATF-South), in conjunction with multinational and interagency efforts, directly contributed to the seizure of over 222 metric tons of cocaine."

This is a significant achievement. However, the State Department’s annual narcotics reports indicate that Colombia, Peru and Bolivia produce over 700 metric tons of cocaine each year. Less than a third, then, was interdicted.


"At this time, we have not detected Islamic terrorist cells in the SOUTHCOM AOR that are preparing to conduct attacks against the US, although Islamic Radicals in the region have proven their operational capability in the past. We have, however detected a number of Islamic Radical Group facilitators that continue to participate in fundraising and logistical support activities such as money laundering, document forgery, and illicit trafficking. Proceeds from these activities are supporting worldwide terrorist activities."

This is a much clearer discussion of the threat posed by “terrorists with global reach” in the hemisphere than was contained in last year’s Posture Statement. It also seems to contradict the findings of a much-mentioned late 2003 U.S. News and World Report article that, citing “senior U.S. military and intelligence officials,” maintained that “Venezuela is emerging as a potential hub of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere, providing assistance to Islamic radicals from the Middle East and other terrorists.”

Crime and gangs

"[Continued from last citation] Not only do these activities serve to support Islamic terrorist groups in the Middle East, these same activities performed by other groups make up the greater criminal network so prominent in the AOR. Illicit activities, facilitated by the AOR’s permissive environment, are the backbone for criminal entities like urban gangs, narco-terrorists, Islamic terrorists, and worldwide organized crime."

The profusion of organized crime networks is indeed a big problem in the region. (So is state involvement in these networks, from Guatemala to Paraguay to departmental governments in Colombia.) At issue – and this may be a big question over the next year or two – is whether the U.S. and Latin American militaries have much of a role to play in fighting these criminal networks. Successful efforts against crimes like “money laundering, document forgery, and illicit trafficking” have normally been carried out by civilian investigators, detectives, police and prosecutors – and not soldiers unless the criminals in question have a large amount of firepower.

There are estimated to be at least 70,000 gang members stretched across Central America. The level of sophistication and brutality of these gangs is without precedent. … Surges in gang violence sometimes overwhelm local law enforcement capabilities. As directed by their civilian leadership, military forces are assisting police to check this growing tide of gang violence and insecurity in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Indeed, gang activity is a huge and growing problem, especially in Central America, Mexico and Brazil. In 2003 the Mara Salvatrucha even killed people in Washington’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, less than two miles from CIP’s offices. In much of the region, polls show that citizens rank common crime even above unemployment among the most urgent problems their countries face. The Bush administration, including Southcom, has indicated that it wants to help regional allies to fight gangs. So far, though, there has been no clarity about what they plan to do.

This brings us back to our recurring question: is a military response necessary? Currently, “surges” of gang activity do overwhelm civilian police capacities in places like El Salvador and Honduras. But we have to remember that many of the countries suffering the worst gang activity are places that have undergone a generation-long struggle to get the armed forces not just out of the presidential palace, but out of most internal security duties. Moving police forces out of defense ministries and placing them under civilian control was a major and difficult reform. Gangs should not be a reason for U.S. assistance programs to encourage the region’s militaries to return to the streets of places like San Salvador and Tegucigalpa.

When the gang problem boils over, militaries probably do have to play a role in supplementing the police (just as the 82nd Airborne did during the 1992 L.A. riots). But this role should be temporary, with either a deadline or another short-term benchmark to determine when the soldiers must return to the barracks. It should also come with an aggressive effort to punish any human rights abuses that occur: if the military’s main advantage over the police is that its members enjoy more impunity when they commit abuses, then they had better stay out of the gang problem.

Instead of helping militaries fight gangs, the United States would do better to (1) help strengthen civilian police as an alternative to military force, helping them to become trusted institutions that protect all citizens and seek cooperative – not adversarial – relations with communities; (2) generously support judicial reform, both to improve processing of arrested suspects and to promptly investigate and prosecute allegations of corruption and abuse in the security forces; and (3) increase investments in education, poverty alleviation and economic opportunity in order to decrease the economic desperation that pushes so many young people into gangs in the first place. There is little role for Southcom in any of these areas.

The ICC and military-aid cutoffs

"While the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act (ASPA) provides welcome support in our efforts to seek safeguards for our service-members from prosecution under the International Criminal Court, in my judgment, it has the unintended consequence of restricting our access to and interaction with many important partner nations. Sanctions enclosed in the ASPA statute prohibit International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds from going to certain countries that are parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Of the 22 nations worldwide affected by these sanctions, 11 of them are in Latin America, hampering the engagement and professional contact that is an essential element of our regional security cooperation strategy."

Passed by Congress in 2003, the American Servicemembers Protection Act bans non-drug military aid to countries that do not exempt U.S. forces on their soil from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. As a result, as Gen. Craddock indicates, several Latin American countries are getting no IMET or FMF military assistance. Attendance at WHINSEC – the former School of the Americas – is also down because of the funding freeze.

This is a bit ironic, since some of the most ardent opponents of the ICC are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of military aid to Latin America. Gen. Craddock’s plea for flexibility on the ASPA shows what happens when two right-wing agendas run at cross-purposes. (Of course, the ASPA gives the Bush administration the power to waive sanctions at any time, but the State Department, led by figures like John Bolton, has refused to do so.)

This year, the ASPA was toughened in an especially mean-spirited way: poor countries that refuse to grant immunity to U.S. troops will now see a cutoff in some of their economic aid as well (through Economic Support Funds (ESF), one of the main economic-aid programs).

Military engagement

"The IMET program provides partner nation students with the opportunity to attend U.S. military training, get a first-hand view of life in the U.S., and develop long-lasting friendships with U.S. military and other partner nation classmates."

How wonderful if there were a similar program for judges, legislators, mayors, environmental workers, securities regulators or any number of other civil servants. But there’s no money for that.


"I am also concerned with Venezuela’s influence in the AOR. … SOUTHCOM supports the joint staff position to maintain military-to-military contact with the Venezuelan military in support of long-term interests in Venezuela and the region."

The continued pursuit of military-to-military contact with Venezuela is noteworthy. Nobody in the Reagan administration, after all, was proposing military-to-military contact with the Nicaraguan army in 1981. Why now in Venezuela, while President Chávez’s anti-Bush rhetoric continues to escalate? Does Southcom view the Venezuelan military as a potential political counterbalance to Chávez? Or is continued mil-to-mil contact meant to counterbalance Bush administration hardliners who would go so far as to cut all ties to Venezuela? Perhaps both.

Among Colombia’s neighbors, Venezuela’s record of cooperation remains mixed. We remain concerned that Colombia’s FTOs consider the areas of the Venezuelan border with Colombia a safe area to rest, transship drugs and arms, and procure logistical supplies.

The same can be said about the border areas of Ecuador, Peru, or Panama, where armed groups routinely cross over with impunity. Is Venezuela’s lack of control the result of a Chávez government policy, or is it the result of a lack of manpower and resources to secure a 1,000-mile border? Colombia, too, reportedly has guerrilla and paramilitary safe havens on its side of that border.


China’s recent moves in Latin America have received a lot of media attention lately:

"An increasing presence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the region is an emerging dynamic that must not be ignored. … The PRC’s 2004 Defense Strategy White Paper departs from the past and promotes a power-projection military, capable of securing strategic shipping lanes and protecting its growing economic interests abroad. In 2004, national level defense officials from the PRC made 20 visits to Latin American and Caribbean nations, while Ministers and Chiefs of Defense from nine countries in our AOR visited the PRC. Growing economic interests, presence and influence in the region are not a threat, but they are clearly components of a condition we should recognize and consider carefully as we form our own objectives, policies and engagement in the region."

If you want to hold a well-attended academic conference, get published, or just sound trendy, grab onto the new topic of the moment: China’s “inroads” into Latin America. Clearly, China, our rising geopolitical rival, is sharply increasing its trade and defense ties with the region. But as Gen. Craddock’s curious phrasing indicates – “components of a condition we should recognize and consider carefully”? – U.S. officialdom still doesn’t quite know what to make of it. It’s not quite a “threat” (is IBM selling its PC division to a Chinese company a threat?), but it’s easy to detect official discomfort with this potential challenge to the Monroe Doctrine.

Populist demagogues

"In Bolivia, Ecuador, and Perú distrust and loss of faith in failed institutions fuel the emergence of anti-US, anti-globalization, and anti-free trade demagogues, who, unwilling to shoulder the burden of participating in the democratic process and too impatient to undertake legitimate political action, incite violence against their own governments and their own people."

These words are as close as Gen. Craddock comes to repeating the alarmist language about “radical populism” that appeared in Gen. Hill’s statement last year. They raise three questions. First, who are these demagogues? Lots of politicians oppose free trade and are not fans of the United States, but they do not qualify for this epithet. Second, who is inciting violence with impunity? Road blockages – which Bolivia’s Evo Morales (one of the “demagogues” Gen. Craddock likely has in mind) frequently encourages – are usually peaceful, if disruptive. Third, does Southcom really envision a military role in containing or opposing these “demagogues”?


"This command has continued to support the War on Terrorism through detainee operations at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where approximately 550 enemy combatants in the Global War on Terrorism are in custody. … In performing our intelligence mission, we continue to emphasize the U.S. government’s commitment to treating detainees "humanely, and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva." Along these lines, we have a good working relationship with the International Committee of the Red Cross. We take their recommendations seriously and act upon them when appropriate."

Beyond the scary news reports about abuses at Guantánamo, this extremely curious formulation is disturbing enough. The International Committee of the Red Cross does not have a reputation for offering “inappropriate” recommendations – in fact, they are exceedingly cautious. We wonder which of their recommendations could possibly have been rejected and why.


Paramilitary negotiations:

"The Colombian government is making progress at removing combatants from the field and converting them into productive members of society. Once started, the Colombian government’s demobilization program must succeed. The first combatants to demobilize are currently in the sunset phase of their demobilization and reintegration process and are ready to reintegrate themselves into Colombian society. Failure of this program will not only re-create the conditions for violence but also undermine current peace negotiations and incentive for further demobilization."

This is by far the rosiest view of the demobilization process that we’ve seen from a U.S. government agency. Most would describe the demobilizations so far as underfunded, chaotic, improvised, and potentially allowing too many human rights abusers to slip through the cracks. Instead of being “ready to reintegrate themselves,” the thousands of paramilitaries who demobilized late last year – even those who are actually in the system and reporting to their “centers of reference” for benefits – are staring into an abyss of unemployment and neglect. Of those who participated in the mass demobilizations of November 2003 and November 2004-January 2005, 48 have been killed.

While too optimistic, this is also a much narrower view of the paramilitary dialogues than we hear from the State Department or Congress. It indicates that Southcom has its eye only on what appears to be a favorable short-term military result: the removal of thousands of paramilitary combatants from the conflict. The language above shows no concern about guaranteeing the paramilitaries’ dismantlement, return of stolen property, justice and reparations to victims, or ensuring that drug lords don’t benefit. If these needs go ignored or unmet, paramilitary re-recruitment and high levels of violence are very likely to continue – yet the Posture Statement appears to be concerned only with demobilization and reintegration.

Going beyond a military response:

"The Colombian government’s efforts to reassert or establish governance in areas previously controlled by narco-terrorists are essential to build on recent military successes. … To this end, the Government of Colombia established a Coordination Center for Integrated Action, which assembles representatives from 13 different ministries chaired by a board of directors that reports directly to the President of Colombia. The Center’s responsibility is to develop policies and plans to ensure a coordinated and expeditious response that will re-establish government presence and services in territory reclaimed from narco-terrorists. To date, the Colombian Government has committed over $30 million to this effort."

For years, CIP and other organizations have argued that a policy of military offensives is doomed to failure as long as it goes unaccompanied by economic aid and fails to involve the non-uniformed part of the government. Even the ambitious “Plan Patriota,” however, has been an almost entirely military effort even after fifteen months of operations in southern Colombia.

The new Coordination Center for Integrated Action (CCIA) could, finally, be a first step toward correcting this imbalance. It intends to coordinate the arrival of the rest of Colombia’s state into long-neglected conflict zones. It’s a new effort, so we still do not know enough about the CCIA to say that we support it. We do not yet know, for instance, whether it is well-run, whether it is well-funded ($30 million, of course, will barely make a dent), and whether the design of development projects involves recipient populations or is left up to politicians who are courting voters for the next elections.

Facts and figures

"Over the past two and a half years, the FARC has been reduced from 18,000 to an estimated 12,500 members."

This is the lowest estimate of FARC strength we’ve yet seen from any source.

"In 2003 Colombia resumed a thoroughly vetted and robustly staffed Air Bridge Denial Program. Since then, 20 narco-trafficking aircraft have been destroyed and 6 have been impounded resulting in a total of 10.8 metric tons of seized cocaine."

This is the first estimate of aerial interdiction that we’ve seen. Again, with as much as 560 tons of cocaine coming out of Colombia alone (and over 700 from the entire Andean region) each year, 10.8 tons is not as impressive as it sounds.

"Defense spending as a percentage of GDP rose from 3.5% to 5% in 2004."

It’s not 5 percent. The 2004 defense budget was 11 trillion pesos [PowerPoint file]. 2004 GDP is provisionally estimated to have been 248.6 trillion pesos [Excel file]. Total: 4.4% of GDP.

"Colombia increased its tax revenue 17.4% in the first nine months of 2004."

This is perhaps the oddest statistic in the entire statement: did Colombia’s government really increase tax collection by one out of every six pesos in taxpayers’ pockets? If accurate, that tax increase would, in nine months, have moved more than 2 percent of the economy out of the private sector and into government coffers. Rising sales taxes – which hit the poor hard – may have played a role. Perhaps the statistic includes revenue from the state oil company (2004 oil prices were about 50% higher than in 2003).

"Colombia has seen growth in GDP since 2002 from 1.8% to 3.9% in 2003 and 2004."

Final 2004 numbers aren’t out yet, but Colombia’s National Planning Department (DNP) says that GDP grew by 3.9 percent in 2003 and 3.6 percent in 2004. [Excel file] The UN Economic Commission on Latin America estimated Colombia’s 2004 growth at 3.3 percent.

Poverty, inequality and corruption

"The roots of the region’s poor security environment are poverty, inequality, and corruption. Forty-four percent of Latin America and the Caribbean are mired in the hopelessness and squalor of poverty. The free market reforms and privatization of the 1990’s have not delivered on the promise of prosperity for Latin America. Unequal distribution of wealth exacerbates the poverty problem. The richest one tenth of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean earn 48% of the total income, while the poorest tenth earn only 1.6%. In industrialized countries, by contrast, the top tenth receive 29.1%, while the bottom tenth earn 2.5%. Uruguay has the least economic disparity of Latin American and Caribbean countries, but its unequal income distribution is still far worse than the most unequal country in Eastern Europe and the industrialized countries."

This language is a very welcome addition to Southcom’s analysis. We can’t help but note that people who said things like this in 1980s El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras were branded “communists” and often lived in fear of their countries’ U.S.-funded militaries. We hope that the U.S. defense establishment will be more vocal in its advocacy of other U.S. agencies’ poverty-alleviation efforts, which would ease their own security efforts. Some vocal advocacy is badly needed, since most of the region is looking at a sharp economic-aid cut in the Bush administration’s 2006 budget request.

"If we in the US government are honest with ourselves, we can look at the region today and see that we are not tending the fields with the same zeal we showed in planting the seeds of democracy. Too many of the democracies in our AOR are lacking some or all of the vital democratic institutions: a functional legislative body, an independent judiciary, a free press, a transparent electoral process that guarantees the rights of the people, security forces which are subordinate to civil authority and economic opportunity for the people."

This is not at all the way we would say it – Latin America’s “fields” are not ours to tend! – but the analysis is otherwise right. Unfortunately, no government witnesses ever argue so forcefully for these non-military priorities when they appear before committees that actually fund democracy and development programs. And that is a shame.

3 Responses to “Notes on the Southcom “Posture Statement””

  1. David Holiday Says:

    Thanks for this very thorough (as usual) post. On your last point, I would note that it’s really not all that surprising that it’s easier to talk about poverty and inequality now without being labeled a communist. After all, today’s threat (”terrorism”) doesn’t tend to equate with overturning the dominant social-economic order. Also, way back when too many liberal critics of the Administration preferred to talk about poverty and inequality as a way of circumventing any discussion of the implications of the Marxist roots of Central American insurgencies, which is what worried the Reaganites. So people simply talked past each other.

  2. Adam Isacson Says:

    Ironically, when you adjust for inflation, Latin America today gets a fraction (something like a third) of the antipoverty and development assistance that it got during the cold-war years. So while it’s “safer” today to talk about poverty, it’s harder to get Washington to even try to do anything about it…

  3. John Says:

    You clearly are a very intelligent man, though I take issue with one point you made. I’d say common delinquent gang violence is growing in Mexico, but it’s still a much bigger problem in Colombia.

    Colombia’s common gang problem is decreasing though, yes, particularly evident in the dramatic drop of murders in Medellin. Still worse than Mexico though and I’m just a bit surprised you didn’t mention Colombia in that sentence. El Salvador’s street gang violence has also been decreasing steadily for a number of years.

    Honduras and Brazil have terrible and worsening delinquent gang problems (not disimilar to Colombia at it’s worst) and Guatemala and Venezuela are bad – though I don’t know if they’re getting worse.

    If you’re including organized crime gang violence then Mexico is probably worse than Colombia. Typical drug cartel/mafia-style violence seems to be positively rare in Colombia now compared to the early 90’s, though some of the terrorist activity by the FARC/AUC/ELN obviously doubles up as organized crime as well.

    Regards, John :)

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