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15,000 Latin Americans Trained by the US Military Last Year

by Latin America Working Group

LAWG Legislative Update, June 20, 2002.
Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG),  globalresearch.ca ,  2 July  2002

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Congress recently received the annual Foreign Military Training Report, which is produced annually by the Departments of State and Defense. This year's report, covering data for 2001, documented U.S. military training for 15,030 Latin Americans.

The following countries had the largest number of trainees in 2001:

Colombia – 6300

El Salvador – 1082

Ecuador – 899

Mexico – 857

Bolivia – 708

Chile – 590

Venezuela – 557

What can be learned from this report?

Colombia by far receives more training than any other country in Latin America. This training has been a part of U.S. support for Plan Colombia, and much of the training is limited to counterdrug training. A close look at the list of units receiving training raises questions about the implementation of the Leahy Law (the law that prohibits U.S. assistance to units accused of human rights violations.) The FMTR shows that Colombian trainees came from 21 of the country's 31 departments, and included individuals from units with questionable human rights records, including counter-guerrilla battalions in the troubled departments of Cauca, Cordoba, and Meta.

The report also documents a significant amount of U.S. military training of Latin American police forces. This is disturbing because police and military roles and functions are quite different. There was even police training conducted by U.S. Special Forces. U.S. military training of police took place in a number of countries, including: Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Panama, Chile and Nicaragua.

The extent of training given to El Salvador was also surpnsing. El Salvador ranks second in number of trainees, with 1082. Ofthat total, 750 come from three courses were given to 250 people each, from the Salvadoran Special Operations Group, Special Counterterrorist Company, Airborne Battalion by the US Special Forces.

There is also an important congressional jurisdiction matter raised by this report. Traditionally, foreign military traming has been considered a "security assistance" program. Security assistance programs are seen as having a foreign policy impact, and are thus administered by the State Department. However, training to be used to support U.S. involvement in the "drug war" in Latin America can be funded through security assistance programs or directly through the Pentagon. Much of the training provided in Latin America, however, is provided with funds limited for counterdrug use. Of the 15,030 trained, 8,036 were trained with counterdrug restricted funds. The great majority of those trained for counterdrug purposes, 7,175 out of 8,036, received training directly administered by the Department of Defense.

This is important for two reasons. First, congressional oversight of foreign aid programs, including security assistance, is much more stringent than for defense programs. The proposed Foreign Aid budget for 2003 is $16.1 billion–miniscule in comparison to the Defense budget that weighs in at $396 billion. Foreign aid is always a more controversial issue with Congress than defense spending, and therefore receives greater scrutiny.

Second, restrictions on foreign assistance programs imposed by congressional oversight committees responsible for those programs do not apply to the Defense Department. This can and does result in contradictory funding. For example, the Foreign Aid Appropriations law for recent years, including 2001, restricted security assistance programs for Guatemala to the Expanded-International Military Education and Training program, which does not teach combat skills, but things like civil/military relations and management courses. This restriction was established because of human rights concerns in Guatemala. However, the FMTR shows that the Defense Department funded Light Infantry training to Guatemalan Army personnel using Defense Department counterdrug funds in 2001.

If you are interested in viewing the Foreign Military Training Report, it is available on-line at:


For more on the current U.S. role see Kate Doyle and Adam Isacson on A NewNew World Order?: U.S. Military Mission Grows in Latin America NACLA Report Vol. 35, Issue 3 and Winifred Tate Into the Andean Quagmire: Bush II Keeps Up March to Militarization NACLA Report Vol. 35, Issue 3

Search our archive for more NACLA Report articles on U.S. military presence in Latin America. Many articles are available for purchase online; certain articles can be downloaded for free.

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