U.S. Support Critical to Latin American Stability, Commander Says
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 14, 2006 Latin America faces security problems and threats to the region's stability that must be solved with an integrated, long-term effort by the United States and the countries in that region, the U.S. commander responsible for the area said here today.
"Across the region, poverty, corruption and inequality contribute to an increasing dissatisfaction with democracy and free-market reforms," Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of U.S. Southern Command, said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "This has been accompanied by the growing popularity of leaders who profess to offer an alternative through anti-U.S. and anti-free market rhetoric."
Southern Command leaders believe the Andean region is the key to security and stability in Latin America, Craddock said. Columbia has been engaged in its own long war for more than four decades and has shown tremendous success in its efforts to increase governance and security throughout its territory, he said. Also, Columbia experienced record drug eradications and interdictions and extended government presence to every municipality and department in the country, he said.
"Continued U.S. support is essential to sustain and build on these gains, not only to achieve Columbia's ultimate victory, but also to ensure the stability of its neighboring countries," he said.
But U.S. military presence in the area isn't the only solution to the security problems, Craddock said. The U.S. must also engage the foreign military and civilian leaders in training and education programs, which will establish relationships and foster cooperation, he said.
The American Servicemembers' Protection Act, while well intentioned, puts a roadblock in the way of the U.S. training many Latin American militaries, Craddock said. Under the act, countries that haven't agreed not to extradite current or former U.S. officials or citizens to the International Criminal Court cannot receive foreign military financing and international military exchange training, he said. That exclusion applies to 11 countries in Southern Command's area of responsibility, he said.
"This loss of engagement prevents the development of long-term relationships with future military and civilian leaders," he said.
If the United States is not able to train these countries' militaries, other countries will move in and offer training for a chance to garner influence in Latin America, Craddock said. China has made many offers, and some countries are accepting those offers and going to China for training the United States can't provide, he said.
"We see more and more that military commanders, officers and noncommissioned officers are going to China for education and training," he said. "We see more and more Chinese non-lethal equipment showing up in the region, more representation, more Chinese military, so it is a growing phenomena."
It is a year of elections in Latin America, with two already this year and seven on the way, including in Mexico, Craddock said. These elections will be pivotal in many cases, and there potentially will be many external influences on the electorates, the constituents and the voting public in many of the countries, he said. Venezuela has a particularly strong destabilizing effect throughout the region, he said.
"In these fragile democracies, that becomes a very difficult situation," he said. "It's difficult enough, with these fragile institutions, for them to be able to work through the process of elections, to convince their constituents that governance is a good thing and democracy will yield tangible benefits in the long run. Where there are destabilizing, chaotic external influences, it becomes all the more difficult to realize the benefits of democracy and the institutions forthwith."
The U.S. is watching the political system in Latin America closely, hoping that external influences recede and internal democratic processes are strengthened and mature, Craddock said.