Links From the Last Month About: Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Colombia’s Congress is nearing approval of a transitional justice system to try war crimes committed during the long conflict with the FARC, as envisioned in the peace accords. Retired Colombian generals are pushing hard to guarantee that this law waters down the definition of “command responsibility” for war crimes They want language that allows former commanders to claim that they did not have effective control over troops who committed atrocities. Although this low standard might run afoul of the International Criminal Court, the bill that passed the Colombian Senate on March 13 included it.
- As part of Colombia’s post-conflict transition, the Nudo de Paramillo Joint Task Force, a 4,500-person unit in northwestern Colombia, is to become a “Stabilization and Consolidation Command” focusing more on economic development projects, like building roads, than on combat.
- President Rafael Correa abruptly fired Army Chief Gen. Luis Castro, after the general made public comments implying that soldiers were impeded from controlling the “chain of custody” of ballots cast in the February 19 first-round presidential election. (The military plays a leading role in election logistics in Ecuador.) Gen. Castro’s comments cast doubt on the integrity of voting, which yielded an 11 percentage-point margin—but not a majority—to Correa’s former vice president and political ally, Lenín Moreno.
- Gen. Castro was the fourth top-ranked military leader whom Correa has fired in the past year amid deteriorating civil-military relations.
- While on a trip to the United States, Mexico’s leftist frontrunner for the 2018 presidential elections, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, repeated a charge—made by many of the victims’ families—that Mexico’s Army was involved in the 2014 Ayotzinapa massacre of 43 student teachers in Iguala, Guerrero. This earned him attacks from Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, who is one of the most likely choices to oppose López Abrader as the ruling PRI party’s 2018 candidate.
- President Enrique Peña Nieto continued to direct highest praise at the armed forces, calling them “the institution of institutions” whose members devote their “body and soul.”
- Human rights lawyer Juan Méndez, who as UN special rapporteur on torture had some tense exchanges with Mexican officials in 2015, returned to the country in mid-March. While there, he called on Mexico to reduce the armed forces’ participation in public security functions.
- “We’re not going to pull out” of crimefighting in the streets, Mexican Defense Minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos said. “It’s the people who don’t want us to go, and it is an order from the President of the Republic.”
- Indeed, when asked, “Whom would you prefer to have guarding the streets, the Police or the Army?” Mexican respondents to a Parametría poll went with 60 percent Army, 20 percent “neither,” and 18 percent Police. That 60 percent for the Army is down from 66 percent in 2008.
- Gen. Cienfuegos is actively supporting a draft Internal Security Law that will make permanent the Mexican armed forces’ internal crimefighting role. A movement of NGOs calling itself #SeguridadSinGuerra (“Security Without War”) has formed to oppose this fundamental policy change.
- In Culiacán, the capital of Mexico’s violence-riven state of Sinaloa, state and municipal police held a protest march to demand the federal military police force’s removal from the state. They criticized the soldiers for not acting until they receive explicit orders, and for “hindering” local police.
- A contributor to Small Wars Journal believes that Mexico’s Marines, which play a large internal crime-fighting role, are “a modern military force postured to defeat hybrid threats.”