Tracking the U.S. relationship with Latin America’s security forces requires finding credible, citable data. For that, government documents are a goldmine. They’re primary sources, straight from the State and unfiltered through outside journalists or analysts. I find such documents so useful that since 2015 I’ve kept a database of them: those I’ve obtained as well as those I’m trying to get my hands on.

The reports listed here, all issued in 2017, are essential reading for Latin America security nerds. Many suffer from agencies’ blinders, or express policy priorities that I don’t share. But they are still rich in information that is nearly impossible to find elsewhere.

  • A Special Joint Review of Post-Incident Responses by the Department of State and Drug Enforcement Administration to Three Deadly Force Incidents in Honduras, Department of Justice and Department of State Inspectors-General, May 24, 2017
    This report’s 400-plus pages discuss three incidents in 2012 involving an elite DEA team assigned to interdict drug traffickers in rural Honduras, an effort called “Operation Anvil.” In all three there was loss of life. In the worst incident, four innocent civilians were killed, including two pregnant women. And DEA was uncooperative when investigators tried to figure out what happened. A devastating report. I highlighted a dozen troubling/horrifying excerpts back in August.
  • Government Police Training and Equipping Programs, Department of Defense, April 1, 2017
    It’s mostly a spreadsheet, but it’s engrossing. It’s a listing of all training events involving foreign police forces in 2015 and 2016. I wish all public reporting of aid was this transparent.
  • Counternarcotics: Overview of U.S. Efforts in the Western Hemisphere, Government Accountability Office, October 13, 2017
    A documentation of $39 billion that U.S. federal agencies spent to counter drug trafficking in the Western Hemisphere. Some data is confusing—I’m not sure about the categories—and some is surprising. But a lot of it is new, and it’s an essential read.
  • Southwest Border Security: Additional Actions Needed to Better Assess Fencing’s Contributions to Operations and Provide Guidance for Identifying Capability Gaps, Government Accountability Office, February 16, 2017
    A review of the current use of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. This is the best overview of the existing border wall. 
  • Metrics Developed to Measure the Effectiveness of Security Between Ports of Entry, Office of Immigration Statistics, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, September 14, 2017
    Congress required the Homeland Security Department to publish “the metrics developed to measure the effectiveness of security between the ports of entry, including the methodology and data supporting the resulting measures.” The report finds, “The southwest land border is more difficult to illegally cross today than ever before.”
  • Colombia: Background and U.S. Relations, Congressional Research Service, November 14, 2017
    The first of five CRS reports here. Good overview of Colombia’s conflict and post-conflict challenges, and the history of U.S. aid. Great aid numbers and explanation of the current aid package.
  • Colombia’s Changing Approach to Drug Policy, Congressional Research Service, November 30, 2017
    A look at coca and cocaine production trends in Colombia, the Colombian government’s post-conflict shifts in eradication and interdiction, and how those mesh with U.S. priorities and programs.
  • U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Merida Initiative and Beyond, Congressional Research Service, June 29, 2017
    A regular overview of U.S. public security, border security, anti-drug, police, and judicial reform assistance to Mexico through the framework established in 2007-2008 by the Mérida Initiative.
  • U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America: Policy Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, June 8, 2017
    A periodically updated overview of U.S. assistance to Central America to improve public security and governance.
  • El Salvador: Background and U.S. Relations, Congressional Research Service, November 3, 2017
    A periodically updated overview of El Salvador’s public security challenges and political situation, with some details about U.S. assistance.
  • Foreign Military Training Report, Department of Defense, Department of State, December 2017
    An accounting of all training of foreign security forces provided by U.S. personnel. Must include totals, dollar amounts, recipient units, units offering training, training locations, and course titles. Much data, however, gets omitted, so don’t consider this report to be comprehensive.
  • Colombia Human Rights Certification, Department of State, September 11, 2017
    Every year, in order to free up a percentage of military aid to Colombia, the State Department must certify that Colombia’s security forces are improving their human rights record. Human rights groups in Colombia dismiss this report as shedding a too-positive light on grave impunity shortcomings. Still, this is one of the most detailed overviews available of the Colombian justice system’s efforts to hold military human rights abusers accountable.
  • Section 2011 Report on Special Operations Forces Training, Department of Defense, April 1, 2017
    A yearly report mainly covering Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET), a program that takes U.S. Special Operations Forces on training missions to over 100 countries each year. This is heavily redacted, but looking at earlier versions of the report (here and here) makes it possible to discern patterns in the Special Forces relationship.
  • National Drug Threat Assessment, Drug Enforcement Administration, October 2017
    The DEA’s annual overview of principal illicit drug threats. An important source of information about trafficking patterns. (Gives citable answers to questions like: Where does most cocaine in the U.S. come from? Is it mostly transshipped by air or boats? How does it cross the U.S. border?)
  • International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Department of State, March 2, 2017
    An annual narrative of efforts to reduce illegal drug production and transshipment, including U.S. assistance, in each country that the U.S. government considers to be a major source or transit country. It’s sort of boring and wordy, but a close read is rewarded by numerous bits of information that you don’t find anywhere else. For instance, that U.S. authorities alerted Honduran forces 100 times in 2016 about cocaine shipments headed to Honduran territory—and the Hondurans made zero interdictions.
  • Challenges Facing DHS in Its Attempt to Hire 15,000 Border Patrol Agents and Immigration Officers, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, July 27, 2017
    The IG casts serious doubt on the Trump administration’s loudly declared plans to expand Border Patrol and ICE. It memorably estimates that to increase Border Patrol by 5,000 agents, the agency would need about 750,000 applicants—more than 1 percent of the entire U.S. population between 21 and 35 years of age.
  • Statement of Anthony D. Williams, Assistant Administrator – Chief of Operations, Drug Enforcement Administration before the Senate Caucus on International Drug Control, September 12, 2017
    Of all congressional hearing testimonies I read this year, this one yielded the most clippings in my database because it had the most information I’ve seen in a while about DEA’s operations in the Western Hemisphere.