More Access to U.S. Spending Information Needed: Rise in Militarization and Rise in Violence
On June 5th, the Nobel Women’s Initiative and the JASS (Just Associates) published a report, “Caught in the Crossfire: Women on the frontlines in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala” about a delegation led by Nobel Laureates Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchú Tum earlier this year to investigate violence against women in these three countries. As a part of their report, the group makes recommendations to the U.S. government about changes in policy to address the increased militarization and rise in violence against women in the region.
In the delegation’s report, the second recommendation to the U.S. government is:
“Create mechanisms of public information and accountability in the Department of Defense budget. Specifically, release detailed information on defense aid to Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.”
Why is this information important?
The U.S. sends millions of dollars as foreign aid to support foreign militaries and police. In some cases, the training programs and support are important in helping a country build infrastructure, however this rise in militarization as a result of increased U.S. funding often leads to an increase in violence and abuses by security forces. To see more of the numbers, check out John Lindsay-Poland’s blog about U.S. military spending in Latin America, here and here.
The report by the Nobel Women’s Initiative and JASS explain how the increased in militarization has shown an increase in violence against women. Much of the increased militarization is supported through direct U.S. funding in Honduras and Mexico, and through more indirect ways in Guatemala.* This expanded military and police presence is a part of the “war on drug” strategy. Regional security aid, such as the Merida Initiative in Mexico, and the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) in Guatemala and Honduras, are the mechanisms the U.S uses to expand this militarization.
The delegation interviewed over 200 women in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala, chronicling the increased abuses by armed and police forces. In Mexico, the government has deployed more than 45,000 troops to fight the drug cartels, and this military presence “has led to numerous abuses against the civilian population, including sexual violence.”
Dolores Gonzalez from Serapaz, Mexico told the delegation that:
“In many places where the federal government’s ‘security strategy’ has been applied with the most force, violence got worse and diversified. Vulnerability has increased, placing citizens in a situation of alarming risk, particularly for certain groups such as youth, children, women, indigenous communities and migrants.”
In Guatemala, the military has returned to bases in the highlands which were abandoned after the signing of the peace accords in 1996. The return of the military to communities that suffered through the genocide in the 1980s, the delegation reports, “is traumatic and intimidating.” There have been many cases of rapes, assaults, and violence against protesters organizing against mining operations, and evictions of entire communities from their land.
The military in Honduras, which took to the streets in response to the coup in 2009 has been deployed across the country to combat organized crime. The armed forces participate in corruption on many levels, often times supporting prominent businessmen, large landowners, and investors that have a part in land conflicts, reports the delegation.
In all of these countries, the military is often used as internal security, because many see local police forces as too corrupt to be effective. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) says in a statement regarding militarization in Guatemala:
“Relying on the military for internal security places the army in roles that can lead to abuses, given that the army is not trained in proper law enforcement procedures, nor has legal jurisdiction to enforce the law.”
What you can do…
While limited amounts of information is available through various government websites such as usaspending.gov and Foreign Military Training and DoD Engagement Activities of Interest, there is still a large absence of publicly available information, specifically detailed information. This information is important so there is increased transparency regarding what types of projects are being funded, who is receiving the funding, and what the effects are of the funding. This will increase accountability for use of U.S. tax-dollars, and U.S. foreign policy strategy.
Urge your elected officials to press for information about the military and police units and programs for which they authorize funding, and the human rights records of these units and programs.
*There is currently a ban on direct military funding to Guatemala. There are, however, allowances are made for Army Corps of Engineers type projects, and military assistance more indirectly through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). For more information, see Guatemala Human Rights Commission-USA’s Fact Sheet on U.S. foreign assistance, from 2010, here. The current proposed appropriations bill includes lifting this ban on military funding to Guatemala.