2013 To Walk the Earth in Safety: Latin America
Children at school in Guanacaste province, Costa Rica. The United States commenced its support of mine clearance operations, mine risk education, and survivor assistance in Latin America in 1992. Central America became the first mine-free region in 2010.
Home to the Andes and Amazon, the longest mountain range and the largest rainforest in the world, Latin America contains nearly 10 percent of the world’s population. Latin American countries have been plagued by numerous civil wars and conflicts with internal armed groups over the last half-century. Despite these challenges, Latin America has experienced economic growth in recent years. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, poverty in Latin America has decreased from 49 to 31 percent over the last two decades. The illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) greatly contributes to the region’s security challenges including high homicide rates in some countries and an extensive transnational drug trade. Colombia, the most mined country in Latin America, continues to have some of the highest incident rates in the world. Since 1993, U.S. conventional weapons destruction efforts have provided more than $70 million in regional support, largely focusing on mine clearance and curbing SA/LW trafficking.
Chile’s borders with Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru are contaminated by landmines, which were laid during Augusto Pinochet’s regime in the 1970s. In cooperation with the Chilean National Demining Commission, the U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program (HD R&D) continued an operational field evaluation of one Multi-Tooled Excavator and five Air Spade® demining digging tools in FY2012. These technologies represent a $450,000 investment to augment Chilean mine clearance activities. The Air Spades have demonstrated exceptional capabilities for clearing anti-tank (AT) mines in concrete-like soils, clearing 1,680 AT mines to date. The excavator has cleared 300 AT and anti-personnel (AP) mines from 16,000 cubic meters (20,927 cubic yards) of sediment in challenging riverbeds. Located next to a busy highway, the current objective is a dry creek bed that contains the deep, jumbled washout of a mixed low-metal AT and AP minefield.
The Muli-Tooled Excavator with an armor protected cab works deep in a dry creek bed to clear anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.
Landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) threaten 31 of 32 departments in Colombia, largely remnants from the ongoing armed conflict between Colombia and non-state illegal armed groups. Since 1990, mines and UXO have killed more than 10,000 civilians and military personnel. Although this number remains among the highest in the world, the annual number of landmine and UXO casualties has steadily decreased since 2007. The Victims’ Reparations and Land Restitution Law, passed in 2011, is the keystone of Colombia’s unprecedented initiative to return 6.6 million hectares of land (approximately 16 million acres) to more than 360,000 families over a 10-year period. With participation by international nongovernmental organizations, Colombia intends to increase its military and civilian demining capacity to meet increased clearance requirements. In September 2012 the Colombian government initiated peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC); Cuba and Norway are guarantors, and Venezuela and Chile are observers.
A sign and armed guard warn of landmine danger in Colombia. Photo courtesy of Ed Trimakas, PM/WRA, U.S. Dept. of State.
Since 2006, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) has spent $11.9 million for humanitarian mine action in Colombia. The United States supports six of the Colombian security force’s nine humanitarian demining platoons (formerly called emergency response teams) in Colombia, as well as victim assistance services and mine risk education (MRE).
PM/WRA funding in FY2012 totaled $3.5 million for the following conventional weapons destruction programs in Colombia:
- Organization of American States continued ongoing maintenance of six humanitarian demining platoons.
- The Polus Center for Social and Economic Development provided victim assistance services in two new departments, Nariño and Caldas, in partnership with the coffee industry.
- Centro Integral de Rehabilitación de Colombia (Integral Rehabilitation Center of Colombia or CIREC) continued supporting three medical brigades and three new military demining platoons. Funding is now primarily concentrated around demined communities. CIREC provides integrated rehabilitation services, medical services, psychosocial support, educational opportunities, and direct financial assistance to civilians affected by armed conflict.
- Campaña Colombiana Contra Minas (Colombia Campaign to Ban Landmines) continued its MRE project, which aims to strengthen local capacity for mine action through awareness-raising and empowerment training for local authorities, social organizations, and community groups.
- The HALO Trust received final certification in 2012, and in 2013 plans to initiate operational clearance of 14 minefields.
At the request of the U.S. Military Group and the government of Colombia, in September 2012 the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Small Arms and Light Weapons (SA/LW) Program conducted a physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) assessment visit to Colombia. The team assessed the PSSM practices and procedures used at six SA/LW storage sites of the Colombian army, air force, navy, and national police. The DTRA team also provided recommendations on the safe storage of ammunition and explosives and outlined security priorities for implementation. The visit reduced proliferation by assisting Colombia with improving the security, safety, and management of its SA/LW stockpiles.
In FY2012 a U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) mobile training team conducted a train-the-trainer course for 26 members of the Colombian armed forces. The course taught improved clearance techniques, reducing the number of personnel needed to clear a hazardous area, which in turn enabled operating procedure development, operational safety, and the deployment of more operational teams. The U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Training Center (HDTC) deployed one expert in direct support of this training. The USSOUTHCOM Humanitarian Mine Action Program’s total cost for mission support, travel, and equipment was $149,431. Overseas Humanitarian Disaster Assistance and Civic Aid (OHDACA) funded the HDTC travel costs, totaling $4,366.
HDTC also deployed three experts to Fort Benning, Georgia, in direct support of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) Humanitarian Mine Action course. The experts conducted two train-the-trainer courses via WHINSEC’s mobile-training team for a total of 54 national police and soldiers from Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru on basic humanitarian demining techniques. OHDACA funded these travel costs, totaling $4,885.
Also in FY2012 the Leahy War Victims Fund of the U.S. Agency for International Development provided $600,000 in scholarship support through the new International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics accredited school to train Colombian nationals from the most mine-affected regions of the country in prosthetics and orthotics.
Twenty-six Schiebel ATMID all-terrain mine detectors donated through OAS as part of a $500,000 U.S. contribution to demining activities in Ecuador.
In 1995 a brief conflict between Peru and Ecuador left both sides of the border heavily mined, especially in the Ecuadorian provinces of El Oro, Loja, Morona-Santiago, and Zamora-Chinchipe. As a guarantor of the peace, the United States committed to providing assistance to both countries. Continued cooperation between the United States and Ecuador in conventional weapons destruction (CWD) has also led to the destruction of excess man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), small arms and light weapons (SA/LW), and other munitions.
From 2000 to 2004 the United States provided approximately $5 million in humanitarian mine action (HMA) assistance to Ecuador for lowland coastal demining. In 2010 the United States procured $500,000 in radios and communications technology through the Organization of American States (OAS) for Ecuador’s HMA program and provided $750,000 in contractor support for SA/LW destruction and training. Also in 2010 the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided resources to destroy obsolete weapons and offered initial basic training for an Ecuadorian explosive ordnance disposal team to conduct internal destruction programs. In September 2012 a PM/WRA grant from FY2011 to OAS provided $500,000 in demining equipment to Ecuador.
At the request of the U.S. Military Group, the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) SA/LW Program conducted two physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) technical seminars in Ecuador in October 2011. The first seminar was held in Quito and attended by 19 military participants, while the second was held in Manta and attended by 22 military participants. As a follow-up to these missions, a DTRA SA/LW team returned to Ecuador in September 2012 to conduct two additional PSSM technical seminars. The first seminar was at the request of the U.S. Military Group and attended by 38 participants from the Ecuadorian military. The second was held at the request of the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service and attended by 28 participants from the Ecuadorian police force. The goals of these seminars were to orient Ecuador’s operational staff with international PSSM best practices and assist them with improving the security, safety, and management of their SA/LW stockpiles.
In FY2012 a U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) mobile training team conducted a train-the-trainer course for 15 members of the Ecuadorian armed forces. The courses taught improved clearance techniques, reducing the number of personnel needed to clear a hazardous area, which in turn enabled operating procedure development, operational safety, and the deployment of more operational teams. The U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Training Center (HDTC) deployed one expert in direct support of this training. The USSOUTHCOM HMA Program’s total cost for mission support, travel, and equipment was $275,518. Overseas Humanitarian Disaster Assistance and Civic Aid funded the HDTC travel costs, totaling $7,645. To read about additional HDTC training support for humanitarian demining in Ecuador, see the country profile on Colombia.
Also in FY2012 the U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Research and Development (HD R&D) Program, in cooperation with the National Demining Center of Ecuador, the Ecuadorian Army Demining Command, and OAS, completed an evaluation of technology to clear mines along a rocky riverbank to provide safe access to the river. Floods dispersed low-metal mines among mine-sized rocks, which are themselves capable of triggering standard mine detectors. The HD R&D Program’s mechanical solution, an Orbital Sifter and Crusher valued at $235,000, sifted soil from seven sites covering 11,000 square meters (3 acres).
A mine detection dog team prepares to work in the Cenepa region of Peru. Photo courtesy of David Bruce, PM/WRA, U.S. Dept. of State.
During a brief conflict between Peru and Ecuador in 1995, the five Peruvian regions of Amazonas, Cajamarca, Loreto, Piura, and Tumbes were mined. Peruvian records indicate that 31,405 mines remain in Cordillera del Cóndor, the most heavily mined area along Peru’s border with Ecuador. The national police also emplaced anti-personnel mines during the 1980s and 1990s around four prisons to protect critical infrastructure against attacks from subversive movements such as Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path or SL). More recently, SL has resorted to using improvised explosive devices (IED) and booby traps in the drug-producing Apurimac and Ene River Valley.
Peru’s national humanitarian mine action (HMA) goal is to become mine-free by 2017, as outlined in its 2011 strategic plan. Similar to other countries in the region, Peru also faces challenges from illicit small arms and light weapons proliferation. In May 2012 a La República report indicated that more than 1,000 weapons declared as taken out of circulation by the Peruvian Air Force were in reality sold to Colombian guerrilla groups.
From 2000 to 2004 the United States provided $5 million in HMA assistance to Peru through an Organization of American States (OAS) program to support lowland coastal and utility tower demining within Peru. From 2007 to 2012 the United States provided another $8 million to support jungle and prison demining and victim assistance.
In FY2012 the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided $1 million to the Polus Center for Social and Economic Development to support operational demining in Peru. This funding covered 12 months of support for one technical expert working with the Centro Peruano de Acción contra las Minas Antipersonales (Peruvian Mine Action Center or CONTRAMINAS) and select costs for Peruvian deminers. This grant also supported the final transition and turnover of the HMA program to Peruvian demining authorities. Peru will take over complete responsibility for its HMA program in 2013 with no additional PM/WRA funding for HMA.
Additionally, see the country profile on Colombia to read about the U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Training Center’s work in support of HMA in Peru in 2012.
Unstable and unsecure arms and munitions as well as the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) contribute to security challenges throughout Latin America. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras suffer some of the world’s highest murder rates due to their location along the drug trade corridor from Colombia to Mexico. The high availability of arms can be linked to elevated homicide rates throughout the region.
At least six unplanned explosions occurred at munitions sites in Central America between January 1998 and April 2012. The use of old weapons and munitions threatens public security and heightens the threat of accidental explosions, such as the one that occurred in May 2000 at a San Salvador military storage facility, which injured more than 40 people and damaged 700 houses.
From 2009 through 2011 the United States invested $1.6 million in the United Nations Regional Center for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNLIREC) to implement physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) in eight Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, and Guyana. This funding included $725,000 in 2011, which carried over into 2012.
Also in 2009 a two-year grant to provide marking equipment and related training to 26 countries in the hemisphere was awarded to the Organization of American States (OAS). With these machines, tens of thousands of firearms throughout the hemisphere are being marked with unique identifying information, increasing the region’s capacity to trace firearms and identify illicit trafficking routes and suppliers.
In FY2012 the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided $1,738,000 to the U.S. Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs for a combination of SA/LW and PSSM initiatives:
El Salvador received $988,000 for the following activities:
- MAG (Mines Advisory Group) verified a security report from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and procured PSSM material and equipment for nine military depots.
- Sterling International (now Sterling Global) provided conventional weapons destruction, training, consulting, and enhancement and renovation for nine military depots to improve security and reduce the threat of unintended munitions detonation in El Salvador.
- Belize received $300,000 for PSSM procurement and stockade enhancement based on a DTRA assessment.
- Guatemala received $250,000 for a project by OAS to destroy 250 tons of ammunition and 12,000 SA/LW at 14 Guatemalan military depots.
- OAS received additional funding to continue its regional arms control efforts. Priority attention was focused on three key areas: strengthening the capacity of governments to better secure civilian and military stockpiles; increasing the capacity of governments to mark firearms at point of manufacture and/or import, as well as to trace firearms recovered at crime scenes; and promoting, among key stakeholders at the national, regional, and subregional levels, the exchange of information and experiences on firearms-related issues within the framework of the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Related Materials.
Also in 2012 the DTRA SA/LW Program organized the following PSSM activities in the region to reduce illicit proliferation and increase safety and security through improved PSSM practices and procedures:
Small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) voluntarily turned in to the Haitian National Police. In January 2012, at the request of the Haitian National Police, the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency SA/LW Program conducted a physical security and stockpile management assessment in Haiti.
- Belize: In February 2012, at the request of the Belize Defense Force and in response to the recent theft of arms from a storage facility, the DTRA SA/LW Program conducted a PSSM assessment visit in Belize. The team assessed the PSSM practices and procedures used at Belize’s SA/LW storage sites, provided recommendations on the safe storage of arms, ammunition, and explosives, and outlined security priorities for implementation.
- Caribbean: In July 2012, at the request of the U.S. Military Liaison Office responsible for the Eastern Caribbean, the DTRA SA/LW Program conducted PSSM assessment visits to Dominica, Grenada, and Saint Lucia. As time permitted, the team also presented PSSM seminar modules that were relevant to each host country’s needs.
- El Salvador: In January and February 2012, at the request of PM/WRA and the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, the DTRA SA/LW Program conducted a PSSM assessment visit in El Salvador. As part of a Department of Defense assistance package, the DTRA team provided recommendations on the serviceability of munitions scheduled for destruction and suggested upgrades needed to enhance the physical security at weapons and ammunition storage facilities.
- Haiti: In January 2012, at the request of the Haitian National Police, the DTRA SA/LW Program conducted a PSSM assessment visit in Haiti. Following the assessment, the DTRA team conducted a PSSM technical seminar for 32 operational staff working directly with weapons and munitions.
- Honduras: In June 2012, at the request of the U.S. Military Group, the DTRA SA/LW Program conducted a PSSM executive seminar in Honduras. The seminar oriented 41 senior decision-makers from the armed forces of Honduras to international PSSM best practices.
- Paraguay: In November 2011, at the request of the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation, the DTRA SA/LW Program conducted a PSSM technical seminar in Paraguay, which oriented 34 operational staff working directly with weapons and munitions to international PSSM best practices and assisted them with improving the security, safety, and management of their SA/LW stockpiles.
Also in FY2012 the Leahy War Victims Fund of the U.S. Agency for International Development provided $500,000 to El Salvador to support the provision of scholarships and training for rehabilitation professionals in the region, especially in Haiti.