2014 To Walk the Earth in Safety: Latin America
A HALO deminer removes vegetation before searching for mines at Finca El Paraiso, La Espanola, Narino, Colombia. [Photo courtesy of Grant Salisbury/HALO]
Numerous civil wars and conflicts with internal armed groups plagued Latin American countries over the last half-century. The presence of transnational criminal organizations in Latin America and their ability to exploit weak democratic institutions presents challenges to the implementation of conventional weapons destruction programs.
The proliferation of SA/LW greatly contributes to the region’s security challenges, which includes 11 countries with homicide rates considered to be at an “epidemic level” by the World Health Organization. In contrast, Colombia’s peace negotiation with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is an example of how Latin America continues to work toward confronting violence and illicit trafficking. Colombia became the first Latin American nation to open a hospital specifically for landmine victims in 2013. Additionally, humanitarian demining efforts are key to land restitution in Colombia.
Since 1993, U.S. conventional weapons destruction efforts have provided more than $81 million in regional support to Latin American countries, largely focusing on mine clearance and curbing small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) trafficking.
Landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) affect all but one of Colombia’s 32 provinces. The Programa Presidencial para la Acción Integral Contra Minas Antipersonal (Presidential Program for Comprehensive Mine Action or PAICMA) received reports in 2012 of 3,328 incidents resulting from mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and UXO in mined or suspected hazardous areas (SHA) or from military demining operations in 27 of 32 provinces. The Victims and Land Restitution Law is the keystone of Colombia’s unprecedented initiative to return 6.6 million hectares (16.3 million acres) of land to more than 360,000 families over a 10-year period. The Colombian government aims to gradually increase operational and equipment capacity using military and nongovernmental organizations. By the end of 2013, Organization of American States (OAS), U.S. Department of Defense personnel, and Colombian forces trained a total of nine military humanitarian demining platoons, and a tenth platoon was trained in 2014.
Since 2001, the United States invested over $30 million for conventional weapons destruction programs in Colombia. This contribution supports humanitarian demining, rural victim assistance programs, and mine risk education (MRE).
In FY2013, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided $4.1 million for these programs:
• Centro Integral de Rehabilitación de Colombia (Integral Rehabilitation Center of Colombia or CIREC) continued providing 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 in 10 Colombian provinces. The project seeks to strengthen local capacity for mine action through awareness-raising and empowerment training.
• The HALO Trust initiated development of civilian humanitarian demining programs and began clearance in September 2013 in the department of Antioquia.
• OAS continued support for six of the 10 existing military humanitarian demining units.
• The Polus Center for Social and Economic Development continued supporting victim assistance in the Caldas and Nariño provinces in partnership with the coffee industry.
Additionally, U.S. Southern Command, with the support of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Training Center, conducted one operational planning workshop with Colombian Ministry of Defense, Joint Staff and Army humanitarian mine action policy makers and subject matter experts in Bogotá, Colombia, from 11 to 14 June 2013. The result was the development of an Armed Forces of Colombia Supporting Plan to the Colombian National Demining Plan in support of the country’s commitment to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.
Also in FY2013, the Leahy War Victims Fund of the U.S. Agency for International Development provided $1.9 million to support capacity building for three physical rehabilitation units and to upgrade prosthetic and orthotic labs to comply with regulations associated with the new Victims and Land Restitution Law.
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. 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.
Since 2000, the United States has invested more than $8.8 million in conventional weapons destruction programs in Ecuador for training, clearance, and safe disposal of landmines and explosive remnants of war.
An employee from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) conducts an assessment visit at a Honduran storage facility. [Photo courtesy of DTRA]
In FY2013, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided $200,000 to Organization of American States to train approximately 10 Ecuadorian national personnel in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) to a Level III EOD capacity at the Spanish Engineer School near Madrid, Spain.
The illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) in Honduras and neighboring countries, largely related to the transnational drug trade, poses a grave threat to national and regional security. This factor contributes to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras having murder rates among the highest in the world.
Since 2006, the United States has provided $816,000 in funding for conventional weapons destruction programs in Honduras. In FY2013, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) allocated $500,000 to support physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) and SA/LW and munitions destruction programs in Honduras, which continue into FY2014. The funding, provided to MAG (Mines Advisory Group), supported security upgrades at storage sites and enabled the Honduran Armed Forces to destroy excess weapons and ammunition and conduct destruction and stockpile management training
In May 2013, at the request of the Honduran military and police forces, the SA/LW Program of the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) conducted an assessment visit in Honduras. The team assessed the PSSM practices and procedures at storage sites used by the national police, Ministerio Público (Public Ministry), and military. The DTRA team provided recommendations on the safe storage of arms, ammunition, and explosives and outlined security priorities for implementation. The visit helped Honduras reduce proliferation and improved the security, safety, and management of its SA/LW stockpiles.
In addition to other U.S. efforts in Latin America, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Research and Development (HD R&D) Program and Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) supported conventional weapons destruction in Chile and Suriname in FY2013. The Leahy War Victims Fund (LWVF) of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) also continued previously funded assistance in El Salvador and Peru.
The Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program conducts an operational field evaluation on a John Deere front end loader called a Multi-Tooled Excavator in Chile. [Photo courtesy of Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program]
In Chile, in cooperation with the Chilean National Demining Commission, the HD R&D Program continued an operational field evaluation of one Multi-Tooled Excavator and five Air Spade® demining digging tools in FY2013. No new investment was made in FY2013, however, these technologies are valued at $450,000 and the equipment augments Chilean mine clearance activities. The Air Spades have demonstrated exceptional capabilities for clearing anti-tank (AT) mines in concrete-like soils, clearing 2,682 AT mines to date. The excavator has cleared 825 AT and anti-personnel (AP) mines from 33,000 cubic meters (43,162 cubic yards) of sediment in challenging riverbeds. The current objective is a dry creek bed located next to a busy highway, containing the deep, jumbled washout of a mixed low-metal AT and AP minefield.
In July 2013, at the request of the U.S. Office of Security Cooperation and Suriname’s Ministry of Defense, the DTRA Small Arms Light Weapons Program conducted a physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) seminar in Paramaribo, Suriname. The seminar oriented 28 low- to mid-level military, law enforcement, and security personnel with direct stockpile management responsibilities to international PSSM best practices. The objective was to reduce proliferation by assisting Suriname with improving the security, safety, and management of their arms, ammunition, and explosives stockpiles.
Also in FY2013, the LWVF of USAID provided $300,000 to El Salvador to support physical rehabilitation in partnership with the Salvadoran Institute for the Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons and the Fondo de Protección de Lisiados y Discapacitados a Consecuencia del Conflicto Armado (Protection Fund for the Disabled and Injured as a Result of the Armed Conflict). Additionally, the LWVF granted $1 million to Peru for physical rehabilitation programs (physical therapy, prosthetics and orthotics, and mobility aids).