Small Wars Journal

The Remilitarisation of Latin American Streets

Sat, 03/31/2012 - 8:34pm

From the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

The military was once a central pillar of authoritarian dictatorships
in Latin America. Now, democratic governments are relying on them to
restore law and order, bypassing failing police forces. This is a
high-risk strategy, policymakers need to ensure that civilian control
of militaries remain paramount.

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Tue, 04/10/2012 - 2:34am

Nice article, thanks for the information.

The bulk of this article explains quite clearly why these nations are employing their militaries to reduce the growing threat of these violent gangs and transnational narco traffickers. The police can't handle it, so any risk associated with employing the military to regain control of the state is secondary to regaining control of the state. The author also points out that the police are trusted due to high levels of corruption (which implies their easily manipulated by the gangs). This is a common theme in much of the developing world. In Iraq the people trusted the Iraqi Army but feared the police, and in many nations I have worked in in Asia the people had the same view. I find it almost funny in a sad way that we promote rapidly transitioning security over to the police as a success metric, when the police are often a key part of the underlying problem, and to compound this trend the police are not adequately manned and equipped to suppress the security problems we hasten the state we're advising to hand the security problem over too.

As the author no doubts knows you can't reform the police without reforming the government that rules the police. Furthermore, to minimize corruption these poor governments need to pay their police a respectable wage, which isn't feasible in many countries. More specifically addressing gangs, you have to address the entire judicial system to include the courts and prisons. These are not minor challenges, and are not challenges that can be overcome quickly even if they had the money to do so. In the mean time if the government wants to retain its legitimacy its only option is to employ its military in a police role, or in some cases to employ the policy using para-military tactics. It isn't the U.S., we need to move beyond our one size fits all.