With all of the hullabaloo focused on CAFTA, Washington is moving ahead with a new police training facility in a troubled Central American country.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice astonishes the world by repeatedly
describing El Salvador as a “democracy,” she announced at this year’s
Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in Ft. Lauderdale
(June 5–7) that plans are underway to develop an International Law
Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in El Salvador. The school would yearly enroll
as many as 1,500 students from various hemispheric countries.
With full support coming from President
Antonio Saca’s rightist Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA)-led
government, Washington is ambitiously planning for an expanded presence in
El Salvador. The State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and
Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) is currently in the initial stages of
negotiating plans with Salvadoran officials to establish an International
Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) at La Comalapa, with the potential for
additional use of an existing Salvadoran police training headquarters in
Santa Tecla. A counterpart facility in Peru is under consideration, though
no concrete steps have yet been taken in that direction.
The ILEA Mission
ILEAs -- there are four others worldwide --
have been established, usually without great controversy, in regions where
the history of U.S. intervention has been marked by a much lower profile.
The overarching goal of the INL in establishing these police training
schools at its best is to improve transnational cooperation on security
matters, democratic rule and lawful procedures in any given strategic
region. The State Department’s statement of purpose proclaims that through
the ILEAs, it is seeking to “buttress democratic governance through the
rule of law; enhance the functioning of free markets through improved
legislation and law enforcement; and increase social, political, and
economic stability by combating narcotics trafficking and crime.”
The Breadth of Salvadoran Compliance
El Salvador showed its capacity for harmonizing to U.S. policy goals long before entering negotiations for the ILEA Latin America. ARENA has been institutionalizing its compliance with Washington’s policy initiatives in the country regardless of any resulting harm to Salvadoran national interests or the genuine developmental needs of its society. Dollarized since 2001, El Salvador was the first country in Central America to ratify the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and is the only Latin American nation still maintaining troops in Iraq. Additionally, it already plays host to a U.S. military base at La Comalapa as well as an FBI installation, which both operate with the stated purpose of dealing with Salvadoran youth gangs’ links to drug trafficking in the U.S. The ILEA’s goals overlap with those of the institutions it already has ensconced in El Salvador.
Whatever Happened to the ILEA South?
The U.S. has had to search gingerly to come
upon a western hemisphere country that would agree to its terms for an
ILEA to be based there; strategic considerations were largely made to
defer to finding a nation with the political will to host the institution.
After Panama rejected the project, negotiations with Costa Rica almost
came to fruition in 2002 but ultimately foundered in what could become an
extremely useful case study for El Salvador’s critics of the ILEA. Tom
Browne, an INL official, emphasized to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
(COHA) that one reason for the initiative’s failure was that Costa Rica
“wanted a different type [of a] curriculum, [at that time they desired]
more of a theoretical type of training than a hands on type of training.”
However, in 2002, the greatest source of discord was the important fact
that the U.S. obstinately refused to sign a clause barring military
instructors or armed forces personnel from the program. Moreover, the U.S.
was in the process of withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the
International Criminal Court at the time and was demanding diplomatic
immunity from prosecution for the academy’s U.S. personnel. The
distribution of the ILEA’s costs was also perceived by many Costa Ricans
as being grossly unfair.
In El Salvador, ARENA Glances at the Mirror and Thinks it Sees a Shiny Costa Rica
Though El Salvador, with its ghastly modern history and endemic human rights violations dating back to the matanza of 1932, hardly meets the criteria of the Reagan administration’s amendment, it is now making boasts that it is a regional exemplar of good governance and sound policing. Its claims are strikingly similar to those put forth in 2002 by advocates of the ILEA in Costa Rica, as once again ARENA is deftly using El Salvador’s alliance with Washington to safeguard its immediate political objectives. On June 10, the National Center for U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities reported Saca’s remarks that “all Salvadorans should feel proud that the United States has chosen us” to host the ILEA. The Center also reprinted a statement by Jaime Francisco Vigil, Director of the Salvadoran National Public Security Academy (ANSP), in which he suggested that the choice of El Salvador was made, in part, because its police force is the “most honest, nearest to the people, and is not corrupt like in other parts of the world.” To the contrary, during the height of the Salvadoran civil conflict, tens of millions of dollars were passed under the table to senior officials of the Salvadoran security forces by U.S. embassy officials. The Salvadoran Ombudsperson for Human Rights, Dr. Beatrice de Carrillo, serves at the head of on office which was institutionalized at the end of the Salvadoran civil war to monitor human rights abuses; she has written a long report on the corruption and the poor human rights record of the Salvadoran police force, and energetically opposes her government’s plans for the ILEA. She thereby joins with the denouncement of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) as well as of the multi-organizational Salvadoran Popular Social Block (BPS), in opposing the ILEA.
Military Silhouettes on the Police Academy’s Horizon
In reports and off-the-record conversations, State Department officials hem and haw as to why exactly El Salvador was chosen for hosting the ILEA, as it is obviously not a thriving democracy despite President Bush’s repeated praise to the contrary. As of yet, there have not even been token assurances, similar to the ones Danilovich ultimately made in reference to the proposed Costa Rican academy, that this ILEA would be “strictly civilian,” which is a promise that should be writ in stone before Salvadoran authorities allow the school to become concrete. While the INL likes to involve Department of Defense (DOD) personnel in their training activities because of their topical expertise, there are substantive reasons to warrant safeguards against U.S. military instruction in a civilian police training facility. If the U.S. human rights record in police training is poor, its military record is even worse. The detention centers of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib are only painfully relevant, high profile contemporary examples of the kind of moral quagmires that were routinely seen in El Salvador in the 1980s, when the U.S. military unremittingly complied in boldly scrawling history with the blood of El Salvador’s civilians. Andres Conteris, president of Non-Violence International and long time ILEA monitor, could have been justified in using strong language when he accused the U.S., in a COHA interview, of being “a known trainer in torture technologies.”
The Civil War’s Dismal Surfacings
During the Salvadoran civil war of 1980–1992, Washington backed the government party with training and more than $6 billion in military and economic aid in order to contain the power and influence of the increasingly formidable Marxist FMLN. A 1993 UN Truth Commission later determined that 90 percent of the violence that was committed during the Salvadoran war was not by the much maligned leftist rebels, but rather by El Salvador’s Christian Democratic government (later to be replaced by ARENA) and associated death squads. Additionally, the war’s most dramatic killings and incidents of torture could all be linked to Salvadoran military personnel trained at the paradigm of U.S. hemispheric military training, the SOA. Two of the three implicated in the 1980 murder of Archbishop Romero, 19 out of 27 cited by the UN Truth Commission for complicity in the 1981 massacre at El Mozote, and ten of the twelve responsible for the 1989 murder of six Salvadoran Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter, were trained at the SOA. Washington initially denied that the mass executions at El Mozote and in surrounding villages had ever taken place; however, 500 dead bodies of civilians were ultimately identified along with the unknown remains of hundreds more. Truncated exhumation efforts in the main village were sufficient to unearth the remains of at least 143 bodies and revealed that 131 had belonged to children under the age of 12, with it being estimated that six years was the children’s average age.
The Bedrock Argument for U.S. Hemispheric Policy: Blanket Trust
U.S. intervention in the Salvadoran civil war supported the Salvadoran government’s strategy of targeting villages thought to harbor leftist sympathizers. This in turn led to massive displacements which eventually ignited the gang problems which are the very dragon that the U.S. is trying to slay today with its expanded presence in El Salvador. Nevertheless, proponents of stepped-up military or civilian hemispheric training efforts carry a confidence in U.S. paternalism that is tantamount to blind conviction. In an example that does not bode well for El Salvador, David Kirsch reported in a 1990 Covert Action Quarterly article the response of Elliott Abrams, then Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, to a question posed at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing: Would cattle prods be included in U.S. overseas police assistance to Costa Rica? “I think that [the Costa Rican] government has earned enough trust, as I think we have earned enough trust, not to be questioned, frankly, about exporting torture equipment,” he said. “But I would certainly be in favor of giving it to them if they want it.”
A Call for Constraints
In securing its country’s approval for the
ILEA, ARENA will likely play on national fears that any frustrating of
Washington’s demands could trigger widespread deportations of Salvadorans
living in the U.S. and result in a ban on their vital remittances now
being sent back home. This strategy has served ARENA well in justifying
CAFTA, and it has helped ensure the necessary political support to keep
Salvadoran troops in Iraq and maintain the party’s hold on the presidency.
Partisan Washington diplomats, too, have a history of calculatedly
exacerbating Salvadoran fears with intimidating remarks. According to a
2004 PBS report, Roger Noriega, the Assistant Secretary of the
State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, warned the
Salvadoran electorate that "we know the history of [the opposition party,
the FMLN], and for this reason, it is fair that the Salvadoran people
consider what type of relations a new government could have with us" if
they voted for the FMLN during the upcoming election. In drumming up
support for the ILEA in El Salvador, Washington might well revisit this
The INL’s Strategy by Numbers: the “Multiplier Effect”
With its vast curriculum and 1,500 students
a year, the ILEA Latin America will not be merely another SOA; it will
have a good deal of clout on its own. It could dwarf WHINSEC in terms of
numbers reached. WHINSEC trains only 700 to 1,000 students a year, and
numerous Latin American countries have recently stopped sending students
A Proposed Rebuttal to the Planned Academy
Given State Department officials’ insistence
that negotiations are still preliminary and that curricular development is
still underway, Vigil’s comment that the first course will begin this July
25 appears to have been somewhat premature. Those opposed to the ILEA have
substantial momentum and conceivably enough time in which to influence the
negotiation process in a progressive direction. With the ILEA Latin
America, Washington will almost certainly maintain the inflexible attitude
it takes when it comes to negotiating its proposals. As Conteris put it in
describing the unraveling of the ILEA South, Washington decided to “pick
up the marbles [in Costa Rica] and go home” rather than offer concessions
to transparency and anti-military safeguards. For the antagonists of the
ILEA Latin America, this provides some room for hope.
Kathryn Tarker is a Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization based in Washington, DC: www.coha.org.