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Friday, January 27, 2012

Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress


Peter J. Meyer
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs


Central America faces significant security challenges. Criminal threats, fragile political and judicial systems, and social hardships such as poverty and unemployment contribute to widespread insecurity in the region. Consequently, improving security conditions in these countries is a difficult, multifaceted endeavor. Because U.S. drug demand contributes to regional security challenges and the consequences of citizen insecurity in Central America are potentially far-reaching, the United States is collaborating with countries in the region to implement and refine security efforts. 

Criminal Threats 


Well-financed drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), along with transnational gangs and other organized criminal groups, threaten to overwhelm Central American governments. Counternarcotics efforts in Colombia and Mexico have put pressure on DTOs in those countries. As a result, many DTOs have increased their operations in Central America, a region with fewer resources and weaker institutions with which to combat drug trafficking and related criminality. Increasing flows of narcotics through Central America are contributing to rising levels of violence and the corruption of government officials, both of which are weakening citizens’ support for democratic governance and the rule of law. DTOs are also increasingly becoming poly-criminal organizations, raising millions of dollars through smuggling, extorting, and sometimes kidnapping Central American migrants. Given the transnational character of criminal organizations and their abilities to exploit ungoverned spaces, some analysts assert that insecurity in Central America poses a potential threat to the United States. 


Social and Political Factors 


Throughout Central America, underlying social conditions and structural weaknesses in governance inhibit efforts to improve security. Persistent poverty, inequality, and unemployment leave large portions of the population susceptible to crime. Given the limited opportunities other than emigration available to the expanding youth populations in Central America, young people are particularly vulnerable. At the same time, underfunded security forces and the failure to fully implement post-conflict institutional reforms initiated in several countries in the 1990s have left police, prisons, and judicial systems weak and susceptible to corruption. 


Approaches to Central American Security 


Despite these challenges, Central American governments have attempted to improve security conditions in a variety of ways. Governments in the “northern triangle” countries of Central America have tended to adopt more aggressive approaches, including deploying military forces to help police with public security functions and enacting tough anti-gang laws. Governments in other countries have emphasized prevention activities, such as intervention programs that focus on strengthening families of at-risk youth. Central American nations have also sought to improve regional cooperation, given the increasingly transnational nature of the threats they face.



U.S. Assistance To address growing security concerns, the Obama Administration has sought to develop collaborative partnerships with countries throughout the Western Hemisphere. In Central America, this has taken the form of the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). Originally created in FY2008 as part of the Mexico-focused counterdrug and anticrime assistance package known as the Mérida Initiative, CARSI takes a broad approach to the issue of security, funding various activities designed to support U.S. and Central American security objectives. In addition to providing the seven nations of Central America with equipment, training, and technical assistance to support immediate law enforcement and interdiction operations, CARSI seeks to strengthen the capacities of governmental institutions to address security challenges as well as the underlying economic and social conditions that contribute to them. Between FY2008 and FY2011, the United States provided Central America with $361.5 million through Mérida/CARSI. Central America will likely receive an additional $100 million through CARSI in FY2012 as Congress noted its support for the Obama Administration’s budget request for the initiative in the report (H.Rept. 112-331) accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-74). 

Scope of This Report 


This report examines the extent of the security problems in Central America, the current efforts being undertaken by Central American governments to address them, and U.S. support for Central American efforts through the Central America Regional Security Initiative. It also raises potential policy issues for congressional consideration such as funding levels, human rights concerns, and how CARSI relates to other U.S. government policies.



Date of Report: January 13, 2012
Number of Pages:
40
Order Number: R417
31
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

El Salvador: Political, Economic, and Social Conditions and U.S. Relations


Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Throughout the last few decades, the United States has maintained a strong interest in El Salvador, a small Central American country with a population of 6 million. During the 1980s, El Salvador was the largest recipient of U.S. aid in Latin America as its government struggled against the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) insurgency during a 12- year civil war. A peace accord negotiated in 1992 brought the war to an end and formally assimilated the FMLN into the political process as a political party. After the peace accords were signed, U.S. involvement shifted toward helping successive Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) governments rebuild democracy and implement market-friendly economic reforms.

In March 2009, Mauricio Funes, a former television journalist and the first FMLN presidential candidate without a guerilla past, defeated Rodrigo Ávila of the conservative ARENA party in a close election. Funes took office for a five-year presidential term in June 2009. His inauguration marked the end of more than 20 years of ARENA rule and the first transfer of political power between parties since the end of El Salvador’s civil war. Funes’ victory followed strong showings by the FMLN in the January 2009 legislative elections.

Midway through his term, President Funes still has high approval ratings (63% in December 2011), but faces a number of political, economic, and social challenges. President Funes has generally pursued moderate policies that have enabled him to form cross-party coalitions in the National Assembly, but caused periodic friction between him and more radical members of his party. His ability to shepherd legislation through the Assembly may stall, however, as the March 2012 legislative elections draw near. The Funes government has received support from the international community—including $790 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)— to boost economic recovery in the wake of the 2009 economic crisis. El Salvador’s recovery has been thwarted, however, by natural disasters. Flooding from Tropical Depression 12E, which hit in October 2011, resulted in some $840 million in losses and damages to the country. The costs of reconstruction may constrain the government’s ability to fund anti-poverty initiatives and public security efforts, although tax reform enacted in December 2011 will generate additional revenue. With El Salvador posting one of the world’s highest homicide rates, President Funes is under significant pressure to improve security conditions.

Maintaining close ties with the United States has been a primary foreign policy goal of successive Salvadoran governments, including the Funes Administration. During a March 2011 visit to El Salvador, President Barack Obama praised President Funes’ “courageous work to overcome old divisions in Salvadoran society and to show that progress comes through pragmatism.” Both leaders pledged to work together to boost economic growth in El Salvador through the new Partnerships for Growth initiative and to more effectively ensure citizen security. U.S. bilateral assistance, which totaled $29.8 million in FY2011, as well as aid provided through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), is supporting those goals. The U.S. government has also provided more than $605,000 in emergency assistance in response to the recent floods. The Administration requested $35.5 million in aid for El Salvador for FY2012. The amount of funding included for El Salvador in the FY2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-74) is not yet available. However, in H.Rept. 112-331, the conferees stated their expectation that additional bilateral assistance and International Disaster Assistance be provided to El Salvador for flood relief and reconstruction.



Date of Report: January 11, 2012
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RS21655
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Latin America: Terrorism Issues


Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

U.S. attention to terrorism in Latin America intensified in the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, with an increase in bilateral and regional cooperation. In its 2010 Country Reports on Terrorism (issued in August 2011), the State Department maintained that terrorism in the region was primarily perpetrated by terrorist organizations in Colombia and by the remnants of radical leftist Andean groups. Overall, however, the report maintained that the threat of a transnational terrorist attack remained low for most countries in the hemisphere. With regard to concerns about drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico, the State Department terrorism report asserted that “there was no evidence of ties between Mexican criminal organizations and terrorist groups, nor that the criminal organizations had aims of political or territorial control, aside from seeking to protect and expand the impunity with which they conduct their criminal activity.” Cuba has remained on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1982 pursuant to Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, which triggers a number of economic sanctions. Both Cuba and Venezuela are on the State Department’s annual list of countries determined to be not cooperating fully with U.S. antiterrorism efforts pursuant to Section 40A of the Arms Export Control Act. U.S. officials have expressed concerns over the past several years about Venezuela’s lack of cooperation on antiterrorism efforts, its relations with Iran, and potential support for Colombian terrorist groups.

Concerns about Iran’s increasing activities in Latin America center on Iran’s attempts to circumvent U.N. and U.S. sanctions, as well as on its ties to the radical Lebanon-based Islamic group Hezbollah. Allegations have linked Hezbollah to two bombings in Argentina: the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 30 people and the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. The State Department terrorism report maintains that there are no known operational cells of either Al Qaeda or Hezbollah-related groups in the hemisphere, but noted that “ideological sympathizers in South America and the Caribbean continued to provide financial and moral support to these and other terrorist groups in the Middle East and South Asia.”

In the 112th Congress, several legislative initiatives have been introduced related to terrorism issues in the Western Hemisphere regarding Mexico, Venezuela, and the activities of Iran and Hezbollah, and several oversight hearings have been held related to these topics. H.R. 3401 (Mack), marked up by the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on December 15, 2011, would require the Secretary of State to submit a detailed counterinsurgency strategy “to combat the terrorist insurgency in Mexico waged by transnational criminal organizations.” Supporters of the bill argue that terrorist tactics are being employed by Mexican drug trafficking organizations, and that the United States needs to use appropriate counterinsurgency tactics to combat these groups. Opponents argue that Mexico is not facing a “terrorist insurgency” by groups with political goals, and contend that pushing for a counterinsurgency strategy could undermine the strong U.S. security relationship developed with Mexico. Among other introduced initiatives, H.R. 1270 (McCaul) would direct the Secretary of State to designate as foreign terrorist organizations six Mexican drug cartels; H.Res. 247 (Mack) would call for the designation of Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism; and H.Res. 429 (Duncan) would call on the Administration to develop “a comprehensive counterterrorism and counter-radicalization strategy to defend United States geostrategic interests and defeat Iranian interests in the Western Hemisphere.”



Date of Report: January 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: RS21049
Price: $29.95

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