Today, as we observe the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, it’s worth noting that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is actively dragging U.S.-Latin America policy back towards an emphasis on “internal security” — i.e., training and arming proxy domestic police and military forces (the same kinds of forces responsible for Romero’s death).
The shift from “hemispheric defense” to “internal security” actually began under the Kennedy administration. Charles Maechling, the U.S. State Department official in charge of counterinsurgency planning from 1961-66, now describes his own policies as a “one-dimensional Cold War approach [that] created more efficient instruments of repression than existed before,” allowing the U.S. military to “overthrow constitutional governments and install dictatorial regimes maintained by naked terror.”
With all the recent talk of democracy, it would be nice to think we’d learned from our mistakes. Nice, but untrue.
Here’s a little noted report from last November:
For almost two decades, the United States has urged Latin American militaries to move away from the Cold War “national-security” doctrines that resulted in so many abuses in the region. But last week Rumsfeld appeared to be preaching the virtues of reviving such an approach… [suggesting] that, given the challenges posed by 21st-century threats, it was time to re-think the separation of the armed forces from the police — a major reform pursued by U.S. and Latin American human-rights organisations as a way of asserting civilian control over the military and reducing abuses.
And now we know that Rumsfeld’s suggestions from November have become official policy. On Sunday, the Washington Post described a “new national defense strategy issued by the Pentagon” with a major new emphasis on internal security. “While U.S. forces have long helped to bolster foreign militaries through a variety of assistance programs, the new emphasis on aiding them against internal threats marks a significant departure from the traditional focus on guarding against potential cross-border aggression.“