During a trip to South America for the 10th Conference of defence Ministers of the Americas, U.S. defence Secretary advised Latin American countries to strengthen their civilian police forces, instead of using the military for regular law enforcement, the Associated Press reported. South American countries, such as Colombia, often use their militaries against drug traffickers and violent cartels. Panetta said this is not a good long-term solution.
He did promise his peers support in strengthening their police forces.
Though he told them the line between when to use military or police forces hasn’t always been clear for the U.S., especially after the attacks on 9/11, the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) website specifically names drug trafficking as a threat it works to combat.
The detention centre at Guantanamo Bay also falls under SOUTHCOM, so it’s understandable if Panetta’s Latin American peers are confused by his suggestion.
Through the Merida Initiative, the US appropriated $1.6 billion since 2008 to fight drug crimes in Mexico and along the border. More than 5,000 military and police personnel were trained by the US in the first year of the program. It hasn’t done as well in other Central American countries.
Today is Panetta’s last day in South America before heading to Brussels.
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