Military Aid and Training

The United States has a long and troubled history of fueling military violence in Latin America, with little to no oversight and scant public debate. From the Cold War era to today’s continued – and largely unsuccessful – War on Drugs and War on Terror, U.S. military aid in the region have contributed to a bevy of human rights violations, supported (directly and indirectly) corrupt governments, and protected the interests of multinational corporations and national elites while turning a blind eye to the economically struggling majority.

While since 2011, the amount of actual dollars going toward military aid and training in Colombia and Mexico has decreased thanks to a winding down of parts of Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative, Colombia remains the largest recipient of U.S. military aid and training in the hemisphere1. Meanwhile, resources for military aid and training remains high overall in South America and Mexico and has increased in Central America. This is also now supported by Colombia, which now acts as an advisor and training partner in Central America in Mexico, an effort which some refer to as the U.S. “outsourcing” military training2, 3.

The U.S. has also seen policy change regarding conditions on military aid, but concern remains high for lack of oversight, particularly regarding human rights violations. The Leahy Law, which prohibits U.S. aid to foreign military and police agencies that violate human rights, was amended in 2012 to include stronger oversight, but little evidence exists of its likely efficacy. Lack of transparency prevents sufficient oversight, while reports of human rights abuses in Latin America continue to grow.

Witness for Peace continues to monitor the on-the-ground impact of U.S. military and police aid in Latin America and works to change policy in favor of human rights and sustainable development. Among other changes, we call on Washington to:

End U.S. military aid to Colombia. The Colombian military has documented ties to paramilitary groups on the U.S. terrorism watch list and continues to engage in extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations. Now that Colombia is a partner in training other Latin American militaries and police forces, concern is high that the Colombian military’s value system – that of ignoring national and international law and abusing human rights – is being passed on to those now being trained by Colombian forces. This includes thousands of Mexican forces in a national already riddled with human rights abuses4. Ending U.S. military aid to Colombia is essential to curbing U.S. involvement and connection to such abuses.
Close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Georgia, WHINSEC began in 1946 in the Panama Canal Zone. Beginning in 1961, its goal was to teach anti-communist counterinsurgency training to Latin American personnel. This shifted to the Drug War in the early 1990s as the Cold War came to a close and the U.S. began to focus on drug production and trafficking in Latin America. However, history has shown that many graduates of the school have gone on to become some of the most infamous human rights violators, torturers, and dictators in Latin America5
Halt the Mérida Initiative. Popularly dubbed, “Plan México” as a comparison to Plan Colombia, the Mérida Initiative has contributed to a rise in human rights violations by the same forces its resources have sought to train. Though parts of the Mérida Initiative are winding down, such that funding is beginning to decrease, aid in dollars and resources remains high, associating the U.S. directly with the human rights abuses being carried out by the forces it trains.
End U.S. support for military enforcement of domestic law. Both the U.S. State Department and the Department of Defense assert that police forces, not militaries, should be responsible for domestic law enforcement, yet the U.S. continues to lend aid and training for militaries that enforce domestic law. This sends a mixed message and only associates the U.S. further with the abuses carried out by some Latin American military forces.


1. Since 1993, Colombia has held this position all but one year, according to the September 2013 report “Time to Listen” by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a non-profit human rights advocacy group based in Washington , D.C.

2. A 2013 report by the Colombian Ministry of Defense demonstrates the training of some 10,000 military and police forces by Colombia between 2010 and 2012, thanks to infrastructure and training put in the place by the U.S. since the 1990s.

3. In 2012, the U.S. and Colombia released a joint press statement indicating that “increased coordination of U.S. and Colombia defense and security support activities… will support whole-of-government strategies and produce a greater effect throughout the hemisphere…”

4. Forero, Juan. “Colombia stepping up anti-drug training of Mexico’s army, police”. The Washington Post. 22 Jan 2011.

5. See Ramona Wadi’s 2015 report in MintPressNews:.