Military and police training in Latin America, 1999-2008

Latin America and the Caribbean

After an inexcusably long delay, the Department of State last week released the Foreign Military Training Report (FMTR) for 2008. Added to U.S. law in 1999 and due on March 1 of each year, the FMTR is by far the best source of information about U.S. training of foreign military and police forces. Information from the FMTR forms the core of the Training section of the Just the Facts project database.

The report released last week was due almost two years ago, in March 2009. The report covering 2009, due in March 2010, is also very late, though officials assure us that its release is weeks away.

Because this newly available information is so old, it doesn’t reflect recent trends in training of Western Hemisphere security forces. In particular, it doesn’t register what is likely the most important change: the effect of sharply increased military and police aid to Mexico and Central America under the Mérida Initiative, which was barely underway in 2008.

Still, a look at the training statistics over time shows that 2008 was a year of decline. The 11,677 Latin American and Caribbean military and police personnel trained that year represented the second-lowest total measured since the FMTR began publication in 1999.

(To see the numbers underlying these graphics, view our tables of trainees by country and by aid program.)

The 2008 drop, however, owes entirely to a sharp reduction in training of personnel from Colombia, as the large-scale military assistance programs of the 2000s began the decline that continues today. Taking away Colombia reveals the number of trainees in the rest of the region – 9,700 in 2008 – to have been near the highest levels the report has shown.

With the drop in Colombian trainees came a drop in trainees funded by the Defense Department’s counter-narcotics budget. This account, known as “Section 1004,” has paid for the training of more Latin American personnel than any other U.S. aid program in the past decade. However, the Defense Department’s budget still pays for far more training than the State Department-managed foreign assistance budget. Of the programs that fund training of Latin American personnel, two of the top three, and four of the top eight, are paid for and managed by the Pentagon

Now that we have ten years of data to analyze, we can identify which countries have developed a tighter training relationship with the U.S. military, and which have grown more distant. Comparing averages of trainees in 1999-2001 and 2006-2008 yields the following results.

Of the five countries that are receiving proportionally more U.S. training, three are in Central America. Brazil appears because a large number of students educated by the Defense Department’s Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in 2007 – many of whom were likely civilians – lifted the three-year average.

Panama +543.6% from 1999-2001 to 2006-08
Guatemala +286.3%
Bahamas +254.3%
Nicaragua +220.7%
Brazil +158.4%

The list of countries receiving proportionally less U.S. training than a decade ago is not surprising. Of the “bottom 5,” the bulk of the decline in trainees comes from Venezuela and Bolivia, two “Boliviarian” countries whose relations with the United States are poor.

Venezuela -97.8% from 1999-2001 to 2006-08
Bolivia -84.2%
Suriname -72.6%
Costa Rica -72.5%
Trinidad and Tobago -66.0%

The FMTR includes a good deal of detail, including the courses given, the military units to which trainees belonged, and the location of the training. We’re still entering this data into our database, but in a week or so you should be able to view and search data for 2008. For instance, information about what countries sent students to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation will be updated through 2008. (If you click on this link and get a strange response, refresh the page and it should work. The training database is large and can be tough on our servers.)