The U.S. military has increased its presence in Latin America in recent years and tripled its Special Operations Forces training missions to the region's armed forces, according to a new report.
The Washington Office on Latin America, or WOLA, published an investigation Tuesday based on U.S. State Department documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act detailing the stepped-up work of U.S. Special Operation Forces in Latin America between 2007 and 2014, despite decreasing military aid to the region during that period.
"With civil affairs and psychological operations among their chief missions, their purpose is as political as it is military," the WOLA report stated.
The missions are part of a training program called Joint Combined Exchange Training, JCET. In that seven-year period, the number of missions went from 12 JCETs who trained 560 officers in the region to 36 training 2,300 officers.
The training missions have also spiked in Central America since 2010 as the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have come under increased scrutiny in Washington as a result of increased migration to the United States from these countries due to a lack of security and development in the region largely attributed to the drug war and corruption. The training budget is now more than US$17 billion each year. By 2015, the U.S. forces carried out missions in 135 out of 196 countries in the world.
These trainings include joint military exercises, teaching Latin American troops combat skills, intelligence gathering and riot control techniques. Meanwhile, U.S. forces familiarize themselves with the country’s military, terrain, language and culture, according to the documents.
Honduras has the largest number of U.S. missions, with the current number at 21, followed by El Salvador, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Belize.