The United States’ Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) priorities in Latin America are to strengthen civilian protection and advance U.S. national security objectives, including safeguarding the integrity of the U.S. southern border. CWD programs make it harder for drug traffickers, criminal gangs, and other destabilizing actors to obtain weapons from poorly secured stockpiles; reduce the risk of catastrophic explosions at munitions storage sites; and reduce the threats landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) pose to vulnerable communities recovering from conflict.
Narcotics and arms trafficking fuel violence across Latin America, spur significant migration flows, obstruct economic development, and endanger vulnerable civilian populations. Frequently, violent transnational criminal organizations obtain weapons and ammunition from poorly secured state-held munitions stockpiles. To combat this threat, the United States enables partner countries improve physical security infrastructure at their munitions depots; strengthen munitions storage, management, and accountability practices; and destroy stockpiles of confiscated and obsolete weapons and ammunition to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. The United States currently supports such physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) initiatives in Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru.
Beyond the role poorly secured munitions play in sustaining ongoing conflicts, landmines and ERW can threaten civilians in the aftermath of prior conflicts, in some cases for decades after the fighting has ended. Mines and ERW can threaten people engaging in everyday activities like playing or accessing clean water, close vast tracts of land to economic activities like agriculture, and keep old animosities at the forefront of people’s minds. Clearing ERW advances regional stability and security by creating economic opportunity, allowing conflict-affected communities to rebuild and thrive, and creating strong and prosperous partners for the United States. Today, we are proud to help Colombia address landmines and ERW remaining from its five-decade internal conflict.
The United States supports extensive CWD programming throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, providing more than $197 million in assistance regionally since 1993. In 2010, Central America became the first region in the world declared mine-impact free following years of U.S. assistance.
CWD programs are not immune to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our project implementers coordinate closely with host nation and local authorities, adhering to all COVID-related guidelines and restrictions. While this resulted in various programmatic disruptions, the United States remains committed to ensuring our implementing partners and the vulnerable communities they serve remain safe and healthy.
Colombia remains contaminated with landmines and other ERW following more than fifty years of conflict with domestic guerrilla organizations, drug traffickers, and other criminal groups. Colombia recorded more than 11,800 landmine and ERW casualties since 1990, the highest number of victims documented within the Western Hemisphere. A 2016 peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s largest guerilla organization at the time, contributed to a significant increase of financial and technical support from donors and the private sector.
Through the Departments of Defense and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States invested more than $135 million since 2001 to support Colombia’s demining efforts, helping Colombia make significant progress towards protecting communities from explosive hazards. Department of State demining assistance supports four main lines of effort: 1) Survey municipalities to identify landmines and ERW threatening civilian populations, and clear explosive hazards as they are identified; 2) Provide mine risk education (MRE) to civilians living near suspected minefields, so they know how to stay safe as they go about their daily lives; 3) Conduct a robust quality management program, ensuring that cleared land is truly free of explosive hazards; and 4) Strengthen Colombia’s national capacity to conduct all of these activities independent of sustained U.S. financial support. To get the most out of the U.S. taxpayer’s investment, the Department of State synchronizes this assistance with USAID and Government of Colombia development, stabilization, and land titling projects, ensuring that our demining work pays dividends in broader security and economic strategies.
In Fiscal Year 2019, the Department of State provided $21 million in humanitarian demining assistance through the following implementing partners:
- Campaña Colombiana Contra Minas (CCCM), Colombia’s first national humanitarian demining NGO, continued to implement a survey and clearance project in Putumayo Department. CCCM also provided MRE to local communities, directly benefitting 3,395 people in 2019.
- Danish Demining Group (DDG) continued to conduct survey and clearance in San Jose del Fragua, a municipality within Caquetá Department. Additionally, DDG provided MRE to 491 people.
- The Halo Trust (HALO) continued to conduct survey, clearance, and MRE in Antioquia, Cauca, and Meta Departments. In 2019, HALO cleared over 130,000 square meters, provided MRE to 1,567 people, and began two new projects in Norte de Santander and Antioquia.
- Humanity & Inclusion (HI) continued to implement survey and clearance in Caqueta, Cauca, and Meta Departments, and started a new project in northern Cauca. HI cleared over 51,000 square meters (12 acres) of land and provided risk education to over 1,200 Colombians in 2019.
- The OAS implemented a countrywide quality management program, including accreditation and quality assurance/quality control of civilian and military humanitarian demining organizations and personnel. The OAS also provided technical expertise to the Colombian national authority. In 2019, the OAS successfully completed a State-funded program in which the Colombian Marine humanitarian demining units conducted survey and clearance in Sucre Department.
- The Polus Center provided prostheses and vocational assistance to 76 landmine survivors and connected those survivors with appropriate Colombian health services.
- Spirit of Soccer (SOS) delivered MRE through sporting events in communities where security considerations precluded survey and clearance operations. In 2019, SOS delivered MRE to more than 16,542 men, women, and children living in or near suspected mine and ERW contaminated areas.
- The Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) embedded technical experts within Colombia’s national demining authority to assist with operational field support, develop national demining standards, and build a self-sustaining knowledge base.
The bilateral relationship between Ecuador and the United States improved significantly under President Moreno, culminating in a visit to the White House and a meeting with President Trump in February 2020. Ecuador maintains stockpiles of aging munitions stemming from a border conflict with Peru in 1995 and invests a significant amount of internal resources, including a trained military capacity, into storing and protecting the inventory.
Following President Moreno’s visit to the White House, Ecuador hosted a senior State Department official to coordinate and plan a new CWD program. In May 2020, the Department of State obligated $1 million to support this new program in Ecuador. The project is facilitating the destruction of obsolete weapons, ammunition, and ordnance, and providing explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training to the Ecuadorian Armed Forces. Additionally, the CWD program will enhance priority facilities infrastructure with improved physical security measures.
El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras
The accessibility of weapons in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras poses a national security threat due to the region’s proximity to the United States. The region’s porous borders and the prevalence of criminal groups and drug-trafficking organizations contributes to the proliferation of illicit weapons and local violence, a significant factor in prompting mixed migration. The CWD program prioritizes three main efforts in the region: 1) Support the disposal of confiscated and excess small arms, light weapons, and conventional ammunition to diminish the threat these weapons pose to civilians and national security interests; 2) Enhance physical security at vulnerable stockpiles and provide inventory and accountability upgrades to further deter theft by criminal gangs and other non-state actors; and 3) Provide training to improve stockpile management, accountability, and oversight measures and further strengthen national capacity.
Since 2017, the U.S. Department of State provided almost $3 million to support a CWD program in the region through implementing partner The HALO Trust. To date, HALO facilitated the destruction of 4,505 firearms, and over 100 tons of ordnance. Additionally, the program upgraded 34 military and police facilities and trained 130 personnel in explosive ordnance disposal and stockpile management best practices.
Mexico’s stockpiles of confiscated small arms and light weapons pose a range of security-related threats to both Mexico and the United States. Drug trafficking groups and transnational criminal organizations exploit poorly secured firearms and ammunition to fuel instability and violence that threaten U.S. security interests and imperil lives on both sides of the border. Providing CWD assistance improves Mexican internal security and strengthens U.S. border security by making illicit weapons less accessible and diminishing the threat at the southern border.
Since 2018, the Department of State provided $775,000 to support a CWD program in Mexico through implementing partner Mines Advisory Group (MAG). MAG procured and provided hydraulic shears to military facilities in Monterrey, Reynosa, Saltillo, and Tijuana to enable the Mexican Secretariat of Defense’s (SEDENA) Army the option of destroying confiscated weapons on-site, eliminating the need to transport those weapons to a disposal site. Additionally, MAG provided burn tanks to SEDENA to more efficiently dispose of confiscated ammunition. Finally, MAG provided SEDENA personnel training on the equipment’s proper use to ensure that disposal efforts become institutionalized and self-sustaining in the future. Through these contributions, SEDENA has destroyed more than 340 confiscated weapons and 9,000 rounds of ammunition to date.
Peruvian stockpiles consist of a considerable amount of excess and obsolete munitions resulting from the military expansion preceding the 1995 border dispute with Ecuador. Depots are geographically dispersed throughout the country, but a significant amount contain nominal security features and deteriorating items contribute to the depots’ vulnerabilities and pose a threat of unplanned explosions. Additionally, the harsh climate exacerbates the risk of a potentially catastrophic unplanned munitions explosion. Ensuring these aging munitions are properly maintained and appropriately secured reduces the risk of illicit proliferation and unplanned depot explosions, thus preserving the livelihood of Peruvian residents.
The Departments of Defense and State both support the Peruvian military’s efforts to manage stockpiles. This assistance includes providing training for the military on the safe disposal of obsolete ordnance. Since 2018, the State Department sponsored the enrollment of 10 individuals from the Peruvian Army at Spain’s engineer school for specialized EOD training. Those individuals will form the nucleus of Peru’s EOD capacity that will maintain the military’s ability to efficiently maintain state-held stockpiles in the future.
Since 2017, the U.S. Department of State provided approximately $5.2 million to support CWD efforts in Peru. Currently, State supports the following implementing partners:
- MAG supports the Peruvian Army with the disposal of obsolete munitions at priority facilities throughout Peru. In 2019, the project’s scope expanded to include the Peruvian Navy. Through the project with the Army, MAG continues to advance the EOD training Peruvian soldiers received in Spain. To date, MAG facilitated the disposal of 523 tons of obsolete ordnance.
- Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) supports the Peruvian Air Force’s (FAP) efforts to destroy obsolete weapons at their facility in Pucusana, Pisco, and Chiclayo. To date, NPA trained 25 FAP members in PSSM best practices, successfully disposed of 48.8 tons of obsolete ordnance, and provided training to eight Air Force EOD operators.
- In 2019, Tetra Tech shipped four mine detection dogs from Syria to Peru to support humanitarian demining efforts.
For further information, please contact the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at PM-CPA@state.gov, and follow the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs on Twitter, @StateDeptPM.