In This Review

Political Policing: The United States and Latin America
Political Policing: The United States and Latin America
By Martha K. Huggins
Duke University Press, 1998, 248 pp

A critical examination of the U.S. involvement in training Latin American internal security forces. Huggins argues that behind lofty claims that such assistance strengthened democracy by professionalizing law enforcement, U.S. participation actually consolidated U.S. influence in Latin American intelligence networks and gave authoritarian regimes an effective means of repression. The result: a system in which American influence had so permeated the domestic security forces that they became autonomous units. Meanwhile, U.S. involvement devolved the state's monopoly on violence to extralegal forces, encouraging death squads and the use of torture and murder against political opponents. These are serious charges, and it would be an exaggeration to attribute the extralegal violence in Latin America to U.S. instigation. Nevertheless, Huggins demonstrates with passion how local conditions can warp even the best intentions and produce frightening consequences.

Although the end of the Cold War, the rise of democracy in Latin America, and a new concern for human rights have muted the old ideological justification for police assistance, many new programs emerged in the 1990s to counter terrorists and narcotics traffickers. Huggins' timely book reminds us that the consequences of such assistance are not always predictable or risk-free.