In This Review
The United States and Latin America: Shaping an Elusive Future

The United States and Latin America: Shaping an Elusive Future

By Donald E. Schultz

Strategic Studies Institute - U.S. Army War College, 2000, 67 pp.

A hard-hitting, succinct, and comprehensive assessment of the security threats facing Latin America. Schultz cites considerable progress in market reforms and democratization but underscores the growing dangers posed by the disintegration unfolding in Colombia and Venezuela. In particular, Washington has woefully underestimated transnational security crises such as drug trafficking, organized crime, money laundering, immigration, and terrorism. Schulz is especially concerned about Colombia, where the momentum has favored the guerrillas and the paramilitaries. The country now risks becoming divided among regional warlords who seek to establish a narcostate, with the resulting violence spilling into neighboring nations. And without an increase in professionalism, Colombia's army is likely to use the recently approved U.S. aid package in ways that violate human rights and undercut the Colombian government's credibility. Schultz also sees danger ahead in increasingly unstable Venezuela -- the leading supplier of petroleum to the United States -- and Mexico, where drug syndicates threaten the state's viability and now reach deep inside the United States, corrupting American law enforcement agencies and even financial institutions.

Schultz follows up by suggesting a robust "anticipatory" approach to security that starts at the top of the chain of command. The United States, for example, should help strengthen civilian oversight of law enforcement and the army in order to redress the historical imbalance in Latin American civil-military relations. It could also help by lifting its Cuba embargo, and it should cease pushing Europe to end trade preferences for Caribbean bananas -- an export activity that in fact reduces local involvement in drug trafficking. Finally, Schultz proposes a hemisphere-wide security relationship that treats Mexico and Canada as peers with the United States. Schultz is not arguing for greater U.S. military involvement; just the opposite. He fears that without a clear-headed strategy, unanticipated crises will drag U.S. armed forces unprepared into more engagement than is desirable. This powerful set of suggestions deserves debate if Washington is to define a set of achievable goals -- and prevent crises rather than simply react to them.