Military Missions in Democratic Latin America
By David Pion-Berlin
Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, 228 pp.
During the Cold War, Latin American generals often invoked the specter of national security to seize political power, enrich themselves, and violate human rights. That left the region’s governments distrustful of men in uniforms. But things have changed. Pion-Berlin persuasively argues that democratic regimes can now safely turn to their armed forces to perform important tasks, such as fighting criminal gangs, providing disaster relief, and expanding access to social programs, without compromising civilian control of the military. The decision to deploy soldiers, he writes, should be based on how bad the problem is, how much the military can do to help, and what alternative solutions are available. To mitigate the risks, governments need firm mechanisms to ensure civilian control. Pion-Berlin draws on careful case studies to present other caveats, as well. Mexico’s military operations against cartel kingpins were largely successful, but patrols in urban areas lacked adequate safeguards. And the large-scale social programs undertaken by Venezuela’s military lasted too long and had too little oversight, leading to corruption within the ranks and the politicization of the armed forces. But overall, well-structured military missions can strengthen popular support for democracy by demonstrating that democratic governments can deliver public goods.