Militarized Democracy in the Americas: Faces of Law and Order

September 25, 2007

As the countries of the Americas slip deeper into an economic model of growth and development that exacerbates inequality and social disorganization, the region's elected civilian governments are turning to a variety of military-style options to keep the lid on growing social disorder-including higher crime rates-and social discontent. Civilian leaders have been turning to the armed forces to take on a number of non- military tasks, militarizing domestic safety and intelligence and actively tolerating violent paramilitary behavior. Given the spread of a perceived chaotic alternative, this has not been entirely unpopular, Humane alternatives to neoliberal development do Dot seem to be on a near-term American agenda, and many citizens, in the face of daily violence and insecurity, have found themselves opting for militarystyle protection on even a local level. All this has produced a kind of militarized democracy throughout the Americas, and that is the subject of this Report.

This militarized democracy has had the enthusiastic support of the Clinton White House. While critical of paramilitary excesses and direct military rule, Washington has actively encouraged a wide-ranging role for its own and the region's armed forces. Indeed, since the presidency of George Bush, the elaboration and implementation of trade agreements-along with the consolidation of neoliberal market-oriented restructuring has been linked to mother long-standing component of U.S. policy: the maintenance of strong and reliable alliances with the region's militaries.

"Since the end of the Cold War," reports Patrice McSherry in the lead article of this Report, "Washington has aggressively pushed the Latin American militaries to assume an expansive and multidimensional role in confronting drug trafficking, terrorism, insurgency, immigration and refugee flows." The region's armed forces have thus been urged to see themselves as the "guardians" of the new democracies, and to be on the front lines of the defense of these democracies from "non-traditional threats" like social unrest and "narcosubversion."

There is no contradiction here."Free markets" sometimes have to be imposed by decree. The dual movement toward free elections and free markets has simultaneously empowered and impoverished citizens who cannot always figure out why life is not getting better. Their struggles to democratize and further open the political system have thus been countered by efforts to limit and control social mobilization and political opposition, all in the name of "liberalizing" society.

A strong military presence, of course, has ample precedence in the Americas. The armed forces now called upon to protect free trade are the same armed forces who, a short generation ago, were implementing direct military rule in much of the region. The personnel, the apparatus, the internal security ruission, even the U.S.-sponsored national security doctrine have remained largely intact, making the emergence of the militarized democracies of the 1990s seem like an almost natural occurrence. In this context, the drug war has emerged as a convenient rationale for U.S. military presence in the hemisphere, allowing for a continued engagement with Latin American and Caribbean militaries via training, assistance and joint-operations programs.

And militarized democracy is no stranger to U.S. shores. As Carol Nagengast reports, "illegal aliens, immigrant-rights groups, welfare recipients and any persons or organizations perceived as subversive to the liberal capitalist order have been cast as internal enemies of the United States.... If the 'enemy' is everywhere, the system needs a military that is capable of intervening in all aspects of domestic politics and social policy in the name of national security." As social relations become increasingly globalized, so do forms of rule. To keep the lid from blowing off, militarized "democracy" looks like the face of the near-term future in the Americas.


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