My post concerning the ILEA a few days ago was more of a position piece than what I usually write. To help even things out, here is a report from a visit to the ILEA by representatives of the School of the Americas Watch:
VISIT TO INTERNATIONAL LAW ACADEMY (ILEA) San Salvador
By SOAW/CISPES Delegation - March 21, 2007
Report written by Lisa Sullivan, SOAW Latin America Coordinator
Background on visit
In March 2007 a delegation of the School of Americas Watch visited El Salvador as part of the SOAW Latin America initiative. El Salvador was the twelfth country visited by an SOAW delegation, part of a series of visits to all Latin American countries that are currently sending students to the SOA. The goal of the initiative is to encourage governments to reconsider their participation at SOA and to engage local organizations in the campaign to close the school.
Prior to the visit to El Salvador, members of the delegation had heard numerous concerns expressed about the new Latin American ILEA (International Law Enforcement Academy) which was recently established in San Salvador, both on our visits to other Latin American countries and at speaking events in the U.S. Many had expressed concerns that ILEA might become the new face of the SOA in Latin America.
During our visits to these 12 Latin American countries, we found a common thread of concern expressed by human rights groups which sharpened our concern for ILEA. This concern is directed at the increasingly repressive role of police forces throughout Latin America and the sharp rise of human rights abuses on their part in many countries. Many countries seem to be making real strides in reshaping the role of their military, often as part of peace accords agreed upon after civil conflict and military dictatorships. The role of the military during the 70’s and 80’s which targeted civilians as internal enemies is beginning to shift, but increasingly, police forces are stepping into this role. Often the reasons are justified by terms such as “citizen security” just one word off for the justification of military repression in past decades, which was “national security”. Criminals, gangs and terrorists are the new target words used to replace terms like communists and subversives.
Likewise, the training, demeanor and even uniforms of police forces throughout Latin America are becoming much more military-like. For this reason, we were all the more interested in taking a closer look at this new initiative of the US to train Latin American police forces.
Overview of ILEA
ILEA is a set of US-operated international law enforcement academies, an initiative that was approved by Congress in November 1995. Four federal agencies were charged with overseeing this initiative:
* Department of State
* Department of Homeland Security
* Department of Justice
* Department of the Treasury
There are currently 5 ILEAs in existence:
* Eastern Europe – Budapest(1995)
* Asia – Bankok (1999)
* Africa – Gaborne (2001)
* United States – Roswell (2001)
* Latin America San Salvador (2005)
Involvement of IDHUCA with ILEA
In spite of strong opposition by the human rights community in El Salvador to hosting an ILEA in their country, one organization took a different position and agreed to accept an offer made by the U.S. government to teach human rights at the academy. This organization is IDHUCA – Instituto de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad de Centro America, which is part of the Jesuit-run University of Central America. We requested a meeting with IDHUCA in order to learn more about ILEA and to ask if they could arrange a visit to the academy itself.
It should be noted that IDHUCA’s office is only a few yards from the site of the 1989 murders of six Jesuits priests, their housekeeper and her daughter, a massacre that was carried out by SOA graduates. This event later became the motivating force behind the creation of SOA Watch and the annual vigils at the gates of Ft. Benning continue to be held on the anniversary of this massacre. From the onset of the meeting with IDHUCA, we openly expressed our surprise and concern that a Jesuit organization operating in the shadow of a massacre orchestrated by U.S.-trained soldiers would now become a justification to the operation of a new U.S. training initiative.
On March 20th we met with the director of IDHUCA, Benjamin Cuellar, and three other staff members who are involved with the ILEA work. Dr. Cuellar told us that although IDHUCA was initially opposed to the establishment of ILEA in El Salvador, they changed their position after the Salvadoran Congress signed a midnight deal with the US government to approve the academy. The reason they gave for this switch was that there was a lack of internal political opposition to ILEA (in contrast to the situation in Costa Rica, which rejected a bid from the U.S. to establish the academy in their country). By accepting the U.S. embassy’s offer to teach human rights at the academy, IDHUCA felt that they would have the opportunity to monitor its respect for human rights from within. They acknowledge that this decision has been strongly criticized by the Salvadoran human rights community and by political opposition forces (FMLN) in El Salvador.
The IDHUCA staff informed us that the human rights course that they teach at ILEA is obligatory for all students. They are given complete freedom regarding how to teach this course. They repeated many times over that although the ILEA is being targeted as the new SOA, that they do not feel that this title is deserved, and that ILEA teaches something that is needed in Latin America, which is techniques of investigation. Also, students are not limited to police, and sometimes local judges and members of the Justice Department have taken courses. They also feel that the police department of El Salvador does a good job of respecting human rights and that recent conflicts can be explained by the need to maintain law and order. IDHUCA agreed to set up a visit for us to ILEA, and this was scheduled for the following day.
Visit to ILEA
The following day, March 21, we visited the temporary headquarters of ILEA, which is the third floor of the National Police Academy. Several directors from the academy, the State Department and U.S. government were awaiting our visit, and we spent three hours both with a tour and in extensive conversations with these individuals.
We were offered a guided tour around the facilities during a break from classes. We were specifically asked not to film any students, or the names of students which were on placards on each desk. We were shown one of two classrooms which was spacious, had approximately 40 desks, several computers and quite a bit of audio-visual equipment. We were told that the second classroom was very similar, and were also shown a smaller discussion room. We were also shown the offices of the academy. The entire third floor of the police academy functions as the ILEA. We saw about a dozen students dressed in matching police uniforms and boots who were apparently taking a break between classes.
Some of the issues discussed were the following:
According to its directors, the purpose of the ILEA is twofold. One purpose is the training of police and law-enforcement personnel, and the other purpose is the interchange of information, and establishment of relationships between Latin American law enforcement agencies and the United States. Courses are set up to allow for a maximum of interchange of information, and a strengthening of personal ties and relationships.
Another major purpose of the ILEA, according to its directors, is to create a safe environment for the investment of U.S. businesses in Latin America.
When we asked if we could have access to a list of graduates from the ILEA, we were told that this would be impossible. The reason given was to protect the students from perpetrators of organized crime. We expressed concerns that it would therefore be difficult to monitor the human rights record of the school and asked if we could at least have a list of the participating countries and the numbers of students from each country. They pointed to a list of participating countries in their booklet, but also acknowledged that not all of these countries had actually sent students. They made a commitment to get us this information, but three weeks after this visit, we have not received this information.
According to the directors, ILEA prefers to hand-pick its students, but the norms of countries vary, and this is not always possible. They look for students with the “highest moral character” and all are vetted by two different processes. If they commit a crime after participating in ILEA, they will not be eligible for another course.
ILEA is an academy for law enforcement, and open to those involved in this general area. The majority of students are police, but there have been some students who are judges and prosecutors. The State Department representative clearly indicated that ILEA is not closed to receiving students from the military, especially the military police. This is why, he indicated, the U.S. government “turned down” Costa Rica as a possible site, since Costa Rica made it clear that they would not accept the training of military personal. (All other versions we had previously heard were that it was Costa Rica’s decision to turn down ILEA).
All instructors are from the U.S. Their background is related to law enforcement. Though none are active military officers, some may have a connection with the National Guard and some may serve in the reserves.
We asked about the budget and were told that it was a bit complicated and that exact statistics were hard to determine. According to the directors, the budget is divided among several U.S. entities, with the State Department responsible for the largest share. The U.S. pays for training of students, their travel, hotel and food, and all expenses relating to the teaching staff, and El Salvador is responsible for some structural and building expenses. They offered a guess at the cost of the school at this current “infant stage” to be around $600,000. We indicated that if indeed ILEA is training around 1,000 students per year, this figure seems unreasonably low. They responded that exact figures were hard to determine. They indicated that El Salvador had made minimal monetary contribution. (However, it should be noted that an article in Co Latino on March 9th indicated that the Salvadoran congress had approved another 110 thousand dollars for ILEA.)
The staff also indicated that ILEA will have its own headquarters, and that this is a temporary location. Just recently, the government of El Salvador designated a plot of land near a new commercial center where ILEA will build its academy.
After reflecting on our visit, we would like to share the following concerns about ILEA which this visit has brought about:
* Given the shift of roles from military to police in controlling and repressing the internal population in many of the 12 Latin American countries we visited, we are concerned about the new involvement of the US in the training of Latin American police forces. While the Latin American ILEA is only a year old and cannot fairly be called a new SOA based on its outcome, the goals of the academy seem too reminiscent of those of the SOA.
* The refusal of ILEA to release the names of their students will make it impossible to monitor the human rights records of their graduates.
* Lack of information regarding actual numbers of students per year, actual statistics of participating countries, and numbers of students from each country per year will also inhibit this ability to monitor ILEA’s human rights record. (We requested this information and follow up was promised, yet three weeks later we have not received a response.)
* The exchange of information and relationships between U.S. and Latin American security forces was reminiscent of the SOA’s role in the networking that was key to the “success” of the Plan Condor.
* Although the focus of the school is on police and others involved in law enforcement, the directors clearly stated that they are not closed to training military personnel . Also, teaching staff may belong to military institutions. While the ILEA directors are very concerned about being targeted as a new SOA, their openness to training military makes it difficult to not make the comparison.
* While the ILEA staff never expressed the security of Latin American citizens as one of its objectives, it did state that one major objective of the academy is that of creating a safer investment environment for U.S. business in Latin America
* We are very concerned about the involvement of IDHUCA at ILEA. During our meeting the staff used their participation as a shield to concerns about human rights. We are concerned by the fact that IDHUCA receives funds from the U.S. government to teach at ILEA, making it difficult for them to be neutral in monitoring of human rights of the academy.
I appreciate the balanced tone in which this description was written. While I do not agree that the conclusions necessarily follow from the descriptions of the visit (in particular, I find the suggestion that the IDHUCA has sold out because it receives compensation for providing the mandatory human rights training to be implausible), at least there is a basis for discussion.