The Lone Ranger had Tonto. Fred Flintstone had Barney Rubble. Batman had Robin. And the United States has Colombia.
Or so it seems when it comes to public security issues in the Western Hemisphere -- and even in Afghanistan. Colombia is becoming the U.S. sidekick, the go-to guy, subcontractor Numero Uno, on all matters security-related.
With dollars tight in Washington, the Obama administration (and the Bush administration before it) increasingly has asked Bogota to shoulder some of the burden on training police and prosecutors around the hemisphere.
After all, Colombia has vast experience in battling insurgents and drug cartels, dating back to the emergence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebels to 1964. When I lived in Bogota for nearly half a decade in the latter part of the 1990s, the Attorney General’s Office was a heavily guarded bunker. Upon entry, there was a sandpit where one was expected to discharge any remaining cartridges in one’s sidearm.
The intelligence unit of the National Police was good and getting better. I’d regularly stop in to see a young lieutenant colonel who was in charge of the unit. Today, Oscar Naranjo is the national police chief with a hemispheric reputation.
Just how much the Colombians have done has not been made public. Much of it is under wraps. Few will talk about Colombian help in spotting and tailing drug planes leaving Venezuela for Central America. Colombia-Venezuela relations are too tense to risk provoking them with this kind of information.
But with last weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, the State Department issued a number of statements and “fact sheets” regarding Colombia’s broadened role.
This one noted that Colombian trainers over the past three years have trained 11,000 police officers from 21 Latin American and African countries, and even in Afghanistan.
Curiously, the webpage omits the following paragraph about Colombian activity in Mexico that was included in the U.S. "fact sheet" emailed to me:
“Colombia has trained more than 6,000 Mexican federal and state law enforcement personnel, over 500 prosecutors and judicial personnel, and 24 Mexican helicopter pilots. To complement this bilateral relationship, the U.S.-Mexico Merida Initiative supports a training program being conducted by Colombia’s National Police Junglas for the Mexican Federal Police. Colombia and Mexico are sharing information, are seeking to expand their bilateral extradition treaty, and are planning to conclude an evidence-sharing agreement.”
It went on to say that “Colombia's security assistance in the region also includes training programs and exchanges with Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Haiti, Peru, and Paraguay.”
And all this is only what is said publicly. Like a good sidekick, Colombia has learned to remain silent about all it does.