U.S. drone attacks in places like Pakistan and Yemen have gathered a lot of attention. Less so is the explosion of drone usage in Latin America.
The issue of drones came up last Friday before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and one of the speakers was Santiago Canton, an Argentine lawyer who was the commission’s former executive secretary and now is director at the RFK Partners for Human Rights, a Washington advocacy group.
Canton said 14 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean now deploy drones or have already purchased them. Others have hosted U.S. drones.
“The Argentinean army has developed its own drone technology for aerial surveillance. Brazil is the country of Latin America that has the highest number of drones, both produced nationally and purchased outside the country,” Canton said.
“Bolivia has just purchased drones for its air force, and it has signed an agreement with Brazil to have Brazilian drones identify coca-producing areas. Chile has sophisticated drones and they’ve bought Iranian ones for their borders and for surveillance throughout their country.
“In addition to joint exercises with the United States, Colombians have manufactured and purchased (drones) and used their own technologies. They use them for their borders, operations against the FARC and also for intelligence gathering.
“The Ecuadorean army has purchased them and is using its own technology to develop them and use them on its border with Colombia.
“Mexican Federal Police are using drones in security operations and anti-drug-trafficking. Mexico City uses them for demonstrations. Panama uses them to monitor drug trafficking. The Peruvian army uses drones for the Apurimac area where the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path guerrillas) operate.
The Uruguayan army also has a drone program while Trinidad and Tobago has plans to acquire drones for drug trafficking monitoring, he said. Belize has used drones mainly for conservation purposes, and Costa Rica uses them for volcanic studies.
“El Salvador apparently has purchased drones from Israel, and U.S. drones have been used in The Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Panama, Aruba and Curacao,” Canton said.
In most cases, drone usage is under military control with no civilian oversight. With the exception of Brazil, Canada and the United States, there are no regulations for domestic use of drones, Canton said.
“We see the chilling effect that this can have on societies … When people want to have public demonstrations, drones can have a chilling effect and can intimidate people from doing this.”
So even as the United States debates its drone policy, the issue is percolating South of the Border.