The government of Chile has sent the army to its northern border in an effort to stop the influx of drugs feeding the country’s growing domestic market — a strategy that has shown significant drawbacks elsewhere in Latin America.
In early July, Chilean president Sebastián Piñera ordered troops be deployed to the country’s border region with Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. Piñera said that the armed forces will aid border police in surveillance and logistics, in addition to providing technological support, according to an official news release.
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Piñera defended his decision to use the armed forces, explaining that troops are needed “to prevent the immense damage that drugs and drug trafficking inflict on [the country’s] children, youth, families and society.”
Other reasons for the move included a rise in drug production in neighboring countries, an uptick in drug seizures in Chile, and porous land and sea borders allowing drugs to be trafficked into the country, according to a separate official news release.
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The decision by Chile’s president to deploy the army to combat drug trafficking is concerning, especially given the historical failure of this tactic throughout the region.
Drug consumption is on the rise in Chile. A 2019 report from the Organization of American States (OAS) indicates that one in four secondary school-aged children have consumed drugs. The country is also listed as the region’s fourth highest consumer of cocaine per capita, only superseded by the United States, Uruguay, and Argentina, according to the report.
That said, Chile has traditionally been one of Latin America’s safest countries, which makes the move to militarize anti-drug efforts seem even more drastic. This is particularly true when considering that the country’s army has no specialized training in fighting drug traffickers, as El Mostrador pointed out.
Chilean Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick suggested that he did not support using the military in this role, telling CNN Chile that “the police have the ability, preparation and professional experience to fight drug trafficking.”
From Brazil to Mexico and Colombia, military deployments to combat drug trafficking have not always had the desired results. At times, they’ve even led to increased body counts. Mexico’s militarization of the drug war heightened conflict and led to a vicious cycle of violence. In 2018, Brazil again deployed troops to “pacify” major cities, but drug trafficking and violent crime either spiked or returned once such forces left.
These deployments can also take a toll on security forces. In Mexico, the army saw an increased rate of desertion after being deployed to fight drug trafficking. Soldiers, who are trained for war, have also been implicated in human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings.
Lastly, Chile’s military itself has faced accusations of widespread corruption. In 2018, the army admitted that 900 officers had been selling weapons to drug traffickers.