Central America: Free From Landmine Impact

Posted by Kelly McCaleb
December 29, 2010
An Arhuaco Child Plays With a Game

About the Author: Kelly McCaleb is a Foreign Service Officer currently serving in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

In 2010, Central America became the first region in the world to rid itself completely of the negative impact of anti-personnel landmines left behind from past conflicts. I recently attended an event to celebrate this achievement at the Organization of American States (OAS) headquarters in Washington, D.C. As both an OAS member and the world's leading provider of humanitarian demining assistance, the United States is proud to have played a part in this success story, which is a powerful example of how challenges to development and security from landmines can be solved.

Among the many distinguished attendees were Infanta Cristina of Spain, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, and Spanish musician Miguel Bose. Senator Leahy called this achievement something "that all members of the hemisphere can be proud of." Mr. Bose praised the accomplishment of ridding Central America of landmines, while emphasizing the importance of continued demining efforts throughout the Americas. His organization, Paz Sin Fronteras (co-founded with fellow musician Juanes), works to encourage international participation and awareness of this and other humanitarian issues, with the overarching goal of creating a world of "peace without borders."

In June, Nicaragua declared itself free from the most pressing and hazardous impacts from landmines and unexploded ordnance. The United States is proud to have supported Nicaragua's success, as well as similar programs in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, with more than $31 million in aid that has helped Central America become the first region in the world to become “impact free” from these hidden hazards. Although it is impossible to completely remove every single landmine or piece of unexploded ordnance, countries can become “impact free” once all explosives have been safely cleared from areas that pose an immediate threat to people and their access to their homes, water, agricultural land, or key infrastructure.

The U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program -- an interagency partnership among the Department of State, Department of Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- assisted Central America in developing indigenous capacity to eradicate the threat posed by landmines. Working closely with the OAS and several partner organizations, the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program supported clearance operations, mine risk education programs to inform local communities about potential dangers, and essential technical support, training, and equipment.

To assist with the removal of hundreds of thousands of anti-personnel mines, the OAS established Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines, or Accion Integral Contra las Minas Antipersonal (AICMA) in 1991. Funded entirely by donors including the United States, Spain, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Norway, and the Netherlands, AICMA supports humanitarian demining, survivor assistance, mine-risk education, and stockpile destruction in the Americas.

AICMA's unique approach to protecting people from the dangers of landmines not only removes the mines from the ground, but also focuses on the social reintegration of landmine survivors, including physical and mental recovery services and work placement. As Mr. Bose emphasized at the OAS event, landmines do not merely hurt individuals. When someone is injured by a landmine, an entire family suffers. AICMA's support in survivor assistance is an essential element to countering the dangers of anti-personnel landmines.

The Department of State, in partnership with the OAS and other donors, is committed to continued demining work in South America, where numerous member countries still suffer the negative effects of landmines and other munitions. Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru are still undergoing demining efforts, with Ecuador and Peru aiming to be free of landmines by 2017 and Colombia by 2021. Peru is well on their way, having removed six times as many mines in 2010 as they had in the previous six years. The Colombian Army has unilaterally renounced the use of landmines in spite of their continued and tragic use by the FARC, both to attack the security forces and to protect its coca cultivation.

The declaration of Central America as “impact-free” from landmines is a great accomplishment, but it is only a milestone in an ongoing effort to rid the Americas of landmines. The United States is committed to supporting demining efforts in South America, as well as medical and rehabilitation services, and mine risk education for communities that face continued dangers from the use of landmines.

You can learn more about the State Department's involvement in humanitarian demining through our Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement's conventional weapons destruction programs here.

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