In several Latin American countries, decades of conflict have left behind a dangerous legacy: small arms and light weapons in unsecured stockpiles; excess and obsolete munitions; and hidden hazards from landmines and unexploded ordnance. The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs is working closely with partner countries and nongovernmental organizations to enhance Latin American regional security by funding conventional weapons destruction and landmine clearance projects. A team of PM/WRA experts recently went to Colombia, El Salvador, and Honduras to participate in a landmine survivors’ assistance conference and take stock of progress to date and the challenges ahead for U.S.-funded humanitarian demining and weapons destruction projects.
The first stop was the Bridges Between Worlds conference held in Medellin, Colombia. With over 300 representatives from 36 countries and numerous NGOs in attendance, the two-day event focused on enhancing landmine survivors’ assistance and integrating survivor assistance policy into broader national policies regarding disability, health, education, employment, development, and poverty reduction. The conference location was especially significant; Colombia is one of the most landmine-affected countries in the world and is second only to Afghanistan in the number of disabled survivors of accidents involving landmines and unexploded ordnance.
Following the conference, our team visited landmine survivors in San Carlos, Colombia, along with staff from our partners at the Centro Integral de Rehabilitacion de Colombia (CIREC). CIREC is a Colombian NGO specializing in medical and psychological services for conflict survivors. With U.S. support, CIREC has deployed “rehabilitation brigades” to assist landmine survivors and other persons with disabilities throughout Colombia’s conflict-affected regions. CIREC’s rehabilitation brigades provide services in orthopedics, psychiatry, and physical and psychological therapy to those most in need.
In addition to supporting survivors’ assistance in Colombia, PM/WRA is also working to prevent injuries by investing in humanitarian demining. In 2013, the HALO Trust became the first civilian humanitarian demining NGO to receive accreditation from the Colombian government’s mine action authority. The HALO Trust started demining activities at several sites across the country, and is making slow but steady progress in this difficult and dangerous task, as we saw in in the El Morro minefield in northwest Colombia, where HALO is close to completing clearance operations. In this location, U.S.-funded demining personnel have turned up dozens of improvised landmines and cleared thousands of square meters of land, allowing once displaced families to return home and cultivate their land in safety.
An improvised landmine discovered in Colombia shows why controlling excess and at-risk munitions is essential on April 8, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Next our team traveled to San Salvador, El Salvador, to visit a PM/WRA-funded project working to secure small arms potentially at risk of illicit proliferation. In partnership with the El Salvador Armed Forces and Sterling Global, the two-phase project established a weapons destruction site, which will be used to safely dispose of obsolete arms and unstable munitions, and built two ammunition storage bunkers meeting international safety standards for the country’s inventory of arms and ammunition. Destroying obsolete weapons and securely storing modern weapons is critical to preventing illicit weapons proliferation, and promoting peace and security in the region.
The final leg of the trip was a visit to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, which suffers significant levels of armed violence from criminal organizations. To help Honduras enhance public security, PM/WRA funds our NGO partners at Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to work with the Honduran Armed Forces and Honduran National Police to safely dispose of thousands of excess and obsolete small arms and light weapons. This eliminates the risk of these weapons being illicitly trafficked by criminal groups throughout Honduras and the Latin American region. Using massive sets of hydraulic shears, MAG rapidly converts outmoded weapons no longer fit for military and police use into scrap metal, which is then recycled or transformed into sculptures by local artists.
Since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $2.2 billion to more than 90 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and indiscriminately used conventional weapons of war. For more information on U.S. humanitarian demining and Conventional Weapons Destruction programs, check out the latest edition of our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety.