Democracy and Insecurity in Central America: The Role of the Armed Forces

June 30, 2011
02:00 pm - 03:30 pm

Intro/First Presenter: Democracy and Insecurity in Central America: The Role of the Armed Forces from National Endowment for Democracy on Vimeo.

Featured speakers include:

Marcela Donadio
Red Seguridad de Seguridad y Defensa de América Latina (RESDAL) :: VIDEO

Stephen Johnson
Director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) :: VIDEO

Javier Meléndez
Founder, Instituto de Estudios de Estratégicos y Políticas Públicas (IEEPP) ::VIDEO

Juan Rial
Political Analyst and Member of RESDAL :: VIDEO

Moderated by:

Miriam Kornblith
Director, Latin American and the Caribbean, NED

Crime and insecurity represent the main challenge to democratic governance in Central America. The region has a homicide rate of 32 per 100,000; a rate more than three times the world average and seven points higher than the rest of Latin America. Furthermore, organized crime and narcotrafficking have penetrated government institutions increasing levels of corruption and impunity. In a spiral of insecurity and rising economic costs, governments in the region have resorted to increasing the presence and reach of the armed forces through actions such as joint military-police patrols or passing legal reforms. Regional polls like Latinobarometro show trends in some countries of increased tolerance for relinquishing certain civil liberties in exchange for security and order.

  • What consequences do high levels of insecurity have for democratic stability?
  • What do militarization policies mean for democracy and governance?
  • What role does civil society play in civilian oversight of the armed forces and in security policy proposal and oversight?
  • How can governments tap into innovative policy recommendations from civil society organizations?

Speaker Biographies

Marcela Donadio is the Executive Secretary for the Latin American Security and Defense Network (RESDAL). She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science, Master’s degree in Social Science with a focus on Sociology, and B.A. in Political Science. Since 1992 she has worked as a Professor of International Security and National Defense at various national universities. She has participated in numerous courses and seminars on issues of security and defense in countries around the world, and has authored several publications on security and defense, which have appeared in national and international journals. Ms. Donadio has been a Fellow of Initiation and Improvement with the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) of Argentina. She has also received fellowships from the Organization of American States, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, University of York (Summer Institute), and the International Council for Canadian Studies.

Ms. Donadio was the coordinator for a UNDP project for the Homeland Security Council in Argentina (ARG UNDP 06-013), and she currently directs RESDAL projects including “Comparative Atlas of Defense in Latin America,” “Women in the Armed Forces and Police in Latin America: a Gender-based Approach to Peacekeeping Operations,” “Institutional Strengthening of Public Security in Central America,” and “Military Training and Education: the Future Officers and Democracy,” among others.

Stephan Johnson is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, DC-based think tank.  He has more than 20 years experience in western hemisphere affairs spanning policymaking, policy advocacy, and public affairs in the Department of Defense, the Washington policy community, the State Department, and the U.S. Air Force. From 2007 to 2009, Mr. Johnson served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  He oversaw the development and execution of policies, strategies, and programs governing hemispheric defense and security ties, involving two regional combat commands and three military academic institutions. From 1999 to 2006, Mr. Johnson served as a senior foreign policy analyst at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, testifying before Congress and authored studies on Latin American politics, trade, and security, as well as public diplomacy, and immigration. Johnson has spoken at numerous conferences in the United States and in Latin America.  

His commentaries have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Miami Herald, Business Week, and Diario Las Américas.  His broadcast appearances included Al-Jazeera, CNN en Español, Univisión, Telemundo, C-SPAN and MSNBC. Johnson also served in the Bureaus of Inter-American and Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  A retired Air Force officer, he was a pilot and a military attaché.  As a member of the Air Force Reserve, he served in the Office of Public Affairs of the Secretary of the Air Force and at U.S. Southern Command.  Johnson has lived in El Salvador, Honduras, Uruguay, and observed elections in El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua. 

Javier Meléndez has more than 15 years of experience in governance and is a specialist in the areas of national security and citizen security issues. He is currently a consultant for research institutes active in Central America, from Arlington, Virginia. In 2004, Mr. Meléndez founded the Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policies (Instituto de Estudios Estratégicos y Políticas Públicas, IEEPP), an independent Nicaraguan think-tank and advocacy organization dedicated to security reform and public sector transparency. As the Executive Director of IEEPP until 2009, he led investigations on security sector reform measures in Nicaragua and throughout Central America, managed budget transparency programs, and trained Nicaraguan legislators on budget analysis.

Before taking on the executive direction of IEEPP, Mr. Meléndez served as an advisor to the Nicaraguan Defense Ministry and helped organize the citizen consultation process for the white paper on Nicaragua’s Defense and National Security. He also worked as a program officer for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Washington, D.C. and as a coordinator for the Center for Strategic Studies in Nicaragua. Mr. Meléndez has published, coordinated and edited several publications on defense, public security, international affairs, organized crime and public sector transparency. He has also advised and worked as a consultant for Central American NGOs, and international organization such as the International Development Bank, the UK Department for International Development and the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (UN-LiREC). In 2009 Mr. Meléndez was member of the Regional Advisory Council for the Human Development Report on citizen security in Central America.

Juan Rial is a Uruguayan political scientist, who has worked as the co-coordinator of the Civil-Military Relations in Latin America Project involving American University and Peitho. Recently, he has worked as a consultant to international organizations such as the United Nations Development Program, the InterAmerican Development Bank, the Organization of American States and IDEA International. He has been a Professor of political science at the Universidad de la República and Universidad ORT, both in Montevideo, Uruguay. Mr. Rial has published several books and more than a hundred articles on democracy, institution building, security, and defense in many specialized publications.

Miriam Kornblith is a Venezuelan Sociologist and Political Scientist. She developed her academic career as a professor and researcher at of the Institute of Political Studies at the Central University of Venezuela. Kornblith’s study of the contemporary Venezuelan political system spans constitutional reform, political institutions and parties and electoral processes, and has published extensively on those topics. From 1998 to 1999 she served as the Vice-President and member of the board of directors of National Electoral Council of Venezuela.  Currently, she is the Director of Latin American and Caribbean Program at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC.