Canada’s military assistance training programs for soldiers and police in Latin America

Published by Brent Patterson on

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“This land is ours”: Global Affairs Canada provides funding for training through the CREOMPAZ base in Guatemala on the ancestral lands of the Q’eqchi’ community of Chicoyogüito who still seek to return to their territory.

What is the relationship between Canada’s military and state security forces in Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico?

Military training in Honduras

On July 30, 2009, The Globe and Mail reported: “Canada is still providing training to members of the Honduran army, despite the military coup that sent the Central American country into turmoil late last month.”

That article by Jennifer Ditchburn adds: “National Defence confirmed the government has maintained its military training assistance program [MTAP] with Honduras, which provides language and peacekeeping training to soldiers.”

It also notes: “This year, three Honduran soldiers are receiving English-language training at bases in Kingston, Ont., and St. Jean, Que., and two others are attending Canada-funded peacekeeping courses in Chile and Argentina.”

Ditchburn interviewed Peter Kent, then Canada’s minister of state for foreign affairs, who said, despite the military coup that had just happened: “We’re reviewing all of the security assistance that we provide, but at this point it’s not a major issue.”

Yves Engler further notes: “The ousted government complained that Ottawa failed to suspend aid to Honduras [nor] did Ottawa exclude the Honduran military from its Military Training Assistance Program.”

And just a few years after the coup, Emma Feltes reported: “In November 2011, Honduran police took part in a training workshop on Military-Police Cooperation run by Canada’s Pearson Peacekeeping Centre [in Nova Scotia].”

Erika Simpson explains: “The Lester B. Pearson International Peacekeeping Training Centre (known as the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, or PPC) was established in [a converted Canadian Forces Base] Cornwallis [in Nova Scotia] in 1994.”

She adds: “There, the government planned to sponsor training for military and civilian personnel from countries participating in NATO’s Partnership for Peace, as well as from developing countries under Canada’s Military Training Assistance Program.”

After almost 20 years, the Pearson Centre, which had an annual operating budget of about $6 million, closed in November 2013.

DND Military Training Cooperation Program

The Canadian Global Affairs Institute has further explained that the Military Training Assistance Program (MTAP), renamed the Military Training Cooperation Program (MTCP), which had been funded from the External Affairs budget since 1970 is now funded directly from the Department of National Defence (DND) budget.

In 2017-2018, the Directorate of Military Training and Cooperation (DMTC) highlighted that Military Training Cooperation Program (MTCP) activities included training activities that were conducted in Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.

In 2017-18, the MTCP had a budget of $14.6 million.

RCAF International Training Programs

There are also Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) International Training Programs (ITP) that provides training to “military air forces and aviation elements from around the world as well as Canadian corporations, government departments and government agencies.”

In his book Canada in the World, Tyler Shipley notes (on page 469): “In the Antioquia and Caldas regions, where Canadian firms were seeking to expand, local communities were refusing to leave. The problem was solved by aerial bombing by the Colombian military, which had, on occasion, been trained in Canada.”

GAC Peace and Stabilization Operations Program

And notably, there is also the Global Affairs Canada (GAC) Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOPs), which “is the Government of Canada’s principal platform for conflict prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding in fragile and conflict-affected states (FCAS).”

It is this Global Affairs program that funds the Peace Operations Training Institute that partners with CREOMPAZ in Guatemala “to provide e-learning on peacekeeping courses at no cost.”

The Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations (CREOMPAZ) was established in 2004 on the site of the Military Zone 21 base.

That base was built in 1969 when the Indigenous Q’eqchi’ community of Chicoyogüito was violently displaced from their ancestral lands.

It became a place for torture, rape and extrajudicial killings from 1978 to 1990. Since 2012, 84 mass graves containing 565 bodies have been found there. Those victims have been identified as Indigenous Maya Poqomchi, Q’eqchi’, Achi, Ixil and K’iche peoples.

Dawn Paley writes: “Regardless of the mass graves at the base, military and police training continues there, supported by countries like the US and Canada.”

Canada-Colombia bilateral police initiative

On October 30, 2017, the Canadian Press reported on a “bilateral police initiative” between Canada and Colombia.

At that time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated: “We’ve agreed to work together to establish a bi-lateral police initiative. This effort will support post-conflict policing efforts in Colombia, and will see Canadian police providing training, capacity-building, and strategic advice to our Colombian friends.”

It’s unclear if this program was funded by Global Affairs Canada, the Department of National Defence or the Department of Public Safety.

Next steps

While the research by Emma Feltes, Tyler Shipley, Todd Gordon, Yves Engler and Dawn Paley provides us with critical information to understand the role of Canada’s military assistance training programs, additional scholarship is needed to further uncover and analyze how these programs work and the interests they serve.

Further reading – Canada building global network of military bases in aggressive shift: Documents reveal Canadian plan influenced by strategy of U.S.-led counterinsurgency throughout Global South by Martin Lukacs, The Breach.

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