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Faced with the violence, criminality and insecurity now threatening peace and democratic governance in Central America, the region’s governments have decided to use the Armed Forces to carry out actions in response to criminal actions, looking to improve their performance. Although public demand for including the Armed Forces in these functions takes place within a legally legitimate framework, it is motivated by tangible circumstances such as increased levels of violence, delinquency and crime. Despite being coupled with the perception of institutional weakness within the security and judicial system (particularly police) and the recognition of prestige, efficiency, discipline and severity in fulfilling the Armed Forces’ missions, these arguments are insufficient to legitimize the use of the military as a police force.

Within this context, this paper reflects on the implications or consequences of the use of the Armed Forces in duties traditionally assigned to the police in the Central American region with the goal of contributing to the debate on this topic taking place in the Americas. To achieve this end, first we will focus on understanding the actual context in which a decision is made to involve the Armed Forces in security duties in the region. Second, we will examine the effects and implications of this decision on the Armed Forces’ relations within their respective societies. Third and finally, considering this is already a reality in the region, this paper will provide recommendations. The main findings of this research, resulting from the application of an analyticaldescriptive and historically based study, are organized in three dimensions: the political dimension, by implication referring to the relationship between the ultimate political authority and the Armed Forces; the social dimension, by implication the opinion of citizens; and other implications not only affecting the structural and cultural organization of armies and police but also the complementary operational framework within a context of comprehensive response by the State. As a main conclusion, it poses there is an environment conducive to the use of the Armed Forces in citizen’s security, in view of the impact of threats provoked by criminal structures of a military nature currently operating in Central America. However, this participation creates an inevitable social and political impact if implemented in isolation or given a political leading role and/or operational autonomy. This participation poses risks to the institutions of the Armed Forces and the police as well.

Finally, this paper identifies an urgent need for the Armed Forces’ role to be more clearly defined with regard to security matters, limiting it to threats that impact States’ governability and existence. Nonetheless, Central American States should seek a COMPREHENSIVE response to current crime and violence, using all necessary institutions to confront these challenges, but with defined roles and responsibilities for each and dynamic coordination to complement their actions.


The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this report (paper) are those of the author(s) and should not be construed as an official Department of the Army position, policy or decision unless so designated by the official documentation.

Funded by the National Defense Center for Energy and Environment (NDCEE), ID W91WAW-09-D-0022, delivery order number 0616.



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