At least 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries have used or purchased drones, an Argentine human rights lawyer recently said. With the exception of Brazil, none of the countries have laws regulating the domestic use of drones. Some of the Caribbean countries that use drones to monitor drug traffickers include Panama and Trinidad and Tobago; Belize and Costa Rica use drones for conservation purposes; and others have used drones in joint ventures with the United States, such as The Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Panama, Aruba, and Curaçao.
Drone use in Latin America was brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Friday, McClatchy reported. One speaker before the commission was Santiago Canton, an Argentine human rights lawyer, who said that the list of Latin American countries that have deployed or purchased drones is substantial and growing. Other countries, he said, have hosted US drones.
Brazil is the only country of the 14 with laws guiding domestic use, meaning that in most other cases, drones are controlled by military forces and not civilian leaders. Brazil has the highest number of drones in the region, both made domestically and internationally, Canton said. GlobalPost reported in January that Brazil “spent $350 million for 14 Israeli drones in 2010 to monitor Amazon rainforest and border regions.” Other news outlets have reported that Brazil has used drones to monitor drug trafficking and for agricultural reasons, and have considered using them to monitor crime in Rio de Janeiro favelas, or shanty towns. Brazil has also helped Bolivia watch coca-producing areas with unmanned aerial vehicles. Bolivia’s air force also deploys drones.
Mexico, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago have also used them to monitor drug traffickers, Canton said, and drones have been used in Mexico City to surveil [sic] demonstrations.
Canton said that Argentina and Chile have developed their own drone technology for surveillance use. El Sol reported a year ago that Chile was on track to add to its fleet soon. “The Chilean government announced that it will begin manufacturing drones, embarking on the next ‘generation of drones.’ It plans to have 18 unmanned aircraft operational for the Chilean Air Force by March 2014.” El Sol also reported that Chile purchased aircraft from Israel – one of the world’s leaders in drone technology – in 2010. Chile has also acquired Iranian drones for border concerns, Canton said.
Colombia has used them to monitor the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and for drug trafficking surveillance and intelligence gathering, the lawyer said. He said that Peru also monitors guerillas, as the country watches the Apurimac area where the Sendero Luminoso operate. “The Ecuadorean army has purchased them and is using its own technology to develop them and use them on its border with Colombia,” he said.
Belize and Costa Rica, meanwhile, use drones for conservation aims. The Uruguayan army has drones as well, he said, and El Salvador has purchased drones from Israel. Various news outlets have also reported on surveillance drone use in Venezuela and joint ventures with the US in the Dominican Republic. Some of these countries and others have also hosted US drones. “US drones have been used in The Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Panama, Aruba and Curacao,” Canton said.
Canton was formerly the commission’s executive secretary and is now the director of RFK Partners for Human Rights in Washington. He said the lack of civilian control of drones, as well as their uses to curb free speech, is cause for concern in many countries. “We see the chilling effect that this can have on societies…When people want to have public demonstrations, drones can have a chilling effect and can intimidate people from doing this.”
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