The Harper government's new focus on the Americas means a dramatic change of effort for the Canadian Forces and an overt participation in the U.S. war on drugs.
The commander of Canada's operational forces, Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare, says Canada is now focusing new efforts on Central America and the Caribbean.
In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Beare said Canada was active in attempts to sever the Central American drug artery pumping narcotics northwards into the United States in Canada.
"We're partnered with our U.S. partners in the counter-narcotic effort on the southern flank, in Central and South America, as the flow goes north," Beare revealed.
For years, Canada has participated in naval operations in the Caribbean Sea designed to thwart narcotics-smuggling efforts. Canada has also provided specialized radar and reconnaissance patrol aircraft to that fight.
But Beare suggests much more is being done in the region now than ever before.
Canadian troops are working and training with troops from Chile, Brazil, even Colombia, Beare said. But the effort is sharpest in Central America.
"We're staying connected in the hemisphere, in particular, in capacity-building partners in the Caribbean Basin, sustaining a great effort with Jamaica, reaching into Belize and Guatemala, helping them to build their own capacity, to manage their own security forces and security conditions."
Troops from the Petawawa, Ont.,-based Canadian Special Operations Regiment assisted in the training of a special Jamaican force, called the Counter Terrorism Operations Group.
Those Jamaican troops put their Canadian-taught skills to use in 2009 to free six Canadian crew aboard a CanJet 737 hijacked at Montego Bay. (Negotiators had previously convinced the hijacker to release roughly 150 passengers.)
Jamaica in turn has allowed Canada to construct and staff a forward-deployed operational staging centre, to help Canadian troops leap more quickly into action in the event of natural disasters or security threats in the region.
Increasing military co-operation
In Belize, Canada has engaged for several years trying to build both police and military capability through the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, run by the Foreign Affairs department. So far, more than $2 million has been spent to help improve Belize's national forensic centre and its defence force.
But the military aspect of Canada's engagement is increasing.
Last June, Canada donated 2,000 surplus military load-carrying vests to the Belize Defence Force. Belize is also a participant in the Canadian-run Military Training Co-operation Program — a program that provides military education and skills training to poor and developing countries.
More significantly, Canada has helped construct a modern military operations centre and lent support to a top-to-bottom Belizean strategic defence review.
And Belize has reciprocated, allowing Canadian soldiers to train in its dense jungles. Going back as far as 2008, teams of Canadian Civil Military Co-operation teams — essentially aid and engineering teams — headed to Belize for several weeks of hands-on assistance training in rural villages before deploying to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Belize and Guatemala are strategic territory in the war on drugs. The two countries span the entire Central American isthmus, from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, bordering Mexico. They are literally pressed up against North America and are staging areas for drug runners looking to move their illicit product north.
It's estimated that about 80 per cent of South American cocaine headed into North America somehow transits Guatemalan territory.
Complicating any response to the instability posed by narco-traffickers in the region is the relatively small size of defence forces in both countries.
The Belize Defence Force, for example, has fewer than 1,500 troops, while the Guatemalan military has 15,000.
Canada has supported the training of Guatemalan troops in peace support operations, but it's not clear how else the military is involved there.
Despite Beare's mention of Guatemala as an area of military focus, the Defence Department has not provided any information in response to CBC News questions about Canadian efforts there.
But it's clear the area matters to the military. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, Walt Natynczyk, visited Guatemala City to meet senior defence officials there in 2011.
Beare says Canada's contributions to the region are significant, though still small.
"You're not seeing battalions and fleets and squadrons of aircraft," he said. "What we're doing there is persistent engagement, co-operation and collaboration with our partners in the hemisphere, to help raise their capacities, improve our network in the region, so we can respond to contingencies there."
In January, The Canadian Press reported government documents it obtained showed the situation in Belize was deteriorating because of drug violence.
It also reported Defence Minister Peter MacKay was briefed that Belize was of increasing importance to Canada, "due to the increasingly precarious security situation in Central America, particularly along the Belize-Mexico border."
Related on HuffPost:
Because Most Americans Are Unenthusiastic About It
Only 7 percent of Americans think the United States is <a href="http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/general_lifestyle/november_2012/7_think_u_s_is_winning_war_on_drugs">winning the war on drugs</a>, and few Americans are interested in throwing down more money to try to win, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll released in 2012.
Because the U.S. Won't Control The Flow Of Guns Into Latin America
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/mexico-guns-arturo-sarukhan-us-weapons-mexico-violence-gun-rights_n_1563250.html">Mexican authorities seized almost 70,000 weapons of U.S. origin</a> from 2007 to 2011. In 2004, the U.S. Congress declined to renew a 10-year ban on the sale of assault weapons. They quickly became the guns of choice for Mexican drug cartels. Some 60,000 people have died in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón launched a military assault on the cartels in 2006.
Because the United States Leads The Hemisphere In Drug Consumption
Americans have the <a href="http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve/?File_id=81b53476-64a3-4088-9bae-254a84b95ddb">highest rate of illegal drug consumption in the world</a>, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Because The U.S. Ignores Latin American Calls For A Rethinking Of Drug Policy
Several current and former Latin American presidents, like Fernando Henrique Cardoso, have <a href="http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/">urged the United States to rethink its failed war on drugs</a>, to no avail.
Because Of The Fast And Furious Scandal
In an attempt to track guns as they moved across the U.S.-Mexico border, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/atf-fast-furious-sg,0,3828090.storygallery">allowed smugglers to purchase weapons</a>. The ATF lost track of the guns and they wound up in the hands of drug cartels -- even as <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/09/11/atf-fast-and-furious-guns-appear-in-colombia/">far south as Colombia</a>.
Because American Politicians Refuse To Candidly Lead A Debate On Reforming Our Laws
Though the subject of marijuana legalization regularly ranks among the most popular at the digital town halls President Obama takes part in, he <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/07/06/askobama-twitter-town-hall-ignores-flood-of-marijuana-legalization-questions/">declines to address the issue</a> or give it a <a href="http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2009/03/obama-addresses.html">thoughtful answer</a>. Incidentally, a younger Obama <a href="http://www.wusa9.com/news/article/229756/82/We-Need-To-Decriminalize-Our-Marijuana-Laws----Barack-Obama">supported marijuana decriminalization and a rethinking of the drug war</a>.
Because The U.S. Tortures Detainees In Cuba
Almost 800 prisoners accused of terrorism have have been held at the <a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/01/06/guantanamo-ten-years">U.S. military prison of Guantánamo</a>, Cuba, where they are detained indefinitely without facing trial. The United States has drawn international criticism from human rights defenders for subjecting the detainees there to torture and other cruel treatment. The Cuban government opposes hosting the U.S. naval base on its soil.
Because The U.S. Has The World's Largest Prison Population
The United States has <a href="http://www.prb.org/Articles/2012/us-incarceration.aspx">the world's largest prison population</a> by far -- largely fed by the war on drugs -- at 500 per 100,000 people.
Because The U.S. Jails Undocumented Immigrants Guilty Of Civil Violations
Because the United States <a href="http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/ExposeAndClose">imprisons roughly 400,000 immigrants</a> each year on civil violations.
Because The Border Patrol Kills Kids Who Throw Rocks
The U.S. Border Patrol has come under fire for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/26/border-patrol-killing-un_n_2018731.html">killing minors who were throwing rocks</a>.
Because The U.S. Recognized An Illegal Government In Venezuela
When opponents of leftwing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez briefly ousted him in 2002, the United States not only failed to condemn the coup, it <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/16/world/bush-officials-met-with-venezuelans-who-ousted-leader.html">praised the coup leaders</a>.
Because U.S. Extradition Undermines Justice In Colombia
When Colombia demobilized the largest rightwing paramilitary organization in 2006, if offered lenient sentences to those who would offer details on the atrocities the AUC committed. But rather than facing justice in their home country, <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/colombian-paramilitaries-extradited-to-u.s.-where-cases-are-sealed">Colombia has extradited several paramilitary leaders to the United States</a> to face drug trafficking charges -- marking it harder for people like Bela Henríquez to find out the details surrounding the murders of their loved ones. "More than anger, I feel powerless," Henriquez, whose father, Julio, was kidnapped and killed on the orders of one defendant, told ProPublica. "We don't know what they are negotiating, what conditions they are living under. What guarantee of justice do we have?"
Because The U.S. Helped Create Today's Cartels
The U.S funded the Guatemalan military during the 1960s and 1970s anti-insurgency war, despite awareness of widespread human rights violations. Among the recipients of U.S military funding and training were the Kaibiles, a special force unit responsible for several massacres. Former <a href="http://ghrc-usa.org/Publications/factsheet_kaibiles.pdf" target="_hplink">Kaibiles have joined the ranks of the Zetas drug cartel</a>.
Because The U.S. Backed An Argentine Military Dictatorship That Killed 30,000 People
The rightwing military dictatorship that took over Argentina in 1976 "disappeared" some 30,000 people, according to estimates by several human rights organizations. They subjected countless others to sadistic forms of torture and stole dozens of babies from mothers they jailed and murdered. The military junta carried out the so-called "Dirty War" with the <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB104/index.htm">full knowledge and support of the Nixon administration</a>.
Because The U.S. Helped Topple The Democratically Elected Government Of Salvador Allende
When it became clear that socialist Salvador Allende would likely win the presidency in Chile, U.S. President Richard Nixon told the CIA to "make the economy scream" in order to "prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him," <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB8/nsaebb8i.htm">according to the National Security Archive</a>. Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende in a bloody coup on Sept. 11, 1973, torturing and disappearing thousands of his political rivals with the backing of the U.S. government.
Because the U.S. Backed A Military Coup In Brazil In 1964
The Brazilian military overthrew the democratically elected government of João Goulart in 1964, with the <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB118/index.htm">enthusiastic support of President Lyndon Johnson</a>, ushering in two decades of repressive government.
Because The U.S. Funded A Terrorist Group In Nicaragua
The Reagan administration funded the Contra rebels against the Marxist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Regarded by many as terrorists, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1985-03-08/news/mn-32283_1_contras">the Contras murdered, tortured and raped civilians</a>. When human rights organizations reported on the crimes, the Reagan administration accused them of working on behalf of the Sandinistas.
Because The U.S. Helped Finance Atrocities In Colombia
Through Plan Colombia, the U.S. has pumped over $6 billion into Colombia's military and intelligence service since 2002. The intelligence service has been disbanded for <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/us-aid-implicated-in-abuses-of-power-in-colombia/2011/06/21/gIQABrZpSJ_story.html">spying on the Supreme Court and carrying out smear campaigns</a> against the justices, as well as journalists, members of Congress and human rights activists. The military faces numerous allegations of human rights abuse, including the practice of killing non-combatants from poor neighborhoods and dressing them up as guerrillas to inflate enemy casualty statistics.
Because The U.S. Maintains A Trade Embargo Against Cuba Despite Opposition From The Entire World
For 21 years, the <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/u-n-urges-end-u-cuba-embargo-21st-192516276.html">U.N. has condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba</a> and for 21 years the United States has ignored it. Some 188 nations voted against the embargo this year, with only the U.S. itself, Israel, Palau opposing.
Because The U.S. Engineered A Coup Against The Democratically Elected Government Of Guatemala In 1954
At the behest of United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation with extensive holdings in Central America, the CIA helped engineer the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954, ushering in decades of civil war that resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.
Because The U.S. Backed The Salvadoran Military As It Committed Atrocities In The 1980s
El Salvador's military <a href="http://www.pbs.org/itvs/enemiesofwar/elsalvador2.html">committed atrocities throughout the 1980s with U.S. funding</a>.
Because The U.S. Invaded Haiti and Occupied It For Almost 20 Years
Woodrow Wilson ordered the Marines to <a href="http://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/Haiti">invade and occupy Haiti in 1915</a> after the assassination of the Haitian president. The troops didn't leave until 1934.
Because The U.S. Invaded Haiti Again In 1994
One invasion wasn't good enough. The U.S. <a href="http://wws.princeton.edu/research/cases/haiti.pdf">military returned in 1994</a>.
Because The U.S. Trained Military Leaders Who Committed Atrocities In Latin America
The School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, trained soldiers and generals responsible for massacres and torture of tens of thousands of Latin Americans, <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestoryamericas/2012/09/201292081054585410.html">according to Al Jazeera</a>.
Because The U.S. Backed Dictator Rafael Trujillo
Rafael Trujillo Sr. (Photo by Hank Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Because The U.S. Invaded Cuba And Undermined The Island's Independence
The so-called "Spanish-American War" began in 1868 with the first of a series of three wars for Cuban independence. In 1898, the U.S. got involved, invading Cuba and occupying the island after forcing Spain to give it. The United States then forced Cuba to <a href="http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=55">accept the odious Platt Amendent to its Constitution</a>, which allowed the United States to intervene in the country militarily and established the U.S. military base at Guantánamo.
Because The U.S. Colonized Puerto Rico
As long as you're invading Cuba, <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/puerto-rico-invaded">why not take Puerto Rico</a> as well? The United States invaded in 1898 and the island remains a U.S. territory today.