[Ppnews] USA’s Prison Industrial Complex Moves South of the Border

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Apr 24 16:07:01 EDT 2013

  I was honored to be part of a (skype) program after the showing of
  Cointelpro 101 in Mexico City last night.  The exporting of mass
  imprisonment as a strategy and goal was raised during the discussion. 
  While this article is a year old, it was very informative about how
  prison expansion is globalized under US imperialism. The folx in
  Mexico are directly impacted and are watching developments in the US
  carefully, and are particularly interested in how the prison justice
  movement - both inside and outside the US prisons - is growing and
  pushing back against prison expansion and the increased violence and
  torture of prolonged isolation.   claude

  USA’s Prison Industrial Complex Moves South of the Border

June 20, 2012

by Nasim Chatha

The United States today uses an extensive and unprecedented form of 
imprisonment and policing as social control of its most marginalized 
communities. It is a unique culture of incarceration: no other country 
locks up their population to the same degree that we do, nor has so 
perfected imprisonment as a tool of innocuously perpetuating racial 
division. (Michelle Alexander, /The New Jim Crow/)

Led in large part by William R. Brownfield, the Assistant Secretaryof 
State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the US is 
aiding Latin American countries to build “a new penitentiary culture”; a 
complete package to becoming more completely “American”, involving new 
prisons, new imprisonment style, and new community policing strategies. 
The US has long been heavy-handed in its involvement with Latin America, 
where for decades it has backed right-wing militaries to protect its 
financial interests and fight alleged threats of communism, and also 
created “development” programs for exactly the same reasons. This 
militarized relationship was maintained until the present through 
military bases, partnerships and free trade agreements. In the past 
several years, US military influence is seeping anew into Mexico and 
Central America, this time nominally in order to combat drug violence 
and reduce drug trade.

Within the past five years, the U.S. has been implementing programs 
directed at building or reshaping prisons and increasing community 
policing in Mexico, Honduras and the rest of Central America. The Merida 
initiative, which began programs in 2007, is the main agreement that 
funnels billions of U.S. dollars into Mexican President Felipe 
Calderón’s drug war. The plan mostly sends Mexican police military 
equipment bought from private U.S. contractors, but also has an 
important imprisonment aspect: the plan, as William R. Brownfield notes, 
is “multi-pronged”.

“In one of our more innovative and successful programs,” he says, “the 
State Department is working with the State Corrections Training 
Academies in Colorado and New Mexico, and the U.S. Federal Bureau of 
Prisons, to provide training and technical assistance for all levels of 
corrections staff” in Mexico, says Brownfield. This accompanies an 
increase in the number of Mexico’s federal prisons from six to twenty 
two, which Brownfield likes: these “will greatly relieve the state 
facilities of severe overcrowding”, although he says nothing of the 
massive increase in police activity, domestic militarization and warfare 
that will increase convictions. His gratuitous approval in an article 
actually about the programs of Plan Mérida suggests that the U.S. 
exerted heavy sway in the creation of these new prisons. In a very 
similar plan enacted in Colombia ten years earlier, where the U.S. /did 
/explicitly build new prisons, the increased capacity lead up to an 
exponential increase in arrests and incarceration.

Another of Plan Mérida’s successful programs in Mexico, William 
Brownfield states, is a massive criminal database that the U.S. has 
helped build called Platforma Mexico, a component of which is 
supervision of emergency hotlines and centers for victims of crimes. 
According to/ La Jornada/, the Mexican government awarded 29 sweetheart 
deals to private contractors to build the database. The paper also calls 
the database “failed and onerous.” The Mexican government organization 
ASF (Senior Auditor of the Federation) says that Platforma Mexico does 
not provide follow up information on any of the emergency calls or 
police station visits, which makes it useless for protecting citizens.

Plan Mérida has also helped Mexico develop a voice and fingerprint 
tracking system, which in combination with Platforma Mexico suggests 
that the U.S.’s “security” style of branding certain people as permanent 
criminals is moving south of the border. Another component of Plan 
Mérida is sending investigation equipment and training police officers 
to use it, especially around Mexico’s southern border. These largely 
illegal road and highway checkpoints are operated by a confusion of the 
military, police or both. They nominally seize drugs but also serve to 
track the movements of autonomous or indigenous groups and suppress 
political dissent.

The prison projects do not stop at Mexico, but continue south into the 
entirety of Central America under the Central American Regional Security 
Initiative (CARSI). CARSI is “a new security initiative sponsored by the 
United States, which is pressuring the weak states of Central American 
to assign their local armed forces to the fight against drug trafficking 
and organized crime,” notes André Maltais, a Canadian journalist. 
Training prison guards is a central component of the program’s security 
management in all the countries involved. Central America is an 
important region geographically for the U.S., especially for its rich 
natural resources. “While the [leftist guerrillas of the ‘80s] have 
disappeared, drug trafficking and violence, in addition to being 
profitable businesses for the U.S. banks and security industry, are now 
excellent pretexts for a permanent Pentagon military presence in the 

William R. Brownfield visited Honduras in March this year, where he 
committed U.S. money to another “multi-pronged” program. The U.S. has 
been increasing military and police financing for the illegal government 
of President Porfirio Lobo since the military coup in 2009. This support 
has funded Honduras’s ongoing state repression against democracy 
activists. As the U.S. embassy report illuminates in bullet points, the 
new prison program will operate through CARSI. The plan includes 
anti-gang programs, a model precinct program which will be launched at a 
police precinct in Tegucigalpa, and a model prison program. The most 
“innovative” parts in this plan are the ones which involve previously 
civilian institutions: the U.S. ambassador Lisa Kubiske said “He’s going 
to show that… we have good relations as much with the people who apply 
the law as with the military side.” Brownfield aims to follow the 
program of either Mano Dura or Super Mano Dura, both of which are 
anti-gang initiatives which failed in El Salvador, according to /La 
Prensia/. Says Sonja Wolf writing for Sustainable Security, Mano Dura 
resulted in massive gang incarceration, and “confinement in special 
prisons allowed gang members to strengthen group cohesion and 

CARSI is very similar to Plan Colombia, enacted more than a decade 
earlier, in that it increases US military presence in the plan’s 
respective region; so similar that the Colombian Armed Forces provide 
training to Central American police and military officers through CARSI. 
Colombia has been in a state of turmoil for most of the past century due 
to an intense ongoing political, social and armed conflict, culminating 
in the 47 year old conflict between the Colombian government and 
paramilitaries with the Marxist-Leninist insurgent group, FARC (Fuerzas 
Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). The broader armed conflict also 
includes insurgent groups such as the ELN (Ejército de Liberación 
Nacional), as well as private armies of narco-traffickers.

In 2000 their Minister of Justice signed “The Program for the 
Improvement of the Colombian Prison System” together with the US 
Ambassador to Colombia, Anne Patterson. The agreement and ensuing 
“improvements” went largely unnoticed and unreported. However, USAID and 
the US Federal Bureau of Prisons funded and advised a project to 
construct and/or redesign as many as 16 medium and maximum security 
prisons, leading to a 40% increase in prisoner capacity.

The U.S.‘s overall involvement in Colombia was justified as part of the 
international War on Drugs. Nominally, the new prisons (an initial 4.5 
million US dollars were spent) that resulted from this program were 
built to lessen overcrowded conditions at the previous maximum and 
medium security institutions. However, more prisons have not apparently 
improved conditions but instead have been filled; arrests have outpaced 
the newly built holding space. The prison program may have motivated a 
surge of arrests, or at the very least were positioned to receive the 
resulting prisoners. In addition, the new prisons are more militarized; 
greater blurring the lines between the civilian police forces and the 

According to the Colombian Coalition Against Torture, “It is of serious 
concern that Colombia’s prisons are increasingly militarized. Indeed, 
the majority of prisons visited …are under the command of high-ranking 
members of the military and police forces, either retired or active, and 
lack the skills necessary to manage a prison.” At least five of the 
sixteen prisons were run by graduates of the notorious School of the 
Americas. The program in the end was no improvement, but instead an 
expansion of the role of the prison in social control.

Colombia’s notorious new prison, La Tramacua, with its filthy and 
violent conditions, has held scores of Colombia’s thousands of political 
prisoners and is known for using torture: currently, the Colombian 
prison system holds 9,500 political prisoners, the great majority being 
held for nonviolent resistance and political opposition.The prison 
population has grown by over 57% since 2000 while the population has 
grown only by 14%. In addition, the strange phrase “New Penitentiary 
Culture” used by the Colombia prison program, so captivating when it 
leads one to reflect on the nature of the culture we send abroad, was 
also used by the Dominican Republic’s attorney general Radhames Jimenez 
Peña in an announcement that six new prisons were being built: “We are 
beginning a new penitentiary culture in the Dominican Republic,” he 
said. Likely there is U.S. or Brownfield influence there as well, 
seeping quietly into the phrases that make it into press releases.

The pattern set in Colombia twelve years ago is significant to 
understanding how the newer security and prison agreements will develop 
in Mexico and Central America. The most obvious reason to expect similar 
results is William Brownfield, who has been central to the development 
of all of these country’s prison programs; while the Colombia program 
was initiated, he was ambassador to next-door neighbor Venezuela, and 
then inherited the prison program when he became ambassador to Colombia 
in 2007. We can expect more arrests and less true security in 
communities after the new prison programs are implemented. Moreover, the 
prison program in Colombia also accompanied the U.S.‘s international War 
on Drugs, a clumsy practice when decreasing drug flow is concerned, but 
excellent for maintaining military presence in an area and for niche US 
business interests like military suppliers. In Colombia the militarized 
and expanded prison system was an important tool for stifling dissent; 
the newer prison plans in Mexico and Central America will likely serve 
this purpose as well. We can expect many more arrests in the affected 

Yet we can look beyond even Colombia into the origins of these new 
prison programs: the original model for all is of course of the United 
States. Our home-grown Prison Industrial Complex has its roots in 
right-wing political campaigns of being “tough on crime” and warring 
against drugs. Drug sales persist freely, but ghettoized black and brown 
communities, victims of the decline of industry, are under constant 
police surveillance. In every city exists a population of men with 
felony records who have no redemption in the eyes of society and much 
less access to employment. This is the nature of our “penitentiary 
culture” which we have now begun to export. Our prison industrial 
complex perpetuates the spirit of Jim Crow legislation, the system 
created to psychologically privilege poor whites in order to kill 
interracial class-based political alliances against the rich business 
class (Alexander). It thus suppresses broad political dissent, and also 
holds very explicit political prisoners, notably many Black Panthers, 
Indigenous activists, and Puerto Ricans. The “War on Drugs” declared by 
the Reagan administration which led to current incarceration practices 
has never been contained within the US’s borders; all the internal 
violence is mirrored, and in some ways amplified and distorted, in much 
of the rest of the Americas.

What will happen in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean as a 
result of the new prison programs is uncertain. The native imprisonment 
cultures in these countries are currently no match to the divisiveness, 
scope and intensity of U.S.A., but are likely heading in that direction. 
U.S. prisons are part of the “multi-pronged” policing weapon against 
communities wherever they are. The building of new prisons, and the 
implementation of our noxious penitentiary culture, should be opposed 
both at home and south of the border.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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