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Brazilian Political Science Review

On-line version ISSN 1981-3821

Bras. Political Sci. Rev. vol.12 no.2 São Paulo  2018  Epub May 14, 2018 


International Assistance and Security Sector Reform in Latin America: A Profile of Donors, Recipients and Programs

Ana Maura Tomesani1 

1Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil


This article seeks to understand the demands of the security sector in Latin America, in the context of reforms promoted by international aid agencies in the region. The hypothesis of this study is that international aid programs focused on Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Latin America have been generic, and have overlooked recipient countries’ own reform agendas. Latin American perspectives on SSR have been inferred from Organization of American States (OAS) documents. Information on international assistance for SSR programs was gathered from the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) database for the years 2004-2014. The analysis shows that assistance programs are not generic and that the profile of projects, resources allocated and countries targeted differ greatly according to the donor. The study also reveals differences in programs funded by bilateral and multilateral aid agencies in the region, which fits with the findings of previous studies, showing that, in general, programs funded by multilateral agencies are more attentive to local needs than those promoted by bilateral agencies. By contrast, programs funded by bilateral aid are less demand-driven and more guided by donor interests.

Keywords Foreign aid; security sector reform; development assistance; bilateral aid; multilateral aid

Latin American violence has captured the attention of several international organizations since the mid-1980s. Most countries in the region register between 10 and 80 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants (UNODC, 2013). The World Health Organization (WHO, 2014) considers 10 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants as the threshold beyond which violence is considered to be ‘epidemic’, meaning that most of the region can be as mired in a homicide epidemic1. The report, 'State of Latin American and Caribbean Cities’, released by the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT, 2012), highlights that violence is the main concern expressed by citizens of Latin American and Caribbean countries. Several Latin American researchers emphasize the need to reform management protocols within the security forces (TOMESANI, 2016).

Latin American leaders are quite aware of the problem. Organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) have published documents highlighting security challenges across the region and signed commitments to address these. They regularly meet to formulate collective action plans on this issue (see section 02). In these documents, member states’ weaknesses and priorities are made clear, revealing that an agenda for reforming the security sector already exists in the region. While agencies for international cooperation in developed countries have been funding Security Sector Reform (SSR) programs in Latin America since 2004, are they aware of these local agendas? Do these agencies focus on priorities identified by recipient countries when formulating their programs? With these questions in mind, this article maps and analyzes SSR programs funded by international development agencies in Latin America, examining their structure and priorities in comparison with local agendas.

Despite there being very few studies that examine the role and performance of these agencies in the field of SSR, those that do exist point to some general trends, such as the importing of generalized solutions into recipient countries (TUCHIN and GOLDING, 2003; ZIEGLER and NIELD, 2002) and the imposition of agendas that are disconnected from local organizational, institutional and cultural contexts (BAYLEY, 2005; DONAIS, 2012; PEAKE and MARENIN, 2008). Some studies also point to a degree of resistance on the part of these agencies to deal with issues related directly to law enforcement organizations (BAYLEY, 2006; HAMMERGREN, 2003; LEEDS, 2007), despite these being the institutions that are legally responsible for fighting crime in the region.

Researchers also criticize SSR programs for their top-down approach, which creates a gap between policy and practice. Blair (2014) explains that since 1998 the tendency within SSR has been to implement ideas from the global North to local environments in the global South that lack the necessary legal, institutional and administrative resources. This inevitably creates difficulties for the development community (BACKER and SCHEYE, 2007, p. 509, apud BLAIR, 2014, p. 103). In the foreign aid literature, criticism of project officers’ distance from and lack of knowledge of target countries’ institutions is hardly new. Easterly (2002) states that foreign aid agencies place enormous demands on poor countries with limited administrative capacity and weak institutions. This view is shared by Berg (2000), for whom the failure to reform political institutions in recipient countries may reflect the inability of donors to adapt programs and practices to the circumstances of low-income countries where administrative capacity is weaker.

Data on North-South financial flows for development, or Official Development Assistance (ODA) and the details of the programs have been collected by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Information on the local agenda for the Latin American security sector can be found in key documents from the Meetings of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas (MISPAs) and the Inter-American Network for Police Development and Professionalization's (Red Interamericana de Desarollo y Profesionalizacion Policial) ‘Diagnostic of Police Knowledge Development for Curricular Planning’ (Diagnóstico sobre Necesidades de Conocimiento Policial para la Planeación Curricular). Both organizations are funded and organized by the Organization of American States (OAS). Having analyzed the MISPA documents and the ‘Diagnostic’, I was able to compare these to SSR programs in Latin American countries offered by international agencies for development cooperation. My hypothesis is that SSR programs funded by such agencies in Latin America are generic and disconnected from local agendas in the field.

The remainder of the paper is divided as follows: in the next section, I present key documents that outline the local agenda for SSR in Latin America; I then present an overview of the history of SSR programs funded by the development community; finally, in the last two sections, I provide a comparative analysis between the activities of major donors in relation to key challenges in the region. This paper is the product of ongoing research. As such, in the final section, I present partial conclusions and identify questions for further research.

Latin American demands and international programs in SSR

The security sector reform agenda in Latin America

In mapping the challenges for Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Latin America, I began by considering regional organizations that would be most representative in their proposals for the sector. After a preliminary analysis of active regional organizations, I selected five based on the availability of data and the degree to which they had discussed the issue — the Union of South American States (UNASUR), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Andean Community (CAN), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR)2. UNASUR, CAN, CARICOM and OAS have specific bodies that deal with security issues3, and have produced a large amount of documentation that can help us to identify the weaknesses of Latin American security. Close analysis of these documents allowed us to map, in fine-grained detail, member states’ weaknesses in the field. MERCOSUR does not have a specific body for security matters, but I found several commitments and recommendations on public safety signed by member states that could also contribute to painting a full picture of security issues in the region.

I sought out documents from these organizations that identified sources of fragility and outlined plans for public security reform in Latin America. This allowed me to assess whether SSR programs in the region funded by international agencies would respond to the weaknesses they had highlighted. However, UNASUR, CAN, CARICOM and MERCOSUR do not represent Latin America as a whole. UNASUR, CAN and MERCOSUR include only South American countries as members, meaning that Mexico and the countries of Central America and the Caribbean are not signatories of the commitments they have established. Similarly, CARICOM only includes Caribbean states, including some continental South and Central American countries (ie. Suriname, Guyana and Belize).

Although it also includes some non-Latin American countries (such as Canada, the United States and some Caribbean islands), the OAS was the only one of the five organizations I analyzed that includes all Latin American countries, including South America, Central America, Mexico and the Latin Caribbean. (Even Cuba was readmitted to OAS in 2009, after a long period of suspension). As I wanted to compare aggregate data on Security challenges with aggregate data on SSR programs for the entire region, in order to avoid methodological problems I chose to exclude the documents of UNASUR, CAN, CARICOM and MERCOSUR4.

It is important to mention at this point that I prioritized regional political and economic organizations rather than civil society organizations. I am aware of other initiatives to build a regional agenda on citizen security in Latin America organized by NGOs and universities5. However, these are harder to map as they are more territorially dispersed and information about them is not easy to find or access. It is for these reasons that I opted for regional organizations instead of civil society initiatives. Nonetheless, I believe further investigation of the latter would be highly productive, as such initiatives provide alternative forums of local dialogue on the subject, which may also be ignored by the international community of donors.

Since 2008, the OAS has hosted the Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas (MISPA), which has produced documents on the challenges facing member states, and promotes the cooperation and exchange of knowledge and technical assistance between them. These meetings are organized by the Department of Public Security of the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security (SMS) of the OAS, which is also responsible for the creation of AMERIPOL6 and elaboration of the ‘Diagnostic of Police Knowledge Development for Curricular Planning’, for Inter-American Network for Police Development and Professionalization, in 2014. The MISPAs and the Diagnostic are interesting because they identify areas where Latin American countries understand they need to strengthen their institutional and technical capacity. That is to say, member countries identify these areas and monitor their performance against specific objectives with the aim of improving their ability to offer public security to their populations.

Between them, the agreements of the MISPAs and the Diagnostic provided reliable information on local security priorities, that could then be compared with SSR programs funded by international agencies. The key points of the MISPAs and the Diagnostic are analyzed below.


The first Meeting of MISPA took place in Mexico City on 07-08 October 2008, and concluded with the adoption of the Commitment to Public Security in the Americas, a document that sets out five pillars for the design and implementation of a comprehensive response to public security challenges in the region, within a democratic framework. The document represents an amalgam of actions proposed by each country for improving security conditions in the region. The main points covered in the 2008 Commitment (OAS, 2008) are systematized in Table 01.

Table 01 Systematization of the five axes agreed in the Commitment to Public Security in the Americas in 2008 

Management of Public Security Crime Prevention Police Management Social Participation International Cooperation
Create and strengthen longterm public policies, with full respect for human rights; strengthen border security; create standards for the regulation of private security; modernize prison systems and create sustainable models of social reintegration for former prisoners, especially young people; create standardized management tools, strengthening technical and material capabilities of security operators. Create crosscutting actions for the prevention of crime; promote programs in schools to raise awareness about crime and violence prevention. Generate mechanisms to provide transparency and accountability for police actions, professionalize the police; improve living and work conditions of police; create government crime and violence research observatories to support operational security plans. Encourage and strengthen social participation and responsibility in public security; create policies to increase confidence in security institutions. Create mechanisms for the exchange of information between the member countries; develop common and comparable operating data to improve cooperation; consolidate the American Police Community (AMERIPOL); promote the exchange of experiences between civil society organizations in the signatory countries (OAS, 2008).

Source: Information about MISPA in OAS (2008).

The second meeting, held in the Dominican Republic in late 2009, resulted in the Consensus of Santo Domingo on Public Security in the Americas. This document reinforces the commitment of the parties to address issues of public security in a collaborative way, whilst remaining attentive to human rights and fundamental freedoms, and linking up with other thematic areas such as health, culture and education. The document makes several references to solidarity and the sharing of experiences and information between member states (OAS, 2009). The Consensus seems to have been created to ensure that the signatory states would not resort to violent and authoritarian strategies in order to deal with crime. In the meetings that have followed7, signatory countries have reported on their activities in relation to the agreements reached.

MISPAs remain active and meetings take place every two years, with the most recent held in Honduras in October, 2017. The Commitment to Public Security in the Americas, agreed at MISPA I in 2008, is still regularly updated in line with discussions taking place at the meetings. The document provides information on strategic areas that governments must strengthen in order to improve public security in the region. These points are identified ‘by members states themselves’, represented by their security ministers.

The diagnostic

The Public Security Department of the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security (SMS) at the OAS has established the Inter-American Network for Police Development and Professionalization. The Network proposes to create a space for knowledge exchange between, and professionalization of, police forces in the Americas, via AMERIPOL (see footnote 06). AMERIPOL was created on November 14, 2007 in Bogota, Colombia, with an original membership of 18 police forces. Fifteen national, regional, and international police bodies also participate in AMERIPOL as observers, including representatives from Germany, Canada, Italy, Spain and INTERPOL.

In 2014, AMERIPOL conducted a survey with various police institutions and experts on the challenges facing police forces in the Americas, with the aim of developing new strategies for reforming police training. This effort resulted in the production of the document ‘Diagnostic of Police Knowledge Development for Curricular Planning’8. The document draws on a survey which considered four areas: a social dimension (how police forces respond to social diversity in the region); a geopolitical dimension (how to understand police forces in the geopolitical context of the Americas); an institutional dimension (how to understand police forces in relation to community, society, and nation); and a security dimension (how to understand police forces in contexts of high criminality and emerging threats).

Based on interviews with experts, documentary research, and systematic analysis of the survey conducted with police officers, a list was drawn up of deficiencies within police forces in the Americas. These deficiencies were grouped into the four dimensions detailed in Table 02.

Table 02 The four dimensions of policing challenges in the Americas based on the Diagnostic (2014) 

Social Dimension Geopolitical Dimension Institutional Dimension Security Dimension
Training on social mobilization and social change; training on gender violence; leadership; methods of citizen interaction; techniques for managing and negotiating conflict and crises; data collection; systematization and analysis of police information; communication management; intelligence associated with social networks; methods and techniques of social investigation;; fundamentals of sociology; human rights; understanding of social phenomena Mechanisms of identifying risk and global threats; transnational organized crime; designing joint strategies in border regions; cybercrime and cyber terrorism; mechanisms of environmental protection and sustainability; international norms on transnational crime; migration. Modern management tools and police directives; administration of human talent; human resources management; design of police knowledge management systems; crime prevention; establishment of crime research observatories; instruments and indicators for measuring police effectiveness and performance; techniques for internal control and evaluation; innovation and technological development applied to police performance; organization reform design; norms of police standardization and management; methods for improving accountability, integrity and transparency; modernization and reform of police education and training systems; police ethics. Consolidation of strategic partnerships with social and government actors; design and evaluation of public policies and police strategies; skills for the study of insecurity; new approaches to security; crime prevention; detection of emerging violence; management of street gangs; design of systems for police information; elaboration of innovation projects.

Source: OEA (2014).

As we can see, the Consensus of Santo Domingo on Public Security in the Americas and the Diagnostic reach similar conclusions, even if the former is more general and the latter more specific. Understandably, given the purpose of the document and the events which led to its production, the Consensus places greater emphasis on regional cooperation. The Diagnostic, meanwhile, is more detailed, although some of the points raised are somewhat vague and repetitive. In any case, both documents stress the need for the development of technical and managerial skills in the security sector. These key demands may now be compared to the objectives of SSR programs funded by international agencies for development cooperation.

International assistance programs for SSR in Latin America

The history of security sector reform in the OECD

The beginning of the new century saw bilateral and multilateral agencies formally acknowledging domestic security as an important area for development. Until then, interventions in the security domain were limited to military assistance in conflict zones and state-building. The creation of a secure domestic environment was considered by development actors to be “a primary responsibility of their defense, intelligence and police counterparts” (OECD, 2005, p. 16). An important report from the World Bank in 2000 recognized the link between security and development (WORLD BANK, 2000). Subsequently, numerous articles and reports have echoed this view9.

Private foundations were the first to promote projects in this sector in the early 1990s, as part of the development of human rights programs (LEEDS, 2007). At the World Bank, focus on security has steadily expanded since it was first addressed by the Bank's Urban Development Sector 2004, being taken up by the Social Development Sector in 2010, and with a Citizen Security team eventually being established10. The Inter-American Development Bank has been investing in the sector since 1998 —until 2014, 17 loans representing US$ 481 million were approved for Americas (IDB, 2014). The theme has also gained prominence within different United Nations bodies during the last 20 years, particularly the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)11.

The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD has conducted reviews on approaches to military issues since 1997. In 2001, the Committee developed a framework for security assistance. The discussions led to the creation of the framework and several key security concepts that were also incorporated into other important DAC documents (OECD, 2005). Until this point, domestic security had not been considered a fundamental issue to be addressed by official development assistance (ODA)12.

In the 2002-2003 annual survey of DAC members, donors expressed dissatisfaction with security programs, leading to the conclusion that “less progress has been made in translating the new security concepts into policies and programmes” (OECD, 2005, p. 16). In 2005, the DAC issued a publication entitled ‘DAC Guidelines on Security System Reform and Governance’ (OECD, 2005). The publication was part of the DAC Guidelines and Reference Series collection. This guide aimed at helping donors to: 01. improve their understanding of the security challenges faced by developing and transitioning countries today; 02. link security with development; 03. mainstream SSR in development work; and 04. establish improved policy frameworks and more effective programming. The work was included within the UN ‘human security’ agenda and designed to support the DAC Guidelines on Helping to Prevent Violent Conflict. The document provided information on key actors in the field, on the multi-sectoral character of security in developing countries, and on ways of enhancing recipient country ownership.

In 2005, official development assistance (ODA) was redefined to include several elements relating to SSR. A year earlier, these elements had appeared as in the DAC Statistics database within ‘Conflict, Peace and Security’ thematic area13. In 2007, the OECD published the ‘DAC Handbook on Security System Reform: Supporting Security and Justice’ (OECD, 2007). The Handbook provided instructions for operationalizing the 2005 guidelines, offering step-by-step guidance on the design, implementation and assessment of programs in the field. The Handbook also provided guidance on monitoring, reviewing and evaluating Security Sector Reform and included examples of best practice. A publication of the Handbook was followed by a two-year dissemination campaign.

Between 2007 and early 2009 the DAC collected and systematized donor views on the OECD DAC Handbook on Security System Reform. In late 2009, the DAC released the report 'Security System Reform: What Have We Learned?’ (OECD, 2009), analyzing the successes and failures of programs implemented using the DAC guidelines. Interestingly, common complaints among donors included the ‘lack of ownership’ felt by recipient countries, and the time-consuming steps programs were required to go through.

The document stresses the need for participation by domestic stakeholders, but it does not specify the nature of this participation, such as whether local actors should take part in decision-making processes and who should co-ordinate them. It also states that programs must be context-specific and appropriate to the capacities and budget constraints of national authorities; that agencies should co-operate to share responsibilities and avoid duplication; and that SSR programs will not meet deadlines or work effectively if they are not harmonized with other development programs through a holistic and multisectoral approach.

Since 2009, the OECD has defined SSR programs as support for “law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to assist, review and reform the security system to improve democratic governance and civilian control”(OECD, 2007, p. 250)14. Funding military organizations is not eligible for ODA (see footnote 14), but supporting civilian oversight and democratic control of military forces is15. The sector thus applies to some situations faced in peacekeeping operations (as SSR is one of the steps of the UN peacekeeping operations protocol), meaning that countries receiving this type of intervention may receive larger amounts of funding towards SSR programs. In the absence of peacekeeping interventions, SSR resources may be directed to developing the capacity of security services to respond to challenges of urban crime and violence16.

It is interesting to note that the aforementioned documents were all elaborated based on consultations with the donor countries (DAC members) rather than recipient countries. Although the publications provide basic information on security systems in the target regions, the guidelines are based on donor countries’ experiences in dealing with security programs in developing countries. Even if they orient donors to consider local contexts and involve local actors, the guidelines are developed and disseminated in a top-down model.

Donors and recipients

As explained above, information on SSR programs has only been available since 2004. Between 2004 and 2014, donors spent a total of nearly US$97 billion on ODA in Latin America. Of this amount, only US$673 million17, or 0.7%, was targeted towards 'Security System Management and Reform’ (TOMESANI, 2016). Although the OECD documents cited in the previous section claimed that SSR programs had become a priority for the DAC, these numbers suggest otherwise.

In total, 685 SSR programs funded by international agencies for development cooperation were implemented in Latin America between 2004 and 2014, involving 24 donor countries, four institutional donors — the United Nations (UN), the Inter-American Development (IADB) Special Fund, the World Bank and the European Union (EU) — and 36 recipient countries. It is worth mentioning that not all donors funded programs consistently over the 2004-2014 period. Additionally, some countries stand out for their high level of involvement as donors, notably the United States and Canada.

The difference between SSR ODA flows to Latin America from the United States and Canada is small — little more than $4 million. However, the difference between these countries and other donors is very pronounced, as we can see in Table 03. Canada, the second largest donor, spends six times more than Spain in third place. For this reason, coupled with the fact that they were regular donors throughout the period studied, I decided to analyse the United States’ and Canada's SSR programs to Latin America in full. This has allowed me to analyze how their SSR ODA flows are distributed across Latin America in terms of the target countries, the resources allocated, and the nature of the SSR programs. Multilateral organizations also spend large amounts relative to most country donors, so I also included their flows in the analysis.

Table 03 Top donor countries to SSR Programs in Latin America (1st to 5th

Greatest SSR Country Donors to LA(2004-2014) Amount (US$) (2004-2014)
1st United States $170,709,266.00
2nd Canada $166,068,294.00
3rd Spain $26,232,723.00
4th Norway $18,413,764.00
5th United Kingdom $16,037,815.00

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics18).

Indeed, some interesting articles point to specific differences in the ways bilateral and multilateral aid agencies develop their programs. Maizels and Nissanke (1984) tested whether aid-giving was guided more by donor interests or recipient needs. They found evidence that bilateral aid was mainly guided by donor interests, while multilateral aid was more often guided by recipient needs. Dollar and Levin (2006) examined the extent to which foreign aid donors, both bilateral and multilateral, could be said to be 'selective’ in targeting countries that observe democratic norms and the rule of law. They found that multilateral donors were more selective than bilateral ones in this regard. Neumayer (2003) found that recipient countries’ human rights records were usually a statistically insignificant factor in terms of aid allocated. However, there were differences between bilateral and multilateral aid agencies, with the latter showing greater concern about human rights.

For this reason, I look at IADB Special Fund, EU and UN ODA flows to SSR programs in Latin America, to assess the profile of multilateral programs. It is important to note that loans are not considered as ODA unless at least 25% comes in the form of grants (see footnote 13). I also considered analyzing World Bank ODA flows. However, in the entire series of SSR ODA flows to Latin America in the OECD Database, the World Bank appeared only once, in 2012. This means that the institution is not a regular donor to SSR programs in the region, and can therefore be excluded from the analysis.

It is important to clarify that I am not overlooking the importance of loans provided by the World Bank or regional development banks to SSR in Latin America. Rather, it is that the dynamics of loans are different to those of donations. According to Hammergren (2003), banks have a history of activity in Latin America and are more attentive to local demands precisely because the type of resources - ‘reimbursable credits’, to use Hammergren's term (2003) - are demand-driven in the sense that banks have a stake in their negotiation. ‘Non-reimbursable credits’ (or grants), by contrast, are guided by other factors, such as the domestic politics of donor countries and the internal bureaucratic and political dynamics of donor organizations. As such, loans are not a useful indicator for the purposes of this study: of examining whether and to what extent donors are really concerned with recipient countries’ needs when formulating their programs.

At this stage one might ask why private foundations were not also included in the analysis. It is worth noting that there are authors who categorize private donations as international cooperation. However, such donations are not subject to the foreign policy guidelines of their countries of origin, meaning they are better characterized as straightforward ‘philanthropy’, than as international cooperation (TOMESANI, 2017). As such, this study does not include private multinational foundations and limits itself to official external aid, in which donors are states or international organizations, funded by and acting in the name of states.

In the following sections, we analyse ODA flows to SSR programs in Latin America for the years 2004-14 for the five cases selected. These are the two largest donor countries, the USA and Canada, and three international organizations, the IABD Special Fund, the EU and the UN.

Largest SSR country donors to Latin America: the USA and Canada

The USA and Canada are, together, responsible for 303 of the 685, or 44%, of the programs foreign donors implemented in Latin America in the years 2004-2014. Between them, they account for 74% of the total amount spent by DAC donors ($456.8 million), and 49% of the total spent by all donors ($673 million - which includes institutional donors) over the same period. As stated above, the total amount spent by the USA and Canada during these years was similar. However, expenditure by the two countries varied significantly over the period, as shown in Graph 01.

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics).

Graph 01 Canadian and US Aid to SSR Programs in Latin America 2004-2014 (in USD 1 million) 

The United States and the United Nations were the only donors to begin funding SSR programs in Latin America in 2004, with the number of donors increasing over subsequent years. Canada began to donate to SSR programs in 2006. Since then it has donated consistently, with no year in which an SSR ODA flow was not registered. It is important to note that not all countries that have registered SSR ODA flows at some point in the past have continued to do so. Austria only registered SSR ODA flows in 2007 and 2009; Denmark only in 2012; and Switzerland only in 2010 and 2012. The amounts are also subject to fluctuations of various kinds. Some countries have made regular donations over time, but in relatively small quantities (eg. Japan). Others made large but sporadic contributions (eg. Sweden and Switzerland). It is far from clear what makes a donor country decide whether, when, where and how much to donate to SSR programs. In the cases of our selected countries, Canada and the United States, there are significant fluctuations. Both countries increased flows between 2007 and 2012 and reduced them between 2010 and 2012. However, Canada registered a sharp increase in donations in 2008, while in the same year flows from the US fell.

We may also speculate that Canada and the US have different motivations in making SSR donations, since their respective portfolios of recipient countries and the amounts they donate to each differ significantly. As we can see from Table A01 and Table A02 (See Appendix under Supplementary Material on the BPSR website), the USA distributes its SSR budget to Latin America more evenly. Canada worked with 12 recipient countries over the period, while the USA worked with 17. Canada has concentrated almost 90% of its donations to Haiti while the USA's preferred recipient countries were El Salvador (25%), Guatemala (17%), Mexico (13%) and Argentina (10%). Interestingly, Argentina does not even figure among Canada's recipient countries.

Regarding the nature of the SSR grants made, there are intriguing differences between the two countries. To make this comparison, I divided the programs by sub-sector using the 'short descriptions’ of programs that donor countries submitted to the OECD (available on the DAC/OECD Database). I then classified them by grouping together projects that were thematically similar, even though the two countries often used different terminology (See Appendix, Tables A03 and A04, under Supplementary Material on the BPSR website).

This classification demonstrates that the two countries allocate their SSR grants to specific areas. Canada concentrates its donations in ‘Construction /Reconstruction/Renovation/Reparations’ (45%) and ‘Institutional Strengthening, Capacity-building and Governance’ (18%), while the USA focuses its assistance on ‘Governance for the Security Service’ (55%) and ‘International Nuclear Materials Protection & Cooperation/Global Threat Reduction (Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons)’ (34%).

Governance related to the security sector appears to be a common concern for both countries. And, indeed, it is also acknowledged as a weakness by the recipient countries in both the documents of the MISPAs and the Diagnostic. However, neither ‘Construction/Reconstruction/Renovation/Reparations’ (Canada) nor ‘International Nuclear Materials Protection & Cooperation/Global Threat Reduction (Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons)’ (USA) figures in these documents. This suggests that these programs reflect the priorities of the donor countries for SSR programs in Latin America, related to their own domestic politics.

The European Union, United Nations, and Inter-American Development Bank special fund

The UN (via the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Peacebuilding Fund), IADB Special Fund and the EU are, between them, responsible for 87 SSR programs in Latin America. This accounts for 33% of all donor expenditure in the sector (including both DAC donors and institutions), although there are significant differences beneath this headline figure19.

Table 04 SSR Programs funded by multilateral donors in Latin America, 2004-2014 

SSR Programs to Latin America, 2004-2014
Institutions Programs Amount US$
European Union 8 $ 118,558,877.99
IADB Special Fund 29 $93,318,706.97
UN 50 $8,396,225.91
TOTAL 87 $220,273,810.87

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics).

The UN funds many more SSR programs in Latin America than the EU and the IADB, but the EU and IADB spend much more money. In other words, the UN prefers to spread its ODA budget between numerous small donations, while the EU and the IADB concentrate their ODA flows in a smaller number of large projects in a few countries. This can be seen in Tables A04, A05 and A06 (under Supplementary Material on the BPSR website), which show the distribution of these donations across recipient countries.

As we can see, the three organizations concentrate their resources on Central America, and to some recipient countries in particular. This may relate to the fact that according to UN data on homicide rate (UNODC, 2013), this region contains the most violent countries in the world. Even the UN, which distributes its donations between a large number of recipient countries, sends the majority (almost 70%) of its SSR flows to Guatemala. SSR ODA flows from the IADB are also quite concentrated, with around 34% going to Honduras. The donations made by the EU, the largest institutional donor to SSR programs in Latin America, are more distributed — Panama receives the largest portion of this funding (31%), but this is not much different from the amounts received by other recipient countries.

It is also interesting to observe that SSR donations by institutional donors are far more homogeneous than those of the country donors. In the three cases, programs related to Citizen Security (youth violence, crime prevention, community policing) received the vast majority of institutional resources — 93% in the case of the IADB, 76% for the UN and 79% for EU, as we shown in Tables A07, A08 and A09 (Appendix, under Supplementary Material on the BPSR website).

This data suggests that multilateral organizations really are more sensitive to local agendas than country donors. Challenges related to citizen security and governance, which were the primary themes highlighted by the MISPA documents and the Diagnostic, are also the major concerns of these three organizations judging by how they distributed their donations thematically.


In this article, I have presented a systematic analysis of SSR programs in Latin America. In doing so, I have drawn on the documents of the MISPAs and the Diagnostic to identify the needs for SSR identified by local actors, and compared these with data from the DAC/OECD Database for 2004-2014 on ODA flows to Latin America for SSR programs. In a previous article (TOMESANI 2016), I extensively mapped donor and recipient countries. My objective in this article was to identify patterns of SSR interventions in Latin America from selected Northern donors, and to analyze the convergences and divergences between donors’ and recipients’ agendas.

At the outset, I presented two hypotheses: 01. that SSR programs don't match local agendas; 02. that programs are generic both in their content and in the selection of recipient countries. The first hypothesis appears to hold for country donors, but not for multilateral organizations, as the latter tend to fund programs that at least partially align with recipients’ agendas in the field. The second hypothesis definitely does not hold up, at least in the case of country donors. Donor countries’ programs vary significantly in their thematic focus, resources allocated, and recipient countries selected. Multilateral organizations fund programmes of similar profiles, some of which may be interpreted as generic, but there is considerable variation in terms of resources allocated and countries targeted.

At least in the case of country donors, this study appears to support the argument made previously by Marenin (1999), that foreign assistance reflects donor and advisor priorities: “aid and advice — even when desired by the recipient country, as is generally the case — does not come for free, nor is it silent” (MARENIN, 1999, p. 08). The expenditures from Canada towards construction and infrastructure in recipient countries, concentrated on Haiti, and from the US on preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in countries such as Argentina — neither of which theme appears as a significant part of the SSR agenda arising from within the region — lead us to conclude that these countries are pursuing other interests. By contrast, multilateral organizations seem rather more attentive to local demands, supporting the argument of Maizels and Nissanke (1984). At the same time, however, they may be more generic in content, fitting with the findings of Tuchin and Golding (2003) and Ziegler and Nield (2002).

Although focused specifically on the activities of agencies for international cooperation in the funding and implementation of SSR programs in Latin America, this work fits with the broader literature on international assistance and cooperation. My aim was to provide evidence that could contribute to broader discussions about the activities of Northern donors in Latin America, beyond just the field of SSR. As was mentioned in the introduction, the idea that donors take decisions that do not respond effectively to recipients’ needs or institutional conditions is not new in this literature. Neither is it new to argue that multilateral assistance is more attentive than bilateral assistance to recipient countries’ needs. This study provides further evidence to support these conclusions.

This publication is registered under a CC-BY Licence.

See Supplementary Material at

1The Global Study on Homicide (UNODC, 2013) identifies Honduras as having the highest homicide rate in the world (90.4 per 100 000 inhabitants). The WHO Global Status Report on Violence Prevention (2014) ranks Brazil top for absolute number of homicides – 64,000 murders in 2012).

2To ensure the mapping of Latin American regional organizations was comprehensive, I also included in the initial search the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), the Organization of Central American States (ODECA), the Central American Integration System (SICA), the Secretariat of Central American Economic Integration (SIECA), the Central American Common Market (MCCA), the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). However, in the end I excluded these organizations from the analysis, either because I could not find sufficient documentation on their websites relating to security issues or because they did not have specific bodies dealing with security issues and had not signed commitments in this area.

3UNASUR has the South American Council on Public Security, Justice and Coordination of Actions against Transnational Organized Crime (CSSCJDOT), in operation since 2012. The Andean Community has the High-Level Group on Security and Confidence-Building, created in 2003. CARICOM has the Council for National Security and Law Enforcement (CONSLE). The OAS has the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security (SMS), which is divided into four departments, one of them being the Department of Public Security.

4In a chapter of a forthcoming book (a collection of papers from the XV International Relations Week of the State University of São Paulo, to be published in March 2018) I systematize and present analysis of these other organizations. Although only the OAS data could be used to test the main hypothesis of the current study, the mapping of other organizations was important in that it demonstrated that SSR demands from Latin American countries themselves were readily available. As such, that there was no reason for these to have been ignored by international development agencies when formulating their SSR programs for the region.

5Several Latin American organizations have organized events and produced publications on the subject. As an example, we could mention Dialogues of Citizen Security, organized by Brazilian NGO Igarapé between 2013 and 2015, which brings together leaders and scholars from Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and South Africa (more information:, visited on August 17, 2017). More recently, in 2017, the launch of the Latin American ‘Instinto de Vida’ campaign brought together various civil society organizations and academics from across the region with the aim of developing policy proposals for reducing crime and especially homicide rates. For more information, see: (accessed on August 17, 2017).

6AMERIPOL is an organization that was founded in 2007 with the support of the OAS, headquartered in Bogotá, Colombia. AMERIPOL's mandate is to promote technical and scientific cooperation among police forces. Member countries finance the organization, with all financial contributions and technical assistance provided voluntarily.

7MISPA I was held in Mexico City, Mexico, October 07-08, 2008; MISPA II was held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, November 04-05, 2009; MISPA III was held in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, November 17-18, 2011; MISPA IV was held in Medellin, Colombia, November 21-22, 2013; MISPA V was held in Lima, Peru, November 19-20, 2015; MISPA VI was held in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, October 10-11, 2017.

8I was given access to a paper copy of the Diagnostic, which was not published by the OAS.

9The Geneva Declaration Secretariat (2007; 2008) has also published reports showing that insecurity has negative impacts on development indicators.

10Information provided by Flávia Carbonari, who worked for the World Bank and was part of its Citizen Security Team (personal correspondence with author on June 12, 2017).

11Information available in the UNDP's website: (accessed on June 28, 2017).

12According to the OECD, “Official development assistance (ODA) is defined as government aid designed to promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries. Loans and credits for military purposes are excluded. Aid may be provided bilaterally, from donor to recipient, or channeled through a multilateral development agency such as the United Nations or the World Bank. Aid includes grants, “soft” loans and the provision of technical assistance. Soft loans are those where the grant element is at least 25% of the total. The OECD maintains a list of developing countries and territories; only aid to these countries counts as ODA”. See: (accessed on March 07, 2016).

13The ODA thematic area ‘Conflict, Peace and Security’ (code 152) was made available on the OECD Database for the first time in 1995, storing information to assist with ‘Participation in international peacekeeping operations’. Several years later, additional sub-sectors were created to make them eligible for ODA. In 2002, ‘Removal of land mines and explosive remnants of war’ and ‘Reintegration and SALW (small arms and light weapons) control’ started to figure as sub-sectors. In 2004, three further sub-sectors were included in the database: ‘Child soldiers (Prevention and demobilisation)’, ‘Civilian peacebuilding, conflict prevention and resolution’ and 'Security system management and reform’. See: (accessed on March 22, 2017).

14See: (accessed on March 22, 2017).

15The DAC Database is supplemented, on a quarterly basis, with information provided by DAC countries collected via questionnaires they must complete according to OECD requirements.

16It is important to clarify that the definition of 'security sector’ is contested. Some authors, such as Chuter (2006; apud AGUILAR, 2014), argue the term should only apply to those organizations responsible for providing internal and external security (including the army, law enforcement agencies, and related administrative bodies). The Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces broadened the concept to encompass criminal justice and prison system, as well as civil society organizations (AGUILAR, 2014). Meanwhile, other organizations gravitate towards one or other of these positions, with some placing greater weight on the forces responsible for defense and maintenance of order, and others stressing the importance of other actors in the Security Sector Reform process.

17Constant price against 2013 baseline.

18QWIDS is an online search engine for OECD Statistics. Users can select from a set of variables and the QWIDS pulls up information from the OECD Stat, the database of international development statistics.

19In 2012, the World Bank donated around U$S6 million (constant prices, from 2015 baseline) towards SSR Programs in Latin America. This was the only ODA from the World Bank for SSR in Latin America registered in the OECD Database.

Revised by Matthew Richmond


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Tables of Section 03

Table A01 Canadian aid to SSR Programs in Latin America 2004-2014, by recipient country 

Canadian Aid to SSR Programs in Latin America (2004-2014)
Recipient Country Amount $ %
Americas, regional $1,244,612.56 01
Brazil $105,958.62 0
Colombia $8,257,916.86 05
Dominican Republic $165,824.06 0
Ecuador $268,083.80 0
El Salvador $855,647.57 01
Guatemala $4.733.551,07 03
Haiti $147,467,972.38 89
Honduras $165,824.06 0
Mexico $141,278.16 0
North & South America $79,285.58 0
Peru $5,567.97 0
South American (region) $1,451,532.62 01
Trinidad & Tobago $294,441.30 0
West Indies (region) $830,795.59 01
Total $166,068,292.19 100

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics).

Table A02 United Sates aid to SSR Programs in Latin America 2004-2014, by recipient country 

US Aid to SSR Programs in Latin America (2004-2014)
Recipient Country Amount $ %
Americas, regional $12,186,724.15 07
Argentina $17,684,535.35 10
Brazil $911,753.75 01
Chile $712,807.16 0
Colombia $3,121,400.68 02
Dominican Republic $3,345,183.67 02
El Salvador $42,053,665.48 25
Guatemala $28,207,142.58 17
Guyana $997,913.67 01
Haiti $2,193,216.86 01
Honduras $1,446,250.52 01
Jamaica $11,336,193.91 07
Mexico $22,015,138.36 13
Nicaragua $2,370,578.20 01
North and Central America $10,498,653.58 06
Panama $9,456,503.58 06
Paraguay $1,246,864.62 01
Peru $883,238.43 01
Venezuela $41,500.00 0
Total $170,709,264.54 100

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics).

Table A03 Canadian aid to SSR Programs in Latin America, by nature (or subsector), 2004-2014 

Canadian Aid SSR Programs in Latin America by sub-sector, 2004-2014
Sub-sector Amount %
Citizen Security/Community/Youth Safety/Prevention of Violence $3,418,389.88 02
Border Security and Migration $4,595,033.64 03
Construction/Reconstruction/Infrastructure development $75,553,857.32 45
Human Trafficking $703,037.83 0
Training $21,531,906.60 13
Deployment of Canadian services and Professionals $11,702,752.11 07
Institutional Strengthening, Capacity-building and Governance $29,946,321.03 18
Peace Processes in Colombia and Haiti $18,500,511.55 11
Other $116,482.24 0
Total $166,068,292.19 100

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics).

Table A04 United States aid to SSR Programs in Latin America, by nature (or subsector), 2004-2014 

US Aid to SSR Programs in Latin America by sub-sector, 2004-2014
Sub-sector Total Amount %
Anti-Corruption Reforms $9,857,833.11 06
International Nuclear Materials Protection & Cooperation/Global Threat Reduction (Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons) $58,833,660.25 34
Border Security $4,270,237.99 03
Events, Studies, Courses $131,869.25 0
Governance of the Security Sector $93,145,233.70 55
National Endowment for Democracy Grant $845,890.78 0
US Army Corps Engineers Services $259,987.74 0
Other $3,364,551.73 02
Total $170,709,264.54 100

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics).

Tables of Section 04

Table A05 European Union aid for SSR Programs in Latin America 2004-2014, by recipient country 

EU Aid to SSR Programs in Latin America by recipient country, 2004-2014
Country Amount %
Honduras $12,850,830.22 11%
North & Central America, regional $26,356,553.50 22%
Saint Kitts and Nevis $7,739,704.51 07%
Costa Rica $17,708,444.03 15%
Jamaica $16,728,624.54 14%
Panama $37,174,721.19 31%
Total $118,558,877.99 100%

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics).

Table A06 Inter-American Development Bank Special Fund aid for SSR Programs in Latin America 2004-2014, by recipient country 

IADB Special Fund to SSR Programs in Latin America, by country, 2004-2014
Country Amount %
Bolivia $550,000.00 01%
Brazil R$ 552,905.72 01%
Chile $310,000.00 0%
Colombia $4,624.84 0%
Guyana $21,291,693.95 23%
Honduras $60,115,931.46 64%
Mexico $497,057.57 01%
Nicaragua $150,792.47 0%
North and Central America $9,845,700.95 11%
Total $93,318,706.97 100%

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics).

Table A07 United Nations aid for SSR Programs in Latin America 2004-2014, by recipient country 

United Nations aid to SSR Programs in Latin America, by recipient country, 2004-2014
Country Amount %
Antigua and Barbuda $786.70 0
Argentina $44,874.23 01
Bolivia $503,849.59 6
Colombia $703,188.35 08
Dominica $628.23 0
El Salvador R$ 78,395.34 01
Guatemala $5,782,401.80 69
Haiti $550,656.34 07
Honduras $15,597.32 0
Nicaragua $245,397.45 03
Saint Lucia $1,269.98 0
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines $10,502.25 0
South America, regional $100,526.47 01
Trinidad and Tobago $5,897.79 0
Uruguay $2,044.89 0
Venezuela $32,945.53 0
West Indies, regional $317,263.64 04
Total $8,396,225.91 100

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics).

Table A08 European Union aid to SSR Programs in Latin America 2004-2014, by sub-sector 

EU Aid to SSR Programs in Latin America by Sub-sector, 2004-2014
Sub-sector Amount %
Citizen Security (Youth Violence/Crime Prevention/Community Policing) $94,208,652.25 79
Governance and Management $16,728,624.54 14
Border Security $7,621,601.21 06
Total $118,558,877.99 100

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics).

Table A09 IADB Special Fund aid to SSR Programs in Latin America 2004-2014, by sub-sector 

IADB Special Fund to SSR Programs in Latin America, by sub-sector, 2004-2014
Sub-sector Amount %
Citizen Security (Youth Violence/Crime Prevention/Community Policing) $86,702,509.08 93
Governance and Management $1,783,234.54 02
Studies and Events for the dissemination of knowledge $2,220,861.43 02
Networks and platforms for sharing information $886,977.28 01
Others $1,725,124.64 02
Total $93,318,706.97 100

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics).

Table A10 UN aid to SSR Programs in Latin America 2004-2014, by sub-sector 

UN aid to SSR Programs in Latin America, by sub-sector, 2004-2014
Sub-sector Amount %
Citizen Security (Youth Violence/Crime Prevention/Community Policing) $6,375,541.66 76
Governance and Management $847,333.36 10
Disarmament and Peace Process $547,569.17 07
Technical Assistance and Studies $519,446.90 06
Others $106,334.82 01
Total $8,396,225.91 100

Source: DAC/OECD Database via QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics).

Received: August 09, 2017; Accepted: January 05, 2018

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