Guns, Not Butter, for Latin America's Poorest

Military spending is increasing in South and Central America — and so is poverty, as regional governments are opting to spending limited resources weapons instead of development. Defense spending in the region has nearly doubled in the past five years to $47.2 billion in 2008, according to studies cited in a Miami Herald column, which also notes a simmering border dispute between Chile and Peru. Elsewhere in the region, Brazil struck a multi-billion-dollar deal with France to buy fighter jets and other weapons systems, according to news reports, while Venezuela just secured a $2 billion line of credit with Russia to buy combat helicopters, tanks and advanced anti-aircraft missiles, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, World Bank statistics anticipate that the ranks of the poor in the region will swell by 6 million people this year. A report by Knowledge @ Wharton confirms increasing poverty in the region, with millions of people expected to join the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed.

Across the Heartland, U.S. Military Suicides Spike

From Ohio to Texas, newspapers around the United States are running local stories on a surge in suicides and trauma involving members of the U.S. military. The Cleveland Plain Dealer is looking at the apparent suicide of Army Pvt. Keiffer Wilhelm. At Fort Hood, in Texas, multiple soldiers have committed suicide every year since the Iraq war began, the Austin American Statesman reports. The Indianapolis Star did a four-part series in September that detailed how Sgt.

Children Still Soldiers in Global Battlefields

Up to 200,000 children have been forced into armed service by government troops and rebel groups in 20 countries throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, according to news reports. This ranges from conscription of teenage boys into the Peruvian army, as reported in, to grim stories of children used in terrorist operations. In one such incident, Inter Press Service reports that Iraqi insurgents placed explosives on a young girl and detonated her by remote control. The worst abuses are found in Myanmar, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo; insurgent fighters in Afghanistan, Burundi, Nepal, the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Colombia also habitually conscript child soldiers. The Daily Star of Lebanon also reported various Palestinian groups are still using children as soldiers.

'Blood Minerals' Taint Electronic Gadgets

A new report by a Washington-based advocacy group links sexual violence in Africa and electronics manufacturing. Tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold are mined in illegal operations, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then sent abroad to be used in electronic gadgets such as iPods, cell phones and laptops. Local rebel factions in the DRC trade these “conflict minerals” for weapons, and routinely terrorize residents in contested regions, according to the Enough Project’s findings. This includes looting, burning of property and ever-increasing sexual violence against women and girls. According to the study, more than 1,000 rapes are reported in the DRC monthly — the highest rate in the world.

Pigs Used in Roadside Bomb Tests

The Pentagon used live pigs and rats to test body armor used against roadside bomb attacks, reports USA Today. The tests included almost 200 blasts, and measured brain and body trauma. Animals that weren’t wearing body armor died in about two days; those with armor survived “significantly higher blasts,” according to a spokesperson for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Pentagon officials noted some similarities between pigs and humans, but critics said the two were not comparable, and called for an end to the testing. According to the newspaper, roadside bombs are “the top killer of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Tech-Savvy Targets for British Army Ads

A new British Army ad campaign seeks to recruit tech savvy youth, reports The Independent. The Internet-based ads create an interactive environment in which participants can test their mettle in simulated online missions. Their hope is to reel in teenage boys who have grown up playing video games, and have valuable high-tech skills. The British Army is already stretched thin, and needs 16,000 new recruits per year. Yet their target audience is a hard sell.

El Salvador Amnesty Again Under Scrutiny

A Spanish judge said he would prosecute 14 military officers from El Salvador for the 1989 massacre of eight Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. The case challenges El Salvador’s amnesty law, reports the Chicago Tribune, and also is a new test for the “universal jurisdiction” principal, which Spain used in 1998 in its attempt to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for crimes against humanity. The soldiers involved in the killing were imprisoned for a few years, but have been free since the amnesty law was passed in 1993 after El Salvador’s 12-year civil war ended. Although human-rights campaigners are pushing for a change in the law, so far there is no drive inside the country to do so. Even the leftist front-runner in El Salvador’s upcoming presidential elections broke with his party’s position, saying that he would leave the amnesty law in place if he were to win the poll.

Russia Plans New Military Bases Near Georgia

A plan to open military bases in the contested province of Abkhazia could threaten Georgia and extend Russian military power abroad, reports Russia is working to restore an old Soviet air base in the breakaway Georgian region, and plans to open a naval base on the Black Sea as well. Abkhazia’s separatist government welcomes the bases due to what Russian military officials call the “threat of … terrorist attacks by Georgian special services.” Yet the new bases shine a more strategic light on Russia’s support for Abkhazian independence.

Year's Top Issues: War Crimes

The world is full of ghosts and memories of the many war crimes enacted during the last part of the 20th century. But issues and people around the violence remain very much alive. In the Balkans, the high-profile arrest of former Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic, who helped spearhead the region’s genocidal civil wars, brought additional pressure to arrest other, less-well-known Serb leaders who remain on the run. One reader commented on the Web site that Croats and Bosniaks are also to blame, and that a focus on Serbs is one-sided. Targeting Rwanda, Spain indicted 40 Army officers as well as Rwandan President Paul Kagame over the killing of aid workers in the 1990s — charges that Kagame fiercely rejected.