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Latin America Unveiled: Private Armies, Mercenaries, and Rebellions.

The implementation of strategies to ensure the proper conduct of private military and security companies is essential for Latin America, says Peter Bäckman, Partner at tedcap.

The Conflict

The recent events in Ukraine, notably the uprising led by the Wagner Group and the subsequent demise of its leader Prigozhin, have ignited global conversations about the complex role of private armies in both conflict zones and sovereign territories. Drawing parallels with the situation in Latin America, where private military and security companies (PMSCs) have experienced significant growth, underscores the importance of a comprehensive evaluation of this issue.

Responsible Conduct

Latin America has witnessed a proliferation of private armies, with over 16,000 PMSCs collectively employing millions. This proliferation showcases the dual nature of their impact – promising benefits accompanied by glaring challenges. The surge, particularly in Mexico, has emerged as a response to escalating violence and the rising demand for private security services. However, this growth is shadowed by a lack of proper oversight, exacerbating concerns as a substantial portion of these entities operate without sufficient government regulation.

This absence of accountability carries far-reaching consequences, including instances of violence targeted at local communities and activists opposing the interests of private security clients. Incidents of gangs infiltrating private security firms in El Salvador and allegations of extrajudicial killings in Guatemala underscore the perils of unchecked operations. In response to these concerns, international human rights organizations and government bodies advocate for comprehensive agreements that emphasize authorization protocols, training, compliance and accountability. Enforcing registration laws and creating robust regulatory frameworks become crucial steps in promoting responsible conduct within the industry.

The Balance

While the private army phenomenon extends beyond Latin America, it presents a global challenge. These entities, driven by profit rather than political motives, differ from traditional conflict dynamics due to their detachment from territorial claims and government affiliations. This unique role introduces a diverse set of considerations into the realm of security management for Latin America.

Private armies possess expertise, advanced technology and rapid deployment capabilities that can prove valuable in addressing complex challenges like drug trafficking, insurgency and organized crime. Collaborating with government security forces, upholding ethical standards and adhering to international norms further enhance the potential of these advantages. Balancing the potential benefits and inherent risks requires a multifaceted approach. Strict regulatory measures and comprehensive oversight form the foundation of this approach, with mandatory registration and transparent reporting as essential tools for fostering accountability. Collaboration between private armies and state forces, along with ethical training and accountability mechanisms, can bridge gaps and ensure responsible operations.

Establishing stringent regulatory frameworks is imperative. Governments, in partnership with international organizations, must enforce comprehensive guidelines outlining private armies’ operations, adherence to human rights, accountability mechanisms and compliance with international laws. Uniform implementation of mandatory registration for private military and security companies aids in tracking activities, ensuring transparency and traceability. To maintain equilibrium and prevent disparities in security resources, private armies should collaborate with government security forces. Joint operations under defined command structures optimize both entities’ strengths without diminishing the state’s role.

The Way Forward

Ethical conduct should be central to private armies’ operations. Training programs should focus on human rights, cultural sensitivity and conflict resolution, ensuring high standards of professionalism. In cases of misconduct, robust accountability mechanisms are essential. These mechanisms include independent oversight bodies and avenues for victims to seek justice. Public-private partnerships can manage private armies’ involvement in addressing regional challenges, promoting transparent reporting and shared responsibility. Collaboration with local communities is also vital, ensuring interventions consider their needs and concerns. Adherence to international norms and standards is crucial. Alignment with UN principles ensures operations within the framework of global human rights.

Given the current geopolitical environment, Latin American countries must collaborate to establish regional agreements harmonizing regulations and oversight mechanisms for private armies, maintaining stability and safeguarding human rights.

TEDCAP Partner Peter Backman was featured in Security Journal Americas for this article. Learn more at

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