In a sign of a shift towards greater gender-equality in Latin America, it is common nowadays to find female presidents in the region, which helps fight the culture of machismo that Latin America has historically been known for.
Additionally, it is worth noting that in recent months, female officers have achieved high-ranking posts within their country’s security forces (both in the armed forces and police).
A positive step in women’s rights development
Within the past year, the governments Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela have promoted female officers to important security posts. For example, in July 2012, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez promoted Carmen Melendez de Maniglia to the rank of Admiral; making her the first female Venezuelan citizen to be appointed to this position.
Moreover, this past July, Admiral Melendez was named by President Nicolas Maduro asthe new Minister of Defense(she is also the first woman to hold this position). Furthermore, this past May in Bolivia, President Evo Morales promoted Gina Reque Teran as the landlocked nation’s first female General of the Bolivian Army.
It is not just ALBA nations that are making important progressive achievements regarding gender equality in security agencies. In mid-August,General Luz Marina Bustoswas named as the deputy director of the Colombian police. As with the aforementioned Bolivian and Venezuelan examples, this is the first time that a female Colombian police officer has received this distinguished appointment.
Female officers in the front lines
At the beginning of 2013, the Pentagon lifted its ban on allowing women to participate in U.S. combat operations. In contrast, Latin American countries with female military personnel have yet to begin a major debate over this issue, and women are generally only allowed to carry out support operations or perform office work, away from the “front line,” where combat operations take place.
However, the nature of security threats in Latin America blurs what constitutes a “front line.” Unlike the U.S., Latin American security forces do not have to be deployed to Central Asia to combat terrorist movements. Internal security threats that Latin American governments endure implies that the definition of a “front line” quickly becomes unclear.
Certainly, Peru’s major narco-terrorist movement,Shining Path,has been severely weakened and it operates in two specific areas in the Peruvian highlands (in the Huallaga and VRAEM Valleys), but during its apex, it carried out a plethora of attacks throughout most of Peru.
Similarly, Mexico’s infamous drug cartels are in a constant turf war between each other and against the government, indicating there is no actual “front line,” except hotspots that are more dangerous than others (i.e. Nuevo Laredo by the U.S.-Mexico border).
This means that female Latin American security personnel have had to combat criminal groups, drug cartels and/or insurgent movements without ever having been deployed to particular hotspots. This is certainly true for thousands of female police officers and intelligence operatives that have battled criminal groups for the past decades, from Mexico to Argentina.
Nancy Flores Paucar, a captain and helicopter pilot for the Peruvian police, provides a strong example of female personnel putting their life on the line in the call of duty. She was killed when her helicopter was shot down in April 2012 by Shining Path insurgents during a routine non-combat mission in the VRAEM valley.
Finally, it is important to stress that female military personnel have also been deployed to hotspots outside of their countries’ borders, under the flag of the UN, like MINUSTAH in Haiti. For example, a January 2011 issue of the magazineDialogue, published by the U.S. Southern Command, featured an article about two female air force pilots from Colombia and Peru currently deployed to the Caribbean island as MINUSTAH peacekeepers.
The future of women in Latin America’s security agencies
The appointment of female officers to senior positions in Latin American security agencies, like Bolivia’s Army, Venezuela’s Navy and Colombia’s police, is a positive development as it promotes greater gender equality in regional security forces. Similarly positive is the deployment of female troops to UN missions such as MINUSTAH.
Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Latin American countries will soon take part in a debate over the deployment of female personnel to the “front lines.” For example, a 2008 scholarly article regarding women in the Dominican Republic’s armed forces explains that machismo attitudes still exist and will need to be overcome in that country regarding the role and career opportunities of women in its security forces.
Nevertheless, the aforementioned examples of female officers that have been recently promoted to senior positions, as well as women putting their lives on the line for their nations even if they were not deployed as combat troops (like Peru’s Captain Flores Paucar), only supports the idea that this debate should happen soon.