Land mines in Central America
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Contrary to the requirements of generally accepted international law, the minefields of Central America were usually unmarked and unrecorded on maps. Once placed, mines remain active for years, waiting the pressure of an unwary foot to detonate.
With an estimated 100,000 land mines buried across Central America, mainly in Nicaragua, there was grave concern over their location and removal or deactivation as the Cold War began to wind down. In August 1991 Nicaragua asked the OAS for assistance, and the Secretary General forwarded the request to the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB), which sent a group of staff officers to Nicaragua to assess the situation.
A Demining Plan was developed under which the IADB, working with U.S. technical experts, would supervise the training of teams of Nicaraguan demining personnel. The Nicaraguan program operated for six months in 1993 before being suspended due to funding limitations (it was reinitiated in 1996). In those first six months, the teams destroyed almost 3,000 mines.
Subsequently demining operations have been launched in Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala. The primary responsibility for the program lay with the OAS’ Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, with the IADB providing technical support and planning assistance. The goal was to make Central America essentially a mine-free area as soon as possible.
Demining activities began in Costa Rica along the border of Nicaragua in October 1996. With support from the OAS, the Ministry of Public Security has undertaken both mine clearance operations and a public awareness component to prevent accidents involving the civilian population. To date more than 300 of the estimated 1,000 existing mines and unexploded devices have been found and destroyed. Because Costa Rica possesses no stockpiled mines, completion of demining operations will convert it to a mine-free nation.
In Honduras, demining operations began in September 1995, and since that time, ten operational modules have been supported, resulting in the destruction of more than 2,200 mines. As a result of these operations, numerous tracts of land have been reclaimed and turned over to local authorities for development. In November 2000, Honduras became the first of the OAS Member States to eliminate entirely its stockpiled antipersonnel mines when the Honduran Army destroyed its reserves of nearly 8,000 mines.
Following the signing of a peace agreement in Guatemala, the OAS provided assistance in developing a mine and unexploded ordnance clearance program, which was launched in 1998. The Guatemalan National Commission for Peace and Demining has overall responsibility for the national project. Also participating in the program are the Volunteer Firemen’s Corps, the Guatemalan Army and demobilized members of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Union. Operations in Guatemala are somewhat unusual within the OAS program, as the primary threat comes from the approximately 8,000 unexploded devices, including mortar and artillery shells, aerial bombs and hand grenades, which are scattered throughout Guatemalan territory. The clearance process requires extensive cooperation among the three operational components, as well as a concerted effort to communicate with the population of affected zones in order to locate and destroy hazardous items.
- Inter-American Defense Board web site: http://www.jid.org/en/programs/demining/
- "Recobrando tierras condenadas", Americas (OAS), October 1997, pp. 53–55
- "Demining in Central America", OAS/UPD Newsletter, July 1997, pp. 1 & 4.
- Jaime Perales Contreras and Carlos Orozco: The OAS and Landmine Victims in Nicaragua