Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

U.S. Military Bases in Latin America and the Caribbean

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

U.S. Military Bases in Latin America and the Caribbean

Article excerpt

Key Points

* Military bases in Latin America and the Caribbean are an interlocking web that supports U.S. objectives for securing access to markets, controlling narcotics flow, and obtaining natural resources, especially oil.

* Although the United States has closed bases in Panama and Puerto Rico, it has opened an array of smaller bases throughout the region, including several that support U.S. operations in Colombia.

* Base operations and maintenance are increasingly being contracted to private companies.

The United States maintains a complex web of military facilities and functions in Latin America and the Caribbean, what the U.S. Southern Command (known as SouthCom) calls its "theater architecture." U.S. military facilities represent tangible commitments to an ineffective supply-side drug war and to underlying policy priorities, including ensuring access to strategic resources, especially oil.

Much of this web is being woven through Plan Colombia, a massive, primarily military program to eradicate coca plants and to combat armed groups (mostly leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). In the last five years, new U.S. bases and military access agreements have proliferated in Latin America, constituting a decentralization of the U.S. military presence in the region. This decentralization is Washington's way of maintaining a broad military foothold while accommodating regional leaders' reluctance to host large U.S. military bases or complexes.

After the U.S. military withdrawal from Panama in 1999, military troops and commands were reconcentrated in Puerto Rico, adding fuel to a nonviolent mass movement to throw the Navy out of its bombing range in Vieques, Puerto Rico. On May 1, 2003, the Navy vacated the Vieques range (though it remains in federal hands) and followed in March 2004 by closing the massive Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. Regional headquarters for the Army, Navy, and Special Forces have moved out of Puerto Rico to Texas and Florida; headquarters of SouthCom (the joint command) is located in Miami.

The Navy continues to operate an "outer range" of nearly 200,000 square miles to practice high-tech naval maneuvers, an underwater tracking range for submarines, and an electronic warfare range in waters near Vieques. The ranges are used by the Navy and by military contractors to test sophisticated ships and weapon systems. The Army also has access to a large National Guard firing range, Camp Santiago, in Salinas, Puerto Rico.

In addition, the Pentagon is investing in expanded infrastructure in the region, with four military bases in Manta, Ecuador; Aruba; Curacao; and Comalapa, El Salvador, known as "cooperative security locations," or CSLs. These CSLs are leased facilities established to conduct counternarcotics monitoring and interdiction operations. …

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