Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Article excerpt

Key Problems

* Bases represent a commitment of resources that could otherwise be used for constructive social and environmental programs.

* U.S. military installations operate in a legal limbo; military personnel are not accountable to local law, and there is little transparency. The United States is using its base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to circumvent international law regarding prisoners of war.

* Military bases overseas often leave behind ecological damage, since there are no mechanisms to require environmental cleanup.

The soldiers and contract employees that the U.S. military deploys to bases in Latin America and the Caribbean far outnumber the staffs of U.S. civilian agencies in the region. The presence of more than 10,000 U.S. personnel on military missions abroad sends a message that the United States prefers force over diplomacy to settle the region's problems, including problems that involve conflict with the United States. In addition to their role in facilitating military operations, U.S. bases are a symbol of Washington's history of armed intervention and of its use of local armies to control the region's people and resources. Several U.S. bases in the Caribbean were explicitly acquired, not by mutual agreement but through conquests in the 1898 Spanish-American-Cuban War.

Besides evoking the past, the bases are contracted into a future beyond any articulated military mission. Plan Colombia was originally envisioned as a two-year push into guerrilla-occupied southern territories, with vague plans for subsequent years. In contrast, the Pentagon has ten-year leases in Ecuador, Curacao, and Aruba and a presence in perpetuity at its naval base in Guantanamo. This permanent infrastructure generates inequitable relations and invites intervention instead of negotiation in a crisis situation, as it did in Panama and Puerto Rico (historically, the sites for other long-term U.S. bases in the region).

The cooperative security locations, purportedly created to monitor drug traffic, have no mechanism for transparency or monitoring by civil society in the host countries and are thus subject to other missions. This is especially disturbing in light of the expansion of U.S. objectives in Colombia to include "counterterrorism." As early as 1999, a State Department official said that "the new counternarcotics bases located in Ecuador, Aruba and Curacao will be strategic points for closely following the steps of the [Colombian] guerrillas." Aircraft from the Manta base were even used to locate and detain a fishing boat carrying Ecuadoreans who were suspected of planning to enter the United States.

Similarly, the mission for troops at Guantanamo Bay has morphed from orchestrating counterdrug operations to providing an off-shore jail for migrants and, since late 2001, prisoners of war. These operations have no accountability under U.S. or international law and undermine Cuba's sovereignty.

The dramatically increased U.S. military involvement in Colombia and the spillover of conflict in the border region have generated alarm among broad sectors of Ecuadorean society--including the military--over the potentially destabilizing role of the Manta base. One Ecuadorean officer points out that the base's electronic intelligence capability provides information that can be used by Colombian counterinsurgency units trained by the United States. Other opponents of the U.S. presence note that Ecuador's Congress never considered or approved the base agreement, as the Ecuadorean Constitution requires. …

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