With resources stretched thin, the US is now teaming up with
small Central American and Caribbean nations to build military bases
to combat drug trafficking.
The US military will build a base for the Dominican Navy on a
small island here, consisting of barracks, a command center, and
reconstructed pier. The project came at the behest of Dominican
authorities witnessing an increase in drug trafficking on their
coastline. It is one example of a regional approach the Pentagon is
taking to catch drug shipments, the bulk of which are destined for
The base is tiny compared with US installations elsewhere in the
Americas, and it will have no US personnel. With its own resources
stretched, the US is increasingly turning to allies like the
Dominican Republic to combat trafficking. The Pentagon has built
similar bases in Belize, Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala, and Costa
Rica and ramped up its presence at the Soto Cano Air Base in western
Honduras, where about 600 US soldiers are stationed.
Despite these efforts, however, only one-third of detected drug
shipments are intercepted and the rate is dropping. "More is getting
through," Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, chief of Southern Command
(SouthCom) told reporters Wednesday, a day after testifying before
the House Armed Service Committee.
Smugglers largely rely on go-fast boats, which have the capacity
to carry more than 4,000 pounds of cocaine, to transport drugs
through the seas. Last year, for the first time, US officials
discovered a drug submarine in the Caribbean. The largest of such
vessels are capable of transporting 10 metric tons (22,000 pounds)
The US command for Latin America is "focused on [its] maritime
mission, which is to support the detection and monitoring of the
traffic through the maritime environments of the Caribbean and the
Pacific," General Fraser testified.
SouthCom and regional military partners seized 117 metric tons of
cocaine, worth about $3 billion to drug cartels, last year, while
criminal groups in the region pocket $18 billion in profits
annually,according to the UN.
US military aid in the Americas is still targeted mostly at
Mexico and Colombia. SouthCom spends about $25 million a year - less
than 6 percent of its budget - on an infrastructure program focused
on 11 countries, nine of which are in Central America and the
"Our support under the program has focused on improving the
interdiction capabilities of partner nations by constructing or
improving infrastructure at forward operating sites which would
include piers, barracks, maintenance centers, and operational
command centers," says Raymond Sarracino, a spokesman for SouthCom.
"We expect militaries in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador
will continue to be called upon to play an important role in
domestic security matters in the coming years," Fraser testified
last week, referring to policing actions to curb what many believe
is trafficking-related violence.
Drugs in the DR
The $1. …