U.S. Slowly Expanding Military Reach in Latin America

By Gaudin, Andres | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, August 24, 2012 | Go to article overview

U.S. Slowly Expanding Military Reach in Latin America


Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


When in early June Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador were able to persuade the 33 Latin American members of the Organization of American States (OAS) to set a year-end deadline for analyzing what they called the "refounding" of the OAS, everyone thought that they were only adding a little spice into the boring OAS General Assembly being held at the time at the Universidad del Valle de Tiquipaya in the Bolivian department of Cochabamba (NotiSur, July 13, 2012).

However, with their request to end much of the institutional structure of the OAS--the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB), the InterAmerican Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR)--and the proposal to declare a ban on allowing foreign (US) military bases in Latin America, Morales and Correa were, as South Americans say, "stirring up a hornet's nest."

The two presidents said that the agencies were suitable for times long since past, a product of the now nonexistent Cold War, and that the bases go against the pacifist ideals of the peoples of the Americas. Certainly, beyond whatever the region's foreign ministers can agree to in December regarding reforms to the OAS, merely spelling out the criticisms led to information becoming known that was previously ignored or, in some countries, to decisions being made that either go against or are in sync with what was said in Cochabamba.

Some progressive governments unexpectedly give US green light

The first surprise came from Uruguay, where the historically progressive governing party, the Frente Amplio (FA), which has severely criticized the US, opened the doors to the US Navy's Sea, Air, and Land Teams--the SEALs--to give specialized training to members of the Uruguayan Navy's Cuerpo de Fusileros Navales (CFN).

It was soon learned that in Paraguay, following the June 22 coup against constitutional President Fernando Lugo, a traditional opposition party that today functions within the de facto government proposed to Congress making available a controversial base in the center of the country where the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) could operate, "close to all the strategic targets in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela."

Then, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner overruled a decision by Gov. Jorge Capitanich of the northern province of Chaco, forcing him to break a facilities agreement signed with the Pentagon (May 22, 2009). Finally, previously unknown aspects of agreements signed by Panama, Chile, Peru, and Colombia with the US armed forces were made public. Amid all this, a debate began at the continental level, which shed light on the new US military strategy in the region.

In mid-June, and only because of complaints from neighbors in the area where the training was taking place, it became known that a contingent of 15 Navy personnel from the US Fourth Fleet was giving training in "hostage-rescue operations" at the CFN facilities. Everything was planned surreptitiously.

The Uruguayan Ministerio de Defensa never announced these courses, the necessary legislative approval for foreign troops to enter the country was passed as a matter of urgency and without debate.

Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro, a former Tupamaro guerrilla leader who was jailed for 13 years in various military facilities, refused to make a public statement.

When an opposition deputy in Congress asked what justified the entry of the SEALs into the country, Ivonne Passada, president of the defense committee and another former prisoner during the 1973-1985 dictatorship, called the question "inappropriate." Congress approved the agreement with the Pentagon with only vague and imprecise information and with a never-explained urgency, said the Uruguayan magazine Brecha.

Beyond these apparent inconsistencies of the Tupamaros and the FA government, criticism arose in Argentina, Ecuador, and Uruguay that the Uruguayan government had not informed the Consejo de Defensa Suramericano (CDS), as the foreign ministers had agreed at the 2010 summit in Quito, Ecuador. …

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