Twenty Years After End Of The Cold War: Pentagon’s Buildup In Latin America

This year began with Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, visiting Colombia in mid-January and meeting with that nation’s defense minister and top military commander. While in Bogota, Mullen railed against the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas and accused the government of Venezuela of conniving with them.

Less than two months and the inauguration of a new president later, America’s top military commander returned to Colombia, the third largest recipient of U.S. military assistance in the world, as part of a Latin American tour that also took him to Brazil, Chile, Peru and Mexico. Upon returning to Washington Mullen said that “The U.S. military is ready to help Mexico in its deadly war against drug cartels with some of the same counter-insurgency tactics used against militant networks in Iraq and Afghanistan” [1] and “the Plan Colombia aid package could be an ‘overarching’ model for Pakistan and Afghanistan….” [2]

He was then speaking for the Barack Obama and no longer the George W. Bush administration but Mullen, like his superior Defense Secretary Robert Gates who nominated him for his current post in 2007, was advocating a military and geostrategic polity that is pursued regardless of who occupies the Oval Office in the White House and whose photograph adorns the State Department’s Harry S. Truman Building headquarters in Foggy Bottom.

Military commanders and former CIA directors like Mullen and Gates have seen a succession of presidents and secretaries of state pass by during their professional careers and the latter, like shadows on a wall, have not affected in any substantive manner plans for international military and intelligence expansion. Elected officials and their civilian appointees are to be humored, cajoled or ignored as the situation requires but have never stood in the way of the creation and maintenance of a 65-year-old military-security-intelligence state with its tentacles extended into every latitude and longitude of the planet.

The role of American elected officials on the federal level and what the nation and the world politely pretend to consider its diplomatic corps is to issue a steady stream of imprecations against “rogue regimes” and frighten the domestic populace with inflated if not entirely concocted claims of other, non-Western, nations’ military threats, the better to give the Pentagon (which may play the part of a coy and hesitant ingenue for public consumption) what it wants.

Witness the false alarm sounded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on May 1st of this year when she, striking the pose of a modern Paul Revere, warned that Washington’s backyard was besieged by specters of the Cold War once thought long laid to rest and spoke of the need to “counter growing Iranian, Chinese and Russian influence in the Western Hemisphere,” lamenting that “Republican President George W. Bush’s policy had been counterproductive, allowing leftist leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega to promote anti-U.S. sentiment and rely on aid from China, Iran and Russia.” [3]

The fact that the three heads of state identified by Clinton as a New World Axis of Evil irrationally bent on contaminating their neighbors with an “anti-U.S. sentiment” were popularly elected is of no concern to Washington. Central and South American electorates have voted before in ways displeasing to the U.S. – Guatemala in 1951, Guyana in 1953 and 1961, Chile in 1970 – and Washington successfully reversed the outcomes through subversion and coups d’etat.

The month after Clinton’s statement U.S.-trained commanders in Honduras ordered troops to storm the residence of President Manuel Zelaya, abduct him and fly him to exile in Costa Rica. The leader of the coup, School of the Americas-trained General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, also dispatched troops to assault the ambassadors of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, as though he had studied Hillary Clinton’s comments and taken them to heart.

Following the armed overthrow of the Honduran government on June 28, a state of affairs still not reversed over four months afterward notwithstanding the U.S.’s decisive leverage over the ringleaders in Tegucigalpa, media coverage was rife with allusions to a return to the era of Latin American coups staged and backed by Washington during the Cold War.

This November 9th will mark the twentieth anniversary of the event that more than any other is acknowledged as having signalled the end of the Cold War: The opening of the gates along the wall dividing East and West Berlin. The fall of the Berlin Wall.

At the time much of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief and in some quarters emitted a whoop of triumph, expecting that the end of the decades-long U.S.-Soviet conflict would issue in a golden age of global harmony, disarmament, the elimination of nuclear weapons and a massive peace dividend to fund civilian needs long given short shrift during the preceding forty-three years.

Those hopes turned out to be so many vain opium reveries.

Warning signs were evident even at the time.

The former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was abruptly and without a referendum absorbed into the Federal Republic (West Germany) – and into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a U.S.-dominated military bloc – and the 1990 Western armed buildup in the Persian Gulf and the next year’s war with Iraq followed almost immediately.

One didn’t have to wait that long, however, to discover that the fruits of a Western victory in the Cold War were sour. Were poison.

Less than a month following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, on December 2, 1989 U.S. president George H.W. Bush and his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev led respective national delegations to the Mediterranean island nation of Malta for a summit described fairly typically since as “the most important since 1945, when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet premier Joseph Stalin and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed on a post-war plan for Europe at Yalta.” [4]

The American delegation, incidentally, included two officials who weren’t familiar to many observers at the time but would become so over a decade later: Then Director for Soviet and East European Affairs at the National Security Council Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz.

Within days of the summit’s completion and as though to suggest that the two leaders agreed to address respective Cold War era thorns in their sides, ten days of violence erupted in Romania on December 16, culminating in the nation’s aged leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, and his wife Elena dragged before a firing squad on Christmas Day.

In the middle of that ten-day uprising Washington launched an armed invasion of Panama, Operation Just Cause, with over 27,000 troops and 300 aircraft, deposing President Manuel Noriega, who continues to languish in an American prison cell almost twenty years later.

The post-Cold War world order was baptized in blood.

Following the Panama attack and the next two years’ preparation for and activation of war plans against Iraq, the U.S. and its allies observed an almost decent interval – aside from wreaking carnage in Somalia, conducting ongoing bombing runs in Iraq, bombing Bosnian Serb targets with depleted uranium-tipped shells and firing cruise missiles into Afghanistan and Sudan – until 1999, when the U.S. and NATO launched a 78-day air war against Yugoslavia and right afterward Washington inaugurated Plan Colombia. The latter has resulted in Washington providing almost $5 billion in military assistance to Colombia since 2000. Current American vice president Joseph Biden pushed the hard-line – counterinsurgency – version of the initiative in the U.S. Senate in 1999.

Since then there has been a reactivation of the worst aspects of the Cold War period. Just as then, political change in any country is viewed through the prism of what it means in terms of alignment with or apart from the United States. And neutrality is not an option. The top official in charge of American foreign policy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has indicated her view of Latin American nations attempting an independent regional and global orientation. They are enemies. And are the proxies of larger adversaries: Russia, China and Iran.

On October 30 the U.S. and the Alvaro Uribe regime in Colombia signed an agreement during a closed-door ceremony in Bogota for the Pentagon to acquire seven new military bases in the South American country. [5]

“One of the bases involved, at Palanquero, 180 kilometers (110 miles) west of Bogota, boasts a 3.5-km (two-mile) runway adapted for large cargo planes, which critics say would allow the US to project itself far beyond Colombia’s borders.” [6]

“The United States maintains similar ‘forward operating locations’ in El Salvador and Aruba-Curacao [Netherlands Antilles].” [7]

Colombian troops illegally entered neighboring Venezuela last August and Caracas claims to have apprehended Colombian paramilitaries on its soil at the time of the signing of the U.S.-Colombia bases deal on October 30.

In late September, less than two months after elections brought pro-Washington President Ricardo Martinelli to power, Panama’s La Prensa newspaper announced that the new government will “sign a treaty with the United States on the opening of two U.S. naval bases on its territory….”

Minister of Government and Justice Jose Raul Mulino was quoted confirming that “The U.S. and Panama will sign before October 30 an agreement on the deployment of two naval bases on the Pacific coast of our country….One of the bases will be located in Bahia Pina…450 kilometers [280 miles] east of the capital, Panama City, and another one – in Punta Coca about 350 km [217 miles] west of the capital.” [8]

American bases had been closed and troops brought home in 1999 in accordance with the 1977 treaty signed by the two nations. However, Washington led the 11-day PANAMAX 2009 military exercise in September with forces from Argentina, Brazil, Belize, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and NATO allies Canada, France and the Netherlands. The formal purpose of the maneuvers was to “simulate a terrorist threat in the Panama Canal,” Gerald W. Ketchum, U.S. Operation, Preparation and Mobilization sub-director from the Southern Command, claimed. [9]

A comparable multinational exercise, Honduras-Commando Force 2007, was held in the nearby Central American nation two years earlier which included “marine, air and shelling operations” and the participation of troops from the United States, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. The drills were also described as “anti-terrorist exercises…under the aegis of the United States under the pretext of an alleged attack by the Al Qaeda network.” [10]

What purpose U.S. training of the Honduran armed forces in fact has been put to was demonstrated last June 28. The Pentagon maintains its Joint Task Force-Bravo at the Soto Cano Air Base in the nation.

Further south, in 2007 two retired Peruvian military intelligence officers, Jesus Suasnabar and Juan Castro, exposed American plans to construct a base in their country to replace the military base in Manta, Ecuador from which the U.S. has now been evicted.

“The two ex-military officers pointed out that the US base would be the center of domination of Peruvian and Brazilian Amazonia, where multinational rapid-action forces would be deployed….[T]he military base would also prevent the consolidation of an energy bloc made up of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela….Peru might get involved in the Colombian conflict, as the military facility would be used to intervene in that country.” [11]

Washington has now compensated, and far more than compensated, for the loss of the air base at Manta with the acquisition of seven new bases in Colombia, positioning its military closer to that country’s eastern border with Venezuela. (And perhaps its southwestern border with Ecuador.)

As with all other parts of the world, where the Pentagon goes so do its NATO allies. Until earlier this year Great Britain was reported to be the second largest provider of military aid to Colombia.

In Venezuela’s eastern neighbor, Guyana, the Pentagon deployed 650 troops (infantry, naval and air force) this July for New Horizons Guyana, “a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored annual exercise starting July 1 designed to strengthen ties with partner nations in Central and South America….” [12]

In recent days a controversy has arisen in Guyana after Britain withdrew assistance for a security project following the Guyanese government’s “refusal to allow training by UK Special Forces on a western border location with live firing….” [13] Guyana’s western border is with Venezuela. A letter to a local newspaper denounced the “U.K.’s demands for the training of British Special Forces officers on Guyana’s territory, and worse yet, in close proximity to Guyana’s South American neighbours, namely, Brazil and Venezuela.

“Such a request from the British must be seen as unreasonable, an affront to Guyana’s territorial sovereignty and could even undermine Guyana’s relationship with her neighbours whom we know from previous experiences could interpret the presence of Western military personnel in close proximity to their borders as an act of hostility or concern and may even spark an arms race in South America.” [14]

In Guyana’s eastern neighbor, Suriname, the Pentagon has also been busy. Two years ago U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited and secured “military premises on its territory.

“Suriname President Ronald Venetiaan said the United States wants to build military premises in Surinamese soil to test the capabilities of military vehicles in the forest,” Associated Press reported on October of 2007. [15]

Anticipating American military chief Mullen’s tour this March, “Before his…visit to Suriname, Gates met leaders in El Salvador, Colombia, Chile and Peru.” [16]

The eastern-most of the three Guianas, the French, is still an overseas department and used for various military purposes.

French military instructors at a camp on the premises of the Guiana Space Center in Kourou “operate one of the most grueling courses in jungle warfare and survival, opening it to Special Forces from around the world….

The base’s “main purpose is preparing legionnaires for hardships in places where France still uses them for military intervention, like Chad, Djibouti or Ivory Coast.” [17]

Three years ago Paris used the space center, “which each year launches into orbit about half of the world’s commercial satellite payloads,” [18] for another objective. It launched “the military satellite Syracuse 3B from Kourou in French Guiana thereby creating the conditions for faster and more efficient military exercises abroad.

“The satellite is to be made available to Germany’s military and to the NATO alliance.”

The Syracuse satellites “cover an area extending from the eastern United States to eastern China and would multiply the existing transfer capacity by ten…of France and the European Union to act.” [19]

No part of the world is now isolated from and left unmolested by the West’s worldwide military network.

This past September the new president of Paraguay Fernando Lugo (elected last year) cancelled the U.S. Southern Command’s scheduled New Horizons military maneuvers after the announcement that Washington was going to sign the agreement with Colombia for seven new bases. Lugo said of his government’s decision “There would be about 500 US military and other personnel in the country and that wouldn’t go unnoticed.” [20]

Elections in Central and South America over the past eleven years – Venezuela in 1998 and since, Argentina in 2003, Uruguay in 2004, Bolivia in 2005, Ecuador and Nicaragua in 2006, Paraguay in 2008, El Salvador in 2009 and for while in Panama after 2004 and Honduras after 2006 – have severely limited the scope of the Pentagon’s plans to renew and expand its presence in Latin America. To compensate for these unprecedented losses, long-time military clients in Colombia and Peru are being tapped for greater commitments and concentrated efforts are being exerted to recruit Brazil and Chile into the fold. [21]

Three years ago retired Brazilian scholar Luiz Alberto Moniz Bandeira provided an outline of American armed forces plans for South America:

“They occupy an area extending from Guiana into Colombia….Most of them are not uniformed soldiers, but employees of what are known as private sector military companies. The Pentagon has been outsourcing war operations since the 1990s. These private military contractors have been playing an important role in military operations exactly because they are outside restrictions imposed by the US Congress.” [22]

Twenty years after the end of the Cold War and ten after NATO declared itself a global organization rivaling and ultimately supplanting the United Nations, the Western Hemisphere south of the United States is not being spared in plans for a Western-dominated international military bloc. In August the Colombian regime announced that it would “send 84 soldiers to join NATO forces in Afghanistan in yet another nod to US wishes,” [23] joining troops from four other continents.

In 1989 no one could have foreseen that a decade later Western military expansion would begin a process that led to American bases in parts of the world where their presence was hitherto unimaginable: Kosovo, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Australia, Bulgaria and Romania. And the first permanent U.S. base in Africa, Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, with a new regional military command, AFRICOM, covering the entire continent. [24]

That Washington would gain strategic air bases on the Black Sea and in Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Would conduct military exercises in Cambodia, East Timor, Gabon, Georgia, India, Mali, Mongolia, Senegal, Uganda and Ukraine. Would redeploy its military to the Philippines and permanently assign troops to Israel and Poland to staff missile radar and interceptor missile bases. Would stake out the Arctic Circle for military and missile shield deployments.

The Cold War ended a generation ago. Wars did not. Neither did the militarization of the world, which has instead intensified, reaching even into space.

1) Reuters, March 6, 2009

2) Reuters, March 5, 2009

3) Associated Press, May 1, 2009

4) Wikipedia

5) Colombia: U.S. Escalates War Plans In Latin America

Stop NATO, July 22, 2009

Colombia: U.S. Escalates War Plans In Latin America

6) Agence France-Presse, October 30, 2009

7) CNN, October 30, 2009

8) Russian Information Agency Novosti, September 27, 2009

9) Xinhua News Agency, September 12, 2009

10) Prensa Latina, June 23, 2007

11) Prensa Latina, December 27, 2007

12) Air Forces Southern Command, May 29, 2009

13) Stabroek News, October 29, 2009

14) Stabroek News, October 29, 2009

15) El Universal, October 8, 2007

16) Canadian Press, October 7, 2007

17) New York Times, December 1, 2008

18) Ibid

19) Deutsche Presse-Agentur, August 12, 2006

20) Press TV, September 18, 2009

21) NATO Of The South: Chile, South Africa, Australia, Antarctica

Stop NATO, May 30, 2009

NATO Of The South: Chile, South Africa, Australia, Antarctica

22) Agencia Brasil, January 19, 2006

23) Press TV, August 8, 2009

24) AFRICOM: Pentagon Prepares Direct Military Intervention In Africa

Stop NATO, August 24, 2009

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