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US expanding Military Presence in Latin America

November 1, 2009

The US and Colombia ratified an agreement on Friday to allow the US greater access to seven military bases in the country.  The deal has been in the works for a couple of months now and it has drawn heavy criticism from many Latin American leaders, most notably Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, but also Evo Morels of Bolivia, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador among others.

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The agreement is supposed to help the US and Colombian governments carry out their war on drugs, “narco-terrorism”, and whatever else may come.  While Colombian president Alvaro Uribe has welcomed the deal as a boost to Colombian security, there is concern in the region that an increased US military presence and further militarization of Colombian society will only increase the chances of conflict.  Chavez has warned that the growing number of US troops in the Latin America (the US Fourth Fleet was reactivated in the Caribbean by Bush II after a 40-year plus  hiatus) has the possibility of sparking a regional war.

Critics of Chavez dismiss him and his criticisms of the imperium as a ranting petro-dictator, but he really does have a pretty good point in this regard.  The US is literally encircling Venezuela with military bases and a naval fleet.  Remember that Venezuela is the fourth largest petroleum producer in the world and is home to reserves rivaling and maybe surpassing that of Saudi Arabia.  Is Chavez paranoid to suspect that the US may be planning an invasion or destabilization of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.  As per usual a look to the historical context of the situation will prove illuminating.

In 2002 a coup took place in Venezuela against the Chavez government, and while it lasted only 48 hours before the people of Venezuela forced the coup plotters to reinstate Chavez, the US government gave implicit if not explicit support to the coup.  In 2003 the US, after a years long process of encircling and weakening Iraq, invaded and occupied that oil-rich country and installed a government and neo-liberal economic framework more to its liking.  in 2008 the Colombian military launched a cross border raid into Ecuador to strike at a alledged FARC base, a move that was roundly condemned by every nation in Latin America and the OAS (except the US) as a violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty and a dangerous and reckless action against stability and peace in the region.  incidentally the Colombian government is a recipient of massive amounts of US military aid, receiving over 6 billion dollars in the past decade under the auspices of Plan Colombia.  This puts they country third behind Israel and Egypt in terms of military aid recipients from the US and Colombia plays the role of client state serving the imperial interest very nicely in this regard.

And that is just recent history.  You can take your pick of just about any nation in Latin America in the past hundred or even fifty years and chances are the US has been involved in some unsavory way, whether by supporting oppressive dictators, engineering coups, organizing economic embargoes, funding death squads, or all of the above.  So is Chavez paranoid or does he just know his history?  Many in the US aren’t even aware of the horrific role the US has played in the history of the region, but my experiences in Latin America have confirmed to me that the people of the Americas are only to well aware of it.  They have to live with its twisted and cruel legacy everyday.

Colombia is the world’s largest producer of cocaine.  This is obviously a problem that needs to be address.  What should be abundantly clear by this, and it is to many people both in and outside of the US, is that there is no military solution to the problem.  While eradicating the coca crops of poor framers and supporting right-wing paramilitaries has produced a situation where human rights abuses are continually placing Colombia among the worst offenders in the Western Hemisphere, it has done next to nothing to stop the flow of cocaine coming from the country.  If the US was serious about addressing the problem it would have to recognize that while Colombia may be the largest supplier of the drug, it is the US that is the largest consumer.  Following the Plan Colombia logic the US military should be engaged in operations in the US to eradicate cocaine users on a similar scale.  incidentally it is worth noting that poppy production, later processed into opium and heroin, has sky rocketed in Afghanistan since the US invaded and occupied that country.  After being severely reduced under the Taliban regime, Afghanistan now accounts for over 80% of world production of poppy.

But I digress.  The point is that it is hard to believe that the US is sending all that money to Colombia to stop coca production.  The new military pact only serves to highlight the growing geopolitical importance of the region in the eyes of Pentagon planners.  Chavez and other Latin Americans have every right to be alarmed at the deal and see it as a threat to regional stability.

The message from the region is loud and clear: Yankees, take your guns and economic models and go home!  We are ready and willing to deal with you on fair and equitable terms, but the days of imposing your will over ours have come to an end.  When you are ready to treat us as the American sisters and brothers that we are to you then you will find willing partners.

Unfortunately this is another signal from Washington to the contrary.  Marx wrote that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.  Latin America has already experienced too many cases of both, it is time to take for a new path to be taken.

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