US Bases in Colombia Rattle the Region March 19, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America, War.
Tags: benjamin dangl, Colombia, correa, foreign policy, hillary clinton, human rights, Latin America, latin america politics, military bases, plan colombia, roger hollander, uribe, us bases
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On the shores of the Magdalena River, in a lush green valley dotted with cattle ranches and farms, sits the Palanquero military base, an outpost equipped with Colombia’s longest runway, housing for 2,000 troops, a theater, a supermarket, and a casino.
Palanquero is at the heart of a ten-year, renewable military agreement signed between the United States and Colombia on October 30, 2009, which gives Washington access to seven military bases in the country. Though officials from the U.S. and Colombian governments contend the agreement is aimed at fighting narcotraffickers and guerrillas within Colombian borders, a U.S. Air Force document states the deal offers a “unique opportunity” for “conducting full spectrum operations” in the region against various threats, including “anti-U.S. governments.”
The Pentagon sought access to the bases in Colombia after Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa canceled the lease for the U.S. military base in Manta, Ecuador. The U.S. capability in Colombia will now be greater than at Manta, which worries human rights advocates in Colombia and left-leaning governments throughout the region.
“The main purpose of expanding these bases is to take strategic control of Latin America,” opposition senator Jorge Enrique Robledo of the Polo Democrático Alternativo told me over the phone from Bogotá.
Every president in South America outside of Colombia is against the bases agreement, with Hugo Chávez of neighboring Venezuela being the most critical. Chávez said that by signing the deal the United States was blowing “winds of war” over the region, and that the bases were “a threat against us.”
“Colombia decided to hand over its sovereignty to the United States,” said Chávez in a televised meeting with government ministers. “Colombia today is no longer a sovereign country. . . . It is a kind of colony.” The Venezuelan president responded by deploying troops to the border in what has become an increasingly tense battle of words and flexing of military muscle.
Correa in neighboring Ecuador said the new bases agreement “constitutes a grave danger for peace in Latin America.”
Colombian President Alvaró Uribe dismissed critics and said the increased U.S. collaboration was necessary to curtail violence in the country. Uribe told The Washington Post, “We are not talking about a political game; we are talking about a threat that has spilled blood in Colombian society.”
But plans for the expansion of the bases show that the intent is to prepare for war and intimidate the region, likely spilling more blood in the process.
The Palanquero base, the largest of the seven in the agreement, will be expanding with $46 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money. Palanquero is already big enough to house 100 planes, and its 10,000-foot runway allows three planes to take off at once. It can accommodate enormous C-17 planes, which can carry large numbers of troops for distances that span the hemisphere without needing to refuel.
The intent of the base, according to U.S. Air Force documents, “is to leverage existing infrastructure to the maximum extent possible, improve the U.S. ability to respond rapidly to crisis, and assure regional access and presence at minimum cost. . . . Palanquero will provide joint use capability to the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, and U.S. Interagency aircraft and personnel.”
The United States and Colombia may also see the bases as a way to cultivate ties with other militaries.
“The bases will be used to strengthen the military training of soldiers from other countries,” says John Lindsay-Poland, the co-director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean Program. “There is already third-country training in Colombia, and what the Colombia government says now is that this agreement will strengthen that.”
“This deal is a threat to the new governments that have emerged,” says Enrique Daza, the director of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, currently based in Bogotá. These new governments are “demanding sovereignty, autonomy, and independence in the region, and this bases agreement collides directly” with that, he says.
The Obama Administration, with the new agreement, is further collaborating with the Colombian military in spite of that institution’s grave human rights abuses in recent years.
In a July 2009 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Patrick Leahy and Christopher Dodd wrote: “What are the implications of further deepening our relationship with the Colombian military at a time of growing revelations about the widespread falsos positivos (“false positives”) scandal, in which the Colombian military recruited many hundreds (some estimates are as high as 1,600) of boys and young men for jobs in the countryside that did not exist and then summarily executed them to earn bonuses and vacation days?”
The military base agreement needs to be understood in the context of two other U.S. initiatives in Colombia.
First, Plan Colombia, which began under President Clinton, committed billions of dollars ostensibly to fight the war on drugs but also to fighting the guerrillas, intensifying the country’s already brutal conflict in rural areas. This has led to increasing displacement of people from areas that are strategically important for mining multinationals.
Second, the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which was signed in 2006, could pry open the country to more U.S. corporate exploitation. But it has been met with opposition in the United States, delaying its ratification. Daza says the signing of the bases deal is part of “a military strategy that complements the push for the free trade agreement.” The trade accord will serve “transnational corporate investments,” and these investments, he says, “are sustained by a military relationship.”
Opposition to the military bases agreement is vocal in Colombia. In a column written in July 2009, Senator Robledo denounced it, saying, “There is no law that allows bases of this type in Colombia.” One struggle, Robledo said, is on the legal and political front. The other is among social movements in Colombia and beyond. “It is important to organize a type of democratic citizens’ movement, a national campaign against these foreign bases, as well as a continental social alliance that promotes the denunciation of this agreement,” he says.
Daza is working with Mingas, a cross-border solidarity organization consisting of activists in Colombia, Canada, and the United States. Mingas wrote a letter to Obama, condemning the President’s decision to go forward with the deal on the bases. “At the Summit of the Americas in April 2009 you promised to foster a ‘new sense of partnership’ between the United States and the rest of the Western Hemisphere,” the letter states. “But your Administration has yet to address the grave concerns expressed by national leaders throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean regarding the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement.”
By signing this bases agreement, and by equivocating over the coup in Honduras, Obama has sent ominous signals to Latin America.
“Obama has not renounced the policies of Bush,” Robledo says. “Speaking in economic and military terms, on the fundamental issues, the similarities between Bush and Obama are bigger than the differences. Obama has not produced a change.”
© 2010 The Progressive
Operation Enduring Occupation March 18, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: balad base, bhaswati sengupta, dahr jamail, foreign policy, green zone, imperialism, Iraq, Iraq oil, Iraq war, iraw occupation, maliki, military bases, national security, peace, Pentagon, Petraeus, phyllis bennis, Robert Gates, roger hollander, SOFA, us bases, us embassy, war
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(Roger’s note: you read it here first: the US government, regardless of what the golden tongued mendacious president tells us, HAS NO INTENTION OF LEAVING IRAQ for the foreseeable future. In the Orwellian world we inhabit today, where war is peace, where failure is too big to fail, where we don’t escalate but “surge,” and where torture doesn’t hurt that much; we can add that WITHDRAWAL MEANS STAYING.)
[‘On March 4, 2010, as a guest on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show,” Thomas Ricks, who was the military correspondent for the Washington Post, referring to President Obama’s promises to withdraw from Iraq, said, “I would say you shouldn’t believe [it] because I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think we’re going to have several thousand, several tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq on the day President Obama leaves office.”‘]
Thursday 18 March 2010
The 2008 National Defense Strategy reads:
US interests include protecting the nation and our allies from attack or coercion, promoting international security to reduce conflict and foster economic growth, and securing the global commons and with them access to world markets and resources. To pursue these interests, the US has developed military capabilities and alliances and coalitions, participated in and supported international security and economic institutions, used diplomacy and soft power to shape the behavior of individual states and the international system, and using force when necessary. These tools help inform the strategic framework with which the United States plans for the future, and help us achieve our ends.
… Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing or equaling the power of the US. To accomplish this, the US will require bases and stations within and beyond western Europe and Northeast Asia.
In light of such clear objectives, it is highly unlikely that the US government will allow a truly sovereign Iraq, unfettered by US troops either within its borders or monitoring it from abroad, anytime soon.
The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the Iraqi and US governments indicate an ongoing US presence past both the August 2010 deadline to remove all combat troops, and the 2011 deadline to remove the remaining troops.
According to all variations of the SOFA the US uses to provide a legal mandate for it’s nearly 1,000 bases across the planet, technically, no US base in any foreign country is “permanent.” Thus, the US bases in Japan, South Korea and Germany that have existed for decades are not “permanent.” Technically.
Most analysts agree that the US plans to maintain at least five “enduring” bases in Iraq.
Noted US writer, linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky, said, “Bases [abroad] are the empire. They are the point of projection of power and expansion of power.”
Chalmers Johnson, author and professor emeritus of UC San Diego commented, “In a symbolic sense [bases] are a way of showing that America stands there watching.”
Longtime defense analyst from George Washington University, Gordon Adams, told The Associated Press that in the broader context of reinforcing US presence in the oil-rich Middle East, bases in Iraq are preferable to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. “Carriers don’t have the punch. There’s a huge advantage to land-based infrastructure. At the level of strategy it makes total sense to have Iraq bases.”
According to Professor Zoltan Grossman of The Evergreen State College, who has been researching military bases and participating in the global network against foreign bases for several years, the US has no intention of releasing control of its bases in Iraq. The Pentagon, he believes, has many old tricks to mask a military presence and armed pressure.
In an interview with Truthout he observed:
Since the Gulf War, the US has not just been building the bases to wage wars, but has been waging wars to leave behind the bases. The effect has been to create a new US military sphere of influence wedged in the strategic region between the E.U., Russia and China. The Pentagon has not been building these sprawling, permanent bases just to hand them over to client governments.
Grossman’s prediction for Iraq:
Look for a Visiting Forces Agreement – of the kind negotiated with the Philippines – that allows supposedly ‘visiting’ US forces unrestricted access to its former bases. Similarly, constant joint military exercises can keep US troops continually visible and intimidating to Iraqis. Even after 2011, nothing in the Iraq Status of Forces Agreement prevents US bombers (stationed in Kuwait and elsewhere) from attacking Iraqi targets whenever they want, just as they did between 1991 and 2003. Nothing prevents the type of missile or Special Forces attacks like we’re seeing in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Nothing prevents CIA or contractors from participating in Iraqi missions or intelligence operations.
Adding credence to this, we have Article 6 of the US/Iraqi SOFA discussing “agreed facilities,” Article 27 mentions “mutually agreed … military measures” after 2011 and Article 28 talks of a scenario where Iraq is able to “request” US security in the International Zone (Green Zone.)
Chapter six of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report stated:
In February 2009, President Obama outlined the planned drawdown of US forces in Iraq to 50,000 troops and the change in mission by August 31, 2010. By this time, US forces will have completed the transition from combat and counterinsurgency to a more limited mission set focused on training and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces ($2 billion has already been set aside for this for FY2011); providing force protection for US military and civilian personnel and facilities; and conducting targeted counterterrorism operations and supporting US civilian agencies and international organizations in their capacity-building efforts.
The report further clarifies that US troop drawdowns “will occur in accordance” with the SOFA, but that “the pace of the drawdown takes into consideration Iraq’s improved, yet fragile, security gains” and “provides US commanders sufficient flexibility to assist the Iraqis with emerging challenges.”
On May 15, 2006, Gen. John Abizaid, overseeing US military operations in Iraq at the time, said, “The United States may want to keep a long-term military presence in Iraq to bolster moderates against extremists in the region and protect the flow of oil.”
On March 12, 2010, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, the commander of US troops in Northern Iraq, told reporters during a conference call that it might be necessary to keep combat troops involved in the security mechanism that maintains peace between Iraqi national and Kurdish regional forces beyond the August deadline.
The National Security Strategy for US Missions abroad proposes to “Ignite a new era of global economic growth through free markets and free trade and pressing for open markets, financial stability, and deeper integration of the world economy.” This fits perfectly with the policy outlined by the Quadrennial Defense Review Report, which says there is a stated ability for the US military to fight “multiple overlapping wars” and to “ensure that all major and emerging powers are integrated as constructive actors and stakeholders into the international system.”
Such gray language and loopholes in policy documents have been common since the US invaded Iraq seven years ago. This has not changed with the SOFA.
“The likelihood of the US planning to keep troops in Iraq after December 31, 2011 has to be measured in the context of the history of US violations of other countries’ sovereign territory, airspace, etc.,” Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, explained to Truthout. “At the moment, this is perhaps most obvious in Pakistan – where the US has been routinely attacking alleged Taliban or al Qaeda supporters with both air and [limited] ground troops in Pakistani territory despite the stated opposition of the Pakistani government which is nominally allied to the US.”
“The early public discussions of ‘re-missioning’ combat troops, changing their official assignment from combat to ‘training’ or ‘assistance,’ thus allowing them to remain in Iraq after the August 2010 deadline for all combat troops to be removed from the country, provides the model for how such sleight of language will occur,” Bennis said, adding, “It may or may not be linked to a future ‘need’ for US troops to remain to protect the increasing numbers of US government civilians assigned to Iraq as the official number of troops decreases.”
Bennis explained that the language of the SOFA is grounded in the claim that Iraq is a sovereign nation and that the government of Iraq is choosing freely to partner with the US government. But the reality, according to Bennis, is that the SOFA was negotiated and signed while Iraq was (and continues to be today) a country occupied and controlled by the United States. Its government is and was at the time of the SOFA’s signing dependent on the US for support.
In Article 27 of the SOFA, the text stated, “in the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq that would violate its sovereignty, political independence, or territorial integrity, waters, airspace, its democratic system or its elected institutions, and upon request by the Government of Iraq, the Parties shall immediately initiate strategic deliberations and, as may be mutually agreed, the United States shall take appropriate measures, including diplomatic, economic, or military measures, or any other measure, to deter such a threat.”
While the agreement is ostensibly binding only for three years, Article 30 permits amendments to the SOFA, which could, of course, include extending its timeframe – and with the Iraqi government still qualitatively dependent on US support, this appears likely. The same is true for Article 28, which states, “The Government of Iraq may request from the United States Forces limited and temporary support for the Iraqi authorities in the mission of security for the Green Zone.”
There is no question that the US has wanted for many years to establish and maintain military bases in Iraq, whether or not they are officially designated as “permanent.” I do not believe the Pentagon is prepared to hand them all over to Iraq, despite the language in the agreement mandating exactly that. Instead, I think the formal arrangement following expiration of the current SOFA may be through some sort of officially “bilateral” agreement between Washington and Baghdad, allowing for the US to “rent” or “lease” or “borrow” the bases from an allegedly “sovereign” government in Iraq on a long-term basis. The likelihood of this increases with the growing number of statements from US military and political officials hinting broadly at the possibility of a long-term presence of US troops in Iraq after December 31, 2011, “if the sovereign government of Iraq should request such an idea …
Faculty Director of the Undergraduate College of Global Studies at Stony Brook University in New York, Professor Michael Schwartz, has written extensively on insurgency and the US Empire.
He pointed out to Truthout that President Obama’s “… actions have made it very clear that he is unwilling to sacrifice the 50,000-strong strike force, even while he has also said he would abide by the SOFA and remove all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. In the meantime, Gates and various generals have released hedging statements or trial balloons saying that the 2011 deadline might be impractical and that various types of forces might stay longer, either to provide air power, to continue training the Iraq military, or to protect Iraq from invasion. Any or all of these could translate into the maintenance of the 50k strike force as well as the five ‘enduring bases.'”
That the Obama administration intends to maintain a significant military presence in Iraq after 2011 is obvious from its continued insistence that in Iraq “democracy” must be guaranteed.
In Washington speak this means that the government of Iraq must be an ally of the United States, a condition that has been iterated and reiterated by all factions (GOP and Democrat) in Washington, since the original invasion. Given the increasing unwillingness of the Maliki administration to follow US dictates (for example, on oil contracts, on relations with Iran, and on relations with Anbar and other Sunni provinces), the removal of troops would allow Maliki even more leeway to pursue policies unacceptable to Washington. Thus, even if Maliki succeeds himself in the Premiership, the US may need troops to keep the pressure on him. If he does not succeed himself, then the likely alternate choices are far more explicit in their antagonism to integration of Iraq into the US sphere of interest … the Obama administration would then be left with the unacceptable prospect that withdrawal would result in Iraq adopting a posture not unlike Iran’s with regard to US presence and influence in the Middle East.
His grim conclusion:
All in all, there are myriad signs that withdrawal of US troops might result in Iraq breaking free from US influence and/or deprive the United States of the strong military presence in that part of the Middle East that both Bush and Obama advocated and have struggled to establish. Until I see some sign that the five bases are going to be dismantled, I will continue to believe that the US will find some reason – with or without the consent of the Iraqi government – to maintain a very large (on the order of 50k) military force there.
Expanding the Base
The US embassy in Iraq, already the largest diplomatic compound on the planet and the size of the Vatican City, is now likely to be doubled in size. Robert Ford, the deputy chief of mission in Baghdad, told reporters in January, “If Congress gives us the money we are asking for, this embassy is going to be twice the size it is now. It’s not going down, it’s getting bigger.”
In 2005, The Washington Post reported:
An even more expensive airfield renovation is underway in Iraq at the Balad air base, a hub for US military logistics, where for $124 million the Air Force is building additional ramp space for cargo planes and helicopters. And farther south, in Qatar, a state-of-the-art, 104,000-square-foot air operations center for monitoring US aircraft in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa is taking shape in the form of a giant concrete bunker … the US military has more than $1.2 billion in projects either underway or planned in the Central Command region – an expansion plan that US commanders say is necessary both to sustain operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and to provide for a long-term presence in the area.
Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan III, who oversees Central Command’s air operations pointed out, “As the ground force shrinks, we’ll need the air to be able to put a presence in parts of the country where we don’t have soldiers, to keep eyes out where we don’t have soldiers on the ground.”
In 2007 in a piece titled “US Builds Air base in Iraq for the Long Haul” NPR reported, “The US military base in Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, is rapidly becoming one of the largest American military installations on foreign soil … The base is one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures going up across this 16-square-mile fortress in the center of Iraq, all with an eye toward the next few decades.”
It is so big that, “There is a regular bus service within its perimeter to ferry around the tens of thousands of troops and contractors who live here. And the services are commensurate with the size of the population. The Subway sandwich chain is one of several US chains with a foothold here. There are two base exchanges that are about as large as a Target or K-Mart. Consumer items from laptop computers to flat-screen TV’s to Harley Davidson motorcycles are available for purchase.”
The report added, “Several senior military officials have privately described Balad Air Base, and a few other large installations in Iraq, as future bases of operation for the US military.” The term used is “lily pad,” a description of the military jumping from base to base without ever touching the ground in between.
In September 2009 The New York Times reported about Balad:
It takes the masseuse, Mila from Kyrgyzstan, an hour to commute to work by bus on this sprawling American base. Her massage parlor is one of three on the base’s 6,300 acres and sits next to a Subway sandwich shop in a trailer, surrounded by blast walls, sand and rock. At the Subway, workers from India and Bangladesh make sandwiches for American soldiers looking for a taste of home. When the sandwich makers’ shifts end, the journey home takes them past a power plant, an ice-making plant, a sewage treatment center, a hospital and dozens of other facilities one would expect to find in a small city. And in more than six years, that is what Americans have created here: cities in the sand…. Some bases have populations of more than 20,000, with thousands of contractors and third-country citizens to keep them running.
Camp Anaconda, as the Balad base is named, also has an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The bottling company there provides seven million bottles of water a month for those on base. This base also contains two fire stations and the single busiest landing strip in the entire Defense Department.
A 2006 Associated Press story, “Elaborate US Bases raise long-term questions,” gave the following account:
[At Balad] the concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that’s now the home of up to 120 US helicopters, a “heli-park” as good as any back in the States. At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads. The latest budget also allots $39 million for new airfield lighting, air traffic control systems and upgrades allowing al-Asad to plug into the Iraqi electricity grid – a typical sign of a long-term base. At Tallil, besides the new $14 million dining facility, Ali Air Base is to get, for $22 million, a double perimeter security fence with high-tech gate controls, guard towers and a moat – in military parlance, a “vehicle entrapment ditch with berm.”
Truthout contacted renowned journalist and filmmaker John Pilger for his views:
Like Afghanistan, the occupation of Iraq is more a war of perception than military reality. I don’t believe the US has the slightest intention of leaving Iraq. Yes, there will be the “drawdown” of regular troops with the kind of fanfare and ritual designed to convince the American public that a genuine withdrawal is happening. But the sum of off-the-record remarks by senior generals, who are ever conscious of the war of perception, is that at least 70,000 troops will remain in various guises. Add to this up to 200,000 mercenaries. This is an old ruse. The British used to “withdraw” from colonies and leave behind fortress-bases and their Special Forces, the SAS.
Bush invaded Iraq as part of a long-term US design to restore one of the pillars of US policy and empire in the region: in effect, to make all of Iraq a base. The invasion went badly wrong and the “country as base” concept was modified to that of Iraq indirectly controlled or intimidated by a series of fortress-bases. These are permanent. This is also the US plan for Afghanistan. One has to keep in mind that US foreign policy is now controlled by the Pentagon, whose man is Robert Gates. It is as if Bush never left office. Under Bush there was an effective military coup in much of Washington; the State Department was stripped of its power; and Obama did as no president has ever done: he brought across from a previous, discredited administration the entire war making bureaucracy and gave it virtually unlimited power. The only way the US will leave is for the resistance to rise again, and for Shiites and Sunni to unite; I think that will happen.
Captain, My Captain
On March 4, 2010, as a guest on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show,” Thomas Ricks, who was the military correspondent for the Washington Post, referring to President Obama’s promises to withdraw from Iraq, said, “I would say you shouldn’t believe [it] because I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think we’re going to have several thousand, several tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq on the day President Obama leaves office.”
Gen. George Casey, the chief of staff of the US Army, stated last May that his planning for the Army envisions combat troops in Iraq for a decade as part of a sustained US commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East. “Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction,” he said, “They fundamentally will change how the Army works.”
Senior CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who served under seven presidents – from John Kennedy to George H. W. Bush – explained to Truthout, “Since 2003 I’ve been suggesting that the Iraq war was motivated by the acronym OIL: oil, Israel, and Logistics (military bases to further the interests of the first two).”
In January 2008, McGovern wrote of statements signed by George W. Bush when he was in the White House:
Contrary to how President George W. Bush has tried to justify the Iraq war in the past, he has now clumsily – if inadvertently – admitted that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was aimed primarily at seizing predominant influence over its oil by establishing permanent (the administration favors “enduring”) military bases. He made this transparently clear by adding a signing statement to the defense appropriation bill, indicating that he would not be bound by the law’s prohibition against expending funds:
“(1) To establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq,” or
“(2) To exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.”
At the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on November 20, 2006, in a speech titled “A Way Forward in Iraq,” Sen. Barack Obama, who had not yet become the commander in chief of the US military, declared:
Drawing down our troops in Iraq will allow us to redeploy additional troops to Northern Iraq and elsewhere in the region as an over-the-horizon force. This force could help prevent the conflict in Iraq from becoming a wider war, consolidate gains in Northern Iraq, reassure allies in the Gulf, allow our troops to strike directly at al Qaeda wherever it may exist, and demonstrate to international terrorist organizations that they have not driven us from the region.
On March 16, 2010, Gen. David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, told lawmakers that the US military may set up an additional headquarters in northern Iraq even after the September 2010 deadline. Petraeus said that putting a headquarters in northern Iraq was “something we are looking at.”
What reason is there to doubt our commander in chief ‘s assertion that there is need to maintain an (approximately 50,000 strong) US “strike force” in or near Iraq to guarantee US interests in the Middle East, to allow Washington to move quickly against jihadists in the region and to make clear to “our enemies” that the US will not be “driven from the region”?
Bhaswati Sengupta contributed to this report.
Observations on Latin America August 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Mexico, Right Wing, Venezuela.
Tags: bachelet, colombia bases, foreign policy, hillary clinton, Honduras, honduras coup, Hugo Chavez, james jones, Latin America, latin america government, latin america politics, Lula, Mexico, mexico politics, miguel tinker salas, military bases, obama administration, plan colombia, plan merida, right wing, roger hollander, u.s. imperialsim, u.s. military bases, UNASUR, uribe, Venezuela, zelaya
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The recent events in Honduras are not isolated, but rather part of a conservative counterattack taking shape in Latin America. For some time, the right has been rebuilding in Latin America; hosting conferences, sharing experiences, refining their message, working with the media, and building ties with allies in the United States. This is not the lunatic rightwing fringe, but rather the mainstream right with powerful allies in the middle class that used to consider themselves center, but have been frightened by recent left electoral victories and the rise of social movements. With Obama in the White House and Clinton in the State Department they have now decided to act. Bush/Cheney and company did not give them any coverage and had become of little use to them. A “liberal” in the White House gives conservative forces the kind of coverage they had hoped for. It is no coincidence that Venezuelan opposition commentators applauded the naming of Clinton to the State Department, claiming that they now had an ally in the administration. The old cold-warrior axiom that the best antidote against the left is a liberal government in Washington gains new meaning under Obama with Clinton at the State Department.
Coup leaders in Honduras and their allies continue to play for time. Washington’s continuing vacillation is allowing them to exhaust this option, but so are right-wing governments in Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru. After all, this coup is not just about Honduras but also about leftwing success in Latin America, of which Honduras was the weakest link. It is increasingly becoming obvious that there is no scenario under which elites in Honduras will accept Zelaya back. I do not think that they have a plan “B” on this matter and this speaks to the kind of advice they are getting from forces in the U.S. and the region. If Zelaya comes back, the Supreme Court, the Congress, the military and the church all lose credibility and it opens the door for the social and political movements in Honduras to push for radical change that conservative forces would find more difficult to resist.
But Honduras is only part of the equation. Colombia’s decision to accept as many as 7 new U.S. military bases (3 airbases, including Palanquero, 2 army bases, and 2 naval bases one on the Pacific and one on the Caribbean), dramatically expands the U.S. military’s role in the country and throughout the region. The Pentagon has been eyeing the airbase at Palanquero with its complex infrastructure and extensive runway for some time. This is a very troubling sign that will alter the balance of forces in the region, and speaks volumes about how the Obama administration plans to respond to change in Latin America. A possible base on the Caribbean coast of Colombia would also offer the recently reactivated U.S. Fourth Fleet, a convenient harbor on the South American mainland. In short, Venezuela would be literally encircled. However, Venezuela is not the only objective. It also places the Brazilian Amazon and all its resources within striking distance of the U.S. military, as well as the much sought after Guarani watershed. After public criticism from Bachelet of Chile, Lula of Brazil and Chávez of Venezuela, Uribe refused to attend the August 10 meeting of UNASUR, the South American Union, where he would be expected to explain the presence of the U.S. bases. The meeting of the UNASUR security council was scheduled to take up the issue of the bases and Bolivia’s suggestion for a unified South American response to drug trafficking. Instead, Uribe has launched his own personal diplomacy traveling to 7 different countries in the region to explain his actions. In addition, Obama’s National Security Advisor James Jones is in Brazil trying to justify the U.S. position on the bases.
The recent media war launched by Uribe against Ecuador and Correa, once again claiming financing of the FARC, and the more recent offensive against Venezuela concerning 30 year old Swedish missiles, that, like the Reyes computers, cannot be independently verified, have filled the airwaves in Venezuela, Colombia and the region. The current Colombian media campaign was preceded by Washington’s own efforts to condemn Venezuela for supposed non-compliance in the war against drug trafficking. In addition, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also traveled throughout Latin America in July claiming that Venezuela is a destabilizing force in the region and in the Middle East.
Lost in all this is the fact that Uribe is still considering a third term in office and his party has indicated it will push for a constitutional reform. So conflicts with Ecuador and Venezuela serve to silence critics in Colombia and keep Uribe’s electoral competitors at bay. All we need now is for Uribe to ask the Interpol to verify the missiles’ origins and Interpol director Ron Noble to give another press conference in Bogota. Déjà vu all over again!
The right and its allies in the U.S. are also emboldened by the electoral victory in Panama and the very real prospects of leftist defeats this year in Chile and even Uruguay. Obviously they are also encouraged by the humiliating defeat of the Fernández / Kirchners in Argentina. These developments could begin to redraw the political map of the region. Correa of Ecuador has already expressed concern about being the target of a coup and Bolivia will undoubtedly come under intense pressure as they are also preparing for an election later this year.
All this is occurring with an increased U.S. military commitment in Mexico with Plan Mérida which seeks to build on the lessons of Colombia: maintain in power a president whose economic and social policies are highly unpopular, but who relies on conflict, in this case the so-called war on the drug cartels, to maintain popularity. Parts of Mexico are literally under siege, including Michoacán, Ciudad Juarez, and Tijuana. The backdrop for this is a divided left; the PRD was the biggest loser in recent midterm elections, and social movements remains localized and unable to mount a national challenge.
None of these developments are forgone conclusions, but they nonetheless speak to the fact that conservative forces in Latin America and their allies in the U.S. are mounting a concerted counter offensive that could increase the potential for conflict in the region.
Fluent in both Spanish and English, Professor Miguel Tinker Salas is often asked by the national and international media to provide analysis on political issues confronting Mexico, Venezuela, and Latin America. He has been interviewed by CNN, CNN Spanish, ESPN, the PBS New Hour, the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Univisión, Telemundo, and many other radio, television and print media outlets. His expertise includes: US-Latin American Relations, contemporary Venezuelan politics, oil policy, Mexican Politics, Mexican border issues, Immigration, and Latinos/as in the United States. He is often asked to speak on college campuses and community events on the important issue facing Latin America and Latinos/as in the US.
Tags: Colombia, colombia abuses, Colombia atrocities, colombia human rights, colombia military, colombian army, foreign policy, human rights, Latin America, latin america poitics, military bases, moira birss, obama administration, plan colombia, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, u.s. military bases, uribe
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by Moira Birss
In a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady laments an apparent shift left in the Obama administration’s Latin America policy. Clearly, O’Grady hasn’t been keeping up to date with current events. If she had been, she would have heard about negotiations underway between the U.S. and Colombia to establish at least seven U.S. military bases in Colombia. Last I heard, folks on the left tend to oppose increased militarization; it’s tough to see seven new military bases as a move to the left.
Why is the Obama administration pushing for these bases, despite having previously criticized Colombia’s human rights record?
The Administration’s goals for the military facilities are “filling the gaps left by the eventual cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia,” according to sources in Washington and Bogotá. The proposed bases, replacements for the soon-to-closed U.S. base in Manta, Ecuador, would serve to expand the U.S. military’s counter-narcotic operations in the region, deepen involvement in Colombia’s counterinsurgency war, and combat “other international crimes,” according to Colombia’s Foreign Minister.
Despite these hints at the intention of the bases, many serious questions remain. In fact, even the Colombian Congress has yet to receive detailed information from the Uribe administration, despite repeated official requests. Nonetheless, on Tuesday Uribe began a South America tour to convince his regional counterparts of the plan, despite not having briefed his own Congress.
Such secrecy is worrisome. Fellowship of Reconciliation’s John Lindsay Poland, who has spent years studying U.S. military bases around the world, writes, “the locations of the bases under negotiation raise further questions. None of them are on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where aircraft from the Manta base patrolled for drug traffic – supposedly with great success, reflecting how traffic has increased in the Pacific. Three of the bases are clustered near each other on the Caribbean coast, not far from existing U.S. military sites in Aruba and Curacao – and closer to Venezuela than to the Pacific Ocean. Why are U.S. negotiators apparently forgoing Pacific sites, if counternarcotics is still part of the U.S. military mission? What missions ‘beyond Colombia’s borders’ are U.S. planners contemplating?”
Even if we had answers to these questions, however, there exist plenty more reasons to be wary of the bases.
In cooperating with the Colombian army, the U.S. would be demonstrating support for an institution with an atrocious human rights record. More than 1,000 civilians have been murdered by the Colombian army in recent years, in a criminal attempt to portray them as guerrillas in order to raise the number of guerrillas killed in combat. Proposing these seven bases unmasks Obama’s previous statements calling for the improvement of Colombian’s human rights record as merely lip service.
Colombian forces aren’t the only ones to worry about: U.S. military forces will be not be bound by Colombian law and will potentially get away with all kinds crimes. US negotiators have made it known that “even if they won’t interfere in the exercise of command by Colombian officers on the bases, they will ensure the autonomy of U.S. military forces when operations go beyond Colombia’s borders.” And there is precedent that validates these concerns. In 2007 two U.S. soldiers carrying out a Plan Colombia mission in the small town of Melgar raped a 12-year-old girl, and have yet to be punished. When confronted by the girl’s mother, the soldiers were quoted as saying, “Yeah, we raped her, so what? We are in Colombia, the law doesn’t affect us.” An all too accurate depiction of the US military’s mentality in Colombia.
These bases would lack oversight in the financial arena as well. While Plan Colombia funding has been open for Congressional debate, funding for US military activities has not. Congress would therefore exercise little to no control over the funding – and therefore the actions – of the bases in Colombia.
The many unanswered questions and ominous possibilities that come with seven new US bases have raised alarms among Colombia’s neighbors, fueling serious regional tensions. Venezuela has frozen diplomatic relations, and Ecuador has threatened “increased military tensions” over their concerns about the increased U.S. presence in the region. Brazil’s President Lula said last week he was “not happy” at even one base being handed over for U.S. operations.
Many Colombians are opposed as well, backed up by the fact that such an agreement would bypass Article 173 of the Colombian Constitution, which prohibits the presence of foreign troops except in transit, and then only after legislative approval. Multiple protests have been held in downtown Bogota, and a national day of action is being planned for August 7 – the national holiday celebrating the Colombian armed forces – as opposition to these military bases grows.
The bases agreement has not yet been signed; there is still time to convince Colombian and U.S. leaders to scrap the idea. The Fellowship of Reconciliation has compiled a bilingual (English and Spanish) resource page for those opposing the bases: www.forcolombia.org/bases, and asks that you call the White House Comment Line (202-456-1111) today to say NO to military bases in Colombia.