Noam Chomsky: The push to militarise Latin America


The United States was founded as an "infant empire", in the words of George Washington. From the earliest days, control over the hemisphere was a critical goal.

Latin America has retained its primacy in US global planning. If the US cannot control Latin America, it cannot expect "to achieve a successful order elsewhere in the world", observed then-president Richard Nixon's National Security Council in 1971, when Washington was considering the overthrow of Salvador Allende's elected left-wing government in Chile.

Recently the hemisphere problem has intensified. South America has moved toward integration, a prerequisite for independence; has broadened international ties; and has addressed internal disorders — foremost, the traditional rule of a rich Europeanised minority over a sea of misery and suffering.

The problem came to a head a year ago in Bolivia, South America's poorest country. In 2005, the indigenous majority elected a president from its own ranks, Evo Morales.

In August 2008, after Morales' victory in a recall referendum, the opposition of US-backed elites turned violent. This led to the massacre of as many as 30 government supporters.

In response, the newly-formed Union of South American Republics (Unasur), involving all South American countries, called a summit meeting. Participants declared "their full and firm support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales, whose mandate was ratified by a big majority".

Morales said: "For the first time in South America's history, the countries of our region are deciding how to resolve our problems, without the presence of the United States."

Another example: Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has vowed to end Washington's use of the Manta military base, the last such base open to the US in South America.

In July, the US and Colombia concluded a secret deal to permit the US to use seven military bases in Colombia.

The official purpose is to counter narcotics trafficking and terrorism, "but senior Colombian military and civilian officials familiar with negotiations" told the Associated Press on July 15 "that the idea is to make Colombia a regional hub for Pentagon operations".

The agreement provides Colombia with privileged access to US military supplies. Colombia had already become the leading recipient of US military aid (apart from Israel-Egypt, a separate category).

Colombia has had by far the worst human rights record in the hemisphere. The correlation between US aid and human rights violations has long been noted.

AP cited an April document of the US Air Mobility Command, which proposed that the Palanquero base in Colombia could become a "cooperative security location".

From Palanquero, "nearly half the continent can be covered by a C-17 (military transport) without refueling", the document said.

This could form part of "a global en route strategy", which "helps achieve the regional engagement strategy and assists with the mobility routing to Africa".

On August 28, Unasur met in Bariloche, Argentina, to consider the US military bases in Colombia.

After intense debate, the final declaration stressed that South America must be kept as "a land of peace", and that foreign military forces must not threaten the sovereignty or integrity of any nation of the region. And it instructed the South American Defense Council to investigate the Air Mobility Command document.

The bases' official purpose did not escape criticism.

Morales said he saw US soldiers accompanying Bolivian troops who fired at members of his coca growers union. "So now we're narco-terrorists", he said.

"When they couldn't call us communists anymore, they called us subversives, and then traffickers, and since the September 11 attacks, terrorists."

The ultimate responsibility for Latin America's violence lay with US consumers of illegal drugs, Morales said. "If Unasur sent troops to the United States to control consumption, would they accept it? Impossible."

That the US justification for its drug programs abroad is even regarded as worthy of discussion is yet another illustration of the depth of the imperial mentality.

Last February, the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy issued its analysis of the US "war on drugs".
The commission, led by former Latin American presidents Fernando Cardoso (Brazil), Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico), and Cesar Gaviria (Colombia), concluded that the drug war had been a complete failure. It urged a drastic change of policy, away from forceful measures at home and abroad, and toward much less costly and more effective measures — prevention and treatment.

The commission report, like earlier studies and the historical record, had no detectable impact. The non-response reinforces the natural conclusion that the "drug war" — like the "war on crime" and "the war on terror" — is pursued for reasons other than the announced goals, which are revealed by the consequences.

During the past decade, the US has increased military aid and training of Latin American officers in light infantry tactics to combat "radical populism" — a concept that, in the Latin American context, sends shivers up the spine.

Military training is being shifted from the State Department to the Pentagon, eliminating human rights and democracy provisions formerly under congressional supervision — always weak but at least a deterrent to some of the worst abuses.

The US Fourth Fleet, disbanded in 1950, was reactivated in 2008, shortly after Colombia's invasion of Ecuador. It has responsibility for the Caribbean, Central and South America, and surrounding waters.

Militarisation of South America aligns with much broader designs.

In Iraq, information is virtually nil about the fate of the huge US military bases there, so they presumably remain for force projection. The cost of the immense city-with-in-a-city embassy in Baghdad is set to rise to US$1.8 billion a year.

The Obama administration is also building mega-embassies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The US and Britain are demanding that the US military base in Diego Garcia be exempted from the planned African nuclear-weapons-free-zone. US bases are off-limits in similar zoning efforts in the Pacific.

In short, moves toward "a world of peace" do not fall within the "change you can believe in", to borrow US President Barack Obama's campaign slogan.

[Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the author of dozens of books on US foreign policy. This article is reprinted from In These Times.]