'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Militarization of South America 

Through recently executed agreements with Colombia, the US has grand ambitions for the military bases it intends to construct there:

With or without nuclear weapons, the bilateral agreement on the seven Colombian bases, signed on 30 October in Bogota, risks a costly new arms race in a region. SIPRI [Stockholm International Peace Research Institute], which is funded by the Swedish government, said it was concerned about rising arms expenditure in Latin America draining resources from social programmes that the poor of the region need.

Much of the new US strategy was clearly set out in May in an enthusiastic US Air Force (USAF) proposal for its military construction programme for the fiscal year 2010. One Colombian air base, Palanquero, was, the proposal said, unique "in a critical sub-region of our hemisphere where security and stability is under constant threat from... anti-US governments".

The proposal sets out a scheme to develop Palanquero which, the USAF says, offers an opportunity for conducting "full-spectrum operations throughout South America.... It also supports mobility missions by providing access to the entire continent, except the Cape Horn region, if fuel is available, and over half the continent if un-refuelled". ("Full-spectrum operations" is the Pentagon's jargon for its long-established goal of securing crushing military superiority with atomic and conventional weapons across the globe and in space.)

Palanquero could also be useful in ferrying arms and personnel to Africa via the British mid-Atlantic island of Ascension, French Guiana and Aruba, the Dutch island off Venezuela. The US has access to them all.

The USAF proposal contradicted the assurances constantly issued by US diplomats that the bases would not be used against third countries. These were repeated by the Colombian military to the Colombian congress on 29 July. That USAF proposal was hastily reissued this month after the signature of the agreement – but without the reference to "anti-US governments". This has led to suggestions of either US government incompetence, or of a battle between a gung-ho USAF and a State Department conscious of the damage done to US relations with Latin America by its leaders' strong objections to the proposal.

Even as the US expands its military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Pentagon is already contemplating future conflicts in South America and Africa. Apparently, the Pentagon assumes that the US will not be able to obtain resources from these regions through commerce, recourse to the old imperialist methods of violence will be required. By contrast, China is taking a different, investment and trade oriented approach in regard to both continents, as indicated here and here. One can only hope that both South America and Africa find a way to evade the militarism of the US and the mercantilism of China and forge their own path to economic development.

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