US Expanding Military Presence in Latin America

 I have already written about the broader implications of the ‘Complementation Agreement for Defense and Security Cooperation and Technical Assistance between the Governments of Colombia and the United States’, but the matter is worth looking at in further detail.  Starting with a document from the US Department of the Air Force detailing planned upgrades, along with the reasons for those upgrades, to the Palanquero Air Base in Colombia, a comparison can be made between official US Military objectives and those publicly stated by both US and Colombian officials.  Its objectives will become apparent once we have a clearly established idea of what this agreement is actually aimed at achieving, especially when laid against the ever-present backdrop of history.

analysis, the US military objectives in Latin America are far-reaching and aimed at a multitude of activities and capabilities other than anti-narcotic operations.  The Department of the Air Force Military Construction Program Budget Estimate for 2010 lays out for all to see its plans to expand and upgrade the airfield at the Palanquero Air Base.

This Cooperative Security Location (CSL) enhances the U. S. Global Defense Posture (GDP) Strategy which directs development of a comprehensive and integrated presence and basing strategy aligned with the principles of developing relations with partner nations.  Palanquero provides an opportunity for conducting full spectrum operations throughout South America including CN missions.  It also supports mobility missions by providing access to the entire continent, except the Cape Horn region, if fuel is available, and over half of the continent if unrefueled. [i]

, endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters”[ii] (my italics).  Later still “Counter narcotics capability” is referred to as being included in the range of the “full spectrum operations”, but only as one of many other operational capabilities and it is certainly not referred to at anytime as being a primary capability.  The text is pretty straightforward on this point; the main goal of expanding and upgrading Palanquero is to expand the US military’s abilities to make war.  This is in line with US military strategy aimed at having a “global reach”, the ability to make its presence felt by air, naval, and ground power anywhere in the world at a rapid response notice.  Application of this strategy in action can be seen in recent and continuing US actions in west Asia.  In its invasion of Iraq in 2003 the US made very effective use of its bases in the region to launch its vaunted “shock and awe” assault.  A similar process of establishing bases on the borders of Russia in former Soviet central Asia has been under way since the end of the Cold War.

[iii] Colombia’s foreign ministry said in the statement released on August 14 on the conclusion of negotiations between the two countries.

fact sheet released by the State Department on October 30 had to say,


[v] While official press releases and briefings allow primarily for anti-narcotic capabilities the technical matters discussed in the Air Force document reveal very different motives.  The glaring inconsistencies between the Air Force document and the official pronouncements have not gone unnoticed.  Aside from the many articles and journalism to be found on the web the issue has been raised by the press.  A journalist in a recent State Department daily press briefing held this exchange with department spokesperson Ian Kelly,

A Pentagon document presented to Congress in May of 2009 reveals that one of the reasons for the military agreement between U.S. and Colombia was to provide a full spectrum operation center – and I’m quoting – where the U.S. security and stability is under threat by anti-U.S. governments. It also talks about the possibility of a full-scale military operation if needed.

Well, I don’t know what document you’re referring to.

It is the military construction program fiscal year 2010 budget estimates —

That sounds like —

— by the Air Force.

That sounds like something you’d have to refer to the Defense Department about. I know that we have an agreement with Colombia. It doesn’t provide us with any kind of bases in Colombia. It provides us with an opportunity to cooperate with Colombia in some issues related to counternarcotics and interoperability in that regard. But you’re asking me about a Defense Department document that not only haven’t I seen, but the State Department doesn’t have any jurisdiction over.

But it’s basically contradicting what the U.S. State Department has stated.

It may or it may not. But I – you really have to address that question to the Defense Department.[vi]

Noam Chomsky notes.  This is an important point as the US – Colombia agreement comes on the heals of two other pertinent events.  The first is the closure of the Manta base in Ecuador, formerly the largest US base in South America.  The closure of the base to the US military was a decision taken by Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa after the US declined his offer to extend the agreement, provided that Ecuador could open and operate a base in Florida.  The second is the reactivation of the US Fourth Fleet, responsible for the Caribbean, Central and South America, after being disbanded 58 years ago in 1950.  Along side this must be placed the increasing military aid the US is sending to the region and Colombia in particular.  The total military and police aid that Latin America receives from the US now exceeds that of economic and social aid, a situation that was not duplicated even in the depths of the Cold War.[vii] After years of neglect by the preceding Bush II administration ‘the backyard’ is again taking up a position of importance in the foreign policy of the Obama administration, however much it may be overshadowed by events in Asia.


[ix] The results of Plan Colombia thus far have been an increased militarization of the internal conflicts in the country and the displacement of a huge portion of the population, the second largest internally displaced population in the world behind Sudan.[x] These results spell misery for the general population of Colombia but they translate into hefty profits for the elites of the country and for the US defense contractors.  The displacement of the population also serves to clear the way for multinationals and domestic elites to ‘develop’ large tracts of previously settled and worked land for the much more profitable activities of mining, agribusiness, ranching, and other industrial ends.  Clearly Plan Colombia benefits the Colombian elite while leaving the majority of the people behind.  Many are left grasping at their recently destroyed crops and packing their meager belongings as they forced from their homes.

report released by a commission headed by former Latin American heads of state called for a global “paradigm shift” on drug policy and called efforts to date a “failure”.  While this fact has been recognized for some time by a wide range of observers from both policy makers to ardent critics, the ‘war on drugs’ serves a useful function and thus will continue as a tool of social control domestically and as an instrument of imperial control abroad.  Chomsky sums it up nicely,


[i] The Department of the Air Force Military Construction Program Budget Estimate for 2010 http://www.centrodealerta.org/documentos_desclasificados/original_in_english_air_for.pdf

[ii] ibid

[iii] Colombia Ministry of Foreign Affairs http://www.cancilleria.gov.co/wps/portal/espanol/!ut/p/c1/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP0os_jQsKAwo2AXYwMLS39zA0-TICNPSy9_I-dgA6B8JJK8v2-QqYFRmI9ZoJersZGBpxkB3X4e-bmp-gW5EeUA8FD4tA!!/dl2/d1/L0lDU0lKSWdrbUEhIS9JRFJBQUlpQ2dBek15cXchL1lCSkoxTkExTkk1MC01RncvN19VVlJWMlNEMzA4OU83MEk0UjJJOUpPMkUxMi9SZWxUTDcxMzMwMDEx/?WCM_PORTLET=PC_7_UVRV2SD3089O70I4R2I9JO2E12_WCM&WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/wps/wcm/connect/WCM_PRENSA/prensa/boletines/2009/agosto+bo+2009/acuerdo+con+eeuu+contribuira+a+la+derrota+del+terrorismo+para+bien+de+colombia+y+de+los+vecinos

[iv] US State Department Fact Sheet, October 30, 2009 http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2009/November/20091102160346eaifas0.3026806.html

[v] Frank Bajak, Associated Press http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5h9Nql4Q1FSmfOMpuv7w537eibm8gD9BLMP680

[vi] US State Department http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2009/nov/131346.htm

[vii] Chomsky, Coups, UNASUR, and the U.S., Znet http://www.zcomm.org/zmag/viewArticle/22733

[viii] ibid

[ix] ibid

[x] ibid

[xi] ibid 

Leave a comment