Caption: CUSLAR members in Washington, D.C., protesting U.S. funding of Salvadoran dictatorship, early 1980s.
If you were part of CUSLAR in the 1980s, “Funding for jobs and justice, not war” was a slogan you may have used. Unfortunately, times haven’t changed much. While the United States has lost a net 8 million jobs since 2008 and many municipalities and states are heading toward bankruptcy, the U.S. government continues to send billions in military aid in weapons and training to governments throughout Latin America to protect profits over people.
The $9 billion U.S. "Plan Colombia," which provides military aid and technology to the Colombian government, continues to be a central example of the role of the U.S. in the militarization of Latin America. However, the appearance of new military bases, maneuvers and joint agreements with Latin American governments give a better sense of the true scale and scope of the expanding militarization project in the region.
In 2007 the U.S. signed the Merida Initiative with Mexico, a $1.4 billion agreement to provide weapons and training to Mexican officials for counternarcotics, part of which has been used instead in repression of peaceful protest.
In 2008 the U.S. reactivated its Fourth Fleet, inactive since 1950, to patrol the waters of the hemisphere.
In 2009 the U.S. allocated $46 million to expand the Palanquero air force base in Colombia, a strategic site that allows C-17 military transport planes to travel from Alaska to Patagonia only refueling once. It is widely understood that the Palanquero expansion was needed after Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa demanded the closing of the U.S. base in Manta.
In 2010 the U.S. deployed troops to Haiti and supported an expansion of MINUSTAH, United Nations military forces, calling the latter a "bargain" and "an indispensable tool for realizing the core U.S. government policy interests in Haiti."
In 2011, the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement included a stipulation for increased use of unmanned military aircraft, or drones, in Colombian airspace.
In 2012 U.S. and Dominican governments agreed to collaborate on construction of a U.S.-funded naval base on Isla Saona, a small island national park off of the southeast Dominican coast.
In September 2010 the Alliance for Global Justice published a visual description of U.S. military presence in the hemisphere to that point.
Why such a scaling-up of U.S. military operations and exercises in Latin America and the Caribbean?
Though much of the official justification for U.S. militarization in the region is based on "fighting the drug war" and "controlling crime," analysts such as Annie Bird, Co-director of Rights Action, have studied the trends and come to different conclusions. In a Spring 2012 article in The NACLA Report on the Americas, Bird presents several case studies that show that "militarization in Central America is less about controlling crime than ensuring access to natural resources."
Indeed, shapers of U.S. foreign policy tend to agree that Latin America must be kept under the watchful eye of the United States, not because of increased crime or drug-related activity threaten the U.S., but because of the region's economic potential. The Council on Foreign Relations, an “independent non-partisan think tank” that develops analysis shaping U.S. foreign policy, touts Latin America as little more than an ever-emerging market ripe for profit-making in a 2008 report: “Latin America is now one of the more open market regions in the world and a crucial global provider of energy, minerals, and food.” Indeed, the U.S. already imports considerably more oil from Latin America than from the Middle East, and U.S.-based companies are extracting more labor and resources from the region than ever, the report boasts.
Even as President Barack Obama has ushered in a new era of diplomacy rhetoric in Latin America, U.S. economic and military policy remain unchanged. Obama called the U.S. an “equal partner” to Latin America at a 2009 summit, proclaiming that “every one of our nations has a right to follow its own path.” Yet though Obama speaks with more tact than his predecessor, U.S. militarization of the Americas continues to accelerate.
CUSLAR is committed to continuing study and action to oppose U.S. militarism and its effects in the midst of economic crisis at home and abroad.