‘Partnership of the Americas’: The system of U.S. bases

For sovereignty and dignity – no gringo bases. no a bases gringas


Sixth in a series of seven articles on the occasion of Harper’s visit to Latin America and the Caribbean

HALIFAX (August 13, 2007) – THE MASSIVE US NAVAL WAR GAMES of U.S. Southern Command such as the recently-completed “Partnership of the Americas”, features the largest number of U.S. naval forces ever deployed in the Caribbean Sea, as well as NATO and Canadian warships. It also involves a network of bases, with some thirty in South America, already established or in stages of reconstruction, camouflaged with “anti terrorist” or anti-narcotic competences and undertakings.

In August 2004, with the Iraq War raging and his reelection months away, US President Bush announced a radical overhaul of overseas military basing based on the “military transformation” doctrine of then-defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The purpose of the Global Posture Review: to enable the lean, mean fighting machine long envisioned by Rumsfeld – a flexible force that can fight up to four wars at once and respond quickly to crises, wherever they may arise.

The plan slashes conventional military bases in places like Western Europe – the so-called “little Americas” with their schools, streets, and malls – and shunts troops into bare-bones forward bases in far-flung locations, closer to the action and without the family amenities, places like Romania, Bulgaria, and Kyrgyzstan, many with NATO aspirations. All this reshuffling isn’t cheap: An expert panel convened by Congress to assess the overseas basing realignment put the cost at $20 billion, counting indirect expenses overlooked by the Pentagon, which had initially budgeted one-fifth that amount.

In Africa, where the Pentagon is establishing the new command called AFRICOM, it is busy planting lily pads, officially “Cooperative Security Locations.” US troops can use these low-key outposts to stash weapons and supplies, and to train local forces. In a crisis, boom! They can convert to a real wartime base.

Since the closure of its base of operations in Panama in 1999, Southcom has centralized its operations in Doral, Florida, near the international airport in the heart of Miami-Dade County. A look at the military map shows that Southcom has managed to establish two areas of control through its system of bases [1]:

  1. The circle formed by the Caribbean islands, the Gulf of Mexico and Central America, which covers the largest oil and natural gas deposits in Latin America. The USA secures about 60 per cent of its oil from the Caribbean, both in terms of the oil-sea routes from the Middle East, West Africa and Venezuela which pass through it, and the oil which is exploited and refined there. The war machine of the USA has also been built up on the basis of strategic minerals and resources from this region, such as bauxite from Jamaica and Guyana.  This is formed by the American bases in Guantánamo (Cuba); Reina Beatriz (Aruba) and Hato Rey (Curacao); Roosevelt Roads (in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, allegedly inoperative but still considered as a military installation); Puerto Lampira, Palmerola and Soto Cano (Honduras); Compalapa (El Salvador); and other lesser military posts.
  2. The circle that surrounds the rich Amazon Basin, downward from Panama, where the Panama Canal, the region’s wealth and the location of entry to South America has been essential. This is formed by the bases of Manta (Ecuador); Lararidia, Tres Esquinas, Cano Limón (site of an oilfield located in northeastern Colombia on the border with Venezuela), Riohacha – all in Colombia; and Iquitos, Andoas, Pucallpa, Yurimaguas and Chiclaya, all in Peru. These in turn are linked to those of the region further north, for example, the air base at Manta is a base for flights over the Caribbean Sea. These bases stretch to the borders of Bolivia. Attempts have been made to install them in Brazil (a “combined regional operations centre”) and the tip of Argentina in the so-called tri-border area (also known as the Triple Frontier, Three Borders, etc.), shared by Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, at the town of Ciudad del Este. In the new Latin American scenario, the tri-border area constitutes a perfect flank for aggression against those countries.

The strategic importance of these bases has grown in recent years to the extent that there are more governments willing to put a stop to impunity and intervention, and thus rescue their already-soiled sovereignty.

Some of these bases are what the US Southcom now calls Cooperative Security Locations (CSL), i.e., permanent military bases – formerly called Forward Operating Locations (FOL). The Pentagon recently changed the terminology to imply a more “cooperative” effort.

These include Comalapa, El Salvador; the Manta base on the coast of Ecuador, which the Pentagon originally claimed was a “dirt strip” used for weather surveillance and is now one of the best-equipped airports in Latin America; the Netherlands Antilles islands of Aruba and Curaçao (also including an airport), 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela; and now Haiti. Guantánamo is also deemed a CSL.

Purportedly used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions to monitor and perform interdiction operations in the so-called drug “source and transit” zones, a vast zone determined by Washington, the bases provide a launch pad for military interventions. The CSL in Haiti will serve not only as a launching ramp of a contingent military aggression against Cuba and Venezuela, but also as a guarantor of the “security” of Washington in the Gulf of Mexico.

Jungle warfare training formerly carried out at Fort Sherman in the Panama Canal Zone was transferred to the Pinaros Islands in Puerto Rico (for the US SEALS) and Camp Gonsalves, on the northern tip of Japan’s Okinawa Island. Gen Rick Hillier of the Canadian Forces has expressed interest in being tutored by the U.S. jungle warriors.

The CSL bases complement the other military centres – including the new bases for the Expeditionary Air Force in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and in the Peruvian Amazonian Basin connected with the Spatial War Center located in Colorado Springs, USA, the headquarters of US Northern Command, Homeland Security and NORAD.

With these bases, the US military is able to project naval and air power over the Eastern Pacific, the Caribbean, all of Central America, and South America’s Andean ridge.

Together with the ceaseless naval war games in the Caribbean Sea and in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, it forms one vast military frontier.

In 1998 the US built a “School for River Operations” in Inquitos, Peru, about 100 miles from the Brazilian and Colombian borders in the Amazonian basin. There the US military trains elite Peruvian commando units and US SEALS, according to a February 2001 report, and even contract themselves out as mercenaries with private US companies against suspected rebels.

In 2002, at the tail end of the UNITAS exercise, for the first time ever, 600 Marine jungle troops aboard the USS Portland made their way up the international waters of the Amazon River to Peruvian territory on the Nanay River just outside of Inquitos. These bases are also related to control and access to the extensive natural biological, mineral and water resources resources of the Amazon Basin.

Since 2005, the US has been allegedly constructing a vast base in Paraguay at Mariscal Estigarriba, located just 124 miles from Bolivia’s southeast frontier and within easy striking distance of Bolivian natural gas reserve and fresh water aquifers. The US repeatedly denies the allegation. The airbase  is also close enough to Brazil. According to InterPress Service, by that time the United States had conducted 46 military operations in Paraguay since 2002. The first US troops arrived in June 2005. In July 2005 the US and Paraguay began a series of 13 separate “routine” exercises which continued through to December 2006. [2]

Here, Southcom has constructed comfortable barracks to house up to 16,000 troops at a base originally built by the US for the Stroessner dictatorship in the 1980s. Other facilities include with vast hangers, a huge radar system, and a 3,800-metre airstrip that enables the take-off and landing of B-52 and C-5 Galaxy cargo planes. According to the local magazine Koeyú the new facilities make the Mariscal Estigarriba “the principal and most important US military enclave in the southern Cone.” The air base is larger than the international airport at the capital city of Paraguay, Asuncion.

It is not ancient history that it was the Soto Cano air base in Honduras, where some 550 U.S. troops are based, which formed a key installation for the contras under then president Ronald Reagan who terrorized Nicaragua in the 1980s. [3]


1. The website visionesalternativas.com, cited by Elsa Claro, “Strange maneuvers: Alone with the enemy,” Granma, April 18, 2006, www.granma.cu/ingles/2006/abril/mar18/maniobras.html

2. U.S. denials are elaborated by globalsecurity.org; Dr. Luis Maria Argana International Airport, Mariscal Estigarribia, Paraguay, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/mariscal-estigarribia.htm

For Your Information: U.S. Bases in Latin America and the Caribbean

IN ADDITION to strengthening the militaries of Latin America through aid, training and equipment, the United States continues to stake out a claim on the use of Latin American territory for its own foreign policy objectives. Some of these bases are well-known (and in the case of the U.S. base at Guantanamo, notorious), while others – in Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador and Caribbean islands – are open secrets. What follows is a list of what we know about the United States’ “military footprint” in the region (drawn largely from the work of the Center for International Policy). The term Forward Operating Location is used to describe U.S. arrangements with foreign nations for temporary access of military bases. But in some cases, “temporary” can mean decades, not months.

Guantnamo Bay, Cuba

U.S. colonial base in Guantanamo, Cuba

United States military has about 850 U.S. forces from five branches stationed in Guantanamo. Its military base, now largely a detention facility for foreign prisoners in the “war on terrorism,” is the oldest U.S. base outside of the continental United States and the only permanent overseas U.S. presence within a country the U.S. regards as hostile.

Soto Cano, Honduras

About 550 U.S. troops are stationed in Honduras as part of JTF-Bravo’s mission “to enhance cooperative regional security through forward presence and peacetime engagement operations.” Specific activities include military exercises, humanitarian and civic assistance projects, disaster relief, and support for counter-drug operations. JTF-Bravo also assists Central American armed forces in “restructuring their militaries to fit changing security requirements.”

Manta, Ecuador, Forward Operating Location

From the Eloy Alfaro International Airport, U.S. Navy P-3 Maritime Patrol Aircraft conduct counter-drug detection and monitoring missions.

Aruba, Forward Operating Location

The U.S. has a small presence in Aruba, with two medium and three small aircraft, about fifteen permanently assigned staff and twenty to twenty-five temporarily deployed operations and maintenance personnel.

Curaao, Netherlands Antilles

Forward Operating Location The Curaao section of this Caribbean FOL hosts F-16s, Navy P-3 and E-2 Airborne Early Warning planes, E-3 AWACS and other military aircraft. As many as 200 to 230 U.S. military personnel are temporarily deployed on operations at this base.

Comalapa, El Salvador, Forward Operating Location

The Salvadoran facility hosts four P-3 (or similar sized) aircraft. The main focus of the flights using this site is detecting maritime drug trafficking, especially in the Pacific.

Seventeen Counter-Drug Radar Sites

In Colombia, Peru, and in mobile and secret locations, the United States military operates radar sites to detect possible drug-smuggling flights. In most cases, the radar sites are located within host-country military bases, but U.S. personnel are in charge of their own security. A typical detachment consists of 36 to 45 personnel.

Known Radar Locations

Colombia Leticia (southeastern Colombia)

Maranda (east, along border with Venezuela)

Rohacha (northeast, on the Caribbean coast)

San Andrs (east of Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea)

San Jos del Guaviare (southern central Colombia)

Tres Esquinas (south west, near border of Ecuador)

Peru Iquitos (on the Amazon River in near Colombian border)

Andoas (Northern Peru, between Colombia and Ecuador)

Pucallpa (on the Ucayali River near Brazil)

The rest of the radar sites are either mobile or in secret locations.

Source: Frida Berrigan and Jonathan Wingo, “The Bush Effect: U.S. Military Involvement in Latin America Rises, Development and Humanitarian Aid Fall,” World Policy Institute, November 5, 2005, http://www.commondreams.org/views05/1105-21.htm

1 Comment

Filed under Caribbean, No Harbour for War (Halifax)

One response to “‘Partnership of the Americas’: The system of U.S. bases

  1. Pingback: CFB Suffield: Britain to train thousands of troops in Canada | Tony Seed's Weblog

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