By TONY SEED
Fifth in a series of seven articles on the occasion of Harper’s visit to Latin America and the Caribbean
HALIFAX (13 August 2007) – FOR THE IMPERIAL POWERS, warships are but floating bases to deliver the marines and firepower on board, secure the sources of raw materials and natural riches, dominate the oceans and sealanes of the world, and through the old gunboat policy put down the struggles of the peoples for independence and change.
On any given day, the US Navy has underway 176 warships (55 per cent of its fleet), including four carriers and 40 attack submarines. These are organized into some thirteen naval tasks forces built around the colossal aircraft carriers, all armed with atomic weapons, which complement more than 700 US military bases, many of them vast structures on foreign soil and islands astride the strategic sealanes throughout the world, staffed by over 100,000 American military personnel. 
While the world’s attention has been focused on the concentration of the biggest naval fleet ever in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Iran, the waters of Caribbean and South and Central America are no less brimming with warships.  The “hush-hush drug surveillance operation in the Caribbean” of the US and Canadian armed forces in the Caribbean during July, 2007 was carried out simultaneously with the grandiloquent “Partnership of the Americas 2007” – a six-month naval mission throughout Latin America and the Caribbean of a special US war task force which began in April.
The self-styled “Partnership” includes several military components: the massive, annual UNITAS naval maneouvres circumnavigating South America; the Panamax exercises to control the strategic Panama Canal and recreate a base in Central America, scheduled from July 26 to October 27, including 31 countries led by the US Navy; and “humanitarian visits” by a hospital ship, USS Comfort, in Central America.
It was under the rubric of “Partnership of the Americas 2006” that the USS George Washington aircraft carrier battle group, including two amphibious assault warships, a missile carrier, and 6,500 Marines, demonstratively drilled in Curacao, in an “exercise” code-named Caribbean Lion in May 2006. They carried out reconnaissance flights, depth measurements and terrain analysis 50 km off the coast of Venezuela.
The American fleet was joined by naval forces from NATO – the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The Bolivarian Civilian-Military Front and other Venezuelan mass organizations protested the maneouvres, saying it was “an insult to the sovereignty of people and has been designed to intimidate those governments which have decided to respect the will of their peoples.”
Under code-name Tradewinds, a massive annual “training and readiness exercise” that the US Navy conducts in the Caribbean Sea in early April, according to the LA Times, “troops from the US and 17 countries practiced containment of massive civil unrest” and the “post-disaster” type scenario with a land stage in Puerto Rico and a Maritime one in St. Lucia and Jamaica. The pretext was preparations for providing “security” for the Cricket World Cup, 2007 staged in these and other islands of the West Indies. 
More and more, analysts believe the militarization of the subcontinent is taking place precisely through these war games, which are at various times unilateral, bilateral or multilateral, together with missions disguised as humanitarian aid, and an expanded system of bases.
Over 20 per cent of US foreign aid now flows directly through the Pentagon. Conversely, the US Agency for International Development funds military training in a number of countries. Nor are they confined to armed forces from the hemisphere.
Activation of NATO and the fleets of the old colonialists
Along with the Canadian navy, the new NATO Rapid Response Fleet is being tasked to the Caribbean beyond the so-called zone of security of this alliance, in violation of Article 6, which stipulates that NATO’s southernmost zone is the Tropic of Cancer.
What is NATO doing in the Caribbean, even if the USA “lent” NATO and Canada its facilities in Vieques, Roosevelt Roads, Antigua and elsewhere?
The Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG-1), involving American, French and German warships (USS Mahan, a guided-missile destroyer; FGS Sachsen, a guided-missile frigate; and RFA Wave Ruler, a large fleet tanker) under the command of US Admiral Michael K. Mahon, recently carried out “present operations” around the Caribbean Sea and in the Caribbean harbours of Willemstead, Curacao, a Dutch colony just off the coast of Venezuela (30 March-3 April), and Fort de France, Martinique (10-16 April), a colony of France.
This fleet is presently circumnavigating Africa. 
Meanwhile, the massive French amphibious warship Tonnerre, a Force Projection and Command ship – which had crossed the Atlantic for a 14-week “verification cruise” to the port of Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada – then steamed to Norfolk, Virginia (HQ of US 2nd Atlantic Command and the NATO fleet) for “interoperability trials” embarking US helicopters, followed by “visits” to Martinique; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa; and Dakar, Senegal.
UNITAS – a means of continental military integration
The largest “multilateral” exercise, which have been institutionalized into a permanent threat by the US Southcom, is UNITAS (Latin for unity).
The annual UNITAS deployment – including regular and reserve surface combatants such as missile cruisers and Orion P-3 aircraft, a Los Angeles class attack submarine, helicopter squadrons, remote drones and US Marines embarked on an amphibious ship – constitutes the largest annual field exercise south of the US border and the largest US-directed, multi-national naval exercise in the Western hemisphere.
UNITAS is the naval counterpart of overt US military exercises with Latin American regimes: “Cabanas” for the armies of the region and “Águila” for the air forces.
These are all organized under US command and control, in parallell with a host of other specfialized programs such as Plan Columbia, New Horizons, Three Plus One, etc., which are all components of one plan: to maintain and extend US dictate over the hemisphere through military force. They constitute a principal means of continental military integration
UNITAS 2007 involved the deployment of Destroyer Squadron FOUR ZERO and the Pearl Harbor Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG), consisting of USS Pearl Harbor, USS Mitscher, USS Samuel B. Roberts, along with Chilean Navy frigate Almirante Latorre. The warship group circumnavigated South America from the Pacific to the Atlantic, successively carrying out one exercise after another with participating armed forces.
The exercises are classified and kept secret, apart from sanitized Southcom press releases, and have never been analyzed by any (English-language) media.
The UNITAS exercises were initiated as a response to the victory of the anti-imperialist revolution of the Cuban people in 1959, as an annual “joint” exercise with different South American regimes; the first exercise was staged 28 August-8 December, 1960 beginning in the waters of Venezuela, a series of eight ASW exercises with eight South American navies: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Equator, Peru, Venezuela and Uruguay. Over time other countries were incorporated. Since 1999 the exercise has been divided into three phases: Atlantic, Pacific and Caribbean, alternating annually in the sense and contradiction of the clock.
In parallel, the US formed the Conferences of Naval Chiefs of the Americas, to extend its “inter-American defence system” and “regional stability” under the Organization of American States. Is it mere coincidence that the Canadian Military Assistance Training Programme was initiated to include Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, and Guyana during the same year? Canada at the time was not a member of the OAS.
UNITAS is carried out under the direction of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, organized by the US Southern Command (Southcom), and supported by the 2nd Atlantic Fleet based in Norfolk, Va. The aim of this “jointness” is to augment the command structure of US Southcom, deepen American influence in the general staff of the Latin American navies, enforce that the naval forces seamlessly operate with a single and common language, tactics, procedures, equipment and command in the service of a political hegemonic strategy, what the military, politicians and media portray as “inter-operability” and gather “domain awareness” for future military action.
The admirals and generals at the head of the US Southern Command usually describe it as follows:
“US Southcom designed these exercises to organize its command structure, deepen its influence in the general staff of the Latin American military and educate the officials to US military procedures and tactics in order to efficiently implement US Southcom’s priorities.”
It is worth recalling a long-overlooked fact: the bloody overthrow of the Allende government of Chile in 1973 was prepared and carried out under the logistical direction of the offshore and onshore presence of American naval units and the Unitas exercise. According to studies of the coup, the Chilean navy formed the vanguard and strike force of the military blitzkrieg, landing in the port of Valaraiso in the middle of the night. The American ships lying offshore and aircraft provided a centralized operating command and communications platforms.
The crimes were not limited to Chile. By 1982, UNITAS’ sphere of operation of the gunboat policy expanded to include the Caribbean and West Africa. American warships would spin out of the UNITAS to transit the South Atlantic to West Africa for port “visits” and exercises. The Reagan administration, NATO and the South African apartheid regime vainly strove to cobble together a “South Atlantic Treaty Organization” (SATO) against the mounting struggles of the African and Latin American peoples against inhuman exploitation, colonialism and racism.
More recently, the US-inspired coup d’état of the popular Venezuelan government 12-14 April 2002 was carried out under the cloak of an American naval exercise in the Caribbean Sea reported to be near Puerto Rico. US Navy warships including the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and the destroyers USS Barry, Laboon, Mahan and Arthur W. Radford were stationed between Aruba and Curaco and Venezuela to allegedly prepare for the possible evacuation of Americans. American intelligence planes were flown in from Ecuador. The US Navy was providing “intelligence and communications jamming support” from warships lurking offshore to soldiers involved in the coup, blocking President Hugo Chávez’s attempts to communicate with his allies as well as cellphone communications internally. US Navy ships were monitoring communications to and from the Caracas embassies of Cuba, Libya, Iran and Iraq in coordination with Key West.
The 2002 Caribbean phase of UNITAS introduced the first-time participation of naval units from the Dominican Republic and Mexico (although Constitutional Article 76 forbids Mexican troops from operating outside of the nation’s territorial limits).
By 2004, some 20,500 sailors, marines and coast guard personnel from 15 navies, including Spain and Canada, which provided a Halifax-class patrol frigate and Aurora surveillance aircraft, carried out UNITAS 2004 under the command of US Rear Admiral Vinson E. Smith of US Southcom.
“Partnership of the Americas” and “hemispheric security” are sophisms employed to cover up and justify the criminal nature, purpose and danger of the exercises. They are preparations for new interventions in line with the aggressive American policy which defines “radical populism” as the singular danger to US interests, and constitute a psychology of provocation, of constant confrontation by US state terrorism.
UNITAS is designed to combat internal conflict through armed force, not some external enemy. UNITAS is one form of integrating under the US command the Latin American military forces which actively follow the US policy of hemispheric domination and neo-liberalism and who have participated in almost all of the UNITAS maneouvres and practised the methods of counter-insurgency combat operations according to the US strategy of aggression for Latin America. If internal unrest or US intervention breaks out, they will be the first to commit their armed fores to the Latin American front.
UNITAS Atlantic 2007
UNITAS Atlantic 48-07 was carried out May 1-15, 2007 off the coast of Argentina. It grouped the US Navy Task Group 40.0 together with warships from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Spain and observers from Bolivia, Egypt, Germany, Portugal, Namibia, and South Africa, that is, from three continents. According to Southcom,
“This exercise was designed to train each navy in a variety of maritime scenarios, with each operating as a component of a multinational force to provide the maximum opportunity to improve interoperability.
“UNITAS Atlantic included live-fire exercises, a missile exercise, maritime interdiction operations, submarine operations and air operations.”
UNITAS Pacific 2007
UNITAS Pacific followed from June 18 to June 26, 2007 off the western coast of South America. It involved the US Navy Task Group 40.0 and naval forces from Colombia, Chile and Peru, with Mexico as a repeat observer. The “partnership” included amphibious landing exercises by US and Peruvian Marines on a beach in Ancon, Peru. The skimpy details released by US Southcom clearly reveal the aggressive and interventionist nature of the exercise.
“While on shore, US and Peruvian Marines will establish a Universal Operations Center (UOC), which gives the command the ability to conduct enhanced voice and data communications, both unclassified and classified.”
1. According to US government figures, the Pentagon maintains some 737 bases in 130 countries, although many experts estimate the true number to be over 1,000. According to the estimates of several NGOs, there are 1,700 foreign military bases in the world.
2. The Pentagon now has more resources and money directed to Latin America than the Departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce and Treasury combined. Before 9/11 the annual US military aid to the region was around $400 million. It’s now nearly $1 billion. Much of this goes to training troops. Benjamin Dangl, “The US Military Descends on Paraguay”, The Nation, July 12, 2006]
3. “Completing three weeks of presence operations in the Caribbean, the ships of SNMG1 successfully marked the first time NATO has deployed to that part of the world. During the Caribbean visit the Group had the opportunity to share NATO’s mission and interests with the US commands in the region (USSOUTHCOM, USNAVSO and JIATF-S), the Dutch forces of the Netherlands Antilles and French forces of Martinique. They also successfully expanded NATO’s knowledge base of the area ensuring returning NATO forces will be able to operate more efficiently during any future operations.” The group, previously known as Standing Naval Force Atlantic [STANAVFORLANT], was officially renamed SNMG-1 in January 2006. USS Mahan, FGS Sachsen and Tonnerre stood off the coast of Lebanon. http://www.manw.nato.int/snmg1/Completed%20Pages/2007/2007%2004%2010-16%20Apr/20070410TWSNMG1.html
4. Carol J. Williams, “Dominicans wary of US presence, Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2006