US Southern Command and the phoney ‘War on Drugs’: Pretext for ceaseless militarization of the Americas


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

HALIFAX (13 August 2007) – THE CANADIAN WARSHIP HMCS Fredericton and an Aurora aircraft were deployed in the Caribbean Sea under the command of the US Joint Interagency Task Force during July. The American Force is based at Key West, Florida, which also serves as a base for the National Security Agency that, in April 2002, centralized communications support for the failed coup d’etat in Venezuela. The Task Force operates as a subordinate command to the US Southern Command (Southcom), Miami – one of the five US military commands that span the globe. Its “Area of Responsibility” includes all of Latin America and the Caribbean, 32 countries in total, covering a vast territory of approximately 7,000 miles from north to south by 3,000 miles from east to west. US Southcom, with its 1,400 staff and $800 million budget, is the primary US interventionist force in Latin America and the Caribbean, having more people on the ground than all other US agencies combined. US Southcom trains more foreign troops than any other regional command, and it manages a vast US military aid program, including $700 million annually to Colombia. It also runs the notorious Guantánamo Bay military and torture base in Cuba.

The United States is the biggest producer of drugs in the world and is not the least bit concerned about stopping drug trafficking, to the extent that the U.S. administration and security agencies themselves cultivate drug trafficking to finance civil wars and paramilitary groups. “Drug interdiction” is one of the forms of the intensive pressure developed by US imperialism towards the Caribbean and Latin American countries which, at the same time, in the name of “hemispheric cooperation” and “security”, is aimed at all the Americas. The lack of credibility of the fraudulent American “war on drugs” is evidenced not only by the fraction of cocaine produced that has actually been “interdicted” by the sophisticated military and para-military forces of this superpower but also by the record levels of poppy production in occupied Afghanistan. In 2001, without support from the majority of member countries, the United States was voted out of the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the International Narcotics Committee. This shows, from one aspect, that it is extremely unpopular for the United States to push double standards and unilateralism on such issues as human rights, crackdowns on drug trafficking, arms control and environmental protection. We suspect that the so-called war on drugs is merely a mechanism to bring the competition under control and concentrate production and trafficking of drugs in the hands of so-called friendly forces, just as the “war on terrorism” is an excuse to impose U.S. imperialist dictate over the entire world and suppress all opposition to its “New World Order.”

The US government has year after year published reports on human rights conditions in other countries in disregard of the opposition of many countries in the world, cooking up charges, twisting facts and censoring all countries except itself. It also publishes a report every year to make a so-called appraisal of anti-drug trafficking campaigns of 24 countries including all Latin American countries. The United States deals with any country it deems “inefficient in cracking down on drug trafficking” with condemnation, sanctions, interference in the latter’s internal affairs, or outright invasion.

The US Defense Department also manipulates language to disguise or pretty up the structure of global military dominance. It has denied that the United States has a base in Ecuador, for example, calling the US installation in Manta instead a “Forward Operating Location” and implying that it is only a parking strip for aircraft, though the US commander there publicly declared the installation “important for “Plan Colombia.” When Washington attempted to negotiate continued bases in Panama in the 1990s, the bases were to be called the Multinational Counternarcotics Center. The same semantic sleight of hand is repeated today for facilities in Africa.

Washington is doing its utmost with all its ways and means to exert an influence on the foreign and internal policies of these countries, to ensure they favour the interests of the United States to annex all the Americas into a United States of monopolies under the rubric of the Fortress America, to penetrate their armed forces in the name of “inter-operability”, to establish new military-naval bases on foreign soil, and to crush the resistance of the peoples to their “integration” and annexation.

This is the significance of the assorted “drug interdiction”, “narco terrorist”, “war on drugs” and “narcoguerillas” programs of the US Southcom and related agencies adopted in the early 1990s (e.g., Plan Colombia, later replaced by the “Andean Regional Initiative”) to justify US national security doctrine and foster militarization of the region by those countries that face no existing or potential national security threats other than that of Yankee imperialism.

In Colombia, for instance, the justificatory pretext of these Plans to combat drug traffic concealed the real premeditation; to liquidate the resistance, including the guerrillas of the FARC-EP and the ELN. The US government characterized the FARC-EP as a ‘terrorist organization’, although analyists say it is the longest standing, largest peasant-based guerrilla movement in the world today.

Between the early 1980s to the late 1990s, Washington maintained the fiction that its military programs were part of an anti-narcotic campaign. Yet it has never been able to explain why it concentrated most of its efforts in FARC-influenced regions, and not in the vast coca-growing areas controlled by the Colombian military and paramilitary forces.

Suffice it to mention that numerous reports identify that the rich mining districts in Colombia such as those exploited by INCO, the nickel multinational, are the favoured target of militarization, not the cocao regions. More than 2.5 million Colombian peasants and urban slum dwellers have been displaced by the savage counter-insurgency program called Plan Colombia; the number of displaced persons is second only to Afghanistan. As a result, the United States converted Colombia into an immense military base with the participation of thousands of American troops, agents of the CIA and DEA. Gradually, this war is becoming international. Washington is trying to compel the Latin America armed forces to participate directly in the Colombian conflict and regionalize the war, so that the people of Latin American will defend the geopolitical interests of the United States in South America.

Nevertheless, in favour of the targets of Bush’s “war on terrorism” which can shift at a moment’s notice, cutbacks in military aid have been in store for most of the countries that saw large and steady increases since the mid-1990s under the pretext of the “war on drugs,” according to the Washington-based Center for International Policy. Hence there are incessant calls and no lack of seeming justifications for US “humanitarian interventions” in Latin America. [1]

Centres of the anti-imperialist social movements

Thus the creative new definitions by the US Southcom commanders in its new “theater command strategy” and “posture statements” of “radical populism” as the “central emerging threat”, in the words of Gen. James Hill, Southcom’s former commander, in his “posture report” to Congress in March 2004, or that of “anti-U.S., anti-globalization, and anti-free trade demagogues”, in the words of Southcom commander Lieutenant General Bantz J. Craddock before the House Armed Services Committee in March 2005.

This rabid general declared, one month later in his “posture statement” to the US the Armed Services Committee, that the region was seething with threats to U.S. national security. He listed for Congress the following “threats”: “transnational terrorism, narcoterrorism, illicit trafficking, forgery and money laundering, kidnapping, urban gangs, radical movements, natural disasters, and mass migration.” For each of these threats, Southcom charted out a military response as part of its “mission and vision” for its “area of responsibility.” [2]

Furthermore, according to the new “Effective Sovereignty” security doctrine of US Southcom, there are even “ungoverned spaces such as coastlines, rivers, and unpopulated border areas” in which “radical populism” grows like “a weed” – that “respects neither geographical boundaries nor moral boundaries” and over which the Pentagon will exercise “joint” control with its “partners”, excluding Cuba and Venezuela. This imperialist concept of limited sovereignty is reminiscent of Vietnam and the Phoenix program and the more recent “responsibility to protect.” It justifies giving the “right” to the United States to deploy its forces and commit any crime regardless of borders and sovereignty in order to perpetuate its hegemony over the Americas and all those it deems a “threat” within its theatre command, including the indigenous peoples.

Tri-border area

On this basis, the US has been reconstructing a vast base in Paraguay since 2005 under the pretext that the “lawless” tri-border area (also known as the Triple Frontier, Three Borders, etc.) at Ciudad del Este, a city of some 150,000 people, shared by Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay allegedly harbours Hezbollah. Hamas and Al-Quada “terrorists”, as conclusively proven by the discovery by US troops of a scenic poster of of Iguaçu Falls, a tourist destination near Ciudad del Este, in the home of an alleged terrorist in Kabul, Afghanistan! Now. if he had had a poster of right whales in the Bay of Fundy or of the Cabot Trail…

Mariscal Estigarriba (also written as Mariscal Estigarribia) is a small town in Paraguay, pop. 30,000, located just 124 miles from Bolivia’s southeast frontier and within easy striking distance of Bolivian natural gas reserves, the largest in the Americas. The Andean nation is witnessing a widespread indigenous peasant upheaval which has brought to power a new government led by Evo Morales and the demand to nationalize the Bolivia’s natural gas reserves. 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, along 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 U.S. military enclave in the southern Cone.” The air base is larger than the international airport at the capital city, Asuncion. [3]

This entire apparatus of bases are accompanied by treaties and agreements with countries willing to sell out their sovereignty, putting under the extra-territorial jurisdiction of U.S. law, such as U.S. labour law, with the basic stipulation that the “host” country legally guarantees impunity to members of the U.S. armed forces from any prosecution.

According to the U.S. government, there are identified terrorist threats in virtually every country in Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela all supposedly contain some type of Middle Eastern “terrorist cells” within their country. When “narcoterrorism” and illegal immigration are added, the U.S. also incriminates Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cuba (the U.S. obsessively considers Cuba a “state-sponsored” terrorist nation), the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru.

“Drug interdiction” together with such other new pretexts as “human security” or of “urban gangs and other illegal armed groups” are also a means of exerting pressure on public opinion to force it to line up with the American stands and interests to integrate all aspects of life in the name of “hemispheric security.”

This is the meaning of the benevolent “hush hush” and “sensitive” participation of the Canadian Forces in the Caribbean, where it is building “maritime domain awareness,” and which Canada also has long considered its “historic” backyard, as evidenced by its stealth occupation of independent Haiti, once the richest colony in the world, in February 2004.


1 “The 2006 aid request (2): the rest of the world,” February 18, 2005,

2 Tom Barry, “‘Mission Creep’ in Latin America – U.S. Southern Command’s New Security Strategy,” July 2005, Americas Program, International Relations Center (IRC)

3 Aside from this, however, the US Southern Command and the State Department report that no “credible information” exists confirming that “Islamic terrorist cells are planning attacks in Latin America.” Luiz Moniz Bandeira, who holds a chair in history at the University of Brasília and writes about US-Brazilian relations, was quoted in the Washington Times as saying, “I wouldn’t dismiss the hypothesis that US agents plant stories in the media about Arab terrorists in the Triple Frontier to provoke terrorism and justify their military presence.” Benjamin Dangl, “The US Military Descends on Paraguay”, The Nation, July 12, 2006


Filed under Caribbean

2 responses to “US Southern Command and the phoney ‘War on Drugs’: Pretext for ceaseless militarization of the Americas

  1. olje Good entry, thank you. Do you have a Youtube account?


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