Analysis of US military contracts in Latin America and Caribbean

Role of Honduras grows as Pentagon hub in Central America, reports JOHN LINDSAY-POLAND.

DESPITE persistent reports of serious corruption and human rights abuses by the Honduran army and police, the Pentagon increased its contract spending in Honduras to $53.8 million in Fiscal Year 2011, up by 71 per cent from the previous year. President Obama’s budget also proposes increased assistance to the Honduran military in the 2013 foreign aid budget administered by the State Department.

Much of the Pentagon contract spending in Honduras last year – nearly $24 million – specifically names work on the Palmerola U.S. air base, known as Soto Cano, according to contract data posted on usaspending.gov and compiled by FOR. Contracting, Consulting, Engineering (CCE), a construction firm in Annapolis, Maryland, was awarded a $15 million contract last August to build new troop barracks at Soto Cano. CCE earlier received a $26 million contract from the State Department’s drug war bureau in FY2011 for work in Colombia.

The U.S. military also spends money on periodic exercises that are supposed to be for training of visitingU.S. forces. These are not counted in foreign aid totals, but they are being used in Honduras both to give training and to leave behind constructed facilities for Honduran forces. These exercises can also be used to benefit local elites, including those involved in the Honduran coup. A four-month exercise scheduled to begin on March 12, known as “Beyond the Horizons” is a case in point.

Beyond the Horizons will include “Exercise Related Construction” on a Honduran infantry battalion base in Naco, Cortes, according to a contract solicitation posted by U.S. Army South. Earlier contracts showed U.S. construction of bases in Caratasca (on the Atlantic coast) and Guanaja (in the Caribbean), in addition to the larger Soto Cano presence.

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U.S. Military Construction/Activity in Honduras & Guatemala, 2009-2012

The solicitation showed that U.S. military engineering units will be shuttling to and from “Micheletti New Construction” for the Naco base work. Roberto Micheletti was made president by the 2009 coup when Honduran armed forces took sitting president Manuel Zelaya out of the country (after stopping at Soto Cano).

National Guard engineering unit based in Cape Girardeau, MO will participate in Beyond the Horizons, which will lasts until July 15.

The Defense Logistics Agency on February 14 posted a solicitation for fuel deliveries to U.S. Air Force units at three locations in Honduras, including Naco, Mocoron, and Aguacate. Fuel is to be delivered to Naco every 7 to 10 days, indicating continuity of either some U.S. military operations or support to Honduran units. Mocoron in southern Honduras, not far from the Nicaraguan border, is the site of a U.S.Army tropic test site, hosted by a Honduran infantry battalion.

Regional trends

Pentagon contracts in the Latin American and Caribbean region as a whole increased by $31.5 million in 2011, or 8.7 per cent, to $417 million, excluding contracts for fuel.

Contracts in the Bahamas, where the Navy operates the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) off of Andros Island, totaled $93 million. AUTEC includes a deep water weapons range, and is tied to a headquarters in West Palm Beach, 177 miles to the northwest.

The military last year signed $163 million in contracts for work in Cuba, where the Navy’s Guantanamo base continues to operate a prison for terrorism suspects held without trial. Guantanamo spending included $2.9 million to repair the bowling center.

While the Navy’s underwater testing near the Bahamas and Guantanamo operations may have some policy objectives related to the Caribbean or Latin America, they are primarily oriented toward objectives elsewhere. And if you remove Cuba and Bahamas Pentagon contract spending, military contracts in the region declined by 13.7 per cent in 2011.

Pentagon contract numbers do not include costs paid in the United States, including for personnel directly employed by the federal government, such as the thousands of Navy sailors on aircraft carriers deployed to the region. Nor do they count arms sales or U.S. military aid administered through the State Department’s traditional foreign aid programs. Just the Facts posted an analysis of the Obama budget request for military and economic aid to Latin America in 2013, which also showed an increase in proposed U.S. military aid in Honduras and a decline in Colombia and Mexico.

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DOD contracts in Haiti, which had spiked to more than $50 million in 2010 after the Pentagon conducted relief operations after the earthquake, fell to $36 million, though still much more than the previous decade, when Pentagon contracts in Haiti averaged less than a million dollars annually.

Pentagon contracts in Mexico and Colombia also declined, by $24 million and $12 million, respectively. Colombia still dominated Pentagon contracts in South America, with $77 million out $99 million spent on the continent.

Military contracts in Guatemala included funds for the design and construction in 2012 of a “counter-narcoterrorism operations center” in Champerico, a counter-narcotics maintenance facility and pier Puerto San Jose, and training and force protection facilities in Coban. (See a map of U.S. military construction and activity in Guatemala and Honduras.)

U.S. military presence and weapons in Mexico

Military contract spending in Mexico grew enormously in 2010, to $57.8 million, after averaging just $1.7 million a year in the previous decade, so the 2011 contracts of $33 million still represent a categorically larger Pentagon presence in Mexico than before the Merida Initiative began in 2008.

One of the largest Pentagon contracts in Mexico in the last two years was awarded in September 2010 to Blackwater, for $13.5 million, to establish radio, internet, and microwave communication centers in ten paired sites along the border in Mexico and the United States. FOR obtained a copy of the performance work statement for the Blackwater contract, which was issued by the Pentagon’s Counter Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office (CNTPO). CNTPO drew some attention in November 2011 because of a multi-year contract solicitation for close to a billion dollars for drug war contracts in multiple countries, including Colombia and Mexico. Most of those funds seem so far to be directed to areas outside Latin America, such as Afghanistan.

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Mexico also obtains weapons from the United States through commercial sales to the Mexican Defense Ministry. In the 2010 calendar year such sales amounted to more than $15 million for more than 34,000 assault rifles and machine guns, according to the Census Bureau’s Foreign Trade Division. This represented a broad increase from the 2002-2007 period, when such sales had never exceeded $3.6 million.

March 1, 2012

This report is from John Linday-Poland’s blog.

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