The process of militarization in the continent has caused
environmental destruction, human rights violations and repression
of social movements, as well as the displacement and forced
migration of millions of people. The United States has increased
the number of military bases in Latin America, as in case
of Manta (Ecuador), Tres Isquinas and Letícia (Colombia),
Iquitos (Peru), Queen Beatrix (Aruba), Hato (Curaçao)
and Comalapa (El Salvador). Those bases increase the U.S.
military presence in the region. The United States government
already had military bases in Puerto Rico (Vieques), Cuba
(Guantánamo) and Honduras (Soto de Cana). It also intends
to build military bases in Argentina (Tierra del Fuego), as
well as control the base at Alcântara, in Brazil.
United States military presence
in Latin America
consolidation of economic and military domination of Latin
America has been one of the top priorities of the U.S. government.
The growing US military presence in the continent can ensure
control of natural resources in Latin-American countries,
mainly oil, water and biodiversity.
the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, on September
11, 2001, the US government increased its military power all
over the world. In Latin America, this strategy included building
new military bases, training Latin-American soldiers, selling
weapons, and installing surveillance and espionage systems.
process has caused environmental destruction, severe human
rights violations and repression of grassroots movements,
as well as the displacement and forced migration of millions
addition to the increase in the Pentagon's budget, amounting
to US$400 billion, the Bush administration has given clear
signs of its unilateral policy. For example, the US government
opposed the Biological Weapons Convention and, at the same
time, carries out illegal test with those weapons, denying
access to inspectors in its laboratories. The US also rejected
the Treaty on Antiballistic Missiles, the U.N. Convention
on Torture (to avoid inquiry on torture against prisoners
held in the Guantánamo base), and intends violate the
Treaty Against Nuclear Testing.
United States government has increased the number of military
bases in Latin America, as in case of Manta (Ecuador), Tres
Isquinas and Letícia (Colombia), Iquitos (Peru), Queen
Beatrix (Aruba), Hato (Curaçao) and Comalapa (El Salvador).
Those bases increase the U.S. military presence in the region.
The US government already had military bases in Puerto Rico
(Vieques), Cuba (Guantánamo) and Honduras (Soto de
Cana). It also intends to build military bases in Argentina
(Tierra del Fuego), as well as control the base at Alcântara,
Brazilian government decided to reject an agreement that would
allow the United States to use the Alcântara base, in
the state of Maranhão. During Fernando Henrique Cardoso's
administration, the proposal had been approved in the Congressional
Committee of Sciences and Technology, and rejected in the
Committee of Foreign Relations. After the election of Luiz
Inácio Lula da Silva, the proposal was rejected by
the Committee of Constitution and Justice.
decision resulted from a great mobilization by the Campaign
against the Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement (FTAA),
and by the resistance of quilombo communities (traditional
black communities) in Alcântara. In 2002, a plebiscite
about the FTAA included a question about Alcântara,
in which 10 million Brazilians voted against the U.S. control
of the base.
The agreement established a series of obligations for Brazil
but none for the United States. For example, the U.S. would
have sole authority to designate restricted areas that only
American officials could enter. The Brazilian government would
be prohibited from verifying the content of materials received
by U.S. officials and, if an accident occurred, the Brazilian
government would not be able to inspect the area.
agreement would permit the commercial use of facilities at
the Launching Center of Alcântara by the private sector,
which contradicts the original argument for expropriating
community land. When the Center was built, dozens of quilombo
communities were displaced because the government argued that
Brazil needed to develop its own technology.
is located in the Brazilian Amazon region. The area has several
quilombos (traditional black communities) that preserve their
own culture. The Brazilian Constitution recognizes their right
to their territories. However, the installation of the Launching
Center at Alcântara in the 1970s by the military regime,
caused the expulsion of dozens of quilombolas from their lands.
If the Alcântara base is used by other countries, the
majority of the remaining communities will be displaced.
Agreement with Ukraine
National Congress is currently considering an agreement between
Brazil and Ukraine for the use of the base. The document was
approved in the House of Representatives, with a favorable
analysis by congress member Jorge Bittar (Worker's Party-Rio
de Janeiro). The next step is a vote in the Senate, where
the sponsor of the proposal is Senator Roseana Sarney-a very
conservative senator from the state of Maranhão.
agreement can also result in the displacement of quilombo
communities. In addition, it includes the same restrictions
that the United States sought to impose. In the present proposal,
there is no mechanism to guarantee the Brazilian government
access to technology, to the restricted areas and the right
to inspect materials in the base (see text of the agreement
Campaign Against the FTAA will continue to monitor the negotiations
about the use of the Alcântara base, inasmuch as it
threatens national sovereignty and the rights of the quilombos.
The proposal of Representative Jorge Bittar does not contain
any guarantee that preserves the Brazilian government's control
of the base. The provisions below merely establish that Brazil
and Ukraine "will endeavor to use their best efforts"
in the guarantee of those rights. The proposal envisions:
- regarding the provisions of article IV, paragraph 3, the
Government of Brazil and the Government of Ukraine will endeavor
use its best efforts to assure that Brazilian authorities
also participate in the control of the restricted areas, while
respecting protection of technology from Ukrainian origin;
with respect to the provision of article V, the Government
of Ukraine will endeavor to use its best efforts to authorize
its officials to release information regarding the presence,
in shipments, launched vehicles, or spacecraft, of radioactive
material or of any substances that can be harmful to the environment
or to human health, as well as information about launched
satellites, while respecting protection of technology from
in reference to that stipulated in article VI, paragraph 2,
the Parties will endeavor to make their best efforts to assure
that persons authorized by the Government of Brazil also participate,
as appropriate, in the control of access to launched vehicles,
spacecraft and related equipment, while respecting protection
of technology from Ukrainian origin;
regarding the provision contained in article VI, paragraph
5, the Parties endeavor to use their efforts to assure that
identification badges will be worn by individuals that will
control the restricted areas, and that such badges will be
issued by the Government of Ukraine or by Ukrainian officials,
for Ukranians, and by the Government of Brazil, for Brazilians,
while respecting the protection of Ukrainian technology;
in reference to that which is established in article VII,
paragraph 1.B, the Parties will use their best efforts to
assure that sealed containers will be open for inspection
by Brazilian authorities properly authorized for such by the
Government of Brazil, in the presence of Ukrainian authorities
and in appropriate areas, without implying the inappropriate
technical study of materials contained there, and preserving
entirely the protection of technology from Ukrainian origin.
- with respect to that stipulated in the article VIII, paragraph
3, line "a", the Government of Brazil will assure,
in term consistent with the Agreement on Rescue of Astronauts
and Restitution of Astronauts and of Objects Launched into
Cosmic Space of April 22, 1968, the restitution to the Ukrainians
Participants of all items associated with the launching of
vehicles or spacecraft recuperated by Brazilian representatives,
without examining or photographing them in any way, except
in cases the Brazilian authorities deem to be for in the interest
of health and public safety and for the preservation of the
environment, while respecting the protection of technology
from Ukrainian origin.
strategy of the U.S. government includes training Latin-American
soldiers, as in the case of the Operation Cabañas,
carried out in Argentina with the participation of 1,500 officials
from the U.S., Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay,
Peru and Uruguay.
to documents released by the Argentine government, the objective
of that training was to create a "unified military command"
to fight "terrorism in Colombia, beyond a battle field
composed by civilians, non-governmental organizations and
potential aggressors." The U.S. media collaborate with
this process. For example, an article published in the Miami
Herald on October 23, 2002 defends the need for the creation
of a South American Military Force to fight against the guerrillas
in Colombia and to "deal with similar internal threats
in the future."
military force would act in the region from the three-way
border between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The authorization
for the entrance of U.S. troops in Latin America includes
diplomatic guarantees of immunity, which means that U.S. military
suspected of crimes or human rights violations would not be
tried in Latin-American countries.
that, the U.S. continues to train Latin-American soldiers
in the School of the Americas, and it intends to create the
International Academy for Compliance With the Law in Costa
Rica, with the objective of influencing legislation and the
police forces in the region.
form of U.S. control in Latin America is the installation
of monitoring mechanisms as the SIVAN (System of Surveillance
for the Amazon)-a 1.4 billion-dollar project carried out by
the American company Raytheon, with capacity to monitor 5.5
million kilometers. The SIVAN would include the purchase of
combat airplanes, as the Toucan TO-29. In Argentina, the Pentagon
also plans to create the National Radar System, as part of
an international network of surveillance.
military escalation strengthens the American defense industry.
For example, the facilities at the Manta base in Ecuador,
with capacity of controling the radius of 400 kilometers of
air space, is under the responsibility of DynCorp, which is
also accused of involvement with the CIA. The Manta base will
be equipped with large E-3 jets, with F-16 and F-15 Eagle
planes, with the capacity of controlling the Amazon region,
the Panama Canal and Central America. Other defense and military
technology companies, such as Raytheon and Northrop, estimate
an increase of 50% in their profit this year.
Colombia and Plan Puebla-Panama
United States is also moving forward with Plan Colombia, which
includes a 1.3 billion-dollar apparatus. Last year, U.S. Secretary
of State Colin Powell guaranteed another US$731 million to
finance the participation of Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru in
those military operations. The main focus of violence in Colombia,
which causes the displacement of native and peasant populations
from theirs lands, coincides with the richest regions in biodiversity.
Colombia facilitates the implementation of hydroelectric,
oil and mining projects, sponsored by the World Bank and by
multinational corporations. More than a million hectares of
Colombian forest have been contaminated by fumigation with
chemicals, and the number of internal refugees has reached
three million (400,000 during last year), 75% of whom are
women and children. In the last 20 years, the number of killings
has reached 200,000, including 5,000 leaders of unions and
US strategy in Latin America includes infrastructure projects,
such as the Plan Puebla-Panama-a land canal linking the south
of the Mexico with Central America, passing through Guatemala,
Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
That region is rich in biodiversity and natural resources,
and the project would utilize cheap, non-union labor.
Plan Puebla-Panama will provide the infrastructure for a large
maquiladora (sweatshop) area. The number of sweatshops has
increased in the region since 1994, with the beginning of
NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). These companies
are known for repressing unions, imposing forced overtime,
and mistreating workers. According to a study by the Committee
to Support Regional Border Workers, 76% of the workers suffer
from lung pain, and 62% develop allergies and skin illnesses
as a consequence of their constant contact with chemical products.
addition to these precarious working conditions, the average
wage in the maquiladoras is only three dollars per day. Normally,
the workers live in the so-called "colonies" or
in slums, without basic sanitation, electricity or drinking
water. Environmental destruction is common in these areas,
as in the case of the city of Matamoros, at the border with
Texas. After General Motors and AT&T built maquiladoras
in that region, the level of chemical agents in the springs
of drinking water increased 50,000 times. According to the
Texas Center for Policy Studies, the maquiladoras were responsible
for bringing approximately 8,000 tons of pollutants to the
U.S.-Mexico border in 1996 alone.
instability of jobs in the maquiladoras-added to the privatization
of state-owned companies and the lack of support for small
farmers-continues to force immigration of Mexican workers
to the United States. At the same time, the repression at
the border, which increased since 1994 with the creation of
Operation Gatekeeper (that coincided with the implementation
of NAFTA), has generated more human rights violations. Each
year, human rights organizations at the border document hundreds
of deaths of immigrant workers.
intention to increase the number of maquiladoras in Mexico
and Central America, through Plan Puebla-Panama, is part of
a neoliberal economic strategy that aims at dismantling the
public sector and small agriculture. In addition to the exploitation
of cheap labor in the maquiladoras, the Plan Puebla-Panama
foresees the implementation of big agribusiness for the production
of genetically-modified food. Another objective of Plan Puebla-Panama
is the control of biological and water resources. In Chiapas
alone, hydro-electric plants produce 55% of the energy for
Mexico. The region has important reserves of natural gas,
oil, uranium, aluminum and copper.
of the Campaign to Demilitarize the Americas
of organizations created the Campaign to Demilitarize the
Americas (CADA) to oppose militarization in the Hemisphere.
These groups mobilized to interrupt the United States' operations
in Vieques, in addition to stopping its attempt to control
the base at Alcântara and the construction of a new
military installation in Ecuador. In Argentina, the National
Congress refused the US proposal to train Latin-American soldiers
in the so-called Operation Águillas III, which was
supposed to happen from October 27 to November 7, 2003.
CADA's main recommendations and proposals include:
To denounce US military presence in Latin America and its
consequences, such as human rights violations and environmental
- To coordinate simultaneous protests, and to carry out legal
actions against the U.S. military apparatus and in defense
of humans rights.
- To support grassroots movements in each country that fight
for their land, culture, work and dignity.
- Building an economic model rooted in social justice.
- Building an egalitarian and sustainable alternative for
Maria Luisa Mendonça is the director of the Social
Network for Justice and Human Rights.