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English Report

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.

The United States military presence
in Latin America

Maria Luisa Mendonça*

The 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.

After 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.

This process has caused environmental destruction, severe human rights violations and repression of grassroots movements, as well as the displacement and forced migration of millions of people.

In 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.

The 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, in Brazil.

The Alcântara Base

The 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.

That 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.

The 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.

Alcântara 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.

The Agreement with Ukraine

The 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.

This 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 below).

The 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:

I - 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;

II- 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 Ukrainian origin;

III- 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;

IV- 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;

V- 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.

VI - 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.

Military training

The 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.

According 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."

That 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.

Beyond 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.

Another 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.

This 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.

Plan Colombia and Plan Puebla-Panama

The 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.

Plan 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 grassroots movements.

The 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.

The 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.

In 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Proposals of the Campaign to Demilitarize the Americas

Dozens 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 destruction.
- 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 Latin-American integration.

* Maria Luisa Mendonça is the director of the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights.