US Muscle in Latin America

Srilata Swaminathan

Countries of Latin America are up in arms against the US decision to open seven military bases in Columbia (a move taken on the pretext of combating narcotics trade). Apart from this, the US is working towards their army, navy and air force getting a military presence in this region by the end of this year. But that’s not all - after a gap of 59 years the US Fourth Fleet is also being revived to cover South America. In just funds, the Columbia Plan has received $10 billion and another $40 billion is in the pipeline. 
This build-up is necessary if US wants to continue its domination of Latin America as it comes at a time when the US is being forced to close down its infamous Manta military base in Ecuador. Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa, has refused to renew the contract for it. In fact, this is a big month for Ecuador as it not only hosted the UNASUR conference (Union of South American Nations formed recently in 2008) but Rafael Correa starts his second term in office under the new constitution which allows him to run for a another term. This is precisely what Zelaya was hoping to achieve in Honduras when he was kidnapped and ousted by a coup in June of this year. Even though the whole world refuses to recognise the coupists and that the whole country has come to a halt as trade unions have now joined the peasants and indigenous people in protests, the coupists are frantically trying to maintain the present status quo till the elections in November when they hope that their right-wing tactics will get legitimised.
The US’ puppet ruler of Columbia, President Alvaro Uribe, has just finished a frantic seven-nation tour of major south American countries trying to reassure everyone that they have nothing to worry about from this US build-up but, of course, there have been no takers.
It is not difficult to understand the concern shown by Latin American countries to this build-up. Ever since the Monroe Doctrine was enacted in 1823 when the US made sure that no European country could colonise Latin America, these countries have just traded one colonial master for another. The US, for almost two centuries, has treated them as its neo-colonies, controlled and exploited their vast natural resources, cheap labour and markets. It has installed oppressive military dictatorships, and just between 1945 and the 1980s, has sponsored at least 16 coups d’état. In the present century alone, the US has sponsored and supported coups against Chavez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia and, in spite of all Obama’s rhetoric to the contrary, the coup in Honduras.
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Surinam, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela who have all condemned the US move in the recently held UNASUR conference held this week by signing a joint statement condemning the US.
Venezuela, which is the most strident anti-US voice in the region, is the most concerned as it shares a long and troubled history, and border, with Columbia. Chavez is right to be worried that the US will invade his country on one pretext or the other. Over a recent border spat he has withdrawn the Venezuelan ambassador from Columbia and has sent the Columbian envoy in Caracas packing. The US and Columbia have always accused the Chavez government of arming the revolutionary FARC guerrillas, who have been labelled terrorists, and providing them shelter. Alfonso Cano, leader of FARC also condemns the build-up and prophecies that it is going to have far-reaching political consequences in Latin America. He knows that under the guise of the anti-drug drive the US has always used its might to wipe out this Marxist-Leninist party.
The US has cause to be deeply worried about the anti-US politics spreading throughout Latin America and is trying its best to contain it. Along with the creation of UNASUR, the new-found courage shown by the OAS (Organisation of American States) which has not only denounced the Honduran coup but reinstated Cuba as a member, it is also the formation of ALBA on the trade front which poses a challenge to US-dominated NAFTA. ALBA, particularly, has shown how this region can effectively counter the political-economy of exploitative imperialist trade.

The US has always cloaked its imperialistic hegemony under pseudonyms such as ‘fight for democracy’, ‘regime change’, ‘fight against terrorism’ and now, its latest charade is its ‘continuing fight against narcotics’! Unfortunately, this super-power has become so exposed that no one for a moment thinks this massive build-up is just to fight the coca farmers of Columbia. As Fidel Castro asks, “What have ships of the Fourth Fleet and combat planes got to do with stopping narcotics?”