Obama Still Militarizing Latin America

John Glaser, January 17, 2013

Conn Hallinan has an important piece at Foreign Policy in Focus called Militarizing Latin America: Four More Years. Excerpt:

As it has in Africa and Asia, the Obama administration has militarized its foreign policy vis-à-vis Latin America. Washington has spread a network of bases from Central America to Argentina. Colombia now has seven major bases, and there are U.S. military installations in Honduras, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, and Belize. The newly reactivated Fourth Fleet prowls the South Atlantic. Marines are in Guatemala chasing drug dealers. Special Forces are in Honduras and Colombia. What are their missions? How many are there? We don’t know because much of this deployment is obscured by the cloak of “national security.”

The military buildup is coupled with a disturbing tolerance for coups. When the Honduran military and elites overthrew President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, rather than condemning the ouster, the Obama administration lobbied—albeit largely unsuccessfully—for Latin American nations to recognize the illegally installed government. The White House was also silent about the attempted coup against leftist Rafael Correa in Ecuador the following year, and has refused to condemn the “parliamentary” coup against the progressive president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, the so-called “Red Bishop.”

And as Dana Frank recently noted in Foreign Affairs, this is a familiar policy for the US:

The situation brings back haunting memories of other U.S. involvements in Latin America. Washington has a dark track record of supporting military coups against democratic governments and then funneling money to repressive regimes. In 1964, the United States backed a military coup in Brazil; in 1973, it supported a military coup headed by Augusto Pinochet in Chile; and during the 1980s, it threw millions of dollars at the leaders in El Salvador. All of these U.S.–backed governments ruled with enormous brutality.

Obama continues to use the ridiculous and failed drug war as a pretext to prop up ugly, military regimes with horrible human rights records throughout Latin America. Washington has also very often directed these governments on how to approach their domestic “security problems,” which invariably means that the approach is militarized. This has led to some very bloody results in places like MexicoHondurasGuatemalaColombia, and elsewhere. Hallinan continues:

The drug war has been an unmitigated disaster, as an increasing number of Latin American leaders are concluding. At least 100,000 people have been killed or disappeared in Mexico alone, and the drug trade is corrupting governments, militaries and police forces from Bolivia to the U.S. border. And lest we think this is a Latin American problem, several Texas law enforcement officers were recently indicted for aiding and abetting the movement of drugs from Mexico to the U.S.

The Obama administration should join the growing chorus of regional leaders who have decided to examine the issue of legalization and to de-militarize the war against drugs. Recent studies have demonstrated that there is a sharp rise in violence once militaries become part of the conflict and that, as Portugal and Australia have demonstrated, legalization does not lead to an increase in the number of addicts.

In Obama’s next four years as President, these trends appear to be continuing. Experts expect more reliance on special operations forces, a greater spy presence, and greater use of drones in the region




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