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LATIN AMERICA
New militarization schemes
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
4/22/2015
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At first glance, Latin America appears to have split into two blocs of countries; on the one hand, some countries claim to be progressive and seek autonomy for development, prioritize sub-regional alliances and denounce what they call US imperialism; on the other hand, others are still attached to US policy, facilitating the implementation of both military and financial regional control mechanisms.

However, a deeper analysis of regional geopolitics reveals the commitment of all countries to militarize society and repress demonstrations, putting into effect penal codes that facilitate the delivery of natural resources to large multinationals. The nationalities of these multinationals are not easy to identify as they may be formed by Chinese, Canadian, US and European capital, and the governments’ ideology is not an obstacle when it comes to subject communities to extract their resources and get the highest possible return.

The transformation of geopolitics and the uprooting of capital lead us to wonder if the military apparatus even obeys the interest of security, the hegemony of a particular country, or if it is now a supranational interest. In this case, societies are supporting with their taxes — not the safety of their countries — but a great system of private enterprise security.
 
Invisible bases and military advisers
In November 2009, the US military base at Manta, Ecuador, closed. It was mentioned that that base’s activities were transferred to seven Colombian bases and to the Pichari region in the jungle of the southern Andean department of Cusco, in Peru. In the latter country, there would be nine military bases, ensures Atilio Borón, Argentine political scientist and geopolitical analyst.

Panama is not far behind. According to Julio Yao, a Panamanian university researcher and anti-naval base activist, in Panama there would be 12 US military bases, even though before 2000 the United States officially handed over all its bases to the Panamanian government. According to the Movement for Peace, Sovereignty and Solidarity among the Peoples (MOPASSOL), headquartered in Argentina, there are 47 US bases in Latin America.

Where are these military bases? Are there photos of them? What is the evidence of their existence? Latin American governments deny having transferred national military bases to foreign control or having given permission to the United States to build military bases on their territories. Due to the lack of evidence, one could say that this situation is an exaggeration of the anti-base activists. But it is not so.

The Manta military base as well as the bases of Vieques in Puerto Rico; Soto Cano in Palmerola, Honduras; Hato Rey in Curaçao; Comalapa in El Salvador; and Queen Beatrix in Aruba, should have transformed and multiplied to accommodate the new regional control demands and the new problems that have been identified as risky, not only for the United States, but also for the entire dynamic of capital reproduction. These new problems include the resistance of local people, especially peasants and indigenous with alliances with urban sectors; progressive governments with media discourse, and the presence of other economic powers, China in particular.

The traditional military bases required a lot of economic resources to maintain and are very visible to the population, so they become targets of the anti-base activists, as occurred in Vieques. Nor were the first transformations in the late 90s — with the creation of Forward Operating Locations — very effective at drawing away the attention of activists, even when budgets were reduced and the bases could be kept under the guise of fighting drugs. Manta is an example of this because after 10 years of social resistance, it was finally forced to close in 2009.

A new transformation was necessary to hide the US military intervention and make it more practical. Now, under military cooperation agreements for disaster support, to advice on internal security, to fight against drugs and combat poverty, US military advisers enter Latin American countries without attracting attention. Natural disasters provide the best excuse for intervention, as in the case of Haiti, where, after the 2010 earthquake, the US military took over the country and now coordinates the actions of other military peacekeeping missions involved there.

This strategy is not new. It follows the old discourse of the Alliance for Progress program which the United States used to intervene in Latin America in the 70s, but it is renewed with elements such as the fight against corruption, crime, drugs and — to better sell the idea — it maintains the slogan of combating poverty. 

Military intervention does not always come before the signing of agreements. As in the cases of Venezuela and Ecuador, who do not accept US military cooperation, interventions are carried out under the guise of military attachées in US embassies. In April of this year (2014), Ecuador detected the presence of 50 military personnel affiliated with the US embassy. A decision was taken to expel 20 of them who advised on security. Military officials from the embassies establish direct relationships with middle and senior management officers of the armed bodies of the Latin American countries, allowing for sensitive information to be exchanged and to carry out activities without the knowledge of governments.

Large military structures are no longer needed with this new scheme. Small operational posts under local military administrations suffice. These posts can be set up based on the agreements reached with governments and at the convenience of US politics. They can also serve as points of surveillance to warn about social movements and intimidate organizations. 
 
Militarization of society
The same kind of policy of social control that the United States implements in countries under its influence is also implemented in countries that supposedly have moved away from the US domain. So, what does it control?

Non-US investments in Latin America have grown, particularly Chinese investment. This suggests that US political control and intimidation have failed — unless the United States is now providing security services to China, given that the latter is the largest holder of US bonds. According to data from the Central Bank of China, in late 2013 the debt the United States owed China reached US$1.3 trillion, while Chinese investment in Latin America now totals $102 billion, with Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Peru, in that order, as the main recipients of Chinese investment.

The security of Chinese capital invested in US public debt depends on the security of US investments in other countries; similarly, the safety of Chinese investments depends on the security the countries provide to extract natural resources. Hence, the application of the US security policy is key even in countries that supposedly are not under its influence.

The militarization of cities with the pretext of controlling crime and drug trafficking; the militarization of the civil police, which creates specialized squads to control social protests; and the creation of new armed bodies of surveillance, such as forest guards, make up the new forms of surveillance of social structures.

In Ecuador, for example, the modernization of the Armed Forces will also include the allocation of some members to new areas of surveillance, such as forest guard, which will have the role of controlling rural activities — both productive activities and the activities of organizations, with the pretext of protecting native forests.

Likewise, under the pretext of cracking down on child pornography, capital and human trafficking, bodies of cyber-surveillance have been created to control the social networks that organizations use to interact. Using the euphemism of cyber defense, Ecuador has proposed to create a body of cyber-surveillance under the umbrella of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

The creation of new riot police bodies and their training to quell possible urban conflicts is also a response to the permanent rural to urban migration, which generates new slums full of people who are inclined to respond to calls to insurrection in defense of their rights, as occurred in Brazil a few days prior to the beginning of the last World Cup. In countries like Chile and Colombia, various riot police training centers have been created where the police forces of various Latin American countries are trained. These trainings are enhanced with the presence of French and Spanish agents.

The police and military specialization to control the new internal threats has caused the traditional police and military responsibilities to be delegated to municipalities — under the guise of decentralization and autonomy. Municipalities, supported by private security companies, are now responsible for traffic, community and neighborhood security and even institutional surveillance.
 
Repressive anti-terrorist laws and penal codes
In all Latin American countries, street protests stopped being just infringements and became crimes against property or basic services
. The uprisings are now crimes of sabotage or terrorism. Some countries, such as Chile, Peru and Colombia, have put in place similar anti-terrorism laws. Criminal codes have been made more stringent to silence the social manifestations, as in the cases of Ecuador and Venezuela.

Progressive countries and neoliberal countries agree on internal security strategies. They both accept US security policy and define the existing social movements as new internal enemies. Moreover, they foresee the threats of social forces that will emerge as societies become more urban and poverty increases.

It is hard to see militarization as the result of the policies of a single country when there is no ideological difference when they subject communities to extract their natural resources and maintain the same primary production system that has characterized Latin America since his Republican dawn. Instead, it is necessary to look at the dynamics of capital to know what interests the new security schemes obey. 
 
* Ecuadorian social communicator, Director of the Regional Foundation for Human Rights (INREDH), Latinamerica Press correspondent since 1996, author of investigations about regional geopolitics, including El refugio en el Ecuador, Quito, 2005 and  ¿Operaciones de avanzada o base militar operativa?,Quito, 2007, among others.


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Anti-military base activists at the entrance to the Manta Military Base, Ecuador, in September 2007./ Luis Ángel Saavedra
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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