17. U.S. Uses South American Military Bases to Expand Control of the Region

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

Sources: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jan/Feb 2005, Title: “What’s the Deal at Manta,” Author: Michael Flynn; NACLA Report on the Americas, Nov/Dec 2004, Title: “Creeping Militarization in the Americas,” Authors: Adam Isacson, Lisa Haugaard and Joy Olson; Z Magazine, December 29, 2004, Title: “Colombia—A Shill (proxy) Country For U.S. Intervention In Venezuela,” Authors: Sohan Sharma and Surinder Kumar

Faculty Evaluator: Jorge Porras, Ph. D.
Student Researchers: Adrienne Smith, Sarah Kintz

The United States has a military base in Manta, Ecuador, one of the three military bases located in Latin America. According to the United States, we are there to help the citizens of Manta, but an article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says that many people tell a different story.

According to Miguel Moran, head of a group called Movimiento Tohalli, which opposes the Manta military base, “Manta is part of a broader U.S. imperialist strategy aimed at exploiting the continent’s natural resources, suppressing popular movements, and ultimately invading neighboring Colombia.” Michael Flynn reported that the military base in Ecuador is an “integral part of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Colombia-and is a potential staging ground for direct American involvement in the conflict there. Ecuadorians worry that the U.S. could ultimately pull their country into conflict.” Flynn goes on to say that “the base is also at the center of a growing controversy regarding the U.S. efforts to block mass emigration from Ecuador [to the U.S.].” Policy makers have diminished the difference between police roles and military roles, stating that a police force is a body designed to protect a population through minimal use of force and the military, which aims to defeat an enemy through use of force.

According to a ten-year lease agreement between Ecuador and the United States, “… U.S. activities at the base are to be limited to counter-narcotics surveillance flights (the agreements for the other two Latin American Forward Operating Locations contain similar restrictions).” Ecuadorian citizens are not pleased with the lease or the way the U.S. has abused it. “A coalition of social and labor organizations has called for the termination of the U.S. lease in Manta on the grounds that the United States has violated both the terms of the agreement and Ecuadorian law.”

The U.S., says Flynn, is intervening in Colombia through private corporations and organizations. Most of the military operations and the spraying of biochemical agents are contracted out to private firms and private armies. In 2003, according to the article in Z Magazine, the U.S. State Department said, “…there are seventeen primary contracting companies working in Colombia, initially receiving $3.5 million.” One of these private American defense contractors, DynCorp, runs the military base at Manta. “The Pentagon’s decision to give DynCorp-a company that many Latin Americans closely associate with U.S. activities in Colombia-the contract to administer the base reinforced fears that the United States had more than drug interdiction in mind when it set up shop in Manta,” says Flynn.

In addition, say Sharma and Kumar, DynCorp was awarded a “$600 million contract to carry out aerial spraying to eliminate coca crops which also contaminates maize, Yucca, and plantains-staple foods of the population; children and adults develop skin rashes.” The chemical, the foundation for the herbicide Roundup, is sprayed in Ecuador in a manner that would be illegal in the United States.

According to the NACLA report, in 2004, the Pentagon began installing 3 substitute logistics centers (now under construction) in the provinces of Guayas, Azuay, and Sucumbios, and is currently militarizing the Ecuadorian police who are receiving “anti-terrorist” training by the FBI. The U.S. military is also aiding Colombia’s “war on drugs.” Isacson, Haugaard and Olson write that, “increased militarization of antinarcotics operation is a pretext for stepped up counterinsurgency action and extending the war against them by the U.S.” Washington also has seven security offices in Ecuador: defense (DAO), drug enforcement (DEA), military aid (MAAG), internal security, national security (NSA), the U.S. Agency for Internal Development (USAID), the Peace Corps, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to the Bush Administration they are mixing military and police roles to “…govern its counter-terror efforts in the hemisphere.”

Michael Flynn offers this quote from an Ecuadorian writer as another example of the United States intervening in the operations of another country to further its own agenda: “The U.S. invasion of Iraq and the pressure on Ecuador to sign the interdiction agreement form part of a policy aimed at consolidating a unipolar world with one hegemonic superpower.”

Update by Michael Flynn: I think one important aspect of my story about the Manta base is that it shows the arrogance that often characterizes U.S. relations with its southern neighbors. This arrogance comes with a heavy price, which the U.S. is paying now as South American leaders express an ever greater willingness to take an independent path in their affairs and reject the U.S. lead. This fact was clearly revealed recently when the Organization of American States soundly rejected a U.S. proposal to set up a mechanism to review the state of democracy in the Americas. Manta is a small part of this much larger picture. U.S. ambassadors, the head of Southcom, even representatives in Congress have shown a disregard for Ecuadorian concerns about operations at the Manta base, which has helped fan criticism of the base, and has turned into a lightning rod of criticism of U.S. policies. And this is only one of among dozens of similar bases spread out across the globe-what impact are they having on U.S. relations?

An equally important issue touched on in my story is the U.S. reaction to the migration crises that has gripped several Latin countries in recent years. Manta is a sort of quasi-outpost of the U.S. southern border, which has shown remarkable flexibility in recent years. The fact is, the border itself ceased long ago to be the front line in the effort to stop unwanted migration. The United States uses military bases located in host countries as staging grounds for detention efforts. It has funded detention centers in places like Guatemala City, and it has teamed up with law enforcement officials from other countries to carry out multi-lateral operations aimed at breaking up migrant smuggling activities. Manta is one piece in this larger puzzle.

To my knowledge, the mainstream press has not picked up on the precise story lines covered in my article. On the other hand, the press has not altogether ignored these issues either. Ginger Thompson of the New York Times has tracked the plight of migrants in several Latin American countries, and last year she teamed up with an Ecaudorean journalist to produce a remarkable story about the harrowing experience of migrants who dare to board the smuggling vessels leaving Ecuadorean shores. They did not, however, scrutinize Manta’s role in interdicting these migrants, or address the many problematic aspects of U.S. overseas interdiction practices. Regarding U.S. overseas military bases, the recent turmoil in Uzbekistan has drawn the attention of the U.S. press to contradictions in U.S. policy that have emerged between its desire to have bases in strategic spots around the world and President Bush’s promise to advocate democratic change across the globe. Also, Dana Priest of the Washington Post has done excellent work reporting on the role of U.S. bases and military commanders around the globe. See, for example, Priest’s The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military (New York: Norton, 2003). Several alternative press outlets have also tracked this issue, including for example Mother Jones magazine, which ran a story by Chalmers Johnson on this issue, and the Nation Institute’s Tom Engelhardt, who has run a number of pieces in his TomDispatch touching on U.S. overseas bases.

For additional information: For those interested in following up on the Manta base, the best source of information online is the web site of the Ecuadorean daily: El Universo at http://www.eluniverso.com/.

I would also suggest looking at the studies about U.S. forward operation locations published by the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute at http://www.tni.org/.

To find out more about U.S. cross-border interdiction policies, a story that has been woefully under-reported in the United States, I suggest taking a look at other stories I have written on this subject, some of which are available on the web site of the International Reporting Project: http://www.pewfellowships.org/index.htm.

Finally, to get a global perspective of U.S. basing ambitions, I suggest perusing the May 2005 report of the U.S. Overseas Basing Commission, which is available online at http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/dod/obc.pdf.

Update by Lisa Haugaard: While the nation is focused on events in Iraq and Afghanistan, 9/11 has also had a disturbing impact on U.S. policy toward Latin America. But the growth in U.S. military programs towards Latin America and the unfortunate emphasis by the United States on encouraging non-defense related roles for militaries is part of a more general trend that the Center for International Policy, Latin America Working Group Education Fund and Washington Office on Latin America have been documenting since 1997. Latin American civil society organizations, individuals and governmental leaders have struggled hard to strictly limit their militaries’ involvement in civilian affairs, given that many militaries in the region had exercised severe repression, carried out military coups and maintained political control during several turbulent decades. After this painful history, it is troubling for the United States to be encouraging militaries to once again adopt non-defense related roles, as is the growing weight of U.S. military, rather than regional development aid in U.S. relations.

We are seeing a continuation of the general trend of declining U.S. development assistance and stable military aid to the region as well as the United States encouraging actions that blur the line between civilian police and military roles. We are also witnessing efforts by the Defense Department to exercise greater control over “security assistance”(foreign military aid programs) worldwide, which were once overseen exclusively by the State Department. This almost invisible shift–by no means limited to Latin America-is disturbing because it removes the State Department as the lead agency in deciding where foreign military aid and training is appropriate as part of U.S. foreign policy. It will lead to less stringent oversight of military programs and less emphasis upon human rights conditionality.

Our report, which we published in Spanish, received good coverage from the Latin American press. Mainstream U.S. newspapers regularly use our military aid database. The larger story about the general trends in U.S. military aid in Latin America and changes in oversight of foreign military programs, however, is one that has been covered by only a few major media outlets.

To see our military aid database, reports and other information (a collaborative project by the three organizations) see our “Just the Facts” website, http://www.ciponline.org/facts. See also our organizations’ websites: Washington Office on Latin America, http://www.wola.org; Center for International Policy, www. ciponline.org; and Latin America Working Group Education Fund, http://www.lawg.org.

We welcome efforts by journalists, scholars and nongovernmental organizations to insist upon greater transparency and public oversight of U.S. military training programs, not just in Latin America but worldwide.