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Venezuela Surrounded PDF Print E-mail
Peace News
Tuesday, 12 January 2010 02:55
Venezuela Surrounded

 PARIS, Jan (IPS) Hugo Chavez' assumption of power in Venezuela on February 2, 1999, coincided with a military development that was traumatic for the United States: the closure in November of that year of its primary military base in the region, Howard Air Force Base in Panama, as required by the Torrijos-Carter Treaty of 1977.
The soldiers from Howard were relocated to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico, but after massive protests there, the Pentagon closed that base as well, transferring personnel to Texas and Florida and the United States Southern Command [i] to Miami [ii].

As a replacement, the Pentagon chose four strategically-situated locations to control the region: Manta in Ecuador, Comalapa in El Salvador, and the islands of Aruba and Curacao, which belong to The Netherlands. The US added to their "traditional" function of spying a few new official duties -combating illegal immigration to the US and monitoring drug trafficking- and various other, covert tasks: controlling the flow of petroleum and minerals, biodiversity, and fresh water. However, from the very beginning their main objectives were monitoring Venezuela and destabilising the Bolivarian Revolution.

After the September 11 attacks, US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld outlined a new military doctrine to combat "international terrorism". He altered the strategy of foreign deployment with massive bases and large numbers of personnel, opting instead for a far larger number of Foreign Operating Locations (FOL) and Cooperative Security Locations (CSL) with less military personnel but ultramodern detection technology, state-of-the-art radar, gigantic satellite antennas, spy planes (Orion C-130s and AWACS), surveillance drones, etc.

As a result, the quantity of military installations abroad rapidly jumped to the astonishing number of 865 FOL or CSL-style bases in 46 countries [iii]. Never in history had a country so dramatically increased its military presence around the world.

In Latin America, the redeployment of bases made it possible for the Manta unit to collaborate on the failed coup against Chavez on April 11, 2002. Since then, a media campaign directed by Washington has been spreading false information about the presumed presence in that country of cells of organisations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and even Al Qaeda, which, it is claimed, "have training camps on the island of Margarita [iv]".

With the excuse of monitoring these groups, and as retribution for Caracas' termination in May 2004 of the fifty-year US presence in Venezuela, in 2005 the Pentagon renewed a contract with The Netherlands to widen the use of its military bases on Curacao and Aruba, which are located close to the Venezuelan coast and where US war ships have recently increased the frequency of their visits [v].

This development was recently denounced by Chavez: "It is good that Europe knows that the US empire is arming itself to the teeth, filling the islands of Curacao and Aruba with war planes and battle ships. The Netherlands is responsible for this (....) I am accusing them -a member of the EU, whose response to this I would like to hear- of preparing, together with the Yankee imperialists, an assault on Venezuela[vi]."

In 2006, the Chavez government began to speak of a "21st century socialism", the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) was formed, and Chavez was re-elected president. Washington reacted by imposing an embargo on arms sales to Venezuela with the pretext that Caracas was "not collaborating enough in the war on terrorism".

The country's F-16 fighter jets went without replacement parts. As a result Venezuela forged an agreement with Russia to strengthen its air force with Sukhoi planes. Washington denounced Venezuela's "massive rearmament", failing to point out that the countries with the largest military budgets in the region are Brazil, Colombia, and Chile, and that Colombia receives each year USD 630 million in military aid as a provision of Plan Colombia.

Things start to accelerate at this point. On March 1, 2008, with assistance from the Manta base, Colombian forces attack a camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the interior of Ecuador. Quito, in retaliation, decides not to renew the agreement on the Manta base, set to expire in November 2009. A month later

Washington responds by reactivating the Fourth Fleet (deactivated in 1948) the mission of which is to patrol the Atlantic Coast of South America. A month later the countries of South America meet in Brasilia and respond by creating the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and then, in March 2009, the South American Defence Council.

A few weeks later, the US ambassador to Bogota announces that the Manta base will be relocated to Palanquero, Colombia. In June, with the backing of the US base in Soto Cano, a coup is carried out against President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, who had joined ALBA. In August, the Pentagon announces that it will open seven new military bases in Colombia. And in October, the conservative president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, admits that he granted the US use of four new military bases.

And so at present Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution find themselves surrounded by no less than thirteen US military bases in Colombia, Panama, Aruba, and Curacao, as well as the aircraft carriers and warships of the 4th Fleet. President Obama seems to have given the Pentagon a free hand. Would the people of the world allow a new crime against democracy to be carried out in Latin -America?

Ignacio Ramonet is editor of Le Monde Diplomatique in Spanish.

[i] United States Southern Command (SouthCom) directs all US military operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

[ii] John Lindsay-Poland, "US Military Bases in Latin America and the Caribbean", Foreign Policy in Focus, New York, August 2004.

[iii] Chalmers Johnson, "Ten Measures to Liquidate the US Military Bases", Asia Times, 4 August 2009.


[iv] Martin Arostegui, "From Venezuela, A Counterplot", Insight Magazine, 3 April 2003.

[v] Eva Golinger, " Mas de 100 buques de guerra de EEUU han "visitado" Curazao en un ano" (More than 100 US warships "visited" Curacao in one year." , Rebelion, 20 December 2009.

[vi] Speech at the ALBA meeting with Social Movements of Denmark, Copenhagen, 17 December 2009.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 January 2010 02:55

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