NATO’s Growing Military Presence in Latin America and the Caribbean
Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein, Orinoco Tribune, March 2, 2023 —
At present, it has become customary to speak of NATO’s expansion “towards Eastern Europe”, which, while effective, is a reductionist concept. The truth is that since the end of the bipolar world, the United States, believing itself to be the master of the world, has used NATO to expand throughout the planet. Proof of this is the signing of the AUKUS Treaty (Australia, United Kingdom and United States), the creation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) formed by Australia, India, Japan and the United States and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia) as instruments of NATO’s military expansion in Asia and Oceania.
The same is happening in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the United States is initiating an aggressive expansion plan throughout all latitudes and longitudes of the region. The following three installments will provide data to confirm the above assertion.
At the end of last year, the United States had installed 12 military bases in Panama, 12 in Puerto Rico, 9 in Colombia, 8 in Peru, 3 in Honduras, 2 in Paraguay, as well as installations of this type in Aruba, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Cuba (Guantanamo), and Peru among other countries, at the same time that it is orienting its search for the total coverage of the land and maritime surface of the region.
In Argentine territorial waters and in the Malvinas Islands, which were usurped by the United Kingdom, there is a NATO presence integrated in a system formed by bases on the islands of Ascensión, Santa Elena and Tristán da Acuña which “guards” the entire Atlantic from the north to the Antarctic area.
According to a report of the US Department of Defense quoted by the Venezuelan portal Misión Verdad, since May 2022 the United Kingdom is forming a “strategic triangle of control” of the southern tip of South America. While south of the Malvinas, nuclear submarines are operating. In addition, “France and the United States regularly organize joint military maneuvers in the region”.
During the last few years, and especially after the arrival of Laura Richardson as head of the U.S. Armed Forces Southern Command in October 2021, the levels of Washington’s aggressive interference in the region have ostensibly increased. This coincided with the arrival to power of Joe Biden who has implemented an active policy of substitution of the traditional (and natural) protagonism of the State Department in diplomatic activity, which began to be occupied by the Pentagon, the National Security Council and even the CIA. An increasing number of officials from these agencies are occupying ambassadorial posts in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The U.S. strategy is aimed at strengthening its presence in the region. In perspective, the South Atlantic has become particularly important given its proximity to Antarctica, which is regulated by a treaty that ended in 1941, the Amazon, the planet’s main reserve of oxygen and biodiversity, and the triple frontier where the Guarani aquifer, the world’s largest water reservoir, is located.
This is what makes sense of the United States’ attempts to reinstate the cold war in the region, this time against China and Russia. This logic explains the decision to urge six Latin American countries to donate their Russian military equipment to Ukraine, excluding – of course – Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela from this request. Richardson warned that after China, Russia is the number two adversary of the United States in the region, stressing the great strategic value of the region for her country.
The U.S. general has called China a “malign state actor” after 21 of the 31 countries in the region have joined China’s Belt and Road initiative, at the same time as Beijing’s investment in critical infrastructure such as deep-water ports, space research or telecommunications, with 5G networks and the company Huawei, has increased.
Richardson highlighted the “protective” role that the United States will play in the region because being good neighbors means “taking care of each other” which “obliges” Washington to take charge of fighting against organized crime networks involved in human trafficking, drug smuggling, unregulated logging and illegal mining and especially “because it is a region rich in resources and rare earths, with the so-called Lithium Triangle that has 60% of the world’s reserves (in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile), a metal very necessary for technology”.
In the same way, Richardson has said that the United States is interested in oil (given the large reserves found in Guyana and the largest in the world in Venezuela) as well as copper and gold in the region, and that the United States is also preoccupied by the fact that oxygen and 31% of the Earth’s fresh water is found in the Amazon. For all these reasons -according to her- China, which has become the main trading partner of several countries in the region, must be kept at a distance.
This logic is part of the “integrated deterrence” strategy of the United States, a renewed form of the National Security Doctrine which proposes to bring together under the Pentagon’s leadership “all the civilian and military capabilities of governments, businesses, civil society and academia of the United States and all its allies”.
At the XV Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas held in Brazil in July 2022, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin presented this strategy to his peers in the region. Two months later, in September, Richardson insisted on it before 14 military chiefs at the South American Defense Conference.
The interest of the United States has a regional perspective based on the need for its control since 200 years ago when the Monroe Doctrine was enunciated. But in the global perspective, Latin American armed forces constitute a combative potential that cannot be underestimated. In 2018, Brazil had 334,000 active military personnel, Colombia had 200,000 and Argentina had 51,000.
NATO has 3.5 million active military and civilian personnel. According to the CELAG think tank, Brazil and Colombia alone would contribute more assets to NATO than the European members annexed in the 1990s. In this sense, it is worth making a comparison, considering that Argentina, for example, has assets similar to those of Bulgaria (24,800) and the Czech Republic (25,000) combined.
In order to better understand this situation and the intense imperial activity to control the Latin American and Caribbean space, it is worth reviewing the way in which the intervention of the United States and NATO has been materializing in some countries of the region:
The Master Plan for the Navigability of the Paraguay River is an initiative of the Paraguayan government to “maximize the use of this navigable waterway”, but it was the U.S. Ambassador Marc Ostfield who made the announcement. The work is being supported by U.S. capital and will be carried out thanks to the services of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which generated great concern in Argentina, which considers that such a decision will mean a control of the territory by foreign forces. Needless to say, the importance of the area, which is part of the La Plata Basin, the fifth largest fresh water reserve in the world in terms of extension, is obvious.
Likewise, Washington does not cease in its long-standing intentions to install a military base in the Triple Border (Argentina-Paraguay-Brazil), with the excuse of combating international terrorism and drug trafficking. In this context, attempts to militarize the region and change the “rules of the game” so that the United States can establish territories under its permanent control are considered extremely dangerous in Argentina. Likewise, some local political leaders have expressed concern that their region is being drawn into a logic of confrontation between the United States and China.
Although the Paraguayan government has said that the project involves “cooperation with specialists from the United States” which will include the study of the rivers, but does not contemplate cooperation of a military nature, the total subordination of Asunción to the United States casts doubt on this assertion. In geopolitical terms, it is also considered that Paraguay is the only country in South America that does not have relations with China.
From the Argentine perspective, Asuncion’s decision to attract the U.S. armed forces to advance the navigability of the Paraguay River is related today to the growing food trade, which, in the context of the war in Ukraine, became strategic.
The purpose of the waterway is to allow the navigation of large vessels with large volumes of cargo 365 days a year, rectifying the route and eliminating islands and other obstacles. The presence of U.S. Army specialists gives the project a very different character from what was originally presented as a civilian project.
On the other hand, the United States has shown concern because the Argentine State intends to carry out a new bidding process for the dredging of the Paraná River (which receives waters from Paraguay) and some of the companies that will try to win it are of Chinese origin.
For the United States, the Triple Border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is of paramount importance. The Southern Command stated that it had identified sources of financing for “terrorist organizations” based in West Asia, mentioning the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas. To counter this alleged threat, a multilateral mechanism called 3+1 was created with the three South American countries and the United States.
Washington has also shown great interest in Argentine Patagonia. In that framework last August 8, the US ambassador in the country attended in the city of Neuquén (located about 1140 km southwest of Buenos Aires) a meeting with representatives of the most powerful oil corporations in the world.
Four years earlier, in 2018, the construction of various facilities was announced, in a fiscal property under the direction and financing of the U.S. Southern Command. Although its embassy in Argentina hastened to inform that the works were part of a “humanitarian aid” project whose objective was to improve Neuquén’s capacity to respond to natural disasters, Neuquén’s civil society has rejected such an idea, since it has been characterized by secrecy, lack of information and absence of communication regarding what Argentina has obtained in exchange for the cession of such territory in an area that is considered of high strategic value.
The project, characterized as a “camouflaged military base” according to a report by journalist Ariel Noyola Rodríguez published in the RT portal, is part of a continent-wide strategy that has been characterized as a novel form of military intervention in the region: the “Humanitarian Assistance and Natural Disaster Response” program, sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command,
On the other hand, it cannot be ignored in this analysis that part of the Argentine territory is occupied by NATO forces. Between 1500 and 2000 British military personnel are stationed in the Malvinas, some of them permanently, as well as the latest generation of fighter-bombers.