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Return of the Gunboat: US and Latin America

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    Return of the Gunboat: US and Latin America Fri Aug 1, 2008  Fourth Fleet Steams South Return of the Gunboat By JOHN ROSS CounterPunch July 29, 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3, 2008
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      Return of the Gunboat: US and Latin America

      Fri Aug 1, 2008 

      Fourth Fleet Steams South
      Return of the Gunboat

      By JOHN ROSS
      July 29, 2008

      http://www.counterp unch.org/ ross07292008. html

      Mexico City.

      The resurrection and imminent dispatch of the United States Fourth Fleet
      to patrol the coasts of Latin America invokes the bad old days of Monroe
      Doctrine impositions and gunboat diplomacy for many citizens of those
      southern latitudes.

      This April, the U.S. Navy announced the reactivation of the fleet that
      historically operated in the south Atlantic during World War II, dueling
      with Nazi U-boats.  Activating the Fourth Fleet "demonstrates U.S.
      commitment to our global partners," Admiral Gary Roughead explained,
      adding a threatening fillip: "The Fourth Fleet will send a strong signal
      to all Navies operating in the region."

      Roughead maintains that the fleet's focus will be on drug interdiction and
      "conducting training exercises" and its activation is "non-hostile. "
      Frank Mora, a professor at the U.S. War College in Leavenworth Kansas told
      the Miami Herald, he thought the Fleet could be used in "environmental
      emergencies" and to control "youth gangs."

      The reactivated flotilla will sail in the strategic area overseen by the
      U.S. Southern Command or SOUTHCOM based in Quarry Heights, Panama and is
      to be homeported at Mayport in Jacksonville Florida.  The fleet is
      expected to group together 11 war ships homeported at Mayport, including
      an aircraft carrier (reportedly the soon-to-be commissioned "U.S.S. George
      H.W. Bush") and a nuclear submarine.  To allay Latin leaders' fears,
      Undersecretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs Tom Shannon was deployed
      to South America during July.

      The Undersecretary' s visit to Brazil proved abrasive.  He was met by
      raucous demonstrators in Brazilia and closely questioned on the floor of
      the Brazilian Senate about the Fourth Fleet's revival - one lawmaker
      recalled how in 1964, U.S. ambassador Lincoln Gordon had threatened to
      land marines stationed right off the Brazilian coast if leftist president
      Joao Goulart did not resign.  Ex-Brazilian president Jose Sarnay warned of
      U.S. Fourth Fleet designs on the enormous Tupi deep-water oil field that
      may hold as many as five to eight billion barrels and could turn Brazil
      into one of the top five petroleum producers on the planet.

      The U.S. Navy currently operates out of six Latin bases - Guantanamo Bay,
      Cuba; Quarry Heights, Panama; Aruba, Curacao; Comalapa, El Salvador;
      Comayuga, Honduras; and Manta, Ecuador - the last-named about to be shut
      down by Ecuador. Incensed by Washington's participation in the March 1st
      bombing of a FARC guerrilla camp in the Ecuadoran jungle - Manta is
      believed to have provided logistical support for Colombian helicopters -
      President Raphael Correa has resolved not to renew the U.S. lease on that
      facility when it expires in 2009.  An educated guess has the base being
      relocated to La Guajira, Colombia close to the Venezuelan border which
      will not make Hugo Chavez happy.

      Those attentive to Latin American history do not view the U.S. Fourth
      Fleet's intentions as  "non-hostile. "  U.S. Naval blockades of Cuba in
      1963 during the Soviet-American missile crisis and of revolutionary Mexico
      in 1914, stir bitter memories.  The U.S. Navy turned the Caribbean into an
      "American lake" from 1914 through the late 1920s, parking its fleet in
      Santo Domingo and repeatedly invading Nicaragua.

      U.S. Navy flotillas land troops on sovereign soil, their long guns take
      out distant targets, and bombing raids and reconnaissance flights are
      launched from aircraft carriers.  Just the presence of the Fourth Fleet in
      Latin American waters smacks of strategic intimidation.

      >From Brazilia, Undersecretary Shannon flew south to Buenos Aires to
      deliver the good news that the Fourth Fleet would not enter Argentina's
      territorial waters or inland rivers "without being invited."  Shannon's
      timing was impeccable.  President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's six
      month-old regime, which has been roiled by months of mobilizations led by
      big soybean farmers, was on maximum alert - the "soyeros" have blocked the
      nation's highways since last January after Fernandez tacked a 15 per cent
      tax on exports in order to finance programs for the poor.

      Bi-lateral relations between Washington and Buenos Aires have been in the
      tank since the U.S. charged supposed bagmen for Venezuelan president Hugo
      Chavez with financing Fernandez's campaign. The so-called scandal of the
      "Maletas" ($800,000 USD was alleged to have been smuggled into Argentina
      in a suitcase or "maleta") is a scenario that Queen Cristina (as she is
      taunted by political opponents) labels "garbage."

      Writing in the Mexican daily La Jornada, left Latin American analyst Raul
      Zebichi concludes that Shannon's voyage to Buenos Aires to sell the Fourth
      Fleet to Fernandez during the soyero crisis amounted to "deliberate
      destabilization. "  The sailing of the Fourth Fleet is "naked aggression by
      Washington to regain its hegemony" on a continent where U.S. influence has
      been impressively diminished by the serial victories of the Latin American
      electoral left.

      Undersecretary Shannon then moved on to Bolivia where that majority
      indigenous Andean nation's president Evo Morales is viewed by Washington
      as one of the ringleaders of the anti-American wave sweeping the southern

      Bolivia is not a target for the U.S. Fourth Fleet, having lost its access
      to the ocean in the Guano War of the late 19th century.  Nonetheless,
      Morales denounced U.S. ambassador Phillip Goldberg's support of the
      right-wing "autonomy" movement that is promoting the secession of five
      Bolivian provinces, reading Shannon e-mails sent by U.S. AID officials to
      Bolivian citizens threatening aid cut-offs if they continued to support
      his government.

      Only in Colombia, the first stop of Shannon's checkered journey, did he
      find some satisfaction.  Touching down soon after the immaculately
      scripted "rescue" of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 hostages held by the
      weakened FARC guerrilla army, Tom Shannon laid on the blarney.  The Fourth
      Fleet's intentions were honorable and "non-hostile. " The war ships will
      safeguard commercial shipping lanes and provide additional drug

      It didn't take much effort to sell President Alvaro Uribe, George Bush's
      top flunky in Latin America, on the idea.  Uribe even offered Barranquilla
      as a homeport away from home for U.S. war ships.  Fourth Fleet deployment
      to Colombia will provide much needed backup for Washington's anti-drug,
      War on Terror Plan Colombia, a $6,000,000,000 boondoggle that has
      succeeded in expanding the nation's cocaine acreage by 27 per cent in

      If Uribe was supportive of the Fourth Fleet's reactivation, Venezuela's
      Hugo Chavez was decidedly not, declaring the move to be "an act of war"
      and fretting about Yanqui sabotage of offshore oilfields.  In the
      Caribbean, Fidel Castro, an 82 year-old columnist for a Cuban communist
      youth paper, sneered that the Fourth Fleet is "the flotilla of
      intervention" .  Castro has had first hand experience with U.S. Naval

      One immediate response of Latin America's leftist leaders to Washington's
      unilateral revival of the fleet has been the formation of UNASUR, a
      12-nation mutual security pact that pointedly excludes the U.S.
      Spearheaded by Brazil, the continent's economic powerhouse, UNASUR seems
      designed to boost Brazilian armament industry sales as much as to stave
      off U.S. stabs to reestablish its hegemony over Latin America.

      Mexico, which is banking on deep-water oilfields in the Gulf (an area
      under Fourth Fleet purview) to revive its sinking reserves, does not seem
      alarmed about the war ships on the eastern horizon - despite the rather
      touchy dispute over whether Mexico or the U.S. has title to those
      deep-water tracts.  The U.S. Navy trains Mexico's Navy and supplies it
      with state-of-the- art weaponry.  Under the Merida Initiative, sometimes
      tagged Plan Mexico, the Mexican Navy is slated to receive Orion tracking
      planes and souped-up interdiction craft, part of the $1,400.000,000 USD
      war chest to rearm Mexico's security apparatus - despite its reputation as
      one of the worst human rights abusers in the Americas.

      Equipment received via the Merida Initiative, actually a hefty subsidy to
      U.S. defense contractors, will forge what Uruguayan political writer
      Carlos Fazio dubs "the third link" by which the Mexican security apparatus
      is annexed to Washington.  Indeed, just the need for spare parts will tie
      the Mexican military to the Pentagon for the life of the planes,
      helicopters, swift boats, and transport carriers Plan Mexico will buy.

      Actually, the Merida Initiative, born in the Yucatan city of that name in
      a surge of enthusiasm during Bush's first encounter with Mexico's Felipe
      Calderon in 2007, almost didn't make it to the wire.  When the U.S.
      Senate, urged on by Vermont's Patrick Leahy, voted to impose human rights
      oversight on the package, Mexico almost backed out, accusing Washington of
      interfering in its domestic affairs.

      The Senate bill would have mandated civilian trials for Mexican military
      personnel accused of human rights violation and would have strengthened
      the hand of non-government human rights organizations to watchdog how
      Merida Initiative equipment was used. The measure would also have pressed
      for an investigation into the 2006 murder of independent U.S. journalist
      Brad Will by Oaxaca security forces - indeed, the human rights components
      of Plan Mexico were largely due to the persistence of Brad's friends who
      were sometimes escorted from congressional hearings for vehemently pushing
      their case.

      The bill's human rights provisions were rejected by all three sides of
      Mexico's political spectrum.  Legislators compared the call for compliance
      with the odious "certification" process by which the U.S. Congress
      "certified" Mexico's cooperation in Washington's Drug War each year
      through the mid-1990s, a source of much distrust.  But Mexican politicos
      were not alone in their contempt for the new Plan Mexico - Bush White
      House drug czar John Waters accused Leahy and his Democratic cohorts of
      "sabotaging" the agreement, and Homeland Security chieftain Michael
      Chertoff warned that the human rights provisions were "unacceptable. "

      The Senate bill was sent back to Congress for rectification but reemerged
      with an almost identical text - even the call for resolving Brad's murder
      was left intact.  Yet in the magic realist mindset that passes for
      politics here, President Calderon, his Interior Secretary Juan Camilo
      Mourino, and Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa chose not to acknowledge
      the unreconstructed language and signed off on the grant.  Espinosa made
      much of the affirmation that no U.S. soldier will set foot on Mexican soil
      as the result of the Merida Initiative - a phenomenon never contemplated
      by the agreement in the first place.

      George Bush signed the Merida Initiative into law June 30 and in mid-July
      Chertoff flew into Mexico City for discussions on implementation and to
      "evaluate eventual risks to mutual security."

      Oddly, the day the Homeland Security boss went home, the U.S. Drug
      Enforcement Administration leaked an intriguing story to the daily El
      Universal: Mexican drug war troops had discovered a car bomb factory in
      Culiacan, Sinaloa, where a bloody battle between cartels has taken over
      500 lives since the first of the year.  The DEA suspected that the Sinaloa
      cartels' hit men were being sent through Chavez's Venezuela (where else?)
      to Iran (where else?) for advanced terrorist training.

      Preposterous? Under current security arrangements, the Iran gambit could
      become a pretext for the U.S. military occupation of Mexico, which on the
      face of it is of course highly unlikely.  But Plan Mexico folds into the
      ASPAN - the North American Agreement on Security and Prosperity, a sort of
      security and energy NAFTA.  Much as NAFTA was aimed at integrating the
      economies of its three member nations, ASPAN proposes to integrate
      security and energy structures - a goal greatly advanced by Plan Mexico.

      In addition to ASPAN, Mexico has been designated the U.S.'s southern
      security perimeter by NORCOM, the United States Northern Command, which is
      responsible for keeping terrorists out of North America.  The suggestion
      that Iran-trained terrorists are car-bombing a few hundred miles south of
      the border could have the stealth bombers on the runways at NORCOM
      headquarters in a hollowed-out mountain in Colorado in a jiffy.

      Foreign minister Espinosa's affirmation that Plan Mexico will not land
      U.S. troops on Mexican shores flies in the face of the facts.  Since 2006,
      the Yanks have offered at least 60 training courses to Mexican army and
      navy troops inside Mexico - 700 Mexicans are trained in the United States
      at the Center for Strategic Forces in Fort Bragg North Carolina under the
      provisions of the IMET program.  U.S. Naval trainers offer courses at
      Veracruz on the Gulf Coast and Manzanillo on the Pacific.

      But the physical presence of U.S. military personnel on the ground here is
      mooted by the Pentagon's reliance on civilian mercenaries.  SY Coleman,
      which advertises itself as "a warrior in the global war on terror" on its
      web page, has been recruiting pilots "with experience in international
      military conflicts" to fly reconnaissance over Mexico's Caribbean
      off-shore platforms, an inviting terrorist target.  Blackwater WorldWide
      just opened its western training facilities in a huge warehouse several
      hundred yards from the U.S. - Mexican border on the Otay Mesa in San
      Diego, and in July provided security for John McCain on a Mexico City
      campaign stopover according to knowledgeable sources, that notorious
      mercenary army's first known sighting inside Mexico.

      Blackwater has recently been awarded big boodle Department of Defense drug
      war contracts and appears to be bulking up to challenge DynCorps which
      holds the franchise on privatizing Washington's War on Drugs in Latin

      With the Yanquis' Fourth Fleet working Latin America's Atlantic coast, the
      United States Coast Guard patrols its Pacific flank.  During the last week
      in July, the Coast Guard and the Mexican Navy found themselves under
      submarine attack - a 36-foot submergible with five tons of Colombian
      cocaine aboard was spotted by the Americanos' radar 100 miles off Oaxaca
      and towed to port where the crew was jailed.

      In addition to cocaine, Pacific shipping lanes are also important to
      liquid natural gas tankers, another inviting terrorist target, operating
      under contracts with Spanish energy titan REPSOL between Peru and LNG
      terminals in Manzanillo in southern Mexico and the Sempra Corporation' s
      Ensenada facility hard by the U.S. border.  In fact, the Ensenada
      terminal, which provides San Diego with energy, was to have been located
      in that U.S. port city but fears the plant could be taken out by
      terrorists moved it to Mexico.

      Deploying the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which is homeported in San Diego, to
      Latin America's west coast, is surely being weighed by Navy brass.

      What does presumptive President Barack Obama think about all this updated
      gunboat diplomacy? The only clue voters have as to Obama's Latin policies
      was a speech he delivered months ago to win the hearts and minds of the
      gusano-laced Cuban American National Foundation in Miami in which
      platitudes were a dime a dozen - no end to the Cuban embargo, Hugo Chavez
      was "dangerous", Colombia's Uribe a "democratic hero."  Given this
      repertoire it doesn't sound like much is going to change when Obama takes
      the helm of state.  All the pieces are in place - Plan Mexico, Plan
      Colombia, ASPAN, SOUTHCOM, NORCOM, and NAFTA - to keep the Consensus of
      Washington thriving during an Obama presidency.

      "What's good for Latin America is good for the United States of America"
      the presumptive president told the gusanos in Miami, failing to annunciate
      the other half of the equation: what's good for the United States is
      usually very bad for Latin America.

      John Ross is in the heat of the first draft of "El Monstruo - Tales of
      Dread & Redemption In The Most Monstrous Megalopolis On Planet Earth".
      Write johnross@igc. org

      Sent by:
      Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano de Puerto Rico
      Zona de Mayaguez

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