Washington Seeks Stronger Ties
with Latin American Militaries
by Cyril Mychalejko
President Bush, concerned by Washington's
waning influence in Latin America as well as the current leftist
shift in many of the region's capitals, signed a waiver on Oct.
2 that authorizes the U.S. military to resume certain types of
training to a number of militaries in the region.
This will affect eleven countries in Latin
America and the Caribbean who were barred from receiving International
Military and Education Training (IMET) and other types of military
aid as a result of the "American Service-Members Protection
Act" (APSA). The bill, passed in Congress in 2002, was intended
to punish countries not signing bilateral agreements that would
prohibit the prosecution of U.S. citizens at the International
Criminal Court -- an institution that the Bush Administration
is opposed to.
The Act had critics in Congress, the State
Department and Defense Department, not because it was perceived
as a bullying tactic, but because it diminished U.S. influence
in the region.
"[IMET] allows us to share military
doctrine and strategy and develop relationships with mid level
officers, captains, majors and colonels who they think in 5-10
years will be running the military," said Adam Isacson, Director
of Programs at the Center for International Policy in Washington
D.C.. "It helps provide access and influence to key players
in the region."
The waiver comes at a time when Ecuador
and Nicaragua just elected left of center presidents, adding to
the list that includes Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela
-- where President Hugo Chavez was easily re-elected on Sunday.
One thing that many of these governments have in common is a shared
criticism of the type of corporate globalization championed by
Washington, which involves free trade, as well as the privatization
of public services and the deregulation of markets.
Venezuela's Chavez, demonized by Washington
and the U.S. corporate media, has promoted alternative economic
policies that include solidarity trade agreements, increasing
social spending on education and healthcare and strengthening
the government's role in the economy. Ecuador's new president
Rafael Correa shares similar views, as he ran on a campaign of
rejecting free trade and business as usual with multinational
corporations. He also said he plans to restructure debt repayments
to the International Monetary Fund to increase the government's
Voices out of Washington try to delegitimize
these types of policies by labeling them as conducive to "radical
populism" and "ultra-nationalism." Furthermore,
they are seen as a national security threat as noted in a National
Intelligence Estimate from April, entitled "Trends in Global
Terrorism: Implications for the United States."
The report, parts of which were declassified
and released to the public this year, states, "Anti-U.S.
and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other
radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist,
or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests."
General Bantz J. Craddock, former Head
of U.S. Southern Command, had lobbied hard before Congress for
lifting the constraints.
"Providing opportunities for foreign
military personnel to attend school with U.S. service members
is essential to maintaining strong ties with our partner nations,"
said Craddock to the House Armed Services Committee in March.
"Decreasing engagement opens the
door for competing nations and outside political actors who may
not share our democratic principles to increase interaction and
influence within the region."
One of the "competing nations"
Craddock worried about was China. He noted that China has increased
aid, trade and resources with Latin American nations, sometimes
with "no strings attached." Venezuela's expanding influence
in the region, buttressed by its petrol diplomacy, would also
be lumped into the same category as China.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), in a March
14 Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also expressed
alarm about how the restrictions allow China to gain influence
in the region and at the possibility of that influence to extend
to the region's militaries.
"The Chinese are standing by and
I can't think of anything that is worse than having those people
go over there and get indoctrinated by them. And I think maybe
we should address that because that's a very serious thing,"
said Sen. Inhofe.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) said
at the hearing that this was "a serious threat" and
called for ending the IMET restrictions.
Now that the restrictions are lifted,
military personnel from countries that include Bolivia, Paraguay,
Ecuador and Peru can start attending classes again at the Western
Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly called
the School of the Americas, as well as over 100 military training
institutions in the U.S.
The CIP's Isacson pointed out that from
2003-2005 the number of military trainees in effected countries
were cut in half. But he said that the presidential waiver "wasn't
an earth shattering change."
Isacson coauthored a policy memo with
Joy Olson from The Washington Office on Latin America examining
the Defense Department's annual Foreign Military Training Report
(which covers 2005). In it, they show how despite the APSA, training
from other programs increased -- namely counter-terrorism/counter-narcotics
programs. In fact, the number of Paraguayan military trainees
almost doubled from 2004-2005.
What impacts the Presidential waiver will
have is uncertain. But one thing is: the U.S. doesn't have the
best history with its training of Latin American military personnel.
And when the former head of U.S. Southern Command tells Congress,
"The challenges facing Latin America and the Caribbean today
are significant to our national security. We ignore them at our
peril," there is reason to take notice.
Cyril Mychalejko is an assistant editor
at www.UpsideDownWorld.org. He can be reached at Cyril@upsidedownworld.org.