Just the beginning?
The U.S buildup in Colombia
By Marion Delgado / The Rag Blog / November 24, 2009
CARTAGENA DE INDIES, Colombia — Larandia Air Force Base, Departmento Caquetá, in southern Colombia, is shared by the Colombian National Army (COLAR), National Police (DAS), Colombian Air Force (COLAF), (see “U.S. taxpayers: know your Colombian investments,” below) and numerous U.S. military and civilian personnel giving support and training to the Colombian forces. As a Forward Operating Location (FOL), the base has been primarily used since 2000 for counter-narcotics operations, as established in Plan Colombia, and as a training and base facility for helicopters and aircraft supporting the OMEGA Joint Task Force.
Larandia is thus an anti-drug and counterinsurgency operations center deep in the jungles of south-central Colombia. U.S. Special Forces troops have used Larandia for training Colombian Army anti-drug battalions. The base also has radar facilities to track smuggling flights and coordinate aerial spraying of drug crops with herbicides (poisons).
U.S. personnel are a near-constant presence at Larandia. The base has hundreds of U.S.-made helicopters. U.S. officers supervise and train anti-narcotics battalions, units also used against insurgents. The commanding officer of one anti-narcotics brigade there admitted he had trained at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, Fort Benning, GA.
In addition to regular military units in Colombia, paramilitary units, or paracos, are supported by you through open U.S. support of the Colombian Army and covertly by your C.I.A. They were loosely clustered under the banner of Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC; in English, United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) an umbrella organization of regional paramilitaries, each formed to protect different local economic, social and political interests by fighting insurgents in their areas. AUC, formed in April 1997, has been estimated to have more than 20,000 militants. It is considered a terrorist organization by many countries and organizations, including the U.S. and the European Union.
AUC claimed its primary objective was to protect its sponsors from the rebel Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — Ejército del Pueblo (FARC or FARC-EP; Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Peoples Army); and Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional, (ELN; the National Liberation Army), the agrarian-based opposition to the Bogota government, because the Colombian state had failed to do so. Former AUC leader Carlos Castano Gil in 2000 claimed 70% of AUC’s operational costs were financed with cocaine-related earnings, the rest with “donations” from sponsors.
Although it is claimed that AUC demobilized in early 2006, some units still exist openly and others continue to operate clandestinely. A recent report claims some units have relocated to Honduras, where they are paid to protect corporations from insurgents and unions.
The genesis of what’s happening goes like this: In 2003, shortly after Bush the W came into power, Congress approved Plan Colombia, funded with your taxpayer money to the tune of $16,000,000,000.00 (Sixteen BILLION dollars). For what, you wonder? Why, to “fight drugs”, of course. Plan Colombia ran into trouble early on. Four billion was transferred to Colombia to jump start the buildup. It was immediately stolen. Congress was incensed, although they steal that and more themselves through “earmarks” every year. The money pipeline was shut off.
Plan Colombia was done but the rip-off was not. Congress, short of memory, quickly approved a new Plan Uribe, named for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and funded with the $12,000,000,000.00 (Twelve BILLION dollars) not stolen from Plan Colombia; again, to “fight” drugs. Money flowed again, but this time the U.S. would keep better track of it. Lol!
The operational arm of Plan Uribe was given the name Joint Task Force Omega; this is the Central Command of the Drug War in Colombia, although the mission quickly came to also include fighting insurgent “narcoterrorists”: the FARC and ELN.
Let’s recap for a moment. Plan Colombia begat Plan Uribe which begat JTF Omega. Omega in turn begat Plan Patriota, a military offensive that sent 18,000 Colombian troops, with U.S. advisors, into a broad swath of supposed rebel territory from 2004 to 2006. Plan Patriota has begotten 2 million people who have fled the fighting and poison spraying of their farms.
These internal refugees, unemployed, living in squatters’ communities in the cities where they have fled, are the principal result of the war so far. Don’t get queasy now; it’s what you are paying for. Many Colombians believe these dispossessed persons are an intentional result; that the real aim of the war against insurgents and against drugs is to get small farmers off their land to make room for “development.” Under Colombia’s rural coca fields, you see, there is oil.
You had to know there was oil in there somewhere. (See Iraq War.)
Besides “protecting” their bosses, paramilitaries also terrorize people into leaving their land. Labor organizers are the people most targeted for assassination. More than 1,000 have been killed in the past 12 years, 200 so far in 2009.
Plan Patriota is not discussed in the Colombian press. Battles and results are treated as separate incidents. Of course, the refugees know what is happening, and word leaks out.
Time for a switch! G.W. Bush re-branded Plans Colombia, Uribe and Patriota as the new, improved “Andean Regional Initiative.” He kept JTF Omega as the Colombian arm of the “Initiative.”
As the term “Andean Regional” signals, Colombia is only one part of U.S. plans for a military buildup in South America. U.S.-run Eloy Alfaro Air Base in Manta, Ecuador, was being expanded. Ecuador, many suspected was being set up to function in South America as Honduras did in Central America in the 1980s: a place from which U.S. military involvement in other countries of the region could be coordinated. Unfortunately for this idea, Ecuador caught wise and unceremoniously dumped the U.S. from the airbase in June of this year.
Forced withdrawal of the U.S. Southern Command (USSC) from Manta led the Pentagon to deepen and diversify its presence in Colombia. Under the original Plan Colombia, the U.S. would use the Tres Esquinas and Larandia bases in the south, as well as at least three other bases.
The two countries have now signed an agreement for U.S. use of additional air bases at Apiay, Malambo, and Palanquero, the Pacific naval ports of Tumaco and Malaga Bay, and perhaps others as well. This will distribute what previously existed at Manta throughout Colombia. With Palanquero (in the center of the country) alone, USSC more than recoups what was lost at Manta, with a runway 600 meters longer, room to host 2000 soldiers and 100 aircraft, and the capability to operate giant C-17s, a capability that did not exist at the Ecuadoran base.
Alfredo Molano, an exiled Colombian journalist in Barcelona, Spain, has raised the possibility of Colombia authorizing the stationing of a U.S. aircraft carrier in Caribbean waters or in the Pacific.
This broad U.S. deployment is not merely a military response to the loss of the Manta base, as some analysts argue. It aims to construct a comprehensive response, military, political, and economic, to the strategic decline of the U.S. superpower and the crisis it faces.
In South America, the main strategic threat to the U.S. is the China-Brazil (read China-South America) alliance that has as one of its pillars the joint Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA). IIRSA is a series of infrastructure projects designed to facilitate the flow of Pacific-Atlantic trade; hence, the importance of military bases in the Pacific
While public justification continues to center on drug trafficking and terrorism, the objective is to reposition USSC as the axis of U.S. control in the region. It is clear that the Manta air base was never really intended to combat drug trafficking. In fact, “Manta is now the number one port for export of drugs in Ecuador,” according to Luis Angel Saavedra, director of the Ecuador based La Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos (INREDH). “What [the new U.S.-Colombia pact] involves,” he says, “is the construction of a ‘military framework’ to allow rapid control from Mexico to Patagonia, as well as the integration of Plan Puebla Panama into the Andean Regional Initiative.”
Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is, according to Colombia’s Uribe, about to make war on his neighbors. Demonization of Chavez has had its effect in Colombia as well as in the U.S. The U.S. press, at the behest of its masters in the seats of power, continues to attack him relentlessly. He is described as a lunatic, a warmonger, paranoid, and the sworn enemy of the people of the U.S. His rhetorical style does little to soften this image.
(My brother’s widow up in the freezing cold of Maine gets some free heating oil each winter from the Venezuelan state’s oil company, CITGO. She appreciates it, although she doesn’t really understand the politics of it all and she doesn’t care.)
For his part, Chavez complains that the U.S. is surrounding him with military bases of which the most recent in Colombia are only a part. Some veracity might be gleaned from the fact that Venezuela has one of the largest oil fields in the world. The U.S. has been known to make war on a country just to capture its oil.
Let’s see if Chavez’s story holds water… er, oil. Let’s look at where the U.S. has military bases in the region.
Currently, 13 U.S. bases, strategically placed in countries allied to Washington, surround Venezuela. With the agreement in matters of “cooperation and technical assistance in defense and security,” endorsed by Colombia and the United States, U.S. soldiers can use seven new military bases in Colombia, bringing the total to 20 (see “Thirteen U.S. bases already surround Colombia,” below).
The United States has surrounded Venezuela militarily. To the north in the Caribbean Sea it has bases in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Aruba, and Curacao. To the northwest in Central America it has bases in El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica, besides the old School of the Americas in Panama.
To the west, it has three allied bases in Colombia: Arauca, Larandia and Tres Esquinas. Though soon there will be 10 military facilities. To the south, the U.S. manages two bases in Peru and another in Paraguay. The U.S. hasn’t built any bases to the east only because that side of Venezuela borders with the Atlantic Ocean!
So, Latin America continues on fire throughout the Andean region and Colombia. What does Barack Obama offer by way of change? Some would say not even the gestures he has offered in other situations. In Colombia, militarism continues to grow, with the U.S. military presence escalating to virtually irreversible levels, and it is happening on his watch.
The Obama Administration’s priority was finding another place with the same characteristics as Manta to maintain air coverage of the region. The new era Obama promised will continue to be just words if the reality remains imperial control and open interference
U.S. taxpayers: know your Colombian investments!
Today’s featured base: Larandia Air Force Base
Colombian Army (COLAR) units stationed at Larandia AFB that are specifically mentioned in U.S. documents as receiving taxpayers’ money include:
Colombian Military Joint Task Force (JTF) Omega HQ-Larandia
Colar Div 02
- Twenty Second Mobile Brigade (BRM22)-Larandia
- 5th Counter Guerrilla BN (BCG05)-Larandia
- 14th Counter Guerrilla BN (BCG14)-Larandia
- 25th Counter Guerrilla BN (BCG25)-Larandia
- 36th Counter Guerrilla BN (BCG36)-Larandia
Colar Div 04
- 26th Service and Support Company (CPS26)-Larandia
Colar Div 05
- Tenth Mobile Brigade (BRM10)-Larandia
- 75th Counter Guerrilla BN (BCG75)-Larandia
- 76th Counter Guerrilla BN (BCG76)-Larandia
- 77th Counter Guerrilla BN (BCG77)-Larandia
- 78th Counter Guerrilla BN (BCG78)-Larandia
- 24th Combat Service Support Company (CPS24)-Larandia
Colar Div 06
- Thirteenth Mobile Brigade (BRM13)-Larandia, Caquetá
- 87th Counter Guerrilla BN (BCG87)-Larandia
- 88th Counter Guerrilla BN (BCG88)-Larandia
- 89th Counter Guerrilla BN (BCG89)-Larandia
- 90th Counter Guerrilla BN (BCG90)-Larandia
- 36th Combat Service Support Company (CPS36)-Larandia
Colar Forces (Tropas Ejercito)
- Counter Narcotics Brigade (BRCNA)-Larandia
- 1st Counter Narcotics BN (BACNA1)-Larandia
- 2nd Counter Narcotics BN (BACNA2)-Larandia
- 3rd Counter Narcotics BN (BACNA3)-Larandia
- Counter Narcotics Service and Support BN (BASCN)-Larandia
That is a lot of soldiers.
Thirteen U.S. bases already surround Venezuela
Just to be sure, let’s count them:
- Central America:
In the Republic of El Salvador there is the military base Comalapa, a Forward Operating Location (FOL.) In the Republic of Honduras there is base Soto Cano, in Palmerola. In Costa Rica the U.S. owns military base Liberia, while in Panama, though there is no military base, there is the former School of the Americas, now repositioned at Fort Benning, GA. The old school in Panama is now called the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” and it is where U.S. mercenaries are trained.
- South America
In Colombia, the U.S. already has three military bases. The first is Arauca, devised to “fight” drug trafficking in Colombia. However, it is used in fact as a strategic point to monitor the oil producing areas, particularly Venezuela. The military base in Larandia is a U.S. helicopter base. It also has a landing strip for B-52 bombers. The base at Tres Esquinas works for terrestrial, tactical helicopter, and fluvial operations, besides being a strategic point from which to attack the FARC. This is a permanent base and receives U.S. weapons and logistics. It is also used to train combat troops.
The Republic of Peru has within its territory two U.S. military bases: Iquitos and Nanay. The government insists that these bases belong to the Peruvian armed forces. However, they were built by the U.S. and are used by U.S. soldiers who operate on the fluvial area of Nanay, at the Peruvian Amazon.
In the Republic of Paraguay, there is a base at Mariscal Estigarribia, Departmento Boquerón, in the Paraguayan Chaco region. It has existed since May 2005.
- The Caribbean
The main base, and the oldest, is the Naval Base of Guantanamo, located near Santiago de Cuba, on the island of Cuba, existing due to a 107-year-old agreement with a former Cuban government.
In Puerto Rico, Free Associated State to the United States, there is the base at Vieques, with its own controversial history.
Aruba has a U.S. base at Reina Beatriz; Curacao’s base is called Hatos.
And there will be more! The U.S. aims to build in the future four additional Latin American bases: in Alcantara, Brazil; Chapare, Bolivia; Tolhuin, Departmento Tierra del Fuego, Argentina; and one in the area that is known as the Triple Frontier, at the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
President Chavez, just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you and your country’s OIL!
- For previous articles by Marion Delgado about the U.S. military presence in Columbia, go here.