WASHINGTON (IPS)–While much of the world’s attention has been focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel-Palestine, Washington has quietly boosted its military presence in Colombia, supposedly to search for contractors kidnapped by leftist insurgents.

But observers call the stepped-up militarization part of a strategy to tighten U.S. control of the country, and the region.

Published figures show that U.S. military overt and covert operations have clearly been expanding in the Andean Region. In Colombia alone, the number of U.S. military personnel, which was limited by the U.S. Congress through the Andean Regional Initiative at 300, is already closer to 400. That does not include “civilian contractors” engaged in both covert and overt operations.


Washington’s plan is to “economically and militarily wipe out the social and indigenous movements in order to obtain their resources and territories,” says Bolivian Congressman Evo Morales, echoing a view popular in the region. “The undercurrent of these plans is the same program as has been going on for the last 500 years–the eradication of our indigenous cultures,” he said.

“The ‘Andean Regional Initiative,’ which replaced ‘Plan Colombia,’ ‘New Horizons,’ ‘Three Plus One,’ the ‘Caba—as,’ ‘Unitas’ and ‘Aguila’ military exercises are all components of this plan,” added Mr. Morales. “Viewed as a whole, these elements make up a new and expanded version of the old counterinsurgent ‘Plan Condor’ of the 1970s,” the covertly U.S.-led alliance of the armies of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay, which killed off hundreds of leaders and members of the progressive left, ensuring that it would not come to power in the region and threaten U.S. dominance.

The U.S. military says the legal precedent for its presence throughout Latin America is the Monroe Doctrine, an edict dictated by a U.S. president in 1823, which was never voted on by Congress, much less by those affected–Latin Americans.

While originally formulated to keep other nations out, the Doctrine basically says that Washington can intervene anywhere it wants in the Americas.

“It’s not unrealistic. In some ways, the Monroe Doctrine could be interpreted to justify Yankee imperialism throughout the region,” says Steve Lucas, spokesman for the U.S. military presence in the region, known as the United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM).

A quick look at the map appearing on the Command’s website appears to confirm that view. What most of us call South and Central America–from the southern Mexican border southward–on the military map becomes the new land or “area of responsibility” (AOR) known as “USSOUTHCOM” (with the exception of the Falkland and South Georgia Islands, which are still listed as British-controlled).

The military’s “New Horizon” program “is now being exercised all over the AOR (area of responsibility)–Central America, parts of the Caribbean, and South America,” says Mr. Lucas from his Miami office. Involving primarily U.S. reservists and the Air Force, it focuses on “civic action”–”the building of roads, schools, drilling wells and all of these other kinds of stuff to improve the infrastructure,” he adds.

But Mr. Morales sees it differently. “Recently in Bolivia, under the cover of U.S. ‘civic action’ programs, a group of North American military officers came into our country–not doing social work, but intelligence studies.”

According to long-time independent researcher and Latin America expert GeorgeAnn Potter, “Nobody in Latin America and the Caribbean thinks that U.S. military civic action programs are anything but intervention.”

“With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the U.S. lost the pretext of ‘communism’ for its intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean–other than Cuba–and it quickly assumed the ‘war on drugs’ as an excuse for military presence. And after 9/11, the pretext for intervention became the ‘war on terrorism,’” adds Ms. Potter, a professor at the Catholic University of Bolivia.

In fact, the State Department’s “three-plus-one” program was set up to monitor “suspected activities of Hezbollah and Hamas financiers in the tri-border area (Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina),” according to Ambassador Cofer Black, the department’s coordinator for counter-terrorism.

But Mr. Morales says it is “merely another invented pretext for U.S. intervention and control. I don’t believe that there is a terrorist threat there. The ‘war on drugs’ is the main pretext for U.S. intervention in the Americas, and there are no illicit crops that far south, so the U.S. government has to invent novel threats to intervene there. The ‘war on terrorism’ is just a pretext … to construct more bases like those in the Bolivian Tr–pico.”

More bases have been going up throughout the region, from the “forward operating locations” (FOLs) in El Salvador, Ecuador and the Caribbean islands of Aruba and Curacao, to many smaller centers for radar surveillance and “narcotics control.”

Other activities include overt U.S. military training exercises with Latin American armies: “Caba—as” for the armies of the region under U.S. command and control; “Unitas” for the navies; and “Aguila” for the air forces.

Why the training?

“If we can train and equip other people to act in what we consider to be U.S. national interests, then that, of course, is our job. And we have been successful in training other people to do that so far, particularly in the last few decades in Latin America,” says Mr. Lucas.