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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

US Builds Up Its Bases in Oil-Rich South America

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-builds-up-its-bases-in-oilrich-south-america-1825398.html

PART OF STORY BELOW; ALL (via Angry Arab Newservice) AT LINK ABOVE

The United States is massively building up its potential for nuclear and non-nuclear strikes in Latin America and the Caribbean by acquiring unprecedented freedom of action in seven new military, naval and air bases in Colombia. The development – and the reaction of Latin American leaders to it – is further exacerbating America's already fractured relationship with much of the continent.

The new US push is part of an effort to counter the loss of influence it has suffered recently at the hands of a new generation of Latin American leaders no longer willing to accept Washington's political and economic tutelage. President Rafael Correa, for instance, has refused to prolong the US armed presence in Ecuador, and US forces have to quit their base at the port of Manta by the end of next month.

So Washington turned to Colombia, which has not gone down well in the region. The country has received military aid worth $4.6bn (£2.8bn) from the US since 2000, despite its poor human rights record. Colombian forces regularly kill the country's indigenous people and other civilians, and last year raided the territory of its southern neighbour, Ecuador, causing at least 17 deaths.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has not forgotten that US officers were present in government offices in Caracas in 2002 when he was briefly overthrown in a military putsch, warned this month that the bases agreement could mean the possibility of war with Colombia.

In August, President Evo Morales of Bolivia called for the outlawing of foreign military bases in the region. President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, overthrown in a military coup d'├ętat in June and initially exiled, has complained that US forces stationed at the Honduran base of Palmerola collaborated with Roberto Micheletti, the leader of the plotters and the man who claims to be president.

And, this being US foreign policy, a tell-tale trail of oil is evident. Brazil had already expressed its unhappiness at the presence of US naval vessels in its massive new offshore oilfields off Rio de Janeiro, destined soon to make Brazil a giant oil producer eligible for membership in Opec.

The fact that the US gets half its oil from Latin America was one of the reasons the US Fourth Fleet was re-established in the region's waters in 2008. The fleet's vessels can include Polaris nuclear-armed submarines – a deployment seen by some experts as a violation of the 1967 Tlatelolco Treaty, which bans nuclear weapons from the continent.

Indications of US willingness to envisage the stationing of nuclear weapons in Colombia are seen as an additional threat to the spirit of nuclear disarmament. After the establishment of the Tlatelolco Treaty in 1967, four more nuclear-weapon-free zones were set up in Africa, the South Pacific, South-east Asia and Central Asia. Between them, the five treaties cover nearly two-thirds of the countries of the world and almost all the southern hemisphere.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the world's leading think-tank about disarmament issues, has now expressed its worries about the US-Colombian arrangements.

With or without nuclear weapons, the bilateral agreement on the seven Colombian bases, signed on 30 October in Bogota, risks a costly new arms race in a region. SIPRI, which is funded by the Swedish government, said it was concerned about rising arms expenditure in Latin America draining resources from social programmes that the poor of the region need.

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