By Mark Vorpahl
Nestled between Panama to its South and Nicaragua to its North, Costa Rica is a Central American nation roughly the size of West Virginia.
If another nation were to send West Virgina a force of 7,000 troops, 200 helicopters, and 46 warships in an effort to eradicate drug trafficking, it is doubtful that the residents of West Virgina would consider this offer “on-the-level”. Such a massive military force could hardly be efficiently used to combat drug cartels. The only logical conclusion is that the nation whose troops now are occupying this other country had another agenda in mind that it didn’t want to share.
In early July, by a vote of 31 to 8, the Costa Rican Congress approved the U.S. bringing into their nation the same military force described above, justified with the same dubious “war on drugs” rationale. According to the agreement, the military forces are supposed to leave Costa Rica by the end of 2010. This begs the question, however, if such an over the top display of military muscle is needed now to combat the drug cartels, what will be done in the next few months to make their presence unnecessary? The history of such U.S. military deployments around the world suggests a more credible outcome than what the agreement states. Once the U.S. moves such massive forces into a country, they rarely move them out.
While this agreement was passed by the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly largely without debate, in light of the public’s reaction to it, this Assembly’s decision does not reflect the will of the people. In an article on www.narconews.com entitled “Supreme Court Temporarily Halts Entry of US Military” it is reported that there have been numerous forums, protests, and groups formed to oppose the agreement that the Legislative Assembly passed so easily. Reflecting this pressure from below, a legislative front composed of the Broad Front, Citizen Action Party, and United Social Christian Parties, has challenged the constitutionality of the agreement on the basis of Article 12 which reads:
“Military forces may only be organized under a continental agreement or for the national defense; in either case, they shall always be subordinate to the civil power: they may not deliberate or make statements or representations individually or collectively.”
As a result, the Costa Rican Supreme Court has agreed to review the constitutionality of the U.S./Costa Rica agreement, stopping the millitary deployment for now. Regardless of how they rule, this development should encourage the grass roots’ efforts to oppose the massive build up of U.S. military forces in Costa Rica. These efforts have significantly impacted their nation’s political process.
Costa Rican unions have good reason to take a leading role in this process. Cordero-Gene of Quaker Friends Peace Center recently stated in an interview:
“The lack of a debate in Congress makes one suspect that they will be operating militarily and not necessarily confined to the drug trafficking operations…Is it a coincidence that ships arrive as a new port management is being put into practice, eliminating the authority of the state agency JAPDEVA (Port Management Board of the Atlantic Coast Development) and its group of unionized dock workers…and preventing any possibility of strikes, work stoppages and incidents in Limón, such as those in Panama? ” (In Panama, their have been violent confrontations involving Banana workers protesting new policies that would allow companies to fire and replace striking workers.)
With Venezuela having been on high military alert due to the provocations of the Columbia government, the struggle to keep the U.S. military out of Costa Rica takes on a continental importance. The U.S. military take over of seven bases in Columbia has played a major role in this alarming situation. A potential U.S. military build up in Costa Rica can only encourage greater threats to peace across Latin America.
Recent U.S. Military Measures in Latin America
What have been some of these military measures the U.S. has taken that threaten peace in Latin America?
In 2006 the U.S. conducted military exercises off the coast of Venezuela called “Operation Partnership of the Americas.” This exercise involved four ships, 60 fighter planes, and 6,500 U.S. troops.
In 2006 the U.S. State Department classified the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, with their military bases jointly contracted to Holland and the U.S., as “The Third Frontier of the United States.” U.S. aircraft carriers, war ships, combat planes, Black Hawk helicopters, nuclear submarines, and thousands of troops began to build up in Curacao in particular. In 2009 a U.S. military plane was intercepted in Venezuelan airspace that had flown from Curacao’s base.
In 2008 the U.S. reactivated the Fourth Fleet to patrol Caribbean waters. This fleet had been out of commission since 1950. Now it operates with the potential of acting as a floating base for the U.S. to conduct military strikes throughout Central and South America.
In 2009 the U.S. made a deal with Colombia to build up its military personal in seven bases, from 250 to 800 American troops with 600 civilian contractors, effectively taking control over these installations. This was widely denounced throughout Latin America as an action aimed at intimidating Venezuela. In December of that year a U.S. drone plane flying from one of these Colombian bases violated Venezuelan airspace.
From 2009 to 2010 the U.S. worked behind the scenes to legitimize a military coup in Honduras against lawfully elected President Zelaya, who had aligned the nation with ALBA (The Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and Caribbean, initiated by Venezuela and Cuba to counter U.S. free trade agreeements such as NAFTA). Part of the U.S.’s motivation behind its actions was to maintain control of Soto Cano’s Airbase, with its 550 U.S. troops and 650 U.S. and Honduran civilians. In the 1980’s the U.S. had used this base for a training ground and launching pad for the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua and El Salvadorian death squads opposed to the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). There is good reason for concern that this Airbase will again be used for similar operations today.
In 2009 the U.S. and Panama agreed to open up two naval bases in Panama, which will be the first time U.S. military forces will be based in this nation since 1999.
War on Drugs?
Most of these measures have been justified on the grounds of combating drug trafficking, including the military buildup in Costa Rica. However, they have not curtailed this problem at all. Such U.S. military buildups have generally been accompanied by an increase in drug trafficking, as has happened in both Columbia and Afghanistan. Based on this record it can only be concluded that the “War on Drugs” rationale is a red herring for public relations consumption, not the actual motivation. The U.S. is playing with the possibility of erupting a continental conflagration for the sake of corporate profits.
While it is doubtful that the U.S. wants to directly engage in a military conflict with, most likely, Venezuela right now, preparations for this possibility are being made. What is more likely in the short term is that the U.S. military will use its forces to engage in sabotage and intimidation in hopes of reversing support for the nations aligned with ALBA. It is also very possible that the U.S. military will help to support proxy armies, such as Colombia’s, in military conflicts that align with U.S. interests. However, this is a dangerous game. Even in the short term, the U.S. ruling class may drag the nation into another direct conflict, in spite of their intentions, that could spread to involve numerous other nations.
Peace and International Solidarity
While U.S. workers are suffering from unemployment, insufficient health care, drastic cuts to education and social services, as well as environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico created by the Obama governmental collusion with BP, the priorities of the U.S. ruling class are elsewhere. They are more concerned with pouring money into military buildups that threaten war. The target of such a war or wars would be the popular working class movements in Latin America, whose only crime has been to struggle to liberate themselves from super exploitation and political repression. It is the same economic and political elite in the U.S. that are denying U.S. workers what is rightfully theirs that are opposing the efforts of workers and peasants throughout the continent to empower themselves.
It is the task of the anti-war movement not only to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also to prevent future U.S. wars in Latin America. Wherever anti-war activists seek to mobilize people against war, they should also seek to educate about the U.S. empire’s military moves in Latin America.
Furthermore, it will require international solidarity to combat what the U.S. elite is doing in Central and South America. There was recently an event that could go some way towards preparing this solidarity. In Sanare, Venezuela, from June 21 – 25, a series of meetings were held entitled “Ecuentro of the Americas: Resisting Militarization and Promoting a Culture of Peace.” It consisted of delegates of organizations from 19 nations across the continent, including School of the Americas (SOA) Watch of the U.S. You can read more about this at http://www.soaw.org/.