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A more than fleeting thought

22 September 2008

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva warned on Thursday that the resurrection of a U.S. naval fleet in Latin America may signal that Washington covets huge new oil reserves off Brazil’s coast.

The U.S. Navy is reestablishing the U.S. Fourth Fleet, which was decommissioned 58 years ago, to combat drug trafficking, provide disaster relief and help with peacekeeping missions in Latin America and the Caribbean.

But the return of the fleet has been met with widespread skepticism in Brazil and elsewhere in the region, where many see a U.S. military presence as a threat to sovereignty.

Mexican military analysts have raised the same concerns, which I wrote about here (31 August 2008)… and, though it’s been a few years, the U.S. Navy has attacked Mexico under the rubric of “peace-keeping” before:  when Woodrow Wilson invaded Mexico in his pyjamas.

U.S. landings in Greneda and Panama in recent years, and continued intervention in Latin America since the 1820s are not easily forgotten.  And — given that Latin American nations as a whole are seeking better ties to Asia and Europe, this is not just, as U.S.-centric sites like Bloggings By Boz assume, “playing to the base,”  but a very real concern to military planners and observers throughout Latin America.

Boz assures me that the U.S. has benign intentions.  That may be, but it doesn’t explain Southern Command’s General James T. Hill’s testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in March 2004 in which he defined “populism” in Latin America as a threat to the United States, nor very real concerns with the Fourth Fleet’s command by a Navy SEAL with a background in counter-insurgency and irregular warfare.  Nor, for that matter, do Latin American nations have any reason to trust the U.S. government, when announced “humanitarian missions” have either failed to materialize (like those promised last May), or have been subverted for use as intelligence-gathering operations.  The bally-hooed — but deeply unpopular — “Plan Merida” as originally proposed would have exposed Mexican national security data to the United States, and does not directly assist Mexican law enforcement, but props up U.S. companies.

Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina are the only countries on the Atlantic with decent sized navies.  All have been buying military equipment from countries other than the United States, and I expect all will be beefing up their naval capacity and making major acquisitions in the next few years to counter the perceived threat. Mexico and Venezuela both have purchased Russian jets recently and the Brazilians have their own arms industry.  Given recent Brazilian oil field discoveries, that country’s navy is conducing war games to test naval preparedness.

If the Brazilian President is speaking to his “base”… he’s also speaking to base commanders and you’d have to include military planners throughout the hemisphere.

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