Source: Fellowship of Reconciliation
President Obama reduced the number of National Guard troops deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border early last month, a belated recognition of the decline in immigrants coming to the U.S., or perhaps of how the militarized border has driven people attempting to cross into more dangerous areas.
But the U.S.military approach to undocumented immigrants has moved further south - to a new military academy in Panama. The new school, which Panama announced in early December, will bring together U.S. and Colombian trainers to “combat undocumented people” at an unnamed site in Panama, according to an account of Panama Security Minister José Raúl Mulino’s announcement on December 6.
U.S. and Colombian instructors will train Central American police units in border patrol, countering drug traffic, and “combatting undocumented persons.” The U.S. also will train Panamanian pilots of Bell helicopters, which were purchased from Canada, Mulino said.
Mulino met with Colombian military and police chiefs in November in Colombia, where President Santos gave him a medal. From November 29 to December 2, Mulino was in Washington to meet with military officials, and announced that the United States is aiding the ministry for border operations.
In April, Panama inaugurated a regional drug war center on the former Howard U.S. Air Force Base, under the auspices of the Central American Integration System (SICA), which has increasingly become a vehicle for militarization in the region. The new base will have police or military troops from Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic, and will initially operate out of Panama’s aeronaval service base, next to Howard.
The center is designed to fight organized crime, said Alfredo Callejas, the center’s director. In fact, as when Howard was a strictly U.S. base, the new base will coordinate with a Southern Command-operated center in Key West, Florida to track regional air and maritime movements.
The Pentagon is also constructing $1.8 million pier at a new aeronaval base for Panama at Puerto Piña, through a contract signed in August with an Ecuadoran firm. (pdf file)
Panama’s Mulino is in deep trouble because of a scandal involving reported skimmed funds from contracts for helicopters and radars with an Italian company. It is not surprising he chooses this moment to announce Panama’s “regional leadership” in security, but the international militarization of Panama and the region surpasses parochial political calculations.