The U.S. military is conducting secretive operations in Paraguay and reportedly building a new base there. Human rights groups and military analysts in the region believe trouble is brewing. However, the U.S. embassy in Paraguay denies the base exists and describes the military activity as routine. According to an article in the Bolivian newspaper, El Deber, a U.S. base is being developed in Mariscal Estigarribia, Paraguay, 200 kilometers from the border with Bolivia. The base will permit the landing of large aircraft and is capable of housing up to 16,000 troops. A contingent of 500 U.S. troops arrived in Paraguay on July 1st with planes, weapons, equipment and ammunition. (1)
With Bolivia’s recent uprisings, their enormous gas reserves, and a presidential election on the way, this questionable activity could pave the way for a U.S. intervention. Rumors of Al Qaeda training grounds near Paraguay may also work to the Bush administration’s advantage as it makes a case for military operations in the region.
On May 26, 2005 the Paraguayan senate approved the entrance of the troops, granting them total immunity, free from Paraguayan and International Criminal Court jurisdiction. The legislature is due to expire in December 2006, but is automatically extendable. Since December 2004, the U.S. has been pressuring Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Paraguay into signing a deal which would grant immunity to U.S. military. The Bush administration threatened to deny the countries up to $24.5 million in economic and military aid if they refused to sign the deal. Paraguay was the only country to accept the offer. (2)
US Embassy Denies Base Claims, Rumsfeld Looks Forward to Military Cooperation
A statement issued from the U.S. embassy in Paraguay explained that the military exercises in question involve humanitarian and medical assistance to poor communities as well as military training. The embassy maintained that the U.S. has “absolutely no intention of establishing a military base anywhere in Paraguay” and “has no intention to station soldiers for a lengthy period in Paraguay.” (3)
The Pentagon used this same rhetoric when describing its actions in Manta, Ecuador, now the home of an $80 million U.S. military base. First they said the facility was an archaic “dirt strip” which would be used for weather monitoring and would not permanently house U.S. personnel. Days later, the Pentagon stated that Manta was to serve as a major military base tasked with a variety of security-related missions. Human rights groups have linked the U.S. base in Manta to the 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. (4)
Before the arrival of U.S. troops in Paraguay, Luis Castiglioni, the Vice President of Paraguay, visited Washington D.C. where he met with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. During the visit, they discussed defense and security in South America and the “international war on terrorism.” Rumsfeld said the U.S. would be sending experts to Paraguay from the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, (an institution similar to the infamous School of the Americas) in order to develop a “planning seminar on systems for national security.” Rumsfeld promised to visit the country and expressed his “full support for the coming exercises between the American and Paraguayan armed forces.” (5)
If history is any lesson, Paraguayans are right to be wary. Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ), a human rights group in the country, warned that the terms of the deal struck between the U.S. and Paraguay are “very dangerous to us, especially taking into account that it was U.S. soldiers who taught torture and other forms of human rights violations in courses at the School of the Americas under the National Security Doctrine." (6)
Orlando Castillo of SERPAJ stated, “The U.S. has strong aspirations to convert Paraguay into another Panama for their troops, and they’re not far from controlling the southern cone and extending the war in Colombia.” A U.S. military base operated in Panama for nearly 90 years. (7)
Possible US Military Intervention in Bolivia
If the new U.S. base does in fact exist, its location makes sense. It will put U.S. troops within easy striking distance of the Bolivian provinces of Santa Cruz and Tarija, home to the second largest gas reserves in South America. Bolivian business leaders interested in privatizing and exporting the country’s gas have spearheaded a move in these resource rich provinces for a secessionist referendum, which will take place on August 12th. If the region votes for autonomy, it’s likely the gas will be privatized, an unpopular plan that’s generated massive protests in the country since 2003. If new civil unrest occurs over the gas issue, the U.S. military will be in a strategic position to intervene, in part to protect the interests of U.S. energy corporations.
The U.S. is currently working from within the Bolivian borders to create military networks. The U.S. State Department recently asked riot gear manufacturers to submit proposals for equipment it plans to send to the Bolivian government. The U.S. is asking for 3,700 upper body tactical padding suits, and 3,700 pairs of shin guards. On the same day as that request, the US Army issued a separate bid to build an emergency operations center in La Paz, which will consist of a "2-story building with reinforced concrete floors, masonry walls and a reinforced concrete slab Estimated cost range of the project is from $100,000 to $250,000." (8)
U.S. military operations and assistance are nothing new in the region. However, the timing of these activities appears to be more than a coincidence. Bolivia is scheduled to have presidential election in December 2005 and leftist coca grower leader and congressman, Evo Morales may have a strong chance at winning. If Morales, or another candidate unpopular with the Bush administration, is elected, then the U.S. could be poised to disrupt Bolivia’s democratic process, as they did during the 2002 Venezuelan coup and the 2004 ousting of Haitian president Bertram Aristide.
Regarding U.S. military activity in Paraguay, Bolivian Chancellor Armando Loayza said, "There is no specific information. Between Bolivia and Paraguay there is perfect harmony and cooperation ” However, Bolivian author and military analyst, Juan Ramon Quintana, believes the US military’s activities in Paraguay are a subject that concerns the entire region. "We should be very worried. It is a most negative sign, dramatic in the fact that there exists the possibility of intervention in strategic areas linked to energy and a regional project." (9)
“Terrorism Networks in Triple Border Region”
The U.S. interest in Paraguay makes sense for other reasons as well; the triple border between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil has been long been rumored to be an “Islamic terrorist training ground.” According to New Yorker reporter, Jeffrey Goldberg, the area is “one of the most lawless places in the world also the center of Middle Eastern terrorism in South America.” Goldberg reported that Hamas and Al Qaeda are associated with the terrorists in this region. (10)
As the U.S. government was gearing up for a war in Iraq, Goldberg also wrote an article that purportedly linked Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The article was gratefully used by the Bush administration to further their argument for war. Critics believe Goldberg often forms a hypothesis and then goes out to try and prove it. Veteran muckraker, Alexander Cockburn found various inaccuracies in the article linking Al Qaeda to Hussein and wrote that “Goldberg once served in Israel’s armed forces, which may or may not be a guide to his political agenda.” (11)
As we’ve seen in Iraq, the Bush administration understands that the “war on terror” can serve as a great excuse to claim natural resources. The U.S. military activity in Paraguay combined with the triple border terrorist theory and the gas reserves in a precarious Bolivia, sound like a recipe for another U.S. “democracy spreading” bonanza.
Benjamin Dangl has traveled and worked as a journalist in Bolivia and Paraguay. He is the editor of upsidedownworld.org, click HERE to read more of his articles.
(1)”Inquietud por una base de EEUU en zona fronteriza de Paraguay,” El Deber, 7-7-05 http://www.eldeber.com.bo/20050707/nacional_2.html
Mary Donohue and Melissa Nepomiachi, “Washington Secures Long Sought Hemispheric Outpost,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs, 7-20-2005
(2) Pablo Bachelet, “4 nations that won’t sign deal with U.S. risk aid loss,” Miami Herald, 12-18-04
(3) US Embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay, 7-7-05 www.asuncion.usembassy.gov/
(4) Donohue and Nepomiachi
(5) Hugo Olázar “Paraguay concedió inmunidad a las tropas de Estados Unidos,” Clarin, 5-13-05 http://www.clarin.com/diario/2005/06/13/elmundo/i-02015.htm
(6) “US Troops To Paraguay,” Weekly News Update on the Americas, 6-5-05 http://www.ww4report.com/node/587
(8) Stephen Peacock, “Bolivia To Get Riot Gear, Emergency Ops Center From U.S. — More Trouble on the Horizon?” Narco News, 7-16-05 http://narcosphere.narconews.com/story/2005/7/16/14743/4150
(9) “Inquietud por una base de EEUU en zona fronteriza de Paraguay,” El Deber 7-7-05 http://www.eldeber.com.bo/20050707/nacional_2.html
(10) Jeffrey Goldberg, “In the Party of God,” New Yorker 10-21-02 http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?021028fa_fact2
(11) Alexander Cockburn, Meet the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg,” CounterPunch 3-28-03 http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn02282003.html