Under the auspices of the drug war, the United States is returning to its historical pattern of using Central America and the Caribbean for its own military and strategic purposes.
Even as a growing chorus of voices throughout Latin America argue that military responses to drug trafficking are ineffective against the narcotics trade and exacerbate existing human rights abuses and official corruption, the U.S. military presence in the region is growing.
U.S. military construction in Central and South America has more than doubled in the last two years, while a U.S. buildup on military bases in Colombia continues, despite a Colombian court ruling last summer that struck down an agreement for U.S. use of the bases.
Construction of military facilities is slated for this summer in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Belize, funded from an account for “counter-narco-terrorism” operated by the U.S. Southern Command (SouthCom), the Pentagon’s operations arm for Latin America, according to the Army Corps on Engineers plans. But the biggest Pentagon investments are in Panama and at the U.S. air base in Soto Cano, Honduras. [see interactive map for details]
The surge in U.S. military investment in the region parallels statements by SouthCom commanderDouglas Fraser that the triangle formed by Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala “is possibly the most violent place on Earth today.”
Congress approved a $25 million expansion of barracks for enlisted troops at the U.S. base in Soto Cano, Honduras, located 50 miles north of the capital in Tegucigalpa. The base houses about 500 U.S. troops, as well as support personnel, and served as a way-station for the aircraft that whisked President Manuel Zelaya out of Honduras during the June 2009 military coup,according to Zelaya and a leaked State Department cable. Zelaya had proposed making the base intro a commercial airport in 2008. Now, a new operating center for U.S. Special Forces troops is being built on the base.
The U.S. has also funded military base construction at Caratasca on the Atlantic Coast, which is described in Pentagon contracts as a “forward operating location,” and in April disclosed another base that is being built on Guanaja Island, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast, which will be a counter-narco-terrorism operations center and barracks. The amount of Pentagon contracts for activities in Honduras signed in the six months after the coup ($19.2 million) was more than double the amount from the same period two years earlier.