Military Spending in Latin America

Feature photo by aaroninchiapas

Due to the $1.5 trillion budget deficit, the U.S. government allegedly does not want to spend money on things that aren’t necessary. The defense budget obviously covers the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. However, millions of dollars are spent every year on U.S. military bases worldwide.

Whenever I’ve asked anyone why the U.S. has so many bases worldwide, I get the vague “I do not really know the answer…so I’ll just say˜the U.S. wants to control the world.” I wanted to know what millions of our taxpayer dollars are being spent on. So I did a little research on bases in Latin America.

In recent years, Washington has experienced a fast erosion of its influence in Latin America, driven by the rising economy of Brazil, Venezuela’s rising oil revenue, and China’s increasing influence. Broad social movements have challenged efforts by US- and Canadian-based companies to expand extractive industries like mining, bio fuels, petroleum and logging. Currently there are no U.S. military bases in Mexico. There are 7 bases in Colombia, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Vieques base in Puerto Rico, and one base in Peru.

The official purposes listed for almost every base in Latin American are anti-narcotics, anti-guerilla operations, counter drug operation/mission, or assisting with drug trafficking problems. Another purpose listed is help with infrastructure projects and providing humanitarian assistance.

The most notable U.S. presence in Latin America is in Colombia. In late October of last year, the United States and Colombia signed an agreement granting the Pentagon use of seven military bases, along with an unlimited number of as yet unspecified “facilities and locations.”

Since the U.S. Plan Colombia was established in 1999, paramilitaries have taken control of hundreds of municipal governments establishing what Colombian social scientist León Valencia calls true local dictatorships. Plan Colombia has financed the opposite of what is taking place in neighboring Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela, where movements are trying to create more inclusive societies.

Another effect of Plan Colombia has been to spread the violence and corruption endemic to the cocaine trade, with Central American and Mexican cartels and military factions taking over export of the drug to the United States. On Friday March 11th, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director, John Morton announced it would double the number of its agents deployed in Mexico from 20 to 40 people due to the increase in crime.

“This cycle of violence is reinforced by the rapid spread of mining, hydroelectric, bio fuel and petroleum operations, which wreak havoc on local ecosystems, poisoning land and water, and by the opening of national markets to US agro-industry, which destroys local economies,” according to Greg Grandin from The Nation. The result is criminal threats and protest from the Latin American people.

According to an estimate by Miriam Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies, it costs $250 billion a year to maintain the worldwide U.S. bases. Is that really money well spent?