For Part 1: Hezbollah south of the border, click here.
ASUNCION – “The Yankees are coming,” says a Paraguayan university student in Villa Morra, the slice of North American suburbia in eastern Asuncion. Wait; in fact they’re already here. And not only because of the American University, or the rows and rows of private clinics, medical services, pharmacies and life-insurance companies catering to expat customers in Mariscal Lopez Avenue. President Nicanor Duarte has been allowing US troops on Paraguayan soil since mid-2005. US Special Forces are performing 13 military exercises, to expire late this year, including “educational courses”, “domestic peacekeeping operations” and counter-terrorism training, this one part of Operation Commando Force 6, scheduled to go on until next month.
The whole package is part of a controversial military agreement between Paraguay and the United States endorsed by the Paraguayan Congress more than a year ago. The US Special Forces are guaranteed total immunity and diplomatic status. They are free to import and export, they don’t pay any taxes, and what they trade is not subjected to any inspections. Contraband kingpins at the Triple Border would kill for a deal like that.
The Foreign Ministry for its part insists that “the national government did not sign any accords with the US government for establishing an American military base”. The Paraguayan government defines these rumors as “delirious”. Brazilians are not so sure.
According to Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, “They told us this is just training and humanitarian health missions … There is no reason to believe that there is something related to terrorism.” Brazilian diplomats worry that Paraguay didn’t even bother to tell its Mercosur counterparts it would be hosting US troops. Paraguayan businessmen even want to scrap Mercosur altogether, complaining that the big members, Brazil and Argentina, monopolize all the decisions.
When in doubt, invade
It’s useful to remember that soon after September 11, 2001, notorious neo-con Douglas Feith suggested to George W Bush an air invasion of the Triple Border – where the boundaries of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet – to capture al-Qaeda fighters and permanently occupy the region. No wonder that as early as 2002 a study by the Brazilian army was asking whether “these armed forces that ring the border of Brazil, especially in the Amazon region”, could be used “for reasons that are [at present] undeclared”.
Although the Paraguayans insist these troops are in the country on a “temporary” basis, they may represent a giant step toward Washington’s setting up a US military base very close to the Triple Border. Way back in 1982, the US built and started operating a semi-clandestine airstrip in Mariscal Estigarribia, in the Chaco region in northern Paraguay near the Bolivian border, where B-52 bombers and C-5 Galaxy cargo planes are able to land with no hassle. The airstrip is literally in the middle of dense forest. It also happens to be only 270 kilometers from the Brazilian border.
Some Brazilian diplomats bet off the record that a US permanent base is all but inevitable. But maybe not, as Brazil is known to play hardball with Paraguay.
Significantly, the US-Paraguay military agreement happened right when President Duarte was struggling against social movements contrary to his privatization wave, and peasant movements fighting for more land.
The “training” provided by the US forces is the usual mix of combat and counter-insurgency and counter-terror theory. After that, it could be adapted for use against any “terrorist” threat. For Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, the Bush administration’s real target is to smash popular movements and governments in South America.
The Washington-Asuncion axis has been a stellar accomplishment of President Nicanor Duarte, who came to power in August 2003. Duarte is described by economic analyst Pablo Herken as “populist, demagogue, charlatan, liar, incoherent, authoritarian, rancorous and irresponsible”.
The supreme Pentagon obsession remains the Triple Border and Ciudad del Este, Paraguay – the Wild West of the “war on terror”. Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela have been very critical toward Washington’s regional geostrategic designs. So for the Bush administration a weak and corrupt Paraguayan government is the perfect Trojan horse.
Duarte is a certified FOB (Friend of Bush). He was personally received at the White House. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Asuncion one year ago. Paraguayan Vice President Luis Castiglioni met his US counterpart Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and crucially Roger Noriega, the sinister former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. John Keane, US ambassador to Paraguay, publicized a huge contribution to fight “drug trafficking, terrorism, money laundering and corruption”. The Triple Border has always been the top issue on all meetings between these players, not to mention the ministerial meetings sponsored by Southcom (the US Southern Command).
The lethal cocktail of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Noriega, the Triple Border and all those thousands of “Ay-rabs” in Ciudad del Este could not but spell endless trouble. Argentine non-governmental organizations also identify the Triple Border as the Americans’ No 1 geostrategic target. The master plan would be typical Rumsfeld: light, “rapid reaction” forces based in Paraguay intervening in neighboring countries and conducting low-intensity warfare against the – non-existent – Triple Border “terrorists”. The Pentagon’s agenda is the militarization of the so-called Western Hemisphere. In his South American trips the Rumsfeld mantra has been “dominion over ungoverned spaces”. So Pentagon logic equally applies to the Triple Border and the Rio favelas run by drug mafias.
El Condor pasa (again)
Brazil is one of the very few South American countries with no US bases, garrisons or airstrips. But now that Brazil is actually facing US troops on two flanks – north, in Colombia, and south, in Paraguay – no wonder Brazilian congress members have started to regard it as “a threat to our national security”. Public intellectuals in both Brazil and Argentina fear that the usual US-paid mules will keep planting stories in the media about Arab “terrorists” at the Triple Border, thus justifying a permanent-resident visa for the US forces in Paraguay. What happened in Colombia is also evoked. The Colombian agreement with the United States stipulated visa-free entry for US civilians. But these “civilians” happen to be mercenaries, working for private security firms. The same process could happen in Paraguay.
Essential in the Pentagon machinery is the new Counter-Terrorism Fellowship Program, which is operated (with no supervision by anyone) out of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict. What this represents in fact is nothing but a rerun of the infamous Operation Condor coordinated by infamous Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet during the 1970s. As much as Condor, the Counter-Terrorism Fellowship Program may work as the de facto Central Command in a South America-wide campaign of intimidation and political terror.
In the 1970s – with sinister dictator Alfredo Stroessner in full power – the Central Intelligence Agency set up in the US Embassy in Asuncion the most powerful electronic spying station in South America. According to researcher Anibal Miranda, it’s still operational.
For the past five years the US has also set up a real sanitary cordon in South America, from the Caribbean to the Paraguayan Chaco – 20 garrisons split between air and radar bases, at the cost of roughly US$340 million. Spy planes roam the Amazon, the Andes and the Antilles. Operating under the “war on drugs” banner, three airstrips are crucial in this plan: Hato in the Netherlands Antilles, Queen Beatrix in Aruba, and Manta in Ecuador. The first two happen to be right in front of Venezuela’s coast.
After September 11 the US State Department mantra was that al-Qaeda and/or Hezbollah had an intimate connection with FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). The “coincidence” could not be more extraordinary: “terror” at the geographic heart of Mercosur – which happens to be dreaded in Washington as the made-in-South America answer to the Washington-promoted Free Trade Area of the Americas – was suddenly connected with “terror”, which happens to be the biggest obstacle to the US occupation of the Amazon rainforest.
Before September 11 the main rationale behind Washington’s Plan Colombia was the “war on drugs”. Then it became the “war on terror” – and Plan Colombia spread way beyond the Andes. The Pentagon’s new Long War (war on terror remixed) is now the catalyst that multiplies “evidence” forever justifying sending special agents, US Special Forces, “training” of local forces, “joint military operations” and, sooner rather than later, a permanent military base.
Eyes on the loot
The Grand Prize may not be only the fabulous freshwater wealth of the Guarani Aquifer. There are also the huge gas reserves of Bolivia, and great unexplored reserves of carbon in southern Brazil, not to mention Venezuelan oil. It all comes back once again to the 21st-century energy wars.
Anyone familiar with South America knows that the key issue is not terrorism but lack of investment in health and education, and hunger and unemployment inevitably leading in despair to petty crime and beyond. But for the Pentagon shock troops of hardcore globalization, the only thing that matters is an ideological crusade.
General Brantz Craddock, the man who sees a terrorist behind any pirate video disc sold in the Triple Border, recently said that “transnational terrorism” is Latin America’s “foremost” problem. The Pentagon managed to fabricate a hardcore Islamic jihad in Iraq out of nothing. There’s no reason to doubt it may fabricate a South America-wide Ciudad del Este out of a single Triple Border.
This is the concluding article of this report. Click here for Part 1.