Latin American leaders have been critical of the Bush administration plan to reestablish the U.S. Fourth Fleet which will, according to a Department of Defense press release, operate “in the Caribbean, and Central and South America.” The Fourth Fleet, originally established in 1943 during World War II to patrol and protect maritime traffic from the Nazis, was disbanded in 1950. The new Fourth Fleet will become operational on July 1, 2008, with aircraft, aircraft carriers, war ships and submarines.
In his weekly column “Fidel’s Reflections,” the former Cuban president, Fidel Castro, noted that the U.S. Navy has fleets “deployed in the western Atlantic, eastern Pacific, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, eastern Atlantic and western Pacific. All that was lacking was the Fourth Fleet so that it could watch over all the waters of the world.”
Quoting from the Department of Defense press release which said the mission of the fleet was to combat terrorism, drug trafficking and other activities, Castro added, “and to send a message to Venezuela and the rest of the region” which has been electing left-wing governments opposed to U.S. hegemony in the Americas.
The DoD says the reestablishment is also “to demonstrate U.S. commitment to regional partners.” The U.S. biggest military partner in Latin America is Colombia which receives over $750 million in military aid, up from $86.6 million received ten years ago, according to the Center for International Policy’s Colombia Program. The right-wing government of Colombia under the presidency of Álvaro Uribe almost plunged the region into a military conflict when he ordered the invasion of Ecuadorian territory to kill a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia on a humanitarian prisoner exchange mission. The Bush administration supported the violation of Ecuador’s territory by Colombian forces, and it has been reported that Colombia had technological support from the U.S. base in Manta, Ecuador.
Alejandro Sánchez, an analyst with the think-tank Council on Hemispheric Affairs, agrees with Castro. In a recent interview with the French daily Le Figaro, Sánchez said, “the reestablishment of the Fourth Fleet is more a political than a military move” motivated by the election of “left governments in the region.”
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez both said in separate interviews that they see the reestablishment of the Fourth Fleet as a new sign of aggression towards their governments, and others, in the region.
Morales has accused the U.S. government of interfering in the internal affairs of Bolivia through its diplomatic cadre and helping to instigate a secessionist attempt by capitalists and landowners in various departments (states). Leaders of various Latin American governments have publicly announced that they support the territorial integrity of Bolivia and would not support secession.
Chávez said that Venezuela is going ahead with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s plan for a South American Defense Council, a military self-defense pact which would exclude the United States.
The Bush administration’s aggressive posture towards Venezuela’s Bolivarian government, including support for the two-day coup of 2002, has moved the Chávez government to buy Russian submarines for its defense. This diverts oil profits the country uses from social needs programs to the military.
Socorro Gomes, president of the World Peace Council, condemned the establishment of the Fourth Fleet. She said this action “poses a severe threat to peace, security and sovereignty to all peoples and nations of Latin America.” She added that the fleet together with military and naval exercises in the region “are part of the United States’ imperialism and war policy.”