In South America, left-wing presidents face military aggression

Two leftist South American presidents are under the gun. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez faces off against Colombia with which his country shares a 1,380 mile border. And domestic conspiracies threaten President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay. Each president is also up against U.S. corporate and military power.

“We are preparing to avoid aggression,” Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva told El Tiempo. But preservation of “internal public order” requires attention to “guerrillas at the highest level located in Venezuela.”

As if in response, President Chavez stated that “We do not have any plans against Colombia. But this does not depend upon us…The Yankees want to make us fight.”

U.S. actions recently are nothing if not inciting. There is the reactivation in 2008 of the Navy’s Fourth Fleet for surveillance duties around South and Central America. The agreement signed in October for seven new U.S. bases in Colombia, one to be fitted out for cross continent flights, has provoked region-wide condemnation. Widely circulated U.S. documents refer to “full spectrum military operations” against terrorists and “anti-U.S. governments in the region.” Venezuela cut diplomatic and trade relations with Colombia, leading to a 70 percent dip in Colombian exports to Venezuela.

U.S. measures against foreign terrorists and insurgencies are seen as actual or potential national sovereignty violations. Ecuador released a report last month, for example, documenting crucial U.S. intelligence assistance for Colombia’s murderous destruction March 1, 2008, of a FARC campsite inside Ecuador.

The U.S. State Department has protested Venezuelan trade relations with Iran. Washington has promoted media reports alleging Venezuelan anti terrorist and anti-narcotic shortcomings.  

Claiming that FARC guerrillas find sanctuary inside Venezuela, the Colombian government is preparing a $1.5 million base for 1000 soldiers – plus U.S. troops and military contractors – in Guajira state, close to major Venezuelan oil extraction facilities. U.S funding and equipment are anticipated. Colombia’s military will be activating six Air Force battalions deploying two of them along the Venezuelan border. U.S. intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assistance, written into the U.S. – Colombian bases agreement, is anticipated.

Venezuela sees Colombian paramilitaries and intelligence operatives as central to destabilization activities and violent anti-government protests in its western states. Links are alleged between paramilitaries and Colombia’s Defense Ministry. With U.S. help, Colombia’s Air Force has added aircraft and sophisticated equipment. While Venezuelan military supply purchases are up $4 billion, its military budget last year was one third that of Colombia. U.S. military aid over nine years exceeds $6 billion.

As the year ended, President Chavez accused Colombia and the United States of flying an unmanned aircraft – a drone- over Zulia state, promising to shoot down any other. Chavez recently blamed the Dutch government for tolerating U.S. military expansion in Aruba and Curazao, Dutch islands near Venezuela’s northern coast.  

U.S. influence in Paraguay is less obvious. There, oligarchic forces in power for decades are conspiring to remove President Fernando Lugo, swept into power through popular mobilization in 2008. In November, Lugo again had to replace leading Army officers accused of plotting. Calling Lugo a traitor, Vice President Federico Franco has signaled readiness to replace him.

Lugo is blamed for the guerrilla kidnapping last October of a wealthy cattle rancher, alleged corruption related to land reform efforts, and a paternity scandal from his time as Catholic bishop. Paraguay’s opposition controlled Congress is working on impeachment. Communist Party General Secretary Najjeb Amado told an interviewer Lugo is targeted as a stand-in for burgeoning social movements.

Following Honduran President Manuel Zalaya’s lead, Lugo seeks entry into ALBA, the Venezuelan – Cuban inspired alliance of progressive Latin American governments. Citing Paraguayan leftists, TeleSUR portrays anti-Lugo plotting as “a copy of what Honduran coup instigators put into effect to bring down Zelaya.”

U.S. Southern Command head General Douglas Fraser, having shepherded the U.S. military through the Honduran coup, stepped into Paraguay’s crisis with a visit December 18 aimed at, he said, “reinforcing ties with the Paraguayan armed forces.” Arthur Valenzuela, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, was also in Asunción. noted Fraser’s warning against Venezuelan arms purchases and expression of “disillusion” over President Lugo’s refusal to allow U.S. military exercises in Paraguay. He protested connections between “illicit [drug] trafficking and terrorists.”

Fraser’s Southern Command has invited the coup – perpetrating Honduran military to join U.S. regional military exercises. He confirmed that the airplane removing President Zalaya from Tegucigalpa to Costa Rica, stopped en route at the U.S. Palmerola military base in Honduras. 

Photo: / CC BY-ND 2.0



W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.