PNAC oil agenda : Latin America : Paraguay as staging area?


Richard Moore


York University Newspaper

Is the US poised for intervention? 

Written by Benjamin Dangl - Contributor  
Wednesday, 05 October 2005 

Fears mount as US opens new military installation in Paraguay

Controversy is raging in Paraguay, where the US military is
conducting secretive operations. Five hundred US troops
arrived in the country on Jul. 1, 2005 with planes, weapons
and ammunition. Eyewitness reports prove that an airbase
exists in Mariscal Estigarribia, Paraguay, which is 200
kilometres from its border with Bolivia and may be utilized by
the US military. Officials in Paraguay claim the military
operations are routine humanitarian efforts and deny that any
plans are underway for a US base. Yet human rights groups in
the area are deeply worried. White House officials are using
rhetoric about terrorist threats in the tri-border region
(where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet) in order to build
their case for military operations, which are in many ways
reminiscent of the build up to the invasion of Iraq.

The tri-border area is home to the Guarani Aquifer, one of the
world's largest reserves of water. Near the Estigarribia
airbase are Bolivia's natural gas reserves, the second largest
in Latin America. Political analysts believe US operations in
Paraguay are part of a preventative war to control these
natural resources and suppress social uprisings in Bolivia.

Argentinian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel
commented on the situation in Paraguay and warned, "Once the
United States arrives, it takes a long time to leave. And that
really frightens me."

The Estigarribia airbase was constructed in the 1980s for US
technicians hired by the Paraguayan dictator Alfredo
Stroessner, and is capable of housing 16,000 troops. A
journalist writing for the Argentinian newspaper, Clarin,
recently visited the base and reported it to be in perfect
condition, capable of handling large military planes. It's
oversized for the Paraguayan air force, which only has a
handful of small aircrafts.

The base has an enormous radar system, huge hangars and an air
traffic control tower. The airstrip itself is larger than the
one at the international airport in Asuncion, the Paraguayan
capital. Near the base is a military camp which has recently
grown in size.

"Estigarribia is ideal because it is operable throughout the
year ... I am sure that the US presence will increase," said
Paraguayan defense analyst Horacio Galeano Perrone.

Denials and immunity

"The national government has not reached any agreement with
the United States for the establishment of a US military base
in Paraguay," states a communiqué signed by Paraguayan foreign
minister Leila Rachid. The US Embassy in Paraguay has also
released statements officially denying plans to set up a
military base in the country.

The Pentagon used this same language when describing its
actions in Manta, Ecuador, now the home of an $80 million US
military base. First, they said the facility was an archaic
"dirt strip", which would be used for weather monitoring and
would not permanently house US personnel. Days later, the
Pentagon stated that Manta was to serve as a major military
base tasked with a variety of security-related missions.

Paraguayan political analyst and historian Milda Rivarola said
that, "In practice, there has already been a [US] base
operating in Paraguay for over 50 years." The US armed forces
have had an ongoing presence in the country, she said. "In the
past, they needed congressional authorization every six
months, but now they have been granted permission to be here
for a year and a half."

On May 26, 2005 the Paraguayan Senate granted the US troops
total immunity from national and international criminal court
jurisdiction until Dec. 2006. The legislation is automatically
extendable. Since Dec. 2004, the US has been pressuring Peru,
Ecuador, Venezuela and Paraguay into signing a deal which
would grant immunity to US military. The Bush administration
threatened to deny the countries up to $24.5 million in
economic and military aid if they refused to sign the immunity
deal. Paraguay was the only country to accept the offer.

Coup warning in Bolivia

The proximity of the Estigarribia base to Bolivian natural gas
reserves, and the fact that the military operations coincide
with a presidential election in Bolivia, has also been a cause
for concern. The election is scheduled to take place on Dec.
4, 2005. Bolivian Workers Union leader Jaime Solares and
Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) legislator Antonio Peredo,
have warned of US plans for a military coup to frustrate the
elections. Solares said the US Embassy backs right wing
ex-president Jorge Quiroga in his bid for office, and will go
as far as necessary to prevent any other candidate's victory.

The most recent national poll showed left wing MAS congressman
Evo Morales was barely one point behind Quiroga in the race.
Solares said there were calls in Jun. 2005 for a military coup
during the massive protests that toppled president Carlos
Mesa. Recent US military operations in neighboring Paraguay
would facilitate such an intervention.

The Bush administration played a key role in the 2002 coup
against president Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and the 2004
ousting of Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide.

The Tri-Border terror theory

In March, William Pope, the US State Department's principal
deputy coordinator of counterterrorism, said that 9/11
mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed is believed to have visited
the tri-border area for several weeks in 1995. Defense
officials say that Hezbollah and Hamas, radical Islamic groups
from the Middle East, "get a lot of funding" from this
tri-border area, and that further unrest in the region could
leave a political "black hole" that would erode other
democratic efforts.

Military analysts from Uruguay and Bolivia maintain that the
threat of terrorism is often used by the US as an excuse for
military intervention and the monopolization of natural
resources. In the case of Paraguay, the US may be preparing to
secure the Guarani water reserves and Bolivia's natural gas.

In spite of frequent attempts to link terror networks to the
tri-border area, there is little proof of the connection.
However, this did not prevent the US from "liberating" Iraq in
2003. As secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld argued during
the debate over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, "Simply
because you do not have evidence that something does exist
does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn't exist."

Paraguayan and US officials contend that much of the recent
military collaborations are based on health and humanitarian
work. However, State Department reports do not mention any
funding for health works in Paraguay. They do mention that
funding for the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP) in
the country doubled for 2005.

The report explained, "Bilateral relations between the US and
Paraguay are strong, with Paraguay providing excellent
cooperation in the fight against terrorism ... CTFP provided
funds for Paraguayans to attend courses on the dynamics of
international terrorism, and the importance and application of
intelligence in combating terrorism."

Col. Hugo Mendoza of the Paraguayan army said he's thankful
the US military is helping Paraguay meet security threats
through the joint exercises. "We're learning new things and
working with new equipment and the latest technology which we
would not be able to afford otherwise."

Journalist and human rights activist Alfredo Boccia Paz said,
"These missions are always disguised as humanitarian aid ...
what Paraguay does not and cannot control is the total number
of agents that enter the country."

Meanwhile, neighboring countries have not warmly received the
news of the military activity. The Chilean Communist Party
demanded that Paraguayan president Nicanor Duarte "reconsider
and cancel" recent military deals with the US as they are
"extremely serious for Latin America."

In Paraguay, human rights and activist organizations have
mobilized against the military activity. When Donald Rumsfeld
visited the country in August, protesters greeted his
entourage with chants such as, "Rumsfeld, you fascist, you are
the terrorist!" as a military band welcomed him by playing the
"Star Spangled Banner".

"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"