By Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein
Although in 2021 the US Congress issued a decree prohibiting the delivery of funds to the armies of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras until there were improvements in the fight against corruption, the Department of Defence used a subterfuge to circumvent this decision by using an item that is not restricted.
The donation of J8 military vehicles that the US gave to the Guatemalan government to combat drug trafficking was actually used to provide perimeter protection to private security agents who burned down peasant farmers’ houses in El Estor, Izabal, in 2021. This donation was registered in the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme, which is the largest military assistance programme approved by Congress. Likewise, in 2018, the government of Jimmy Morales used them to intimidate the US embassy itself and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which emerged from an agreement between the UN and the country’s authorities.
A few years later, the US Congress limited donations of vehicles to the Guatemalan army, given the history of their use. In the current government of Alejandro Giammattei, nine Democratic congressmen asked the Biden administration for explanations, but the response was silence in the face of the US armed forces’ decision to strengthen the Guatemalan army.
In this context, on 13 October, the US embassy in Guatemala City announced the donation of 95 vehicles, including trucks, vans and motorbikes, valued at US$4.4 million. According to the website Prensa Comunitaria, the source of this money is a Department of Defense (DOD) budget line approved in 2019, during the administration of former president Donald Trump.
In a commentary written by researcher Adam Isacson on the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) website, he states that “the grant was funded through a DOD foreign military capacity building authority established in 2017 as Section 333 of Title 10 of the United States Code”.
A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report dated March 2022 makes it known that “The FY 2021 operations budget prohibits aid to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, while conditioning 50% of other State Department security-related appropriations to these countries on their governments combating corruption, protecting Human Rights, and addressing other congressional concerns.”
Isacson claimed that “a DOD programme was being used to provide a category of assistance that Guatemala cannot receive through the State Department’s main military assistance programme”, as an alternative budget was used to fund Guatemala’s military by bypassing congressionally mandated limitations that the DOD disregarded and disregarded.
In October last year, General Richardson arrived in Panama on her second trip to the country in less than five months. On this occasion, the reason for the visit was to hold a “bilateral security meeting”. On her first trip of the year, in June, the head of the Southern Command discussed security issues and the regional migration crisis with the Panamanian authorities. She also participated in the High Level Security Dialogue (HLSD) between Panama and the United States, which was held in that country.
The migration issue was at the centre of the deliberations at a time when Panama was facing a migration crisis. In the context, only a few days earlier, a new policy had come into force in the United States that legalised the expulsion of Venezuelan nationals who attempted to enter through the land border with Mexico or who had arrived irregularly in Panama.
On this issue, the director of Panama’s National Migration Service (SNM), Samira Gozaine, reported that they were “clamouring to the US embassy to help us, to assist us economically as they do with other countries. For the US, the migration crisis generated by its own policies has become a great opportunity for intervention and “legal” interference in the internal affairs of the countries of the region.
During a visit to Brazil in September last year, General Richardson stated that there was an “outline” of a joint military force between her country and Brazil with helicopters to – allegedly – fight fires in the Amazon jungle.
According to Uruguayan analyst Luis Vignolo, “the information went unnoticed, perhaps not coincidentally, while the mainstream media looked in other directions”. But the truth is that there were strong military rapprochements between the two countries during the government of Jair Bolsonaro. Three months earlier, during the IX Summit of the Americas, held in Los Angeles, California, between 6 and 10 June, Brazil and the United States announced a bilateral rapid response group to combat deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, for which a high-level working group made up of authorities from both countries was created.
By way of background, in August 2019, Donald Trump had designated Brazil as an “extra-NATO preferential ally of the United States” to the delight of Bolsonaro and his vice-president, retired general Hamilton Mourão. According to Vignolo, “Mourão referred in this context to the role of the Brazilian armed forces as a guarantee against the seizure of power by those he considers enemies, in what could be considered a warning against the opposition to the right-wing government”.
The violent eruption of fascist gangs a few days after Lula’s inauguration -just as had happened two years earlier in Washington with the prominence of Trump supporters- and the attitude of the armed forces to the event, seemed to set the tone for how the military would behave in the performance of Lula’s presidential duties, generating a threat accepted by the most reactionary sectors of the US establishment and by important sectors of its armed forces that consider their Brazilian counterparts to be important allies for the strategic control of the region.
Lula will have to confront US and European interests over the Amazon, especially now that his “shift” towards centrist positions has brought him closer to the Democratic Party that controls the US administration and European social democracy, which governs in countries like Germany and Spain, with whom he has established privileged ties that could facilitate the rapprochement of their armed forces to Brazil for a supposed “sustainable management” of the Amazon. In fact, Lula has already invited them to “invest” in ecologically sustainable projects in the region and has assured that this will be done with respect for Brazilian sovereignty. However, there is little detail on this.
The well-informed analyst and writer Andrew Korybko, who has done a lot of research on ‘hybrid wars’, has warned that ‘a fraction of the PT could be used by the US for its meddling purposes’. He has also expressed the view that US intervention in Brazil will not cease under the new Lula government, but will change form, taking on a kind of “radical destabilisation” to provide pretexts for NATO to intervene and ‘save’ a politically handcuffed Lula”.
Koriybko believes that “all the elements for a total destabilisation of Brazil are in place, given the structural problems of the economy, the low parliamentary weight of the ruling party and the serious polarisation on the streets between Bolsonaro’s supporters and Lula’s supporters”.
The secessionist plan in Bolivia is longstanding. It had a moment of realisation after the US-backed coup against President Evo Morales in 2019 and has recently resurfaced in the form of a violent “civic strike” organised by a fascist paramilitary group in the department of Santa Cruz which is part of the Bolivian Amazon that constitutes 43% of the national territory.
The main operator of US policy against Bolivia has been Mark Falcoff, the Bush administration’s Latin America adviser. In his article ‘Bolivia’s Last Days’, published in American Outlook in May 2004, Falcoff ‘predicted’ the ethnic division of Bolivia following the wave of popular uprisings that led to the overthrow of President Sánchez de Lozada in 2003.
In his article, Falcoff notes that: ‘… it is a fundamental fact about Bolivia to know that it is a society divided along two great fault lines: race and geography’. Falcoff contrasts the situation in “Andean, poor, drug-crop-producing, violent, underdeveloped and levantistic Bolivia with prosperous Santa Cruz, which generated 51 per cent of the country’s income and received only ‘a small percentage’ of the profits generated by oil and gas”.
Falcoff therefore recommended a new Constitution that should “remedy the need to decentralise authority and resources” accompanied by “a true attempt at a federal solution, with a regional redistribution of resources and a rational energy policy”.
The plan that led to the coup d’état against Evo Morales and the recent fascist attempt to repeat it were part of this logic, although operational modifications have now been made without changing the objective of overthrowing the government. In the Pentagon’s sights – as General Richardson has openly made known – are the gigantic lithium deposits, which are not in the country’s Amazonian region, but in the Andean highlands. The exploitation and subsequent industrialisation of lithium by non-US foreign companies is causing concern in Washington, which is not relenting in its attempts to destabilise the country.
On 18 January 2023, Peruvian President Dina Boluarte and Prime Minister Alberto Otárola sent a letter to José Daniel Williams, President of the Peruvian Congress, requesting approval to authorise “the entry of naval units and foreign military personnel with weapons of war into the interior of the Republic”. This should be read as the entry of US military forces at a time of large mobilisations against the government that has overthrown President Pedro Castillo and usurped power, which has been resisted by important sectors of the population who have been subjected to strong repression. These actions have had the open and clear support of the US embassy and government.
At the last minute, as this work in three instalments was coming to a close, information arrived that two representatives of the US Republican Party, Dan Crenshaw and Michael Waltz, presented a document to their country’s Congress to authorise the Armed Forces to carry out operations against Mexican cartels, without the acceptance of the US government.
In fact, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador rejected the possibility of the United States deciding “who is the good guy and who is the bad guy”, assuming itself to be the “government of the world”, with the power to intervene by force in any country on the planet.
To conclude, it is worth bearing in mind that the adoption by the United States of its new military concept of “integrated deterrence”, in which it expresses supposedly “shared values” with Latin America that in reality do not exist, is aimed at incorporating the countries of the region into its global war against China and Russia.
This “integrated deterrence” is a sort of pooling of the resources of the countries of the Americas to fight a supposedly common enemy. Washington calls for “unity” to confront the enemy it has unilaterally defined as the enemy, which is not necessarily the same as Latin America and the Caribbean, which should rather opt for neutrality and the search for peace.
The head of the Southern Command said it very precisely in Ecuador when she stated that “China’s advance is a national security problem”. She added that the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean should “work together as a team, playing our respective positions in a harmonious and highly effective way to resolve this problem”.
As has been seen, the instruments are varied, the actions manifest different dimensions and characteristics, but all aim to keep the region subject to Washington’s strategic control,
NOTE: This article has not covered US interventionist action in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, because it has been permanent and continuous for more than 60, 40 and 20 years respectively. Each of these would merit a special report