Friday, November 17, 2006


A frequent reader sent us a mail describing U.S. moves to gain a foot hold in these parts...enjoy....Its an International assessment.

Washington Looks to Cement its Military Presence in Central America

The U.S. Military Presence

The U.S. has had a lasting presence in modern Honduras, primarily at the Soto Cano airbase, which has witnessed scores of human rights abuses during the 1980s. The American troops now stationed in Honduras are known as Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo), a component of the

U.S. Southern Command (Southcom), which was formed in 1983 under the original name of Joint Task Force 11. At that time, handsomely bribed Honduran officials closed their eyes to the fact that U.S.-backed insurgents were staging sorties into Nicaragua from Honduran territory, while Tegucigalpa concomitantly refused to acknowledge the covert ventures. It is not entirely clear how many U.S. troops were stationed at Soto Cano and other Honduran-based military installations during the 1980s.

Conservative estimates place that number at anywhere between 2,000 to 5,000 troops, who were there as part of a training mission.

Today, Soto Cano houses between 350 to 500 U.S. troops belonging to the 612th Air Base Squadron and the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment. Since the closing of the American facilities in Panama over the last decade, the U.S. has relied more and more on smaller bases across the hemisphere.

These include Manta in Ecuador, Comalapa in El Salvador, as well as a comparable base in the island of Aruba. Still, Honduras’ Soto Cano continues to be the pillar of the U.S.’s Central American military presence. With the departure of the U.S. Army’s 228th Aviation Battalion from Fort Kobbe, Panama, many aviation assets of U.S. Army South (USARSO), Southcom’s army component, were moved to Soto Cano.

These include a command and control element, CH-47 “Chinook” helicopters, as well as UH-60 “Blackhawk” and “Medevac” helicopters. Since the end of the 1980s, the troops serving at Soto Cano have often been used for disaster relief operations. A Joint Force Quarterly article proudly cited how JTF-Bravo aided the populations of Guatemala and Honduras after last year’s Hurricane Stan and Tropical Storms Beta and Gamma hit the region. The base has always been on Washington’s radar, as exemplified by President Clinton’s trip to the facility in March 1999, and the recent Bush-Zelaya discussions on its future.

The Future of Soto Cano and the MosquitiaGeneral Romeo Vázquez, chairman of the Honduran joint general staff, declared on July 15 that Honduras would be building, with U.S. assistance, a new military installation in the province of Gracias a Dios. According to Vázquez, the proposed base would house aircraft and fuel supplying systems.

While Washington defense officials see Caracas as a potential security threat to its neighbors, some would argue that the same accusations can be made by Venezuelan officials regarding Rumsfeld’s actions in the region. Under Rumsfeld, the U.S. significantly expanded its military presence and ties throughout the hemisphere.

On August 2005, he was the first U.S. Defense Secretary to visit Paraguay. The trip was widely regarded as connected to the ongoing U.S. military exercises (13 in total from July 2005 to the present). It has been widely speculated that these talks may have involved the consideration of permanent bases that could signify a more permanent American military presence in Paraguay. Rumsfeld later visited Peru during his South American tour in order to court then-president Alejandro Toledo. Rumsfeld also was after gaining more support for the ill-reputed, Brazilian-led MINUSTAH mission in Haiti.

An Expansive Rumsfeld“I can’t imagine why Venezuela needs 100,000 AK-47s,” Rumsfeld told reporters in Brasilia during a March 2005 joint news conference, in regards to the proposed Venezuelan purchase of rifles from the Kremlin.

Rumsfeld may have grounds to criticize such a transaction, but he lacked consistency when he neglected to comment on the numerous Chilean military purchases. These have led to the beginning of what may well be a multinational arms race, raising already mounting security concerns in Lima and La Paz.

On October 22, the Chilean daily El Mercurio reported the first batch of 100 Humvee all-terrain vehicles had arrived, purchased by Santiago as part of its aggressive military modernization campaign. According to the report, the Chilean army plans to buy over 200 Humvees and upgrade them with 106mm guns and a battlefield missile system. Chile also purchased a squadron of Lockheed F-16s raising concerns regarding its growing air force. If Rumsfeld was so concerned with the de-stabilizing effects of aggressive weapon purchases by a western hemisphere nation, he could have used the same language to object to Chile’s recent purchases with equal justification.

Rumsfeld is known to be a strong supporter of maintaining a U.S. presence in Soto Cano, and would have probably advocated moving Palmolera’s operations to the Mosquitia site if necessary. With his resignation, it is not entirely clear if Washington will continue to prioritize the maintenance of a noticeable footprint in the area, especially if it serves, apart from responding to natural disasters with relief assistance, very little purpose. Former officials such as Uribe point out that there is little need for the U.S. to maintain a presence at Soto Cano in the post-Cold War world.