Say NO to US Militarization of Latin America and the Caribbean

A large and lively crowd gathered in the lower level of the Church of the Ascension on Sunday November 9, 2008 for a Teach-In entitled:

Say ‘No’ to U.S. Militarization of Latin America and the Caribbean
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Nydia Leaf, a member of the Granny Peace Brigade which sponsored the Teach-In, welcomed those present and introduced the speakers and the musician,
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Michael Irwin, who played Taps. The format allowed 10 minutes for each speaker and, after a break, a performance by the Metro NY Raging Grannies, then a Q&A session.

Nydia explained that the Teach-in was being held because: a number of US women [including NY Grannies] attending the 14th Congress of the Women’s International Democratic Federation in Venezuela in 2007 had been told by women from countries around the world of their anguish about the presence of unneeded US military bases in their respective countries; the US delegation came home determined to work for closure of the US foreign bases. She also said that US military bases are the worst polluters [of the ground, the soil, the water and the air] both abroad and at home and seem unwilling to be good citizens and clean up their act.
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Guy deVeaux of the Vietnam Veterans for Peace told about that group’s current efforts [disco in Harlem, lobbying in Albany and a book event next Friday about Blows Against Empire, by Gerald Horne] then gave a history of Armistice Day, now known as Veterans Day. Mr. deVeaux, a member of several other organizations including the Black Radical Congress, called for Education not Incarceration of our young men, and for elimination of balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.
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Greg Wilpert, sociologist, writer and adjunct professor at Brooklyn College, served as moderator for the presentations. He lived for eight years in Venezuela as a Fulbright Scholar; his wife is the Venezuelan Consul General in New York. His most recent book Changing Venezuela by Taking Power was published last year.
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The first presenter, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations spoke passionately about her country’s new constitution. Approved September 28, 2008, it states that Ecuador is a country of Peace and does not allow any military bases on Ecuadorian soil. The contract for the US base at Manta in Ecuador expires at the end of this year and Ecuador has no plans to renew it; thus, the base must be closed. During several meetings in the last year with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Ms. Espinosa made this clear.

In her current post at the UN, she is working to see that pre-emptive war is prohibited and this includes elimination of clauses called ‘responsibility to protect’ which are usually interpreted to mean that one country can interfere in the affairs of another. She encouraged the audience to follow these discussions at the UN closely. Unfortunately, small military base installations are proliferating in Latin America – in El Salvador, Honduras, Columbia, Peru and Puerto Rico.
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Greg Grandin, Professor of History at NYU and author, most recently, of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the Unites States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism, spoke next. He said Latin America is like the canary in a coal mine, and criticized the neo-con thinkers for fostering interference in many sovereign nations, including in Latin America.

He said that due to US overreach in Iraq, the countries of Latin America had been less focused on and so were beginning to take matters into their own hands – expanding democracy, both good left democracies and bad left democracies. The governments of Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil and Chile are trying to make life better for their populations, rather than for a small group.

Unfortunately, a US drug interdiction initiative in Latin America, known as Plan Columbia, praised by the US government as a success, in reality has been a disaster for the people of that country. Plan Columbia [executed in Columbia] is being copied in a new Plan Merida [to be executed in Mexico and other countries]. These plans use military might to address the drug problem rather than strategies recognizing that drug addiction is a social problem. Land reform is critical as is economic integration and abandonment of NAFTA. Unfortunately, President-elect Obama has said he approved Plan Merida, which benefits military contractors, such as United Technologies, not the people of the affected countries. We hope we can change his mind about this and many other issues.
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Ann Wright, former US Army veteran and foreign service officer, spoke next. She is well known to the Granny Peace Brigade for speaking out tirelessly for peace, having resigned her diplomatic post on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq by cabling Secretary of State Powell. She offered congratulations to Ecuador on its new constitution and noted that Japan’s was another constitution specifying that the country was a country of Peace. The latter constitution, written entirely by the US at the end of World War II, has been ignored by the US more recently in its actions requiring Japan to aid the war effort by allowing refueling of planes and ships [not to mention the many US bases placed on Japanese soil].

On a trip to Canada Col. Wright was stopped by Canadian border agents and asked if she had been arrested. She learned that they had an FBI list which included arrests for picketing activity, a misdemeanor that should not be on such a list. Establishment of such a list undercuts our civil liberties due to its chilling effect. She noted that the term used by President Bush, Axis of Evil, was presaged by earlier demonization of Cuba, in 1959, Nicaragua in 1979 and later Grenada. She urged us to be vigilant in monitoring the behavior of our government, especially so when officials use euphemisms to describe their actions: saying they are rescuing a country or providing civic assistance, when what they are doing is invading it.

A Question and Answer period followed. The Navy’s Fourth Fleet, located in the South Atlantic, had been deactivated since the 1960s, but was recently reactivated, which seems symbolic and provocative towards Latin American countries [e.g., Venezuela] and is perhaps a response to the sense that the US influence in the Latin American and Caribbean area is diminishing. Or perhaps it is in response to recent activity by Russian Fleets.

The Southern Command, the Department of Defense’s agency for the Southern part of the Western Hemisphere, has control over all US agencies in the area, including those which have nothing to do with the military, such as agriculture and education. This is seen as ominous and reflects the militarization of our foreign policy.

In 2005 at a ministerial conference Secretary Rumsfeld tried to get Latin American countries to fold everything into the larger war on terror, but they rejected this concept and also repudiated the Free Trade zone.

Resource depletion, including water and biodiversity as well as oil, was noted as a significant reason for concern. This concern can be a vehicle for cooperation, or it could continue as a motivator for war. The US may feel itself threatened by dialogue with China and Russia by the South American Security Council. But another attitude could be adopted.

The UnisulVirtual is a recently formed distance learning institution in Brazil with branches throughout South America and Central America; the first distance programs were offered in 2001. By September 2008 it had 41,000 students enrolled, about half in face-to-face classes and half in distance learning.

Ambassador Espinosa was asked to comment on the expected effect closing the US military base at Manta would have on employment for the local Ecuadoran people. She explained that Manta is a promising port that will not suffer if the base closes; as with many US bases, everything they use there is shipped in from the US, not purchased from the local economy. The local economy is involved in shipping to Asia and elsewhere, so it will be O.K.

Another issue raised was human trafficking. This is a more severe problem than drug trafficking and must be addressed by improving the local economies to discourage people from being mislead about opportunities abroad that turn out to be slavery. Human trafficking can be prevented by ensuring that all people moving to the U.S from abroad are correctly taken through the American immigration system and granted safe conditions to live in. While the dangers of trafficking are constant in certain areas of the world, an applicants USCIS Case Status will tell them how close they are to moving legally to America and is important to check regularly.

The teach-in was concluded with discussion of
How can activists help and press the UN?
How can they monitor military contractors?
How they can monitor Special Forces?

The School of the Americas, now known as The Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, has to be kept under surveillance by activists. There will be a protest there soon. Yearly protests are being held.

IMET [International Military Education and Training Program] Special Forces are all over the place. There are web-sites that track how they are used and where. Good sources are Samantha Power, at Harvard, and Dan Restrepo at The Center for American Progress.

The UN has been undergoing reformation for the last 15 years. Mr. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, President of the General Assembly and former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister. Next Tuesday, there will be a meeting on reform of the Security Council. DOHA third round on Financing for Development. President Bush is calling a meeting with the G20 next week, taking steam out of DOHA. It should be G122 – the entire UN – which would be the venue for solving the world financial crisis.

We also need to keep an eye on Chris Dodd, senator from Connecticut who has a bad idea with Plan Columbia, but wants to be known as good on foreign policy. Perhaps we can make him see the light and get him to support other methods for drug control and also for support of populations in Central and South America.

Four years ago Somalia and the US were the only two countries that hadn’t signed the U.N. Convention on the Child. Now only the US has not signed it.

– Edith Cresmer
Photos by Anthony Lanzilote

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