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Fears mount as US opens new military installation in Paraguay

by : Joëlle
Sunday March 12, 2006 - 22:50
5 comments

Written by Benjamin Dangl

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". Projectedcensored/Excalibur, York University Newspaper (USA)



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> Fears mount as US opens new military installation in Paraguay
Monday March 13 - 10:26 - Posted by 6719107fb27b4d2e...

The US military are trying to set up a large base in South America, to threaten the countries round about, just like the ones in Iraq. American Hegemony is the name of the game.




> Fears mount as US opens new military installation in Paraguay
Tuesday March 14 - 02:29 - Posted by 3fe40cf784838266...

This article is as bogus as it gets. There is no airbase, while Mariscal Estigarribia does have a long runway, its limited tarmac space, minimal refueling capacity and no working radar makes it ill-suited for air operations. Additionally, the field is in the middle of the Chaco Desert connected via one two-lane road to the South (Asuncion) and no paved roads to the North (Bolivia).
This article with its outlandish claims of troops, munitions, and aircraft and secret operations combined with half-truths appears every couple of months. Any reasonable thinking person would quickly realize that the U.S. does not have the luxury of using critical resources such as troops and airframes for a "Paraguayan excursion". We just don’t have the assets and the only nation in the region with the capability is Brazil.
Bottom line— there is no mounting fear.




> Fears mount as US opens new military installation in Paraguay
Wednesday March 15 - 00:40 - Posted by b7a41e96a8875d94...

There is no fear mounting for you. You are sitting in your little North American isolation chamber but how do you think that the Bolivians and other South Americans feel about this. You can’t deny that there are American flyboys in country, the Pentagon has even said that they are there and in the Chaco. Just think about the US relations with Chavez, then reflect on the activities undertaken by US military in the cocalero zone of Bolivia, (In 2001 I was traveliing through Bolivia and saw some of the destroyed coca plantations and read the local papers that dealt with the presence of US military on the ground and threats of reduced loans etc. if they didn’t participate in the war on drugs. So you may not have any sense of urgency and you may be right that we don’t have the men to be setting a permanent base. But take a look at the closures of bases in Europe and the redistribution of forces. They aren’t all going to Iraq. So while some of the claims may be a bit overextended the gist of this article rings true. Hegemony is the name of the game and if you don’t buy it look up the Plan for the New American Century (PNAC) a frightening yet illuminating document formulated by Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. It speaks volumes about our presence in Iraq and other strategic military operations. Enjoy



> Fears mount as US opens new military installation in Paraguay
Friday March 17 - 00:13 - Posted by 3fe40cf784838266...

No, I am not in an isolation chamber- to the contrary. I am recently returned from a four-year stay in Paraguay. I know it well, know the issues and the article is bogus and a rehash. The article’s author knows it because I wrote to correct facts several months ago. The problem with the article and by extension your comments is credibility. If the intent of the article is to justify and appease those who subscribe to shrill dialogue and embrace conspiracy theories it is a resounding success. If the intent of the article is to be informative, and convince a LATAM student of a pending, albeit serious, development then it fails. Bottom line— the article does the author, the medium and sadly this very important issue an injustice. I have no issue with the subject either way; I just don’t like to see misrepresentation. The article remains bogus.



> Fears mount as US opens new military installation in Paraguay
Wednesday March 15 - 02:04 - Posted by 52ddbd0df7384c15...

This article has been floating around for a long time...but hasn’t been updated since it was written last summer. The Bolivian elections are already over, but you wouldn’t know it reading this repeated verbage. What gives?







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