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From Draft NOtices, July-September 2015

Marines Head to Central America — Say It Isn’t So!

— Joey King, Veterans For Peace board member and chair of VFP’s Latin America Working Group

The U.S. Marines will soon deploy to Central America, according to a May 9 report in the Miami Herald (and Stars and Stripes). Most of the 280 troops will be headed to Honduras, which, since the U.S.–backed coup in 2009, has become the “murder capital of the world.”

Veterans For Peace does not buy Pentagon claims that the Marine deployment is about disaster preparedness. Over a century of U.S. intervention in Latin America has been a continuing disaster for the peoples of the region, as explained below.

U.S. interventionism in Latin America continues some 191 years after throwing off Spanish colonial rule. The Miami Herald article reports that approximately 280 U.S. Marines are landing in Central America any day now. The operation has no codename, but it's the fruit of about a year's planning by the U.S. Southern Command to insert a newly formed expeditionary outfit into the U.S.-run swath of the Soto Cano air base in Honduras for about 200 days — the longest, largest known Marine deployment onto Central American turf in years. About 90 of the Marines will be going to Guatemala, El Salvador and Belize.

The article goes on to say that the details of the mission are basically unknown, but it sounds like it will train friendly forces and be in a position to pivot to high-profile disaster relief efforts, and that the Marines will not do double duty in the drug war. Capt. Armando Daviu likened it to the Marine role in the multinational effort that swept into Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

It sounds nice, doesn’t it? Are Latin Americans supposed to forget:

  • The Mexican-American War (1847)
  • The Spanish American War (1898)
  • The multiple occupations of Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic
  • The Panama Canal (stolen from Colombia through U.S. support for Panamanian separatists)
  • The invasions of the Dominican Republic (1965), Grenada (1983), and Panama (1989)
  • The U.S.-backed military coups d’etat in Guatemala (1954), Chile (1973), Haiti (1988, 1991, 2004), and Honduras (2009)
  • The U.S.-backed “Contra” war against Nicaragua (1980s)
  • The U.S. arming of the military dictatorship in El Salvador’s civil war (1979-1992)
  • The U.S. embargo, blockade and many interventions against Cuba (1962 to present)
  • The recent attempted coups in Venezuela (2002 to present)
  • The terrorist training camp known as WHINSEC (formerly the School of the Americas) that has been responsible for training Latin American military officers who have killed many of their own people
  • The current failed drug wars, which have caused tens of thousands of deaths in Mexico

This is not a complete list.

Lieutenant Colonel David Hudak told the Marine Times last month that his troops were eager to log some time overseas. “Marines nowadays are just looking for an opportunity to deploy. This was one of the only shows in town," he said. This was in a story headlined “Marines set for new mission in troubled Central America.”

Wow, is that what we are left with — imperialism for imperialism’s sake?

The report goes on to say that the bulk of the force — 190 troops, mostly Marines backed by a small number of Navy medics — is going to Honduras, the nation with the hemisphere's highest murder rate. They will be inserted at Soto Cano air base, an all-American outpost already secured by U.S. airmen and soldiers. The base, known to locals as Palmerola, is about 50 miles north of the capital and 100 miles south of San Pedro Sula. For years it has served as the Pentagon's most secure outpost in Central America — first as a resupply site to aid the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s, now as a training site for friendly militaries as well as a platform for reconnaissance flights in Southcom's campaign to hunt down drug traffickers. In at least one instance, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security used it to drop off Honduran deportees from U.S. soil.

This statement conveniently leaves out the two main reasons for the unrest in Honduras: U.S. support of the 2009 coup and drug use by Americans.

From the Miami Herald: “The deployment is probably, in part, a Pentagon response to rising Russian influence in the region,” says Central America expert Douglas Farah, who's been watching the region since the '80s U.S.-backed Contra war. Nicaragua, where the Marines aren't deploying, has an increasing presence of Russian military. El Salvador, where there will be an undisclosed number of Marines, are moving to "Russian-ize" its weapons systems.

Do we really want to re-start the Cold War?

The next two paragraphs are telling: “Southcom, meantime, had been lowering its profile as a result of budget and resourcing cuts,” Farah said, leaving "people in the region feeling very strongly that the United States isn't here, that they've walked away" from spiraling violence and political corruption. The messaging of the Marine presence would show "that the United States still cares, is willing to train militaries that they feel are relatively OK."

“It's unclear what 280 Marines can do to prop up, if not clean up, the region's imploding societies,” said Farah, president of IBI Consultants, which focuses on national security issues. But, he said enough time has passed that most people in the region, except in Nicaragua, no longer see the Marines as symbolic of foreign American invaders propping up corrupt regions. “The Cold War's probably been over long enough,” he said. “Central American militaries aren't particularly interested in humanitarian missions. But they would probably see benefit from small arms and combat-style training.”

As has been well documented, Central American militaries are all too often used to prop up the ruling elite. This sounds like the ill-fated Reagan administration policies of the 1980s.

The real solution to Central America’s problems is peace. We know that recent state-by-state changes to marijuana laws will have an effect on Central America, hopefully for the better. An open border policy would also help reunite families in the United States, Mexico and Central America.

Finally, if the U.S. insists on spending money in Central America, why not beef up the presence of the Peace Corps instead of the Marine Corps! Oh yeah, and make sure the Peace Corps is actually doing something constructive, rather than pursuing activities that are useless (like teaching English to the children of the elites) or worse, carrying out U.S. intervention by other means. 

On second thought, maybe the best thing the U.S. could do for Latin America is just get out of the way and watch them build independence, democracy and economies that sustain the health and wellbeing of their own people instead of boosting U.S. corporate profits.

The above article originally appeared at www.veteransforpeace.org and was reprinted with the author’s permission in Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/).

       

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