U.S. Military Buildup In Colombia, Is The U.S. Preparing For War With Venezuela?

The U.S.
State Department has just wrapped up a deal with Colombia’s President
Uribe that will lead to a massive buildup of U.S. military personnel
across seven bases in Colombia. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez characterized it has a
“threat to Venezuela that could generate a war in South America.”

By Mark Vorpahl - Counter Currents
Short URL

The U.S.
State Department has just wrapped up a deal with Colombia’s President
Uribe that will lead to a massive buildup of U.S. military personnel
across seven bases in Colombia. Currently, there are a reported 250
U.S. military operatives in this nation. With the new agreement, this
number will jump up to 800 American troops and 600 civilian military
contractors. This is the maximum number allowed under previous
agreements. Even with this limit, however, many expect the U.S.
military buildup to exceed these numbers.

U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of the agreement, “This is
about bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and Colombia.” She
included references to “drug traffickers, terrorists, and other illegal
armed groups..”

The
President of Colombia’s neighbor, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, had a very
different interpretation of the agreement. He characterized it has a
“threat to Venezuela that could generate a war in South America.”

War on Drugs?

What
of Clinton’s claim that this agreement is about fighting drug
trafficking? Based on U.S. efforts in Colombia to date, her claim has
no credibility. The agreement is extensively an enlargement of Plan
Colombia in terms of pursuing a war on cocaine production. Since the
start of Plan Colombia, the power of the drug cartels remains intact.
According to a 2005 UN report, overall attempted coca cultivation
increased from 2,467 square kilometers in 2003 to 2,506 square
kilometers in 2004. Plan Colombia’s victims have been peasant farmers.
Left untouched are the real financial and political powers behind the
drug cartels that can always find peasants in Colombia and elsewhere
desperate enough to grow coca. By flooding the nation with U.S. money
and guns, Plan Colombia has only benefited the corrupt channels that
run through the right-wing death squads, to the cartel kingpins as well
as their partners in the Colombian Government and the U..S. military.

Clinton
and the Obama Administration know this. They are not so foolish as to
enlarge a policy that consistently produces the opposite effect of what
they want. Therefore, it can only be concluded that Clinton’s claimed
goal of fighting drug traffickers with the U..S. military increase is
only for public consumption. Once the cameras and microphones are off,
there are very different goals discussed behind closed doors.

Clinton
has also stated that this agreement “…does provide U.S. access to
Colombian bases, but command and control, administration and security
will be Colombia's responsibility.”

Colombia’s
government is completely dependent on the economic and political might
of the U.S. Given this relationship, Clinton’s statement is the
equivalent of a slave master saying their slave has an equal say in the
conditions he or she labors under. President Chavez pointedly responded
to Clinton’s statement, “That is a lie, who is going to believe that
story.”

Why U.S. Hostility?

What
reasons would President Chavez and many other Latin Americans have for
seeing the U.S. military buildup in Colombia has a threat? Latin
America has suffered a long history of repression under U.S.
domination. This has resulted in a bloody tide of invasions, wars,
coups, dictators, poverty, and corruption not surpassed in world
history. In 1971, when considering the importance of destroying Chilean
democracy, Nixon’s National Security Council concluded: "If the U.S.
cannot control Latin America, it cannot expect 'to achieve a successful
order elsewhere in the world.”

The
fundamental aims and methods of U.S. Empire have not changed since.
Consequently, any military buildup by the U.S. in Latin America will be
viewed with alarm by anyone whose interests are not aligned with U.S.
imperialism.

Why has
Venezuela in particular reacted so strongly? Venezuela is one of the
greatest oil and gas producers in the world. The U.S. has a strategic
interest in maintaining control over any nation with these resources.
For most of the last century, Venezuela has been dominated by a tiny
oligarchy closely tied to U.S. imperialism. The riches of Venezuela’s
natural resources have been choked off at the top with the lower
classes receiving comparatively little benefit.

That
has been changing recently. For almost a decade Venezuela has been
propelled forward by one of the strongest social movements in the
world. This movement has fought for and won giant strides in the fields
of political freedoms, health care, literacy, workers’ rights, and
more. These have primarily benefited Venezuela’s working and lower
classes. Thus, these benefits have come at a significant cost to
Venezuela’s ruling elite and the U.S. corporate and political interests
they defend.

For a variety
of exceptional historical and personal reasons, President Chavez has
aligned himself with this powerful social movement rather than the rich
and powerful. Many Chavistas (supporters of Chavez) refer to him as
their tool. By this they mean that, under his presidency, they have
received government support for their grass roots organizing efforts
that have allowed them to develop much further as a result. In
Venezuela, workers, peasants, and others from the lower classes have
been able to create community and workers’ councils that can grow to
challenge the traditional organs of state power that were created to
continue the rule of the oligarchy.

It
would be bad publicity for any U.S. politician to openly oppose this
empowering movement of the people. The corporate and big business media
can’t even bring themselves to acknowledge it. Instead, they demonize
Chavez. This would fool no one familiar with the situation in
Venezuela. The real aim of the U.S. Empire is to regain control over
Venezuela, and its resources, for the benefit of the business elite.
Their real target is the Venezuelan working and lower classes. Chavez’s
characterization of the U.S. military buildup in Colombia as a “threat”
stems from this awareness.

Motive Turns into Action

Motive, however, is not enough to prove the intention of a crime. What actions has the U.S. taken to put Venezuela on alert?

In
2002, there was a coup attempt in which President Chavez was kidnapped.
In documents obtained by Eva Golinger under the “Freedom of Information
Act,” it has been revealed that not only was the U.S. State Department
aware of this plan beforehand, they discussed it and thought it would
succeed.

After the coup
attempt was defeated as a result of the mobilization of millions of
Venezuelans and the refusal of key sections of the military to
cooperate with the coup makers, there was another attempt to overthrow
Chavez a few months later. This time the oil company bosses locked out
their workers in an attempt to strangle Venezuela’s economy. This could
not have happened without the U.S. covert support. Again, this illegal
effort on the part of the Oligarchy and U.S. corporate interests was
defeated because of the awareness, determination, and mobilization of
Venezuela’s working classes.

In
August 2004, the Oligarchy attempted to recall President Chavez using a
section of the Chavez-initiated Venezuelan Constitution they had
originally opposed. The U.S. poured millions into this effort through
the deceptively named National Endowment for Democracy. In spite of
this intervention, the people voted overwhelming to keep Chavez with
millions flooding the streets in support. This was a crushing defeat
for the Oligarchy.

An Adjustment of Tactics

After this, the U.S. Government adjusted its tactics because they realized that they could not rely on Venezuela’s Oligarchy.

One
tactic they continued to use has been to fund right-wing groups within
Venezuela. Since 2002, USAID has provided $50 million to 520
anti-Chavez groups and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations.)

The
U.S. Government and corporate media have accelerated their campaign to
vilify President Chavez. The U.S. big business media and politicians
claim that Chavez is repressing freedom of speech. As an example, they
point to RCTV and 33 radio stations that they claimed were closed down.
What they don’t tell the American people is that these media outlets
were not closed down, their licenses were not extended. They had
refused to go through the same process that all media outlets must go
through to extend their licenses. While they can still broadcast on
other wavelengths, the government-controlled wavelengths the radio
stations broadcast over have been turned over to community-controlled
media and the wavelengths RCTV used are now used by a public
broadcasting station.

The
U.S. big business media and politicians refer to Chavez as a dictator,
though he has received strong majority votes in internationally
monitored elections more often than any other national leader in the
world. They have called Chavez a destabilizing agent in South America,
though they never explain to the American people what this means. They
have accused him of supporting the FARC (a Colombian guerrilla group)
and narco trafficking. However, the only evidence for this is an
alleged laptop obtained by a Colombian military raid into Ecuador aimed
at a FARC leader. Predictably, this evidence is not available for
public scrutiny because of “security concerns” and the nature of this
evidence remains shrouded in mystery.

In
short, the U.S. government, its politicians, and the corporate press
are engaged in making accusations against Chavez no matter what the
evidence. It is an old tactic governments use to fool their own people
— if you’re going to lie, make it big and repeat it often until it is
accepted as fact.

Most
menacingly, the U.S. government has been engaged in a number of
military exercises off Venezuela’s coast. From early April to late May
of 2006, the U.S. Navy conducted a series of exercises under the name
of “Operation Partnership of the Americas.” These exercises involved
four ships with 60 fighter planes and a total of 6,500 soldiers. Two
weeks before the announcement of these exercises their commander,
General Bantz Craddock, had appeared before a U.S.. Senate Committee
hearing in which he characterized the Venezuelan Government as a
“destabilizing force.”

In
2008 the U.S.. Navy reactivated the Fourth Fleet, which had been out of
commission since the early 1950s. This fleet had been used to combat
German Naval presence in Latin America and the Caribbean waters during
World War II. Today, the stated purpose of this reactivation is to
combat terrorism, keep the sea lanes open, counter drug trafficking, as
well as provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Regardless
of the stated intentions, what this reactivation accomplishes is the
establishment of a floating base for U.S. interventions throughout the
continent, including Venezuela.

Had
another nation supported coup attempts in the U.S., funded opposition
groups, deceptively and outrageously misrepresented our elected
leaders, and conducted military exercises off our shorelines, there is
no question that the U.S. would respond harshly. Given this, Chavez’s
statement that the U.S. military buildup on Colombian bases is a
“threat” seems comparatively restrained.

The Honduras Coup

In
addition to the factors discussed above that provide evidence of the
U.S. government’s hostility towards Venezuela, there is the additional
matter of the coup in Honduras. (See the articles “The Significance of
Washington’s Coup Attempt in Honduras” and “Compromising Democracy in
Honduras” by Shamus Cooke at www.workerscompass.org.) Members of the
Obama Administration had discussed this coup with its authors
beforehand. Ousted President Zelaya’s crimes, from the point of view of
the U.S. government, were that he cut into U.S. corporate profits by
raising the minimum wage 60 percent, that he aligned himself with ALBA,
a Venezuelan and Cuban initiative to create a Latin America trading
block to counter exploitive free trade policies such as NAFTA and the
FTAA, and that Zelaya wanted to push for a non-binding referendum of
the Honduran people to see if there was popular support for a
Constitutional Assembly. (The current top-heavy constitution of
Honduras was imposed by the Reagan Administration in 1981.) While the
Obama Administration has made some statements opposing the coup, it has
taken no serious measures against it and has attempted to use the
situation to weaken Zelaya’s political strength should he come back
into power.

The strength of
the anti-coup protests has been strong enough to shut the country down
for weeks at a time. There can be little doubt that if it wasn’t for
U.S. backdoor support of the coup makers, President Zelaya would have
been back in power weeks ago..

President
Zelaya stated of the coup against him “If presidents are going to be
appointed by the military and politicians by using illegitimate
authority, we will be moving back some 100 years. We cannot return to
those times in which the presidents had to sleep in their suits and
with their suitcases made, since they could surprisingly be expelled or
killed just any in any moment.” (President Zelaya had been kidnapped by
the Honduran military while he slept.) The U.S. Empire is attempting to
reverse a leftward swing across Latin America. This left moving process
started in Venezuela and has accelerated with the election of President
Chavez. The coup in Honduras is a warning to Venezuela of the U.S.
government intentions.

The Arrogance of Empire

Empires
have a habit of overreaching themselves. With costly long-term
occupations going on in Iraq and Afghanistan while the economy is in
severe recession, the U.S. Empire would appear to have already reached
its limits. However, it is compelled by its economic nature to make the
maximum profit by controlling and exploiting as much of the globe as
possible. Wounded animals are always the most likely to attack when
cornered. In its current unstable state, the U.S. Empire is more likely
to lash out regardless of its limitations.

The
U.S. military buildup on Colombian bases is not so large as to expect a
full-scale war with Venezuela immediately. Most likely, this buildup
will be used initially for smaller scale terrorist acts and other
covert activities aimed at Venezuela and countries in Latin America
aligned with President Chavez.

Such
an approach can rapidly escalate, however. The U.S. could quickly find
itself massively invested in a direct war with Venezuela or, at least,
a costly war in which the Colombian military, fattened by U.S. tax
dollars and “military advisors,” fights as a proxy army against
Venezuela.

On top of the
Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, this could put the American Empire’s
continued economic and political domination in danger. It is unlikely
that the shoulders of the American economy are so strong as to be able
to hold up such colossally wasteful spending. Furthermore, Venezuela is
one of the most militarily and economically strong nations in the
region. Even more important, its population has been emboldened by the
revolution and they are willing to fight if necessary.

Then
there is the question of the American people. The military occupations
in Iraq and Afghanistan are very unpopular. Millions are losing their
jobs, having their homes foreclosed, suffering from a lack of or
inadequate health care insurance, or are having their families directly
impacted by U.S. war policies. An acceleration of military developments
in Latin America could prove to be more than the American people are
willing to take without large scale rebellion.

The Challenge

All
this poses a challenge to American working people, the anti-war
movement and North American groups in solidarity with the people of
Latin America. In order to take a more pro-active role against war in
Latin America, trade unions, peace organizations and solidarity groups
will have to work more closely together.. The U.S. military buildup on
Colombian bases could likely be a stepping-stone on its way to a new
war front. Whenever there are mass demonstrations against the
occupations, speakers, educational material, and creative actions
should aim at getting the truth out about the U.S. military bases in
Colombia. In between mass demonstrations, labor activists and the
anti-war and solidarity movements should use every means at their
disposal to spread the word and activate people. This would include
countering the lies about Venezuela in the corporate press, using
independent media as well as community and union forums to tell the
truth, and organizing actions against the U.S. buildup and other acts
of aggression in Latin America. In taking this on, we will not only be
defending grass roots activity in Venezuela, we will be inspiring the
grassroots’ and workers’ movements in the U.S. to rise to the struggles
we face in this country.

Mark Vorpahl has just returned from Venezuela as a member of a Portland Central
America Solidarity Committee anti-war delegation. He is a peace
activist, union steward, and Latin America Solidarity Activist. He
writes for Workers Compass (www.workerscompass.org) and can be reached at [email protected].