United States Military Bases in the Caribbean, Central and South America

Presentation for the 4th International Seminar for Peace and Abolition of Foreign Military Bases

Guantanamo, Cuba

November 23-24, 2015

By US Army Reserves (Retired) Colonel and former U.S. Diplomat Ann Wright

First, let me thank the World Peace Council (WPC) and the Cuban Movement for Peace and Sovereignty of the Peoples (MovPaz), Regional Coordinator of the WPC for America and the Caribbean, for planning and hosting the 4th International Seminar for Peace and Abolition of Foreign Military Bases.

I am honored to speak at this conference specifically about the need to abolish United States military bases in the Caribbean, Central and South America.   First, let me state on behalf the delegations from the United States, and particularly our delegation with CODEPINK: Women for Peace, we apologize for the continuing presence of the U.S. Naval Base here in Guantanamo and for the U.S. military prison that has put a dark shadow over the name of your beautiful city of Guantanamo.

We call for the closing of the prison and the return of the U.S. naval base after 112 years to the rightful owners, the people of Cuba.  Any contract for use of land in perpetuity signed by a puppet government of the beneficiary of the contract cannot stand.  The U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo is not necessary for U.S. defense strategy.  Instead, it harms U.S. national defense as other nations and people see it for what it is—a knife in the heart of the Cuban revolution, a revolution the United States has attempted to overthrow since 1958.

 I want to recognize the 85 members of the various delegations from the United States- 60 from CODEPINK: Women for Peace, 15 from Witness Against Torture and 10 from United National Anti-War Coalition.  All have been challenging policies of the U.S. government for decades, particularly the economic and financial blockade of Cuba, the return of the Cuban Five and return of the land of the naval base of Guantanamo.

 Secondly, I am an unlikely participant in today’s conference due to my near 40 years of working in the United States government. I served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel.  I was also a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  

 However, in March 2003, I was one of three U.S. government employees who resigned in opposition to President Bush’s war on Iraq.  Since then, I, as well as most everyone on our delegation, have been publicly challenging policies of the Bush and Obama administrations on a variety of international and domestic issues including extraordinary rendition, unlawful imprisonment, torture, assassin drones, police brutality, mass incarceration, and U.S. military bases around the world, including of course, the U.S. military base and prison in Guantanamo.  

 I was last here in Guantanamo in 2006 with a CODEPINK delegation that held a protest at the back gate of the US military base to close the prison and return the base to Cuba.  Accompanying us was one of the first prisoners to be released, a British citizen, Asif Iqbal.  While here we showed to almost one thousand persons in the large movie theater in Guantanamo city and to members of the diplomatic corps when we returned to Havana, the documentary movie “The Road to Guantanamo,” the story of how Asif and two others came to be imprisoned by the United States.  When we asked Asif if he would consider coming back to Cuba on our delegation after 3 years of imprisonment, he said, “Yes, I would like to see Cuba and meet Cubans-all I saw when I was there were Americans.” 

 The mother and brother of a still imprisoned British resident Omar Deghayes joined our delegation, and I will never forget Omar’s mother looking through the fence of the base asking: “Do you think Omar knows we are here?”  The rest of the world knew she was as international TV broadcasting from outside the fence brought her words to the world.  After Omar was released a year later, he told his mother that a guard told him that his mother had been outside the prison, but Omar, not surprisingly, didn’t know whether to believe the guard or not.

 After nearly 14 years of imprisonment in Guantanamo prison, 112 prisoners remain.  52 of them were cleared for release years ago and are still held, and incomprehensibly, the U.S. maintains that 46 will be imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial.   

 Let me assure you, many, many of us continue our struggle in the United States demanding a trial for all prisoners and the closing of the prison in Guantanamo.

 The sordid history of the past fourteen years of the United States imprisoning 779 persons from 48 countries on a U.S. military base in Cuba as a part of its global war “on terror” reflects the mentality of those who govern the United States – global intervention for political or economic reasons, invasion, occupation other countries and leaving its military bases in those countries for decades.

 Now, to speaking about other U.S. bases in the Western Hemisphere-- in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

 The 2015 U.S. Department of Defense Base Structure Report states that the DOD has property in 587 bases in 42 countries, the majority located in Germany (181 sites), Japan (122 sites), and South Korea (83 sites). The Department of Defense classifies 20 of the overseas bases as large, 16 as medium, 482 as small and 69 as  “other sites.”  

 These smaller and “other sites” are called “lily pads” and are generally in remote locations and are either secret or tacitly acknowledged to avoid protests that might lead to restrictions on their use.  They usually have a small number of military personnel and no families.  They sometimes reply on private military contractors whose actions the U.S. government can deny.  To maintain a low profile, the bases are hidden within host country bases or on the edge of civilian airports.

In the past two years I made several trips to Central and South America.  This year, 2015, I travelled to El Salvador and Chile with School of the Americas Watch and in 2014 to Costa Rica and earlier this year to Cuba with CODEPINK: Women for Peace.

 As most of you know, School of the Americas Watch is an organization that has documented by name many graduates of the U.S. military school initially called School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), who have tortured and murdered citizens of their countries who opposed their governments’ oppressive policies-in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Argentina.  Some of the most notorious of these murderers that sought asylum in the United States in the 1980s are now being extradited back to their home countries, particularly to El Salvador, interestingly, not because of their known criminal acts, but for violations of U.S. immigration.

  Over the past twenty years, SOA Watch has held an annual 3-day vigil attended by thousands at the new home of SOA at the U.S. military base at Fort Benning, Georgia to remind the military of the horrific history of the school.  Additionally, SOA Watch has sent delegations to countries in Central and South America asking that the governments stop sending their military to this school.  Five countries, Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua have withdrawn their military from the school and due to extensive lobbying of the U.S. Congress, SOA Watch came within five votes of the U.S. Congress closing the school. But, sadly, it is still open.

 I want to recognize 78 year old JoAnn Lingle who was arrested for challenging the School of the Americas and sentenced to 2 months in U.S. federal prison.  And I would also like to recognize everyone in our U.S. delegation who has been arrested for peaceful, non-violent protest of U.S. government policies.  We have at least 20 from our delegations who have been arrested and gone to jail for justice.

 This year the SOA Watch delegation, in meetings with the President of El Salvador, a former FMLN Commandante, and the Minister of Defense of Chile, asked that those countries stop sending their military personnel to the school.  Their responses highlight the web of U.S. military and law enforcement involvement in these countries.  The President of El Salvador, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, said that his country was slowly reducing the number of military sent to U.S. schools, but he could not totally cut ties to the U.S. school due to other U.S. programs on combatting drugs and terrorism, including the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) built in El Salvador, after public rejection of the facility being housed in Costa Rica.  

 ILEA’s mission is “combating international drug trafficking, criminality, and terrorism through strengthened international cooperation.”  However, many are concerned that aggressive and violent police tactics so prevalent in the United States would be taught by U.S. instructors.  In El Salvador, police approaches toward gangs is institutionalized in the “mano duro or hard hand” approach to law enforcement which many say has backfired on police with gangs becoming more and more violent in a response to police. Tactics.  El Salvador now has the reputation of “murder capital” of Central America.

 Most do not know that a second U.S. law enforcement facility is located in Lima, Peru.  It is called the Regional Training Center 

and its mission is “expanding the long-term liaison relationships among foreign officials to combat international criminal activity and by supporting democracy by stressing the rule of law and human rights in international and domestic police operations.”

On another trip with SOA Watch, when we visited Jose Antonio Gomez, the Minister of Defense of Chile, he said had received many requests from other human rights groups to sever ties with the U.S. military school and that he has asked the Chilean military to provide a report on the need to continue sending personnel to it.  

 However, the overall relationship to the U.S. is so important that Chile accepted $465 million from the United States to build a new military facility called Fuerte Aguayo purportedly to enhance training in military operations in urban areas as a part peacekeeping operations.  Critics say that the Chilean military already had facilities for peacekeeping training and that the new base is to give the U.S. larger influence in Chilean security issues. Chileans hold regular protests at this facility and our delegation joined in one of those vigils

 Reacting to the Fort Aguayo installation, the Chilean NGO Ethics Commission against Torture wrote about the U.S. role in Fuerte Aguayo and Chilean citizens’ protest against it: "Sovereignty rests with the people. Security cannot be reduced to protection of the interests of the trans-nationals... The armed forces are supposed to protect national sovereignty. Its bending to the dictates of the North American army constitutes treason to the homeland." And, "People have the legitimate right to organize and to demonstrate publically."  

The annual military exercises the United States conducts with most countries in the Western Hemisphere should be added to the issue of foreign military bases as the exercises bring large numbers of U.S. military to the region for long periods using on a “temporary” basis the military bases of the host countries.  

 In 2015 the U.S. conducted 6 major regional military exercises in the Western Hemisphere.  When our delegation was in Chile in October, the U.S. aircraft carrier George Washington, a mobile U.S. military base itself with dozens of aircraft, helicopters and landing craft, and four other U.S. warships were in Chilean waters practicing maneuvers as Chile hosted the annual UNITAS exercises. The navies of Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand and Panama were also participating.

 Long term individual contacts between military leaders, active duty and retired, is another aspect of military relationships we must consider along with the bases.  While our delegation was in Chile, David Petraeus, retired U.S. four star general and disgraced head of the C.I.A., arrived in Santiago, Chile for meetings with the head of the Chilean Armed Forces underscoring the continuous relationships from the military to retired officers who have become private military contractors and informal messengers of U.S. administration policies.

Another aspect of U.S. military involvement is its civic action and humanitarian assistance programs in road, school construction and medical teams providing health services in hard to reach locations in many Western Hemisphere countries. 17 U.S. State National Guard units have long-term military-to-military partnerships with defense and security forces in 22 nations in the Caribbean, Central America and South America.  This U.S. National Guard State Partnership Program focuses in great measure on civic action projects that happen so frequently that U.S. military are continuously in countries, using host country military bases as their own during the projects.  

U.S. military bases in the Western Hemisphere

 Guantanamo Bay, Cuba--Of course, the most prominent U.S. military base in the Western Hemisphere is in Cuba, several miles from here-the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Station which has been occupied by the U.S. for 112 years since 1903. For the past  14 years, it has housed the infamous Guantanamo military prison in which the U.S. has imprisoned 779 persons from around the world.  Only 8 prisoners of the 779 have been convicted –and those by a secret military court. 112 prisoners remain of which the U.S. government says that 46 are too dangerous to try in court and will remain in prison without trial.

 Other U.S. military bases in the Western Hemisphere outside the United States include:

 Joint Task Force Bravo – Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras.  The U.S. has intervened or occupied Honduras eight times—in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919,1920, 1924 and 1925.  The Soto Cano Air Base was built by the United States in 1983 as a part of the network of the CIA-military support to lthe Contras, who were attempting to overthrow the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua.  It is now used as a base for U.S. civic action and humanitarian and drug interdiction projects. But it has the airfield used by the Honduran military in 2009 coup from which to fly the democratically elected President Zelaya out of the country. Since 2003, Congress has appropriated $45 million for permanent facilities.   In two years between 2009 and 2011, the base population grew by 20 percent.  In 2012, the U.S. spent $67 million in military contracts in Honduras.  There are more than 1300 U. S. military and civilians on the base, four times larger than the 300 person Honduran Air Force Academy, the nominal host of the American military “guests.”

The U.S. has increased military aid to Honduras despite the increase in police and military violence in the deaths of tens of thousands in Honduras.  

Comalapa – El Salvador. The naval base was opened in 2000 after the U.S. military left Panama in 1999 and the Pentagon needed a new forward operating location for maritime patrol to support multi-national counter illicit drug trafficking missions.  Cooperative Security Location (CSL) Comalapa has a staff of 25 permanently assigned military personnel and 40 civilian contractors.

Aruba and Curacao – The two Dutch territories in the Caribbean islands have U.S. military bases that are tasked with combating narco-ships and aircraft and which originate in South America and subsequently pass through the Caribbean to Mexico and the U.S. The Venezuelan government has argued that these bases are utilized by Washington to spy on Caracas.  In January 2010 a U.S. surveillance P-3 aircraft left Curacao and trespassed Venezuelan airspace.

Antigua & Barbuda – The U.S. operates an Air Station in Antigua that has housed the C-Band radar that tracks satellites. The radar is to be moved to Australia, but the U.S. may continue to have a small air station.

Andros Island, Bahamas –The Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) is operated by the U.S. Navy on 6 locations in the islands and develops new naval military technology, such as electronic warfare threat simulators.

Colombia – 2 US DOD locations in Colombia are listed as “other sites” and on page 70 of the Base Structure Report and should be considered as a remote, isolated “lily pads.”  In 2008, Washington and Colombia signed a military agreement in which the U.S. would create eight military bases in that South American nation to combat drug cartels and insurgent groups. However, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that it was not possible for non-Colombian military personnel to be permanently stationed in the country, but the U.S. still has U.S. military and DEA agents in the country.

Costa Rica – 1 US DOD location in Costa Rica is listed as “other sites” on page 70 of the Base Structure Report –another “other site”  “lily pad,” even though the Costa Rican government denies a U.S. military installation.

Lima, Peru – A U.S. Naval Medical Research Center #6 is located in Lima, Peru at the Peruvian Naval hospital and conducts research on and surveillance of a wide range of infectious diseases that threaten military operations in the region, including malaria and dengue fever, yellow fever, and typhoid fever. Other overseas U.S Naval Research Centers are located in Singapore, Cairo and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 

To close my presentation, I want to mention one other part of the world where the U.S. is increasing its military presence.  In December, I will be a part of a Veterans for Peace delegation to Jeju Island, South Korea and to Henoko, Okinawa where new military bases are being constructed for the U.S. “pivot” to Asia and the Pacific.  As join with citizens of those countries to challenge their governments’ agreement to allow their land to be use to expand the worldwide U.S. military footprint, we acknowledge that besides violence toward humans, military bases contribute strongly to violence toward our planet.  Military weapons and vehicles are the most environmentally dangerous systems in the world with their toxic leaks, accidents, and deliberate dumping of of hazardous materials and dependence on fossil fuels.

Our delegation thanks the conference organizers for the opportunity to be with you and others from around the world who are deeply concerned about foreign military bases and we pledge our continued efforts to see the closing of the U.S. Naval Base and prison in Guantanamo and U.S. bases around the world.

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