Chile: human rights activists protest new US base

A US military training center in the port city of Concón, in the central Chilean province of Valparaíso, will be used for exercises “clearly oriented toward the control and repression of the civilian population,” according to an open letter that more than 20 human rights organizations sent Defense Minister Andrés Allamand on May 7. The US government has spent $460,000 constructing the installation, which opened on April 5 at the Chilean military’s Fort Aguayo naval base. UPI Business News writes that the site “is growing into a major destination for regional military trainers and defense industry contractors.”

According to the US Southern Command (USSC), which heads US military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean, the installation will be used for training in Military Operations on Urban Terrain (MOUT) by Latin American soldiers as they prepare for international operations, such as United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions. But the human rights groups wrote in their letter that the Fort Aguayo training ground—a simulation of an urban zone, with eight buildings and sidewalks and roads—suggests plans for military intervention in civilian society. The groups noted that the installation was opened at a time when “broad and massive social demonstrations are developing on the part of the citizenry throughout the country.” (The government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera has been shaken over the past year by militant protests by students, the indigenous Mapuche, residents of the southern region of Aysén, and other groups.)

The human rights organizations said the US lacks “the moral quality to teach ‘peace operations,'” since “it has promoted coups, financed destabilization operations in sister countries, and has promoted war in the world. We don’t forget that in 2009 the Soto Cano base in Honduras, with US military personnel, was used to implement the coup d’état” against former president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales [2006-2009]. The letter also held the US responsible for the brutal 1973 coup in Chile and for training “the worst human rights violators in our country” at the US Army’s School of the Americas. (El Ciudadano, Chile, May 9; Adital, Brazil, May 10; People’s World, April 26; UPI Business News, April 30)

The Southern Command is also planning to build an installation in Argentina, at the airport in Resistencia, capital of the northeastern province of Chaco. The plan seems to contradict center-left president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s policy against allowing foreign military bases, although the province’s governor, Jorge Milton Capitanich, insists that the installation isn’t a “base,” since the US now describes its facilities with terms like “Cooperative Security Location” (CSL) and “Forward Operating Location” (FOL).

The $3 million installation in Chaco will ostensibly be a humanitarian aid center for dealing with natural disasters, but critics suspect the real goal is to monitor the sensitive Triple Frontier region, where the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet, and the Guaraní Aquifer, one of the world’s largest sources of fresh water. The US officer in charge of the project is Col. Edwin Passmore, who was expelled from Venezuela in 2008 on a charge that he had engaged in espionage while serving as US military attaché there. In November 2011 Passmore was involved in an incident in which a US military plane landed in Buenos Aires carrying undeclared electronic monitoring equipment, medications, and intelligence transmission devices.

The US currently has about 800 bases worldwide, with 22 in Latin America, including bases in Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Paraguay and Peru; naval stations in Aruba and Curaçao; and a “CSL” under construction in the Dominican Republic. (People’s World, April 26; El Ciudadano, May 5)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 13.

See our last posts on Chile, Argentina and hemispheric militarization.