[promoted by BooMan]
The American Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, is on a three-nation tour of Latin America and I thought I’d do a full article on what’s going on.
The picture, courtesy of AP, is of protestors who greeted him Monday in Argentina by burning flags and chanting anti-American slogans. Sadly this seems to be de rigeur anytime a major American official visits any country these days…
The Spanish-language press had had more in-depth articles but I thought I’d first focus on what’s been written in English.
Rumsfeld landed in Argentina Monday night and is holding talks today. Then he’ll go on to Brazil and finish in Guatemala.
First, Rumsfeld praised the good job that peacekeepers in Haiti are doing. Brazil leads the mission but Argentina is second in command and half the troops there are Argentinian:
“I think the forces in Haiti have done a generally a good job,” Rumsfeld told reporters en route to Argentina Monday.
Rumsfeld has promoted the Haiti effort as an opportunity for nations in the Americas to work together. But officials fear that foreign commitments of aid are not being fulfilled, leaving reconstruction lagging as fall elections approach.
Of course the irony is that the United States is responsible for much of the chaos in Haiti, directly and indirectly. The United States has invaded and occupied Haiti about 7 or 8 times throughout history and it forced the resignation of its first democratically elected president (Aristide) in February 2004 which is why they need peacekeepers in the first place.
And the “police” in Haiti are largely controlled by the military that Clinton disbanded but whose members were trained and funded by the CIA. It’s a tangled mess indeed. You can read my full-length history of Haiti here.
Although he is not visiting Nicaragua, Rumsfeld had some remarks about what’s going on there:
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld began a four-day trip [to Argentina] yesterday to raise support for peacekeeping efforts in Haiti and to expand ties with Latin America, but he likely will find himself confronting growing tensions involving the suspension of U.S. military aid to Nicaragua.
The United States has suspended about $2.3 million in military aid to Nicaragua, U.S. officials said this week, because Nicaragua President Enrique Bolanos has failed to make progress on the destruction of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that it purchased from the Soviet bloc during the Sandinistas’ 1980s war against the CIA-backed contras.
Bush administration officials are concerned that Nicaragua might sell the weapons to terrorists, noting that during border skirmishes between Ecuador and Peru in the 1980s and 1990s, the Nicaraguan army sold nearly 400 shoulder-fired missiles to the warring countries.
Knight Ridder newspapers reported that a government official told reporters traveling with Rumsfeld that the U.S. has information that there are “several hundred” SA-7s in private hands and a similar number of SA-16s and SA-18s outside of the military’s control.
The suspension of military aid to Nicaragua came as Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, the nation’s former socialist president, is rallying political opposition to destruction of the missiles.
This is a huge issue in Nicaragua as the United States is incensed that the Nicaraguan military won’t destroy these weapons, which are often called MANPADS in military jargon because they can be carried and fired by a single person (as opposed to truck-mounted, etc).
What’s not mentioned in the article is that the Sandinistas (now the opposition party) just recently voted to disallow Ortega from running for president during the next election. So does the United States have the moral right to tell the Nicaraguan military which weapons it can keep?
I’ve seen estimates as high as 40,000 for the number of unsecured MANPADS of this type floating around in the world’s black markets, so I don’t think Nicaragua’s paltry 1,000 is really that much of a threat. What’s really at stake here is that Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti, and the U.S. is exerting economic pressure to get its way.
Rumsfeld is also promoting the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which is one tantalizing apple to leaders in this part of the world but is facing opposition from many social organizations, especially in Guatemala. CAFTA has been signed by the governments in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala but I’ve seen reports (in Spanish) that there will be protests organized against it in Nicaragua. There were violent clashes between police and protestors last week in Guatemala as the parliament voted to ratify the treaty.
But there’s a specific issue Rumsfeld has come to address in Argentina, which I could only find in English via a Cuban website:
During [Rumsfeld’s] 12-hour visit in Buenos Aires he will prioritise the resumption of joint military exercises with the South American country.
The manoeuvres have been suspended since the failed Aguila III operation that was to take place in Mendoza province two years ago, and this is one of the main issues Rumsfeld will present to the Minister of Defense, Jose Pampuro.
To make this exercise come true the US administration would have to give up its demand of “total immunity” for troops in Argentinean territory, which enables US soldier to avoid prosecution even if they commit a serious crime such as homicide or violation outside of his military duty.
But Buenos Aires signed the Rome Statute (1998) through which the International Penal Court (IPC) was created, and to which US is strongly opposed.
For that reason, to exempt US soldiers from the application of the Argentinean law, Rumsfeld will ask President Nestor Kirchner to sign a bilateral agreement.
Last year the Senate approved half sanction to a law that give the Congress back the right to approve exercises against other nations and the conditions to make foreign troops enter into national territory.
The war against terrorism and drug trafficking will be other priorities of the Defense Secretary.
According to reports Washington will keep its proposal to make the Armed Forces of the region be directly involved in security matters.
Pampuro´s answer to this will be no, government sources told the press in the capital.
The Spanish-language press has reported more or less the same, that Pampuro is never going to sign an Article 98 exemption to keep American soldiers immune from prosecution. I’m not quite sure exactly why, but the Bush administration is absolutely fixated on having its troops immune from international prosecution and will not conduct exercises with any country that does not sign an Artile 98 exemption to the Rome Statue. In poorer countries like Ecuador, where the U.S. has an airbase (Manta), the Bush administration used the threat of economic freezes (ala Nicaragua w/r/t the missiles) to get the Article 98 exemption.
You may remember Senator Dodd’s testimony from Condoleezza Rice’s confirmation hearings:
We found government leaders concerned about the decline in U.S. resources available to assist them (inaudible) fight against narcoterrorists, terrorists ready to take advantage of the lawlessness created by the systemic corruption that exists generally throughout the region, and especially in the tri-border area of Paraguay and Brazil and Argentina where Muslim organizations are reportedly raising and laundering monies to support their international ambitions. We found government leaders frustrated by the suspension of U.S. military assistance and training to their military services because of our fixation with theInternational Criminal Court (inaudible) American Servicemen’s Protection Act which links continued assistance in these areas (inaudible) signing of the so-called Article 98 agreement, the United States. And I heard this from American military personnel, Dr. Rice, not from foreigners but our own personnel worried that we’re placing so much emphasis on that point, we’re stopping the training so necessary to build the relationships in this century to people in that part of the world.
Speaking of that “tri-country” border that Dodd was so worried about, Rumsfeld will reportedly lean on Argentina to both beef up its military presence there as well as cooperate more with America on what’s going on there. Argentinians however are leery of any increase in the military’s role, remembering full well the years under the dictatorship of General Pinochet.
The peerless Narco News has an incredibly in-depth article on that issue. I’ve also seen in the Spanish press where Rumsfeld will push for cooperate with the Argentinians in a sort of mini “Plan Colombia”, where advisors and cash is given to fight the war against “narcoterrorists”.
The following is my translation of the BBC‘s report, in Spanish (just an excerpt). As always, all translation errors are entirely mine:
A few days ago, the American head of the Southern Command, Bantz Carddock, said that Washington’s number one priority in the region is the fight against terrorism and after that comes narcotrafficking.
It seems that the United States is pleased with the results obtained by the military in Colombia, which actively participated in the fight against terrorism and narcotrafficking.
According to many analysts, Rumsfeld will make a similar request to his counterpart in Argentina but Pampuro’s response will be a categoric “no”.
So that’s about the size of things for now. I’ll report more as Rumsfeld wings his way to Brazil and finishes up in Guatemala.
This article cross-posted from my blog, where you are humbly invited to visit