By Jorge Capelán – Mar 9, 2023
The annual report presented on the morning of March 8 by General Laura J. Richardson, head of the U.S. Southern Command (US SOUTHCOM), before the House Armed Services Committee provides a series of details on the Pentagon’s priorities towards our region.
To counter the influence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), the general calls for “campaigning through an integrated approach to utilize all available levers across the Department of Defense, US interagency, allies and partner nations to establish the desired conditions of security, peace and prosperity throughout our neighborhood.”
In this article, we first give a fairly detailed summary of Richardson’s report and then raise our observations on it.
Autocrats undermine democracy
According to Richardson, “…At the end of the Cold War, the United States, its allies and partners believed that democracy would displace authoritarianism around the globe. Twenty-five years later, the strategic environment in Latin America and the Caribbean has changed significantly” and cites the 2022 National Security Strategy according to which “autocrats are working overtime to undermine democracy.”
“We see this right here in our own hemisphere, that external malign actors such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia are aggressively exerting influence over our democratic neighbors,” the military chief adds.
A Decisive decade
“Presence and proximity absolutely matter, and a stable and secure Western Hemisphere is critical to homeland defense.”
“Our adversaries use a multidisciplinary and multidomain approach to counter democracy, and SOUTHCOM, our allies and partners must use the full weight of integrated deterrence, leveraging the whole of government, industry, the private sector and academia, in order to effectively respond. With shared purpose and mutual trust, we must collectively act with a much greater sense of urgency to ensure this hemisphere remains a stronghold for democracy.”
“This is a decisive decade and our actions or inactions regarding the PRC will have ramifications for decades to come.”
“Integrated Deterrence” alongside NATO
“Integrated Deterrence includes campaigning with our partners and allies as force multipliers for achieving success in this resource-constrained reality. With our partners and allies from the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and the Netherlands, we recently adopted the Framework for Western Hemisphere Collaboration. The framework commits us to more frequently share information and work more closely together on our aligned strategic interests.”
“Our US SOUTHCOM lines of effort in the face of these challenges is clear: by strengthening alliances and partnerships, collectively countering threats, and building our team, we are working to preserve democracy in our shared neighborhood. While doing so, we are pioneering ways to outcompete even our most innovative adversaries and address these transnational challenges.”
“Challenges” for the US
China, the “strategic” threat
The Southern Command chief notes that China’s trade with Latin America grew from $18 billion in 2002 to $450 billion in 2022, with the figure expected to reach $700 billion by 2035. “Conversely, current US trade with the region stands at $700 billion, which suggests that the United States’ comparative trade advantage is eroding.”
“What concerns me as a Combatant Commander is the myriad ways in which the PRC is spreading its malign influence, wielding its economic might and conducting gray zone activities to expand its military and political access and influence in the AOR [“Area of Responsibility,” i.e., our region].”
“The PRC is investing in critical infrastructure, including deep-water ports, cyber, and space facilities which can have a potential dual use for malign commercial and military activities. In any potential global conflict, the PRC could leverage strategic regional ports to restrict access US naval and commercial ship access. This is a strategic risk that we can’t accept or ignore.”
In this regard, the head of the Southern Command mentions Chinese participation in public bids for works in the Panama Canal and Chinese plans to build maritime facilities in the city of Ushuaia, in southern Argentina, “providing proximity to the Strait of Magellan, the Drake Passage and Antarctica. This could be a game-changer for the PRC, drastically improving its access to Antarctica.”
Another area of concern for Southern Command is China’s military space capabilities
“There are at least 11 PRC-linked space facilities across five countries in this region, more than any other geographic combatant command’s Area of Responsibility, that provide Beijing with space tracking and surveillance capabilities. This includes a joint space monitoring facility in Chile and a deep space station in Argentina managed by an agency subordinate to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).”
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In addition, Richardson mentions “the insidious nature” of Chinese investments in 4G and 5G technologies in the region. She says programs such as Safe Cities give China access to intelligence on Latin American governments and also training for specialists from the region in Chinese “cybersecurity and military doctrine.”
Richardson asserts that China relies heavily on food and rare minerals from the region — activities that are “conducted at the expense of our partner nations and their citizens. These actions have the potential to destabilize the region and erode the fundamental conditions necessary for quality private sector investment.”
High on US SOUTHCOM’s list of “concerns” with China is fisheries
“Every year, there are between 350 and 600 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) [sic!]-subsidized vessels fishing off the coast of South America. These vessels severely deplete fish stocks, disregard environmental safeguards, destabilize the economies of coastal states, and exacerbate security challenges at a cost of nearly $3 billion in lost revenue annually,” says Richardson.
Russia, an “acute” threat
“Through military engagements and gray zone operations, Russia colludes with authoritarian regimes in the region to undermine US influence.”
“In the past year, Russia continued its military engagements with both Venezuela and Nicaragua. Last year, Venezuela hosted Sniper Frontier 2022, a shooting competition and subcomponent of Russia’s International Army Games. Nicaragua has publicly supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine, voting — along with only North Korea, Syria and Belarus — against a UN resolution condemning Russia for its invasion. These engagements increase Russian influence with nations who are destabilizing forces in the region.”
Richardson lambasts the popularity of Russian media “RT en Español, Sputnik Mundo and their various social media sites” in the region, noting that “RT en Español’s Facebook page has 18 million followers, more than its English-language site or even CNN’s Spanish-language channels,” all this “despite efforts by Facebook and Twitter to take down accounts spreading disinformation”.
Organized crime, “primary” threat
According to Richardson, “The number one cause of death among citizens ages 15-49 years old in Latin America and the Caribbean is violence, and more than 60% of the world’s most crime-stricken cities are in this region.”
Additionally, US SOUTHCOM estimates that there are some 200 Transnational Criminal Organizations operating in the region, ranging from drug cartels to guerrillas.
“Transnational Criminal Organizations are engaged in a wide variety of illicit activities, including drug smuggling, arms trafficking, illegal logging and mining, human trafficking, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, and manufacturing counterfeit goods. They are also invested in numerous legitimate enterprises, including, but not limited to, commercial banking, manufacturing, agriculture, consumer sales and real estate.”
According to Richardson, these Transnational Criminal Organizations are not only “better funded, equipped and manned than the security forces trying to fight them,” but they “increasingly rely on PRC [sic!]-connected criminal organizations to launder billions of dollars around the world.”
Moreover, the Transnational Criminal Organizations cause the deaths of some 100,000 American drug victims a year and victimize migrants causing “heartbreaking” human suffering.
Iran (not to be missed)
“Tehran’s intelligence and security activities continue to be a concern and over the past two years Iran has increasingly used Venezuela to assert its presence in the region.”
Regional humanitarian crises
In this section, Richardson lists a number of issues that are seen as “security challenges” by US SOUTHCOM.
“Fragility:” exemplified by the effects of the COVID pandemic, which left 170 million in poverty. “Fragility and instability drive irregular migration and create an environment ripe for corruption and exploitation.”
Haiti: Where violence “is at its worst level in decades,” which has “caused more than 69,000 Haitians to seek refuge in the United States in fiscal year 2022.”
Nicaragua: Humanitarian crisis? About this Central American country, Richardson only mentions the treatment of groups that the US classifies as opponents and relations with China.
Cuba: Again, humanitarian crisis? As in the previous case, the criticisms are political, totally omitting the role of the United States in the emigration of Cubans (230,000 in 2022, according to Richardson) and in the difficulties caused by the blockade.
Venezuela: The same, only in more gloomy terms and with a reference to “possible crimes against humanity” of the “regime.”
How to face the “threats” and “challenges”
“We cannot accept such risks so close to home and we confront them by strengthening partnerships, countering threats and building our team.”
“The best way to outcompete our adversaries is to help partner democracies deliver for their populations at the speed of relevance. We achieve this by improving partner nation capability, capacity and resilience through security cooperation, exercises and training programs while upholding democratic values to ensure malign influence and autocratic alternatives do not further take root in this region.”
“Ultimately, strategic competition with the PRC is an ideological one between democracy and authoritarianism. Presently, the majority of nations in the Western Hemisphere are democracies, and eight of the 14 nations that still recognize Taiwan are located in the US SOUTHCOM Area of Responsibility.”
In this regard, SOUTHCOM is banking on Partner Capability Building programs that comprise “From high-end technical training that keeps partner Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets in the air, to building institutional capacity that develops logistics and life-cycle management disciplines, to professional military education, we are developing trust and interpersonal linkages.”
“Our embedded Ministry of Defense advisors and field service representatives within partner nation security ministries, such as those in Colombia, support modernization and innovation efforts in such areas as personnel, defense intelligence and doctrine development to help our partners meet threats to their national security.”
“The Colombia-US Action Plan enables Colombia to provide training and readiness directly to several countries, including Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Paraguay, in Spanish, and at a fraction of the cost of US-provided training.”
State Department security assistance
“Foreign Military Sales (FMS), Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Excess Defense Articles (EDA) programs produce an exponential return in this Area of Responsibility,” states the US SOUTHCOM chief. She mentions, among others, the recent purchase of 12 joint tactical vehicles by Brazil for $15.8 million. Such acquisitions are “strengthening its ability to counter threats and enhancing interoperability with US forces.”
US SOUTHCOM also runs the state’s International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which provides professional military training to personnel from 28 countries in the region. In 2022, US SOUTHCOM countries received an allocation of $13.9 million for the IMET program. On average, “this allocation provides professional military education for approximately 800 international students in US schools.”
“The International Military Education and Training program is one of USSOUTHCOM’s most powerful levers for countering the PRC and other malign actors in the region by acquainting international students with democratic ideals and professional military doctrine. Partner nation personnel who attend these schools often go on to become senior military leaders in their countries. The relationships built at these schools last a lifetime.” [Comment: Any resemblance to the School of the Americas is NOT a coincidence.]
Joint exercise program
“In 2022, we had over 11,000 participants from 34 nations take part in our exercises, demonstrating once again that the United States has the convening power to bring nations together. These complex training exercises were multi-domain in nature and provided us year-long engagement opportunities across the Area of Responsibility, to include engagements with key leaders.”
The hospital ship USNS COMFORT, which has been operating since 2007, was deployed to five countries in the region from October to December 2022, reports the Southern Command chief.
“The USNS COMFORT mission to the US SOUTHCOM Area of Responsibility historically lasts approximately 159 days, but even during this year’s reduced mission of 52 days, the COMFORT managed to treat over 30,000 patients, conduct 350 surgeries and positively impact 100,000 people with its outreach activities.”
Similarly, Operation Healthcare Assistance Response (HEART) conducted orthopedic, ophthalmologic, and dental operations in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and El Salvador.
Visiting leaders in the region
Over the past year, Richardson has visited 13 countries in the region and held meetings with 90 key leaders and defense chiefs.
“Increasingly, I have also met with heads of state and vice presidents as the appetite grows amongst our partners to engage at senior levels with the United States. To date, I have engaged with eight presidents, three vice presidents and two prime ministers, and I have a full calendar of engagements planned throughout 2023.”
“Establishing and cultivating these relationships is vital and we must step up our presence in the region to maintain relevance. Relationships absolutely matter, and our partner democracies are desperate for assistance from the United States, but if we’re not there in time, they have no choice but to take what’s available, creating opportunities for the PRC to expand its influence.”
US Army Corps of Engineers
“We need to step up with much greater responsiveness in our processes if we want to address our partner nation requirement and outcompete the PRC in this domain,” the Southern Command chief observes.
Among the work done last year, she mentions “technical support” to the Panama Canal Authority, work on the Coca Coda dam in Ecuador, allegedly poorly built by China, and the integration of US experts into the Dominican State to “assist with developing efforts to preserve rare earth materials.”
“From a defense and security cooperation perspective, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ recent agreement with the Peruvian Navy to build out Peru’s port facilities, and its continued construction efforts on Tolemaida Air Base in Colombia, facilitating the development of the largest rotary wing training and maintenance facilities in the region, will increase our partners’ capacity to counter TCOs in the region.”
State-to-State Partnership Program
Through this program, the US National Guard develops relationships with countries in the region. In many cases, this involves participation in social and health programs, but also in military exercises.
“This year, the Regional Security System (RSS), consisting of seven Eastern Caribbean nations, conducted 25 events across the Regional Security System and in the continental United States.”
“The State-to-State Partnership Program’s success is enhanced by the National Guard participation in partner nation exercises like those in Brazil and Colombia.”
Disaster and climate change assistance
“Several of our annual exercises, including TRADEWINDS and CENTAM GUARDIAN, have a humanitarian assistance and disaster response component to help build resiliency and readiness related to climate change and natural disaster response.”
“Basic infrastructure activities focus on building partner capacity to provide essential services, like potable water… we recently joined with 12 other countries to identify the logistical processes, procedures and protocols that are required to improve the military logistics support to humanitarian assistance and disaster response activities in the Western Hemisphere.”
Regarding climate change, Richardson says, “Successfully confronting this complex issue requires a true integrated approach. For example, US SOUTHCOM partners with the Pacific Disaster Center in Hawaii to facilitate disaster response training and conduct National Disaster Preparedness Baseline Assessments with our partner nations. These assessments promote a multi-agency approach to disaster risk reduction and national disaster preparedness, in collaboration with partner nations’ national disaster management agencies.”
Countering China’s “malign” efforts
“By methodically identifying and synchronizing separate initiatives, from building cyber capability to exposing the PRC malign activities, we can strengthen critical infrastructure to improve our collective ability to operate in the face of the multi-domain threats posed by the PRC.”
“Information sharing with our partners on the malign activities of the PRC in other nations and regions that have undercut sovereignty is critical to ensuring our partners can make informed decisions on their engagements with the PRC. However, information sharing alone is insufficient. Collectively, in a whole-of-nation integrated approach, we must also provide viable alternatives for partnerships and offer significantly more incentives through campaigning for critical infrastructure investment and port development in the region.”
One element of particular concern is China’s supposedly consistent effort to “expand its network of space infrastructure across the Area of Responsibility.”
“By focusing on strengthening relations, the US demonstrates what a true partner looks like, which stands in stark contrast to the transactional nature of PRC engagements. This strategy, coupled with the continued exposure of the military purpose of PRC’s scientific or academic space sites in the region, may slow and possibly reverse the expansion of the PRC’s space network in our neighborhood.”
Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing
“We have teamed up with the Department of State, partner nation stakeholders, the private sector, civil society, international organizations and an interagency team of US government experts to confront this issue head-on. The US Coast Guard is conducting several Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing missions in the Area of Responsibility, and US SOUTHCOM has four ongoing IUUF initiatives that are complementary in nature.”
In this regard, “US SOUTHCOM has signed a memorandum of understanding with Global Fishing Watch [State Department NGO partner] and has a longstanding relationship with Florida International University, through which we partnered to create the Security Research Hub — a virtual research community that brings together the United States, partner nations, academic institutions, civil society and the private sector to foster shared understanding of the most pervasive security issues, to include IUUF.”
In addition, Richardson says US SOUTHCOM is looking to “provide technical assistance and support to the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, a voluntary regional cooperation mechanism created by the coastal states of Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama.”
“Finally, working with 14 partner countries and the National Maritime Intelligence Integration Office, the U.S. Navy South leads the way for an intergovernmental approach to information-sharing efforts. When fully implemented, they will collectively foster timely, actionable information sharing, multifunctional collaboration, and multinational trust. This collaboration will illuminate nefarious actors negatively impacting our partner nations’ economies and populations.”
Countering Russia’s “malign” influence
“US SOUTHCOM is postured to compete with Russia through the coordination and application of information-related capabilities… Our multifaceted approach aims to bolster partner efforts and expose malign activities, with the goal of blunting Russian exploitation in the information environment.”
Regarding US “partners” in the region, Richardson notes, “Some are willing to trade their Soviet-era equipment for NATO-interoperable, US-made equipment. However, as our partners agree to support efforts against Russia, the United States must have response mechanisms in place to rapidly provide replacement assets to maintain partner nation readiness — if not done right, we could lose this opportunity.”
“US SOUTHCOM partners with other US agencies and organizations, such as the Departments of State, Commerce, Homeland Security and Justice, along with US Cyber Command, our National Guard State-to-State Partnership Program teammates and the US Coast Guard, to deliver the right support at the right time to assist our partners in their cyber-related challenges.”
“Through our cyberspace advise and assist efforts, including subject-matter expert exchanges and leveraging the expertise of our Joint Combatant Command Cyber Assistance Teams, we support our partners’ efforts to advance their defensive cyber capabilities and develop cyber resiliency.”
Competing in the information space
“Additionally, our information operations team shapes pro-US, pro-democracy narratives, counters disinformation by promoting fact-based information, and works aggressively to reduce US adversary influence in the information environment. This team highlights democratic ideals such as respect for human rights and protecting the rule of law.”
“…we need to be agile and support our partners at the speed of relevance. While we are committed to transparent processes, we must be faster and more innovative to outcompete our adversaries.”
“FMF [foreign military financing], FMS [foreign military assistance] and Security Cooperation are great levers that can make huge inroads in the Area of Responsibility when delivered at the speed of relevance for our partners. However, these programs are only as good as the processes by which we execute them. While a little goes a long way in this Area of Responsibility, we need to do better to support and react at the speed of need, armed with capabilities that our partners can implement quickly and sustain for the long term. When we don’t support our partners at the speed of need, our competitors willingly fill the gap.”
To improve those processes, the SOUTHCOM chief explains, two working groups have been established “to break down barriers to our success.”
The Western Hemisphere Campaign Group, which brings together Department of Defense entities involved in building capabilities in US partners, and The Defense Opportunities Group, which brings together interagency partners “that have a stake in a stable and secure Western Hemisphere.”
Countering organized crime
“Our Joint Interagency Task Force-S (JIATF-S) conducts the statutorily-directed mission to detect and monitor illicit drugs transiting toward the United States in the maritime and air domains, delivering a high return on modest investments.”
“Notwithstanding our significant achievements over decades in this mission space, there is still more to do. As US resources against this threat decline, we will continue to innovate — both in strategy, like re-examining current authorities, and unconventional resourcing, like contract assets, commercial data, and artificial intelligence and machine learning.”
Countering money laundering
“While continued disruptions of illicit drug movements toward the United States remains critical, to truly disrupt these billion-dollar conglomerates, we must also support interagency efforts to follow the money.”
Coast Guard support
“The US Coast Guard is one of US SOUTHCOM’s strongest partners, with its National Security Cutters and Fast Response Cutters providing the bulk of our counterdrug forces. US Coast Guard assets enhance operations with unique capabilities and authorities which, when used in conjunction with the US Navy and partner nation platforms, maximize the effectiveness of a variety of missions.”
“The Coast Guard is executing its largest fleet recapitalization since World War II. These recapitalization efforts will provide capabilities that support three US SOUTHCOM strategic initiatives: enhancing Theater Security Cooperation, countering IUUF, and combating TCOs.”
Material and other needs
“In this region, a small investment — whether in time, physical resources, funding or collaboration — goes a long way. We don’t have to outspend the PRC to outcompete, but we must be present on the field and deliver at the speed of relevance. This requires having a timely budget — continuing resolutions are disruptive to U.S. and partner nation efforts to defend against threats. If we don’t, China and Russia will fill the void,” says Richardson.
“Security Cooperation is our main tool for building the capacity of our very willing partners. These partners take our small investments and immediately employ them against the threats and challenges that affect our entire hemisphere. Our partner nations are a force multiplier in a posture-limited theater.”
“Security assistance goes hand-in-hand with security cooperation. The security assistance we provide to countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Panama is a game-changer for our partners who are working every day to counter illicit trafficking, address irregular migration and secure our region. However, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are not currently eligible for Foreign Military Financing. We will work with the Department of State to consider tailored solutions to advance regional policy goals.”
“Domain awareness is key to countering PRC, Russia, and TCO malign activities that threaten hemispheric security, as well as assisting our partners during disaster relief. Air, maritime, land, space and cyber domain awareness projects in the region fill debilitating coverage gaps and enable our partners to counter drug smuggling, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, money laundering, human smuggling, weapons trafficking and illegal trade in natural resources.”
“Critical to building this shared picture is commercial imagery, open-source intelligence and off-the-shelf bulk data analytics that allow us to harness this data in the public and commercial space to address critical gaps.”
“Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) is also paramount to maintaining domain awareness. To stay ahead of the growing pernicious threats state and non-state actors pose, we require long-range, long-dwell, next-generation airborne ISR, such as solar-powered aircraft with a greater range and time over target.”
“The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency also remains a key intelligence provider in meeting US Southern Command’s priorities. Warning decision-makers of the breadth and depth of challenges in the Western Hemisphere requires geospatial analysis at speed and scale.”
On the topic of innovation, science and technology, Richardson comments, “The US SOUTHCOM Area of Responsibility provides a permissive environment that has a high tolerance for technology experimentation, willing partners, and diverse climates and geography, all close to the US homeland. This affords us great opportunities to conduct innovative activities with our partners that help gain and maintain a strategic advantage over the PRC, Russia, and other malign actors. We take every opportunity to capitalize on these benefits.”
“Information-related capabilities. To compete in the information environment, US SOUTHCOM needs an adequate force structure with the requisite skills to counter the overwhelming threat from malign state actors in the information domain. Our adversaries are dedicating significant effort and resources with unrestrictive policies to undermine democracy in this region. We must do better to keep pace with them and outcompete them.”
About the Naval Small Craft Technical Instruction and Training School (NAVSCIATTS) in Stennis, Mississippi, Richardson comments, “littorals and rivers are the lifeblood of maritime commerce, large population centers and bustling seaports for most of the 31 Latin America and the Caribbean countries.” In this regard, “The maritime training and education programs at NAVSCIATTS generate outsized return on investment, providing invaluable opportunities to military and law enforcement personnel from the United States and our allies and partners, most of whom operate smaller craft.”
On the importance of appointing ambassadors throughout US SOUTHCOM’s “Area of Responsibility,” Richardson states, “Having a confirmed ambassador in country is critical to maintaining strong relationships and, conversely, not having one can have a detrimental effect and opens the door to our adversaries in the region.”
“The defense of the US homeland is directly linked to the resilience, stability and security of the Latin American and Caribbean region. Proximity places us on the frontline of strategic competition, as we share transboundary challenges and global threats… Meeting these challenges requires campaigning through an integrated approach to utilize all available levers across the Department of Defense, the US interagency, Allies and Partner Nations to establish the desired conditions of security, peace, and prosperity throughout our neighborhood,” concludes the SOUTHCOM chief’s report.
COMMENTS ON RICHARDSON’S REPORT
Latin America is a “critical” region for US interests, both in its confrontation with the emerging multipolar order and because of its abundant natural resources.
In this decade, US efforts will be focused on countering the influence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, Iran, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and the “Transnational Criminal Organizations.” The influence of China and Russia in the region is repeatedly described as “malign” in the report.
The United States puts forward a concept of “Integrated Deterrence” for our region with NATO members, including the United Kingdom, Canada, France and the Netherlands. Over the past year, Richardson has visited 13 countries in the region and held meetings with 90 key leaders and defense chiefs, including several presidents and prime ministers.
By accusing China of promoting illicit activities to advance its “malign” objectives in Latin America, linking them to organized crime, US SOUTHCOM advances an even greater militarization of the entire public debate and the employment of the entire judicial and police spectrum in the geopolitical struggle.
The United States seeks to prevent China’s participation in all strategic ports and passages, such as the Panama Canal and the Strait of Magellan. This line has often been supported by experts from the US Army Corps of Engineers. Although not mentioned in the report, the Interoceanic Canal project through Nicaragua belongs to the category of initiatives not tolerated by Washington.
Another element of concern for the Southern Command is the Chinese presence in space projects in the region, where it has financed a series of several types of satellites.
Similarly, another axis of attack against China is its technological programs, be it 4G and 5G Internet or its massive data processing programs, qualifying them as “surveillance.”
To justify its plundering policies in Latin America, the United States will increasingly use the rhetoric of “defending our resources” against “malign” Chinese ambition.
An important axis, mentioned in detail in the report, will be the control of maritime space under the pretext of the fight against China’s alleged illegal fishing, as well as the fight against organized crime (also allegedly promoted by China). US Government-funded NGOs are and will continue to be used in this campaign to provide a civilian facade for the project. It is to be expected that this initiative will not stop at attacking China, but also at actively intervening in border conflicts between our countries or even provoking them.
More than economic, the Southern Command’s arguments against Russia are centered on the political-military and police aspects. Venezuela’s and Nicaragua’s relations with the Russian Federation are openly pointed out and reference is also made to Russia’s “gray zone operations” in the region. A point of special attention is these countries’ votes in the UN regarding the war in Ukraine.
With respect to Russia, special mention is made of the influence of Russian media such as RT en Español and Sputnik, anticipating greater Western control, espionage, and censorship of social networks in our region.
The qualification of organized crime as a “primary threat” indicates that this issue will become one of the privileged axes to cover up the struggle of the United States and its NATO “partners” to maintain control of Latin America. Thus, it is much easier to sell military interventions to the US public than to send in Marines.
Another pretext for covering up US interventions in the region will be (as it has been in the past) the humanitarian issue. In this regard, four definite targets have been identified: Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. It is worth mentioning that several of the annual military exercises of the Southern Command have “humanitarian” components under the guise of attention to natural or environmental disasters.
The United States will reinforce the pressures (they call them “alliances”) towards countries of the region so that they do not ally with China and Russia. The ultimate fight has been defined by the head of the Southern Command herself as an ideological one.
An important support base for SOUTHCOM in the region is Colombia (a NATO “partner”), which has already provided military training to several countries including Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Paraguay. All this in Spanish and at a very low cost, according to Richardson.
Arms sales, military financing, and joint exercises with armies in the region will continue, as well as the International Military Education and Training program, heir to the opprobrious School of the Americas. This is not limited to the US army; the US National Guard itself participates in joint exercises with Latin American armies.
Throughout the report, reference is made to the need to do as much as possible with the money available, which is understandable since it is a speech addressed to those who will approve the country’s budget. However, it is not a minor fact that the hospital ship USNS COMFORT reduced the number of days of its medical visits to countries in the region to 30% of what is typical.
The United States intends to counteract China’s influence in the region, among other things, through the massive use of information and intelligence. In key areas such as aerospace, they promise to move nimbly to supply the needs of our countries before China does, but it is impossible to see a willingness and a possibility that the United States will offer a “new deal” to our region in terms of investment, given its structural problems.
The United States today is weaker on a global scale than it has been in the last 100 years, but the region’s countries are also very weak, having for the most part relegated the discourse of sovereignty and the unity of the Patria Grande to ceremonial occasions. This situation must change, and only political will can make it possible to achieve this.
There are several countries that are not mentioned in Richardson’s report. Among those countries is Bolivia, which together with Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela also belongs to the “axis of evil” in the region. Nor is there any mention in the report of most of the countries with self-defined progressive governments in the region — the most obvious case being Mexico. These countries should not believe that the United States has forgotten about them. On the contrary, they are in the crosshairs. Often the role of “partner” of the United States is the least enviable of all because the Western powers have simply never known partners, only vassals.
Translation: Stansfield Smith
Stansfield Smith is a Chicago based anti-imperialist activist. He was active for over a decade in the Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5. His work is now on ChicagoALBASolidarity.wordpress.com. He has written on Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs and on North Korea for Counterpunch and others.
Stansfield Smith#molongui-disabled-linkJanuary 6, 2023
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