How the Americas became the Middle East - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

How the Americas became the Middle East

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Posted: Sunday, June 5, 2011 7:04 pm

MEXICO CITY - Back in February, Sarah Palin tweeted about the overthrow of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak through a popular uprising. First there were the trapped Chilean miners, she said, and now the Egyptian disturbances. "What other drama will affect the Middle East?"

Chile? Middle East? Isn't Egypt in North Africa? Actually, there is a kind of twisted logic to this.

The week following Palin's tweet, U.S. Army Undersecretary Joseph W. Westphal said at the University of Utah, according to the The Deseret News in Utah, that the U.S. Army might end up fighting insurgents in Mexico. He was making the point that future battles might not take place in the Middle East.

Westphal was the most senior U.S. official to use "insurgency" to describe the drug cartels. And he raised the possibilities of "armed and fighting" U.S. soldiers "on our border, in violation of our Constitution, or to have to send them across the border."

He admitted having shared his views with the White House, although his remark, he said, was only a personal expression and not the administration's viewpoint. Later, Westphal retracted his comment and apologized for it.

The underlying point, however, is that military preparations have been underway for a long time.

It turns out that NATO, the North American Treaty Organization formed in 1949, took an important step after the September 2001 Al Qaeda attack on the United States when Article 5 of the NATO charter took effect for the first time. It deems an attack on one is an attack on all member nations. Since then, troops have been deployed to Afghanistan. Most recently, NATO has assumed leadership of the Libyan conflict to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi.

NATO's 28 members account for more than 70 percent of the world's defense spending. The U.S. alone accounts for 43 percent, with the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy providing another 15 percent of the world's total military spending.

Luís Gutierrez Esparza, in this city's highly respected newspaper, Excelsior, deferred in his column to a German authority, Muller Mertens, who said NATO has Latin America in its scope. The alliance already has 29 military bases, stretching from El Paso, Texas, to Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago just above Antarctica that includes parts of Chile and Argentina.

(I know this is a lot of geography, but I can assure you none of this territory is the Middle East.)

Ten of the bases are reportedly secret. Gutierrez Esparza said the think-tank which he heads, Latin American Circle of International Studies (CLAEI, by its Spanish initials), knows those bases are kept secret even from some national congresses. The number of U.S. soldiers deployed is also secret.

Sixteen of the 29 are U.S., and the United Kingdom maintains three in the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The air base in Palanqueto, Colombia, is a point of departure to Africa, possibly Libya.

Honduras, Panama and El Salvador also have bases. The U.S. fourth Fleet patrols Latin America with nuclear arms despite the Treaty of Tlatelolco of 1967 that makes Latin America a nuclear-free zone.

Officially, most of the premise of having U.S. and NATO bases is related to narcotrafficking control. But Reiner Braun of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms said they pose a threat to Latin American governments who choose an independent route to development. That is why, according to Gutíerrez Esparza, the governments of Ecuador and Bolivia closed two bases.

Perhaps some of this background explains why could make such an odd statement that did not make sense at the time. He said a U.S. Army intervention in Mexico was conceivable, but it wasn't "just about drugs and illegal immigrants."

When he said it, it sounded a little wacky, like what Sarah Palin might say. But now the Americas are starting to look like a Middle East or a North Africa setting.

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail him at

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