Nikolas Kozloff writing at al Jazeera had recently brought to light the Obama administration’s construction of a new military base in Argentina. Local authorities and official U.S. explanations insist the “Resistencia” base is for civil and humanitarian purposes alone, but many Argentinians reject this. One Argentine legislator even called for an investigation into the “Yankee base in Chaco.”
Well, now Kozloff writes about another new military base in Chile:
The installation, which has cost the US taxpayer nearly a half million dollars to construct, is situated in the port city of Concón in the central Chilean province of Valparaíso. In Chile, the political debate surrounding the Concón base mirrors the previous fight over the Resistencia installation: while local authorities and the US military claim that Concón will be used for training armed forces deployed for peacekeeping operations, the Chilean left believes the base is aimed at controlling and repressing the local civilian population.
For Chilean civil society, which has longtime experience with US interventionism going way back to the dark days of the Augusto Pinochet military dictatorship, the Concón base raises eyebrows. Human rights groups charge that the actual design of the base – which simulates an urban zone with eight buildings as well as sidewalks and roads – suggests that the Chilean military is interested in repressing protest. According to United Press International, Concón “is growing into a major destination for regional military trainers and defence industry contractors”.
The facility is run by the US Southern Command, headquartered in Miami, Florida. The US, which has in recent years been losing some of its political and economic hegemony in the region, is interested in getting another foothold for its military operations. Indeed, ever since the nationalist/populist regime of Rafael Correa booted Washington out of its base in Manta, Ecuador, the US has been on a quest to find alternative sites in South America.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D in international relations to know that the presence of U.S. military bases around the world serves as a projection of power and control, not for civil and humanitarian purposes as is officially claimed. As was on display in recent weeks in the cases of Japan and Guam, foreign military bases typically engender deep resentment on the part of the local population. But these feelings will be even stronger in a place like Chile, where in 1973 the U.S. ousted a democratically elected leader in a coup and had him replaced with a dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who tortured and murdered his own people. Pinochet’s rule lasted until 1990 – a mere 22 years ago.
Nevertheless, Obama sent his secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, over to meet with the Chilean president – fast becoming a client of Washington’s, as Kozloff explains – to smooth over the new military-to-military relationship. This seems like a good example of the liberal claim to the Obama presidency: imperialism with a softer face.