U.S. Eyes Paraguay and Makes Brazil Unhappy

On June 1st, the Paraguayan Congress signed off on an agreement bringing over 400 U.S. troops to that country for "joint training and humanitarian operations." The deal, which is initially slated to last 18 months, sparked criticism and speculation among both watchdog groups and officials of neighboring South American governments, regarding possible motives behind the presence of U.S. troops in such large numbers in a country long renowned for its crime, corruption and contrabanding.

The first of what will be 13 such detachments numbering less than 50 U.S. military personnel arrived on July 1st, with a new contingent of 45 soldiers following on July 24. The initial reports that 400 troops would be arriving in Paraguay referred to the aggregate number of U.S. troops being sent to the country over the 18 months.

This confusion in the size of troop levels to be deployed had been distorted by the lack of clear information coming from the Pentagon regarding U.S. military actions in Paraguay through 2006.

The State Department has also noted that the two countries have conducted joint exercises since 1943, usually involving less than 50 U.S. troops at a time. Their mission in the country is to provide housing, road construction, educational and health services, and to train Paraguayan military counterparts.

While there have been no direct indications that the U.S. would repeat recent history and suddenly decide to construct a base in Paraguay – as it did at Manta, Ecuador, shortly after reaching a similar troop agreement with Quito in 1999 – it would not be surprising if the Department of Defense did seek to establish a permanent presence in Paraguay in accordance with its new "Lily Pad" strategy of constructing a number of small military facilities scattered in proximity to global hotspots.

The Pentagon’s Mission

The recent Paraguay flap stirred up an even broader debate over the presence of U.S military units in other parts of Latin America, including Colombia, El Salvador and several Caribbean islands, among others.

Analysts both in Latin America and the United States argue that the U.S. military presence in the area is ultimately intended to project Washington’s power throughout the region.

The introduction of a decentralized military structure throughout Latin America will allow Washington to bring its influence upon the area with fewer uniformed personnel and without casting a large shadow on the region.

The White House’s gradually increasing focus on militarizing the region shows that the U.S. remains better prepared to use force and the threat of intervention, instead of constructive diplomacy to resolve outstanding bilateral issues.

During the Cold War, the U.S.’ justification for its interventions in Latin America was the fear of communism; in the 1990s, it was the War on Drugs; and now the "Global War on Terrorism" is the central argument to ensure that American boots remain on the ground in the region. Whatever argument Washington chooses to present, it is clear that it wants to make certain that it is in control of its "backyard" by any and all means.

The U.S. diplomatic offensive involving Paraguay did not go unnoticed by Asunción’s immediate neighbors. Aside from Argentina’s tart reaction, Adam Saytanides observed that in late July "Brazil reportedly launched military maneuvers along the Paraguayan border, a move seen as an expression of Brazilian discontent with Paraguay."

He goes on to note that Brazil’s Foreign Minister was not amused when he sternly admonished the Duarte government, saying "Paraguay must understand that the choice is between Mercosur [the trade bloc of which Paraguay is a member] and other possible partners." Nevertheless, the U.S. appears determined to make sure that Paraguay does not "fall to the terrorists."

Why Paraguay?

The summer agreement came after three years of increased contact between Washington and Asunción following the 2001 terrorist attacks at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. After 9/11, Washington directed its focus on possible new non-traditional venues for international terrorist activities around the world, including South America.

Its gaze quickly settled on Paraguay and, more specifically, the Tri-Border region, where that country abuts Argentine and Brazilian territory. This reputably lawless corner of the continent has long been known for high levels of contrabanding and corruption, and there has been widespread suspicion among many government officials and international bodies that Islamic terrorist groups have been operating there.

A recent New York Times article acknowledged that it is very likely that Paraguay is on a classified State Department list of the world’s 26 countries most "vulnerable" to terrorism.

In the early 1980s, following Lebanon’s devastating civil war, the Tri-Border area experienced a strong influx of Middle Eastern immigrants, mostly coming from Syria, Lebanon, and occupied Palestinian territories. The large Muslim population has led many to believe that Hezbollah and Hamas are active in the area, especially in Ciudad del Este, a city that practically straddles the Paraguay-Brazil border, where it merges with the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu at the Parana river.

According to Paraguayan authorities, of the 150,000 residents of Ciudad del Este, approximately 10% are of Arab decent. Despite Washington’s suspicions, reports released by the IMF, World Bank and even the U.S. State Department have found no explicit evidence of terrorist activity in the area.

Still, U.S. authorities believe that some of the area’s Muslim population were involved in the high-profile early 1990s deadly bombings at a Jewish Community Center and the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, a finding to which Argentine officials are now open to believing.

Taking Action

In the wake of 9/11, the U.S. became more involved in the efforts to crack down on drug deals, arms smuggling, money laundering and purported terrorist support activity in the region. In 2002, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and the U.S. formed the "3+1 Counterterrorism Dialogue" to collaborate in dealing with such problems in the area.

All sides have since taken steps to check crime in the region, with Brazil announcing the establishment of a Regional Intelligence Center in Foz do Iguaçu, while Argentina and Paraguay have made a commitment to appoint liaisons to the body as a way of institutionalizing what will soon be a multi-national effort. Moreover, President Bush and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva discussed the Tri-Border area during Bush’s recent trip to Brazil.

Yet Paraguay’s mere collaboration is insufficient in the eyes of those analyzing the region’s militarization. The country’s infamous corruption, lack of democratic stability, and a traditional dearth of effective governance, have made it particularly susceptible to criminal influence.

Moreover, governmental institutions have not been able to display any degree of competence when dealing with issues like terrorism and crime. Furthermore, Paraguay is regarded by Transparency International as the most corrupt country in Latin America, which presents problems in all sectors of the government, including the highest reaches of power.

The government has achieved international notoriety as recently as 2002, when then-President Luis González Macchi had to resign his office after he purchased stolen cars, embezzled money, and shadily handled millions of dollars in Paraguayan currency. In the U.S.’ eyes, such inherent problems in the country make it a suitable place to intervene, if need be.

An Extension of U.S. Military Strategy

Under Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Department of Defense has sought to remake the U.S. military into a quicker, lighter force that is less reliant on brute manual action and more inclined towards overwhelming speed and technological advantage.

As its centerpiece, this strategy calls for the establishment of Cooperative Security Locations or CSL – previously known as Forward Operating Locations – in strategic locations around the world, which allow for rapid mobilization and intervention at a moment’s notice. There are already various CSLs operating around the hemisphere, but none would have the strategic importance that a base in Paraguay could hold.

In the 1980s, U.S. technicians helped build an airbase at Mariscal Estigarribia, in the northern part of Paraguay, about 120 miles from the Bolivian border. The base is reportedly in excellent condition and has the capacity to handle large American cargo aircraft, making it a highly desirable location for the U.S. to set-up an operational center located in the middle of South America.

High-level Paraguayan representatives have met with U.S. officials in both Washington and Asunción, including an unprecedented August trip to South America by the Pentagon’s Donald Rumsfeld.

In fact, current President Nicanor Duarte was the first Paraguayan President ever to visit the White House. As the administration continually expands its "War on Terror," Paraguay looks more and more like a desirable location for amplifying Rumsfeld’s war doctrine.

What is at Stake

Initial reports regarding the somewhat secretive summer agreement declared that a first wave of some 400 troops would be arriving in Paraguay to participate in joint missions with that country’s military.

Those reports have since turned out to be misinterpreted, and various State Department and U.S. Southern Command officials have said that while the total number of troops used over the 18 month period will reach 400-500, only small groups of soldiers would be in the country at any given time.

Though some details of the agreement have been clarified, the relative secrecy surrounding the decision and the steadily increasing U.S. involvement in the region has caused some well-founded fears.

FBI Coming to Asunción

With the U.S. planning to have an FBI office in the U.S. embassy in Asunción sometime next year, Washington appears to be serious about fighting crime and terrorism in the region. It is not uncommon for the FBI to have an office in U.S. embassies, but the newest of these offices have been placed in countries that are cooperating with the U.S. in the "War on Terror," in places like Georgia and other Eurasian countries.

Such a commitment by the FBI implies that Washington is serious about vesting Paraguay with enhanced importance, increasing the likelihood that the military could become involved, shifting its traditional training and civic action roles to one which is more operational.

The military agreement, which notably includes immunity for U.S. troops (a real asset in a country as corrupt as Paraguay), has led many non-interventionalists to fear that the Mariscal Estigarribia landing facility could soon be converted into a major permanent U.S. base.

Nevertheless, the State Department and the U.S. embassy in Asunción have gone to great lengths to try to allay such concerns, but still some experts are worrying over the striking similarities between these denials and those being issued immediately prior to the sudden establishment of a base in Manta, Ecuador in 1999.

In that case, the U.S. announced the creation of a CSL just days after publicly and vigorously denying that they had any such intentions.

Looking Towards the Future

While there may be logical and relatively benign explanations for the U.S. actions in Paraguay so far, and official statements provide no indication that the U.S. harbors a desire for a permanent base there, at the present time it can not be ruled out that Mariscal Estigarribia will become the U.S.’ next South American "lily pad."

Even if the initial plans do not include any permanent and hardened facilities, the current program of stepped-up joint military engagement will inevitably lead to increased familiarity between the two sides, which only enhances the possibility that greater military integration could be near.

Considering the secretiveness of the current Bush administration, it would be no surprise if at any moment the U.S. military announced the establishment of a permanent military arrangement with the Paraguayan government.

Either way, it is evident that as South America becomes less stable politically, socially and economically, the U.S. might take advantage to extend its influence through all available means.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associates Julian Armington and You Lee Kim

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) – www.coha.org – is a think tank established in 1975 to discuss and promote inter-American relationship. Email: coha@coha.org.


  • Show Comments (9)

  • Catherine Slater

    Bush Land Purchase in Paraguay – Ecological and Political Haven from Global Warming Fallout?
    With the recent purchase of a large tract of land by the Bush family in Paraguay, I wonder if Bush and gang plan to use Paraguay as a “safe haven” for their families to hopefully survive the imminent economic and ecological catastrophes coming from Global Warming, as well as impeachment in the U.S. and the global political fallout from their deception and inaction in dealing with Climate Change …Note:large aquifer, natural gas resources, protection from criminal action, etc. Like rats leaving a sinking ship….?

  • Martha Leftwich

    Bush Buys Land in Northern Paraguay?:
    Bush Buys Land in Northern Paraguay?:

    Luis D Elia, undersecretary for the Social Habitat in the Argentine Federal Planning Ministry, issued a memo partially reproduced by digital INFOBAE.com, in which he spoke of the purchase by Bush of a 98,842-acre farm in northern Paraguay, between Brazil and Bolivia.

    Bush Buys Land in Northern Paraguay

    Buenos Aires, Oct 13 (Prensa Latina) An Argentine official regarded the intention of the George W. Bush family to settle on the Acuifero Guarani (Paraguay) as surprising, besides being a bad signal for the governments of the region.

    Luis D Elia, undersecretary for the Social Habitat in the Argentine Federal Planning Ministry, issued a memo partially reproduced by digital INFOBAE.com, in which he spoke of the purchase by Bush of a 98,842-acre farm in northern Paraguay, between Brazil and Bolivia.

    The news circulated Thursday in non-official sources in Asuncion, Paraguay.

    D Elia considered this Bush step counterproductive for the regional power expressed by Presidents Nestor Kirchner, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

    He said that “it is a bad signal that the Bush family is doing business with natural resources linked to the future of MERCOSUR.”

    The official pointed out that this situation could cause a hypothetical conflict of all the armies in the region, and called attention to the Bush family habit of associating business and politics.

    ef ccs tac rmh

  • Guest

    Let the Portugese Empire End
    When foot and mouth disease came to Paraguay from BRASIL, the Brasilians sent troops to Paraguan soil to keep contamintated cattle from going to Brasil. Brasil is stealing hardwoods from Brasil, and destroying the enviornment in Paraguay. Let Brasil act like a neigbor for once.

  • Guest

    Corpses are intended to be Brazilian!
    Cheney’s Paraguay Caper Is Intended
    To Produce ‘A Splendid Little War’
    by Dennis Small

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Paraguay on Aug. 16, with the principal mission of putting the final touches on Vice President Dick Cheney’s scheme of establishing a U.S. military base in that country, in the heart of South America. The proper response to that development, advised U.S. statesman Lyndon LaRouche, is to issue the following urgent security advisory across South America:

    Redouble the guards at the cemeteries and the morgues, and put a special watch on all university anatomy classes. Those psychopathic policy twins, Cheney and Rumsfeld, the “Burke and Hare” of Washington, D.C., are on the loose in South America.

    William Burke and William Hare””made famous in such locations as Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale, The Body-Snatcher””were 1820s Scottish entrepreneurs of sorts, who set themselves up as procurers of fresh corpses to satisfy the lively demand of Edinburgh’s medical schools’ anatomy classes. When demand outstripped the supply available from digging up the graves of the recently departed in the dead of night, the two free marketeers turned to supply-side economics, and started murdering people directly. They weren’t caught until they had produced 16 victims.

    In the 21st-Century Cheney-Rumsfeld re-run of Burke and Hare’s antics, most of the corpses are intended to be Brazilian.

    What is the actual intent behind Cheney’s Paraguay caper? Locate the regional South American developments in the context of the documented short-term drive for pre-emptive war against Iran, including nuclear strikes, which has been launched by Dick Cheney and his allied gang of “spoon-bender” Utopian lunatics within U.S. military and intelligence circles. And locate them, as well, in the framework of a rapidly disintegrating global financial system, which Cheney et al. have been deployed to salvage, at all costs.

    Here are the principal South American elements leading into the dangerous Paraguay caper:

    On Feb. 24, 2005, the Argentine government of Nestor Kirchner successfully negotiated a 60% writedown of $82 billion of public debt, over the violent opposition of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the world’s financial oligarchy.

    On March 29, 2005, the heads of government of Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and Spain gathered in the Venezuelan city of Ciudad Guayana, to discuss the details of regional great infrastructure projects to pull their economies out of poverty, and to lay the foundations of lasting, regional peace. This surprise development was a significant setback for the international financial interests that Cheney and Rumsfeld speak for, whose regional objective is both to ensure their control over strategic raw materials, and to sink the entire region into chaos such that no unified opposition to the dying IMF system can be mustered.

    In April 2005, a further political blow was dealt to Cheney and the neo-cons, with Washington’s inability to impose their preferred candidate as the next Secretary General of the Organization of American States. Cheney and his Wall Street friends were not amused.

    So, on May 5, 2005, the United States induced the Paraguayan government to sign an agreement authorizing joint military training activities over the 18-month period running from July 1, 2005 to Dec. 31, 2006, which accord can be extended indefinitely. The base for the maneuvers is to be the Mariscal Estigarribia military base and airfield””which was built by the U.S. to be able to handle large military transport planes, and house up to 16,000 troops””located in the middle of the largely uninhabited Chaco region of northwestern Paraguay. This is the very region which was the scene of the bloody Gran Chaco War of 1932-35 between Paraguay and Bolivia (see map).

    On May 26, 2005, the Paraguayan Congress granted the participating U.S. troops legal immunity from prosecution for crimes committed while in Paraguay, an exception that the Bush-Cheney government had previously also demanded of Brazil, Argentina, and other South American countries, and had been firmly rebuffed.

    And then came the most revealing development:

    On June 10, 2005, Paraguayan Vice President Luis Castiglioni travelled to Washington, D.C., where he held private meetings with Cheney, Rumsfeld, and neo-con hatchetman Roger Noriega, then Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. The totally disproportionate attention paid to Castiglioni””in particular the private meeting with Cheney””indicated that the scheme had gone live, and that Cheney was hands-on.

    On July 1, 2005, the first 500 American troops began to arrive in Paraguay. On July 7, the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay issued a public disclaimer stating that they had no intention of establishing a permanent military base in the country. But in late July, an unconvinced Brazilian Army launched military maneuvers along that country’s border with Paraguay, parallel to the arrival of the U.S. troops.

    Short-sighted regional and other commentators have focussed on diverse explanations for the Paraguayan U.S. military base””or Cooperative Security Location (CSL), as it is known in Pentagon lingo””in the heart of South America (the only other such CSL in South America is located in Manta, Ecuador):

    * To control the giant natural gas deposits in Bolivia, which is only 250 kilometers from the Mariscal Estigarribia base.

    * To deploy against purported Iranian terrorist capabilities, including money-laundering facilities, located in the Triple Border area of Paraguay-Argentina-Brazil.

    * To deliver a body-blow to the South American Common Market (Mercosur) project, which Brazil has led against the free trade diktats coming from Washington and the IMF. Paraguay is a member of Mercosur, along with Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.

    * To seize the giant Guarani Aquifer, one of the world’s largest reserves of fresh water, covering an area of 1.2 million square kilometers””of which an estimated 70% is located in Brazil, 19% in Argentina, 6% in Paraguay, and 5% in Uruguay.

    * To gain access to the immense riches of the strategically important Amazon region of Brazil.

    There is an element of truth in each of these explanations, but all overlook the two determining strategic considerations cited at the outset: the global financial meltdown, and the lunacy of the Bush-Cheney Administration. In fact, the policy objective of Cheney’s Paraguay caper, is to launch a British-style “Splendid Little War” in the region””both among nations and as civil wars within today’s existing nation-states, such as the drive to split Bolivia in two””to thereby sink the region into a New Dark Age of chaos and genocide.

    Cheney and Rumsfeld want corpses. So South Americans beware, of the new Burke and Hare.


  • Guest

    What they want!
    With U.S. troops currently protecting Halliburton’s oil operations in Iraq and the CentGas pipeline in Afghanistan, U.S. troops are now being sent to Paraguay, complete with immunity from criminal prosecution by Paraguay or the International Criminal Court, to protect the millions of acres of Paraguayan water and land resources bought over the years by religious cult leader Sun Myung Moon. It is not coincidential that Moon’s Unification Church has many followers within the Bush administration. Last month, 500 U.S. troops arrived in Paraguay to expand the Mariscal Estigarriba air base to handle large U.S. military transport planes. Moon’s land acquisitions in Chaco Province are just north of the huge Guarani aquifer, one of the world’s largest sources of fresh water. In addition, Moon has acquired large tracts of land on the Brazilian side of the Paraguayan border. Local villagers in Paraguay and Brazil claim that most of Moon’s land acquisitions were fraudulent and illegal. Moon’s World Unification Church operates in Paraguay under a corporate contrivance called the Victoria Company. Paraguay has also announced that everyone entering and leaving Paraguay will be photographed and fingerprinted. Not coincidentally, the new border control system is being financed by South Korea.

    There is clearly a split within the Paraguayan government, with the Vice President and Pentagon neo-con ally Luis Castiglioni negotiating, along with a majority in the Paraguayan Congress, close bilateral military ties with the United States, apparently without the concurrence of President Nicanor Duarte. It is no coincidence that considering the oil-centric Bush administration, the Mariscal Estigarriba air base is close to large Bolivian natural gas reserves in the neighboring Bolivian provinces of Santa Cruz and Tarija.

    The U.S. move in Paraguay comes at the same time the U.S. is stepping up its “counter-narcotics” operations from its Manta, Ecuador base and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is accusing the United States of using Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) personnel in Latin America as espionage agents trying to destabilize his government. In addition, the Paraguayan military operations are seen as a Bush administration attempt to intimidate neighboring Bolivia, where MAS Socialist party and coca farmer (cocalero) leader Evo Morales is poised to become the next President in scheduled December elections after years of popular demonstrations which saw Bolivian workers and peasants deposing a series of pro-U.S. presidents. A Morales government would add another anti-U.S. and free trade government in South America, joining Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

    So soon, the mothers and fathers of U.S. military personnel will be able to take comfort in sacrificing the lives of their sons and daughters for a self-proclaimed Messiah, a non-English speaking Korean who claims to have saved the souls of Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Stalin, and Hitler and communicates regularly with others in his departed flock of adherents, including all the deceased Presidents of the United States (who, Moon claims, appointed Richard Nixon as their spokesman from the “hereafter”).

    From the Wayne Madsen Report, regularly updated and linked at the top left of the Truth Seeker main page.

  • Guest

    Regarding the Paraguay War, indeed it was terrible. The worst war South America has seen so far. But it was a LONG time ago, on a very different context. Brazil was still the Brazilian Empire back then.
    Now the four countries are democracies and are members of the Mercosur, they have cooperation agreements on every area. The Paraguay War is past.

  • Guest

    Good article
    Both Brazil and Paraguay are full of corruption, crime and contrabanding (and other latin american countries as well, but these two are champions). I am brazilian from Paraná (brazilian state which neighbours Paraguay) and I have been to Paraguay, I know what I’m talking about.
    In Brazil when you say you bought something from Paraguay, it is impossible not to hear some joke. This country has in Brazil the worst image that you can ever imagine. Brazilians don’t hate Paraguay, they recognize it as a brother in the sense that the two are very similar (culturally). And yes, this does mean that Brazil also has a bad image of itselg (low self esteem).

  • Guest

    Worthless article !
    How can 2 stupid journalists name Paraguay :a country long
    renowned for its crime, corruption and contrabanding. Dont they
    know that Brazil has far more corruption and crimes than Paraguay? Dont they know that most people involved in contraband are in fact
    Brazilians smuggling goods into Brazil, to avoid paying the outrageous import
    prices apllied to these goods ? By whom are those journalists
    paid to writes voluntarily such errors on facts that can be found in
    reports from many International agencies and even in those of Brazilian
    sources ????

  • Guest

    Triple Alliance

    I wonder if the Paraguayans agree with the idea of having gringo troops in their country. I know that Paraguayans were destroyed by the Triple Alliance war they fought alone against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Aren’t these two events related? Could it be the presence of gringos in Paraguay a revenge against those neighbour countries that destroyed the country?


    Omar Vega

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