For over 50 years, Brazilian retired professor Luiz Alberto Moniz Bandeira has studied the United States. In a recent interview he talked about the 6,300 American soldiers he says undertook operations in the Amazon region between 2001 and 2002.
The details are in the professor’s most recent book, "Building the American Empire: From the Spanish-American War to Iraq" ( Formação do Império Americano. Da guerra contra a Espanha à guerra do Iraque).
What do you think about the US presence in South America?
Moniz Bandeira: The fact is that the US has been circling Brazil for a number of years.
With military bases?
Moniz Bandeira: Military bases, yes. There is the Manta base in Ecuador, along with others in Peru and in Bolivia. Some of the bases are permanent, while others are for temporary occupation.
An example of the latter is the base in Paraguay, which is not exactly a base; it’s really just a huge airstrip that is bigger than Galeão (the international airport in Rio de Janeiro, which has the biggest landing strip in Brazil with 4,240 meters).
Now there are reports of 400 American soldiers in Paraguay where they are holding joint military exercises near the border with Brazil and other areas. There are three curious things about this, that raise suspicions.
First, the concession of immunity to American soldiers [by Paraguay]. Second, the Donald Rumsfeld visit to Assunción. And, third, the fact that vice president Dick Cheney had a private meeting with the President of Paraguay [Nicanor Duarte] when the latter was in the US. So, just what does Paraguay mean to the US? This is very disturbing for Mercosur.
Some analysts say that nowadays Paraguay is playing the role of US ally that was once played by Argentina, under president Carlos Menem, and then Uruguay, under Jorge Batlle.
Moniz Bandeira: Yes, that is what they tried to do in Argentina with Menen, and later in Uruguay with Batlle. Now they want to manipulate Paraguay. It is a delicate situation. Paraguay is weak.
As a matter of fact, if Brazil cracked down on smuggling across the border with Paraguay that country’s economy would collapse because most of its exports consist of contraband goods that go to Brazil.
Officially 30% of Paraguayan exports go to Brazil, but in reality it is more like 60%. [Landlocked] Paraguay also depends on export corridors to the Brazilian ports of Santos, Paranaguá and Rio Grande. Paraguay is a country with a lot of difficulties that is out of its depth [in its relationship with the US].
Countries have an obligation to see their own limitations and understand power relationships as they really are. Paraguay is not viable without Brazil and Argentina. Argentina stands with Brazil on this issue. Argentina is not interested in seeing Paraguay used as a tool by the US to harm Mercosur.
Exactly where are the American soldiers who have surrounded Brazil, forming what you call a "belt" ( "cinturão") around Brazil?
Moniz Bandeira: They occupy an area extending from Guiana into Colombia… Most of them are not uniformed soldiers, but employees of what are known as private sector military companies. The Pentagon has been outsourcing war operations since the 1990s.
These private military contractors have been playing an important role in military operations exactly because they are outside restrictions imposed by the US Congress.
They pilot airplanes in Iraq, for example. They do everything, even torture people. They are outside the law. [One of the best known military contractors is "Blackwater". It advertises the following services: "Basic and Advanced Law Enforcement and Military Training; Design and Operation of Law Enforcement, Counterterrorism, and Military Training Facilities; Counterterrorism, Antiterrorism, and Force Protection Programs; Humanitarian, Peacekeeping, and Stability Operations; Military Transformation Programs; High-threat Security Operations (Ambassadors, Generals, CEOs, etc.); High-value Asset Security and Threat Assessment; Fixed and Rotary-wing Aviation Operations and Logistics Programs; Training Doctrine and Policy Development; Foreign Internal Defense Missions"]
Are there secret operations?
Moniz Bandeira: Yes, but that is another story. However, it is possible to get information about these things. If you read the newspapers, sometimes there is something about an American plane being intercepted in Brazil as it was flying from Bolivia to Paraguay clandestinely. This is information that can be found in various places.
Why are American military personnel in South America?
Moniz Bandeira: There are many reasons. One of them is the vicious cycle formed by the US industrial-military complex, or war industry. The bases cost money, they need supplies so the Pentagon needs a big budget because of the bases and the supplies.
The war industry is a big part of the US economy and as its products are used – supplying bases around the world – more orders come in. It is a vicious cycle. Now the best market for military equipment is a war. So the US has a vested interest in promoting wars.
Some regions of the US depend heavily on military contracts. There is a symbiotic relationship between the war industry and the state. The state finances the war industry and the war industry needs the state to use up its production.
Is there any strategical reason involving natural resources for the American military presence in South America?
Moniz Bandeira: The Andean countries [in a strict geographical sense, the Andes extend 8,900 kilometers from the tip of Chile to the border of Panama and would include Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. However, as a political unit, the Andean group consists of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela] supply 25% of the petroleum consumed in the US.
Venezuela alone supplies 15% of US consumption. On one hand, the Americans would like to remove the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. But on the other hand, they know that would cause a civil war [in Venezuela] pushing the price of a barrel of petroleum up to US$ 200.