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Unsettling Echoes: The U.S. Eyes Paraguay

Unsettling Echoes: The U.S. Eyes Paraguay

Analysis prepared by COHA Research Associates Julian Armington and You Lee Kim

• Initial reports that 400-500 U.S. troops would be operating in Paraguay at once were incorrect.

• The situation leads many to question the U.S.' intentions for the region.

• Paraguay, which has long been thought of as a terrorist haven, may be the next front in Washington's "War on Terror."

On June 1, 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 1, with a new contingent of 45 soldiers following on July 24. COHA was soon able to establish that 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.

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