The annual report presented March 8, by General Laura J. Richardson, head of the United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) before the House Armed Services Committee, provides a series of details on the Pentagon’s priorities towards our region.
In order to counter the influence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), the general calls for a “campaign through an integrated approach to use all available levers across the Department of Defense, the U.S. interagency, allies and partner nations to establish the desired conditions of security, peace and prosperity throughout our neighborhood.”
In this article we first provide a fairly detailed summary of Richardson’s report and then set out our observations.
Autocrats undermine democracy
According to Richardson, “…At the end of the Cold War, the United States, its allies and partners believed that democracy would displace authoritarianism around the world. Twenty-five years later, the strategic environment in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has changed significantly” and cites the 2022 National Security Strategy (NSS) according to which “autocrats are working overtime to undermine democracy.”
“We see this right here in our own hemisphere, that external actors such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia exert aggressive influence over our democratic neighbors,” the military chief adds.
A decisive decade
“Presence and proximity definitely matter, and a stable and secure Western Hemisphere is critical to homeland defense,” Richardson contends.
“Our adversaries use a multidisciplinary, multidomain approach to counter democracy, and SOUTHCOM, our allies and partners must employ the full weight of integrated deterrence, leveraging the whole of government, industry, the private sector and academia, to respond effectively. With shared purpose and mutual trust, we must act collectively with a much greater sense of urgency to ensure that this hemisphere remains a bastion of democracy,” she says.
“This is a decisive decade and our actions or omissions with respect to the PRC will have ramifications for decades to come,” she adds.
“Integrated Deterrence” alongside NATO
“Integrated Deterrence includes campaigning with our partners and allies as force multipliers to achieve success in this resource-constrained reality. With our partners and allies in the United Kingdom, Canada, France and the Netherlands, we have recently adopted the Western Hemisphere Collaborative Framework. This framework commits us to more frequent information sharing and closer collaboration on our common strategic interests,” Richardson explains.
“Our USSOUTHCOM courses of action in the face of these challenges are clear: by strengthening alliances and partnerships, collectively countering threats and building our team, we are working to preserve democracy in our shared neighborhood. As we do so, we are pioneering ways to outmaneuver even our most innovative adversaries and meet these transnational challenges,” she states.
China, the “strategic” threat
The Southern Command chief notes that China’s trade with Latin America grew from $18 billion in 2002 to $450 billion in 2022, with the figure expected to reach $700 billion by 2035. “By contrast, current U.S. trade with the region stands at $700 billion, suggesting that the U.S. comparative trade advantage is eroding,” she adds.
“What concerns me as a Combatant Commander is the myriad ways in which the PRC is extending its malign influence, wielding its economic might and conducting gray zone activities to expand its military and political access and influence in the AOR (“Area of Responsibility,” i.e., our region),” he reflects.
“The PRC is investing in critical infrastructure, including deep-water ports, cyber and space facilities that can potentially have dual use for malign commercial and military activities. In any potential global conflict, the PRC could leverage strategic regional ports to restrict access by U.S. naval and commercial vessels. This is a strategic risk that we can neither accept nor ignore,” she adds.
In this regard, the head of the Southern Command mentions Chinese participation in tenders for works in the Panama Canal and Chinese plans to build maritime facilities in the city of Ushuaia, in southern Argentina, which “would provide proximity to the Strait of Magellan, the Drake Passage and Antarctica. This could change the rules of the game for the PRC, dramatically improving its access to Antarctica.”
Another area of concern for Southern Command is China’s military space capabilities.
“There are at least 11 PRC-linked space facilities in five countries in this region, more than any other geographic combatant command AOR, that provide Beijing with space tracking and surveillance capabilities. This includes a joint space surveillance facility in Chile and a deep space station in Argentina operated by an agency subordinate to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” she asserts.
In addition, Richardson mentions “the insidious nature” of Chinese investments in 4G and 5G technologies in the region, programs such as Safe Cities, which she says give China access to intelligence on Latin American governments and also training for specialists from the region in Chinese “cybersecurity and military doctrine”.
Richardson asserts that China relies heavily on food and rare earths from the region – activities “that are conducted at the expense of our partner nations and their citizens.” “These actions have the potential to destabilize the region and erode the fundamental conditions necessary for quality private sector investment,” she adds.
High on USSOUTHCOM’s list of “concerns” with China is fisheries.
“Each year, between 350 and 600 vessels subsidized by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) [SIC!] fish off the coast of South America. These vessels severely deplete fish stocks, disregard environmental safeguards, destabilize the economies of coastal states and exacerbate security problems, at a cost of nearly $3 billion annually in lost revenue,” says Richardson.
Russia, an “acute” threat
“Through military engagements and gray zone operations, Russia colludes with authoritarian regimes in the region to undermine U.S. influence,” Richardson asserts.
“Last year, Russia continued its military engagements with both Venezuela and Nicaragua. Last year, Venezuela hosted Sniper Frontier 2022, a shooting competition and subcomponent of the Russian Army International Games. Nicaragua has publicly supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, voting – along with North Korea, Syria and Belarus – against a UN resolution condemning Russia for its invasion. These engagements increase Russian influence with nations that are destabilizing forces in the region,” she adds.
Richardson lambasts the popularity of Russian media “RT en Español, Sputnik Mundo and their various social networks” in the region, noting that “RT en Español’s Facebook page has 18 million followers, more than its English site or even CNN’s Spanish channels”, all this “despite efforts by Facebook and Twiter to shut down accounts that spread disinformation”.
Organized crime, “primary” threat
According to Richardson, “The leading cause of death among citizens aged 15-49 in Latin America and the Caribbean is violence, and more than 60% of the world’s most crime-ridden cities are in this region.”
In addition USSOUTHCOM estimates that there are some 200 transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) operating in the region, ranging from drug cartels to guerrillas.
“TCOs engage in a wide variety of illicit activities, including drug smuggling, arms trafficking, illegal logging and mining, human trafficking, IUU fishing, and counterfeit manufacturing. They also invest in many legitimate businesses, such as commercial banking, manufacturing, agriculture, consumer sales and real estate,” she says.
According to Richardson, these TCOs are not only “better funded, equipped and staffed than the law enforcement trying to combat them,” but they “increasingly rely on criminal organizations connected to the PRC [SIC!] to launder billions of dollars around the world.”
In addition, the TCOs cause the deaths of some 100,000 American drug victims a year and victimize migrants causing “heartbreaking” human suffering.
Iran (not to be missed)
“Tehran’s intelligence and security activities continue to be of concern and over the past two years Iran has increasingly used Venezuela to assert its presence in the region,” notes the head of the Southern Command.
Regional humanitarian crises
In this section, Richardson lists a number of issues that are seen as “security challenges” by USSOUTHCOM.
“Fragility”: exemplified by the effects of the COVID pandemic, which left 170 million in poverty. “Fragility and instability drive irregular migration and create an environment conducive to corruption and exploitation,” it explains.
Haiti: Where violence “has reached its worst level in decades,” which “has caused more than 69,000 Haitians to have sought refuge in the United States in FY2022.”
Nicaragua: Humanitarian crisis? About this Central American country Richardson only mentions the treatment of groups that the U.S. sees as opponents and relations with China.
Cuba: Again, humanitarian crisis? As in the previous case, the criticisms are political, totally omitting the role of the United States in the emigration of Cubans (230,000 in 2022, according to Richardson) and in the difficulties caused by the blockade.
Venezuela: The same, only in more gloomy terms and with a reference to “possible crimes against humanity” of the “regime”.
How to face the “threats” and “challenges”
“We cannot accept these risks so close to home and we deal with them by strengthening alliances, countering threats and building our team,” Richardson notes.
“The best way to outmaneuver our adversaries is to help partner democracies serve their populations at whatever speed is relevant. To do this, we enhance the capacity and resilience of partner countries through security cooperation programs, exercises and training, while upholding democratic values to ensure that malign influence and autocratic alternatives do not continue to take root in the region,” says the Southern Command chief.
“Ultimately, the strategic competition with the PRC is an ideological competition between democracy and authoritarianism. Today, most nations in the Western Hemisphere are democracies, and eight of the 14 nations that still recognize Taiwan are in the USSOUTHCOM AOR,” she adds.
In this regard, SOUTHCOM is banking on Partner Capability Building (PCB) programs that comprise “From high-level technical training that keeps partners’ intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets on the air, to institutional capacity building that develops logistics and life-cycle management disciplines, to professional military education, we are developing trust and interpersonal bonding.”
“Our MoD advisors and field service representatives embedded in the security ministries of partner countries, such as Colombia, support modernization and innovation efforts in areas such as personnel, defense intelligence and doctrine development to help our partners address threats to their national security,” Richardson explains.
“The Colombia-U.S. Action Plan allows Colombia to provide training and readiness directly to several countries, including Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Paraguay, in Spanish, and at a fraction of the cost of training provided by the United States,” she adds.
State Department security assistance
“The Foreign Military Sales (FMS), Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Excess Defense Articles (EDA) programs produce exponential returns in this AOR,” states the USSOUTHCOM chief and mentions, among others, the recent purchase of 12 joint tactical vehicles by Brazil for $15.8 million. Such acquisitions “strengthen the ability to counter threats and enhance interoperability with U.S. forces.
USSOUTHCOM also runs the state’s International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which provides professional military training to personnel from 28 countries in the region. In 2022, USSOUTHCOM countries received an allocation of $13.9 million for the IMET program. On average, this allocation provides professional military education to about 800 international students in U.S. schools.”
“The IMET program is one of USSOUTHCOM’s most powerful levers to counter the PRC and other malign actors in the region by familiarizing international students with democratic ideals and professional military doctrine. Partner country personnel attending these schools often become senior military commanders in their respective countries. The relationships established at these schools last a lifetime,” he adds. [Comment: Any resemblance to the School of the Americas is NOT a coincidence.]
Joint Exercise Program
“In 2022, more than 11,000 participants from 34 countries took part in our maneuvers, proving once again that the United States has the convening power to bring nations together. These complex training exercises were multi-domain in nature and provided us with the opportunity to participate for an entire year throughout the AOR, which included contacts with key leaders,” explains Richardson.
The hospital ship USNS COMFORT, which has been operating since 2007, was deployed to five countries in the region from October to December 2022, reports the Southern Command chief.
“Historically, the USNS COMFORT mission in the USSOUTHCOM AOR lasts approximately 159 days, but even during this year’s shortened 52-day mission, COMFORT managed to treat more than 30,000 patients, perform 350 surgeries and positively impact 100,000 people with its outreach activities,” he adds.
Likewise, Operation Healthcare Assistance Response (HEART) conducted orthopedic, ophthalmologic and dental operations in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and El Salvador.
Visiting leaders in the region
Over the past year, Richardson has visited 13 countries in the region and held meetings with 90 key leaders and defense chiefs.
“I have also met with heads of state and vice presidents, as our partners’ interest in collaborating at a high level with the United States increases. To date, I have met with eight presidents, three vice presidents and two prime ministers, and I have a full schedule of meetings planned throughout 2023,” Richardson adds.
“Establishing and nurturing these relationships is vital and we must intensify our presence in the region to maintain our relevance. Relationships are absolutely important, and our partner democracies are desperate for U.S. assistance, but if we are not there in time, they have no choice but to take what is available, creating opportunities for the PRC to expand its influence,” he assures.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
“We have to step up with much greater responsiveness in our processes if we are going to meet the needs of our partner nations and surpass the PRC in this area,” the Southern Command chief observes.
Among the work done last year, he mentions “technical support” to the Panama Canal Authority, work on the Coca Coda dam in Ecuador, allegedly poorly built by China, and the integration of U.S. experts into the Dominican State to “help develop efforts to preserve rare earth materials.”
“From a defense and security cooperation standpoint, USACE’s recent agreement with the Peruvian Navy to build Peru’s port facilities, and its continued construction efforts at Tolemaida Air Base in Colombia, facilitating the development of the largest helicopter training and maintenance facilities in the region, will enhance our partners’ ability to counter CTOs in the region,” she concludes.
State-to-State Partnership Program (SPP)
Through this program, the U.S. National Guard develops relationships with countries in the region. In many cases this involves participation in social and health programs, but also in military exercises.
“This year, the Regional Security System (RSS), made up of seven Eastern Caribbean countries, organized 25 events throughout the RSS and the continental United States,” says Richardson.
“The success of the SPP is enhanced by the National Guard’s participation in maneuvers with partner countries, such as those in Brazil and Colombia,” she adds.
Disaster and climate change assistance
“Several of our annual exercises, such as TRADEWINDS and CENTAM GUARDIAN, have a humanitarian aid and disaster response component to help increase resilience and preparedness for climate change and natural disaster response,” explains Richardson.
“Basic infrastructure activities focus on building the capacity of partners to provide essential services, such as clean water (…) we have recently joined with 12 other countries to identify the logistical processes, procedures and protocols needed to improve military logistical support for humanitarian relief and reconstruction activities in the Western Hemisphere,” she adds.
Regarding climate change, Richardson says, “Successfully addressing this complex problem requires a truly integrated approach. For example, USSOUTHCOM collaborates with the Pacific Disaster Center in Hawaii to facilitate disaster response training and conduct National Disaster Preparedness Core Assessments with our partner countries. These assessments promote a multi-agency approach to disaster risk reduction and national disaster preparedness in collaboration with partner countries’ national disaster management agencies.”
Countering China’s “malign” efforts
“By methodically identifying and synchronizing separate initiatives, from building cyber capabilities to exposing the PRC’s malign activities, we can strengthen critical infrastructures to enhance our collective ability to operate in the face of the multi-domain threats posed by the PRC,” says Richardson.
“Sharing information with our partners about malign PRC activities in other nations and regions that have undermined sovereignty is critical to ensure our partners can make informed decisions about their engagements with the PRC. However, information sharing alone is insufficient. Collectively, in an integrated nationwide approach, we must also provide viable alternatives for partnerships and offer many more incentives through campaigns for investment in critical infrastructure and port development in the region,” she explains.
One element of particular concern is China’s supposedly consistent effort to “expand its space infrastructure network throughout the AOR.”
“By focusing on strengthening relations, the U.S. demonstrates how it is a true partner, which is in stark contrast to the transactional nature of PRC engagements. This strategy, coupled with the continued exposure of the military purpose of PRC scientific or academic space facilities in the region, may slow and possibly reverse the expansion of the PRC’s space network in our neighborhood,” Richardson says.
Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing
“We have partnered with the State Department, partner country stakeholders, the private sector, civil society, international organizations and an interagency team of U.S. government experts to address this problem. The U.S. Coast Guard is conducting several IUUF missions in the AOR, and USSOUTHCOM has four ongoing IUUF initiatives that are complementary in nature,” says the head of USSOUTHCOM.
In this regard, “USSOUTHCOM has signed a memorandum of understanding with Global Fishing Watch [State Department NGO partner] and has a longstanding relationship with Florida International University, through which we have partnered to create the Security Research Hub, a virtual research community that brings together the United States, partner countries, academia, civil society and the private sector to foster a shared understanding of the most pervasive security issues, including illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” she explains.
In addition, Richardson says USSOUTHCOM is looking to “provide technical assistance to the Eastern Pacific Tropical Maritime Corridor, a voluntary regional cooperation mechanism created by the coastal states of Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama.”
“Finally, working with 14 partner nations and the National Maritime Intelligence Integration Office, the U.S. Navy South is leading the intergovernmental approach to information sharing initiatives. When fully implemented, they will collectively foster timely and practical information sharing, cross-functional collaboration and multinational trust. This collaboration will expose the nefarious actors that negatively affect the economies and populations of our partner countries,” she concludes.
Countering Russia’s “malign” influence
“USSOUTHCOM is prepared to compete with Russia through the coordination and application of information-related capabilities (…) Our multi-faceted approach is intended to bolster our partners’ efforts and bring malign activities to light, with the goal of reducing Russian exploitation in the information environment,” says the Southern Command chief.
Regarding U.S. “partners” in the region, Richardson notes, “Some are willing to trade their Soviet-era equipment for U.S.-made, NATO-interoperable equipment. However, as our partners agree to support efforts against Russia, the United States must have response mechanisms in place to quickly provide replacement equipment to maintain partner country readiness; if not done correctly, we could lose this opportunity.”
“USSOUTHCOM collaborates with other U.S. agencies and organizations, such as the Departments of State, Commerce, Homeland Security and Justice, along with U.S. Cyber Command, our National Guard SPP partners and the U.S. Coast Guard, to provide the right support at the right time to assist our partners in their cyber-related challenges,” Richardson says.
“Through our cyberspace advisory and assistance efforts, including subject matter expert exchanges and leveraging the expertise of our Joint Combatant Command Cyber Assistance Teams, we support our partners’ efforts to advance their defensive cyber capabilities and build cyber resilience,” she adds.
Competing in the information space
“In addition, our information operations team shapes pro-U.S. and pro-democracy narratives, counters disinformation by promoting fact-based information, and works aggressively to reduce U.S. adversary influence in the information environment. This team emphasizes democratic ideals such as respect for human rights and protection of the rule of law,” she says.
“…we need to be agile and support our partners at the speed of relevance. While we are committed to transparent processes, we must be quicker and more innovative to outpace our adversaries,” Richardson says.
“FMF [foreign military financing], FMS [foreign military assistance] and Security Cooperation are great levers that can make huge strides in the AOR when executed at the speed that is relevant to our partners. However, these programs are only as good as the processes by which we execute them. While a little goes a long way in this AOR, we need to get better at supporting and reacting at the speed of need, armed with capabilities that our partners can implement quickly and sustain over the long term. When we don’t support our partners at the necessary speed, our competitors are happy to fill the gap,” he explains.
To improve those processes, the SOUTHCOM chief explains, two working groups have been established “to break down the barriers to our success.”
The Western Hemisphere Campaign Group, which brings together DoD entities involved in building capabilities in U.S. partners, and The Defense Opportunities Group, which brings together interagency partners “committed to a stable and secure Western Hemisphere.”
Countering Organized Crime (OCT)
“Our Joint Interagency Task Force-S (JIATF-S) carries out the statutory mission of detecting and monitoring illicit drugs transiting into the United States in the maritime and air domains, earning a high return on the modest investments made,” Richardson explains.
“Despite our significant accomplishments over decades in this area, much remains to be done. As U.S. resources against this threat diminish, we will continue to innovate, both in strategy, such as re-examining current authorities, and in unconventional resources, such as contract assets, commercial data, artificial intelligence and machine learning,” she concludes.
Countering money laundering
“While continued disruption of illicit drug movements into the United States remains critical, to truly disrupt these multibillion-dollar conglomerates, we must also support interagency efforts to follow the money trail,” notes the Southern Command chief.
Coast Guard support
“The U.S. Coast Guard is one of USSOUTHCOM’s strongest partners, with its Homeland Security Cutters and Rapid Response Cutters providing the bulk of our counterdrug forces. U.S. Coast Guard assets enhance operations with unique capabilities and authorities that, when used in conjunction with the U.S. Navy and partner nation platforms, maximize the effectiveness of a variety of missions,” she explains.
“The Coast Guard is conducting the largest recapitalization of its fleet since World War II. These recapitalization efforts will provide capabilities that support three USSOUTHCOM strategic initiatives: enhancing theater security cooperation, countering IUUF, and combating TCOs,” she announces.
Material and other needs
“In this region, a small investment – whether in time, physical resources, funding or collaboration – goes a long way. We don’t have to spend more than the PRC to compete with it, but we must be present on the ground and act at the speed that is necessary. This requires a timely budget: continuing resolutions disrupt U.S. and partner countries’ efforts to defend against threats. If we don’t, China and Russia will fill the vacuum,” says Richardson.
“Security Cooperation is our primary tool to build the capacity of our partners, who are very willing. These partners take our small investments and immediately employ them against the threats and challenges that affect our entire hemisphere. Our partner countries are a force multiplier in a limited theater of operations,” she says.
“Security assistance goes hand in hand with security cooperation. The security assistance we provide to countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Panama is a game changer for our partners as they work every day to combat illicit trafficking, tackle irregular migration and protect our region. However, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are not currently eligible for the FMF. We will work with the State Department to explore tailored solutions to advance regional policy objectives,” she adds.
“Domain awareness is key to countering malign PRC, Russian and TCO activities that threaten hemispheric security, as well as assisting our partners in disaster relief. Air, maritime, maritime, land, space and cyber domain awareness projects in the region fill debilitating coverage gaps and enable our partners to combat drug smuggling, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, money laundering, human smuggling, arms trafficking and illegal trade in natural resources.”
“Critical to building this shared picture are commercial imagery, open-source intelligence and out-of-the-box bulk data analytics that allow us to leverage this data in the public and commercial space to address critical gaps,” he adds.
“Airborne ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] is also paramount to maintaining domain awareness. To stay ahead of the growing pernicious threats posed by state and non-state actors, we need long-range, long-duration, next-generation airborne ISR, such as solar-powered aircraft with longer range and time-on-target,” says the USSOUTHCOM chief.
“The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) also remains a key intelligence provider to meet U.S. Southern Command priorities. Alerting decision-makers to the breadth and depth of challenges in the Western Hemisphere requires geospatial analysis at speed 30 and scale,” he observes.
On the topic of innovation, science and technology, Richardson comments, “The USSOUTHCOM AOR provides a permissive environment that has a high tolerance for technological experimentation, willing partners, and diverse climates and geography, all close to the U.S. homeland. This provides great opportunities for us to pursue innovative activities with our partners that help us gain and maintain a strategic advantage over the PRC, Russia, and other malign actors (…) We seize every opportunity to capitalize on those benefits. [Emphasis ours]”
“Information-related capabilities. To compete in the information environment, USSOUTHCOM needs an adequate force structure with the capabilities required to counter the overwhelming threat of 31 malign state actors in the information domain. Our adversaries are devoting significant effort and resources with unrestrictive policies to undermine democracy in this region. We must do better to keep pace and outpace them,” she says.
About the Naval Small Craft Technical Instruction and Training School (NAVSCIATTS) in Stennis, Mississippi, Richardson comments that “The coastlines and rivers are the lifeblood of maritime commerce, major population centers and bustling seaports in most of the 31 LAC countries.” In this regard, “NAVSCIATTS maritime training and training programs generate a tremendous return on investment, providing invaluable opportunities for U.S. military and law enforcement personnel and those of our allies and partners, most of whom operate smaller vessels.”
On the importance of appointing ambassadors throughout USSOUTHCOM’s “Area of Responsibility,” Richardson states, “Having a confirmed ambassador in-country is critical to maintaining strong relationships, and conversely, not having one can have a detrimental effect and open the door to our adversaries in the region.”
“The defense of the U.S. homeland is directly linked to the resilience, stability and security of the Latin American and Caribbean region. Proximity places us at the forefront of strategic competition as we share cross-border challenges and global threats (…) Meeting these challenges requires campaigning through an integrated approach to use all available levers through the Department of Defense, the U.S. interagency, allies and partner nations to establish the desired conditions of security, peace and prosperity throughout our neighborhood,” concludes the SOUTHCOM chief’s report.
COMMENTS ON THE RICHARDSON REPORT
Latin America is a “critical” region for U.S. interests, both in its confrontation with the emerging multipolar order and because of its abundant natural resources.
In this decade, U.S. efforts will be focused on countering the influence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, Iran, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and the “Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs)”. The influence of China and Russia in the region is repeatedly described as “malign” in the report.
The United States puts forward a concept of “Integrated Deterrence” for our region with NATO members, including the United Kingdom, Canada, France and the Netherlands. Over the past year, Richardson has visited 13 countries in the region and held meetings with 90 key leaders and defense chiefs, including several presidents and prime ministers.
By accusing China of promoting illicit activities to advance its “malign” objectives in Latin America, linking them to organized crime, USSOUTHCOM advances an even greater militarization of the entire public debate, and the employment of the entire judicial and police spectrum in the geopolitical struggle.
The United States seeks to prevent China’s participation in all strategic ports and passages, such as the Panama Canal and the Strait of Magellan. This line has often been supported by experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Although not mentioned in the report, the Interoceanic Canal project through Nicaragua belongs to the category of initiatives not tolerated by Washington.
Another element of concern for the Southern Command is the Chinese presence in space projects in the region, where it has financed a series of satellites of all kinds.
Likewise, another axis of attack against China is its technological programs, be it 4G and 5G Internet, or its massive data processing programs, qualifying them as “espionage”.
To justify its plundering policies in Latin America, the United States will increasingly use the rhetoric of “defending our resources” against “evil” Chinese ambition.
An important axis, mentioned in detail in the report, will be the control of maritime space under the pretext of the fight against China’s alleged illegal fishing, as well as the fight against organized crime (also allegedly promoted by China). U.S. Government-funded NGOs are and will continue to be used in this campaign to provide a civilian facade for the project. It is to be expected that this initiative will not stop at attacking China, but also at actively intervening in border conflicts between our countries, or even provoking them.
More than economic, the Southern Command’s arguments against Russia are centered on the political-military and police aspects. Venezuela’s and Nicaragua’s relations with the Russian Federation are openly pointed out and reference is also made to Russia’s “gray zone operations” in the region. A point of special attention is the votes of these countries in the UN on the war in Ukraine.
With respect to Russia, special mention is made of the influence of Russian media such as RT en Español and Sputnik, anticipating greater Western control, espionage and censorship of social networks in our region.
The qualification of organized crime as a “primary threat” indicates that this issue will become one of the privileged axes to cover up the struggle of the United States and its NATO “partners” to maintain control of Latin America. In this way, it is much easier to sell military interventions to the U.S. public than sending in marines.
Another pretext for covering up U.S. interventions in the region will be (as it has been in the past), the humanitarian issue. In this regard, four definite targets have been identified: Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. It is worth mentioning that several of the annual military exercises of the Southern Command have “humanitarian” components, either under the guise of attention to natural or environmental disasters.
The United States will reinforce the pressures (they call them “alliances”) towards the countries of the region so that they do not ally with China and Russia. The “ultimate” fight has been defined by the head of the Southern Command herself as an ideological one.
An important support base for SOUTHCOM in the region is Colombia (a NATO “partner”), which has already provided military training to several countries including Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Paraguay. All this in Spanish and at a very low cost, according to Richardson.
Arms sales, military financing and joint maneuvers with armies in the region will continue, as well as the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, heir to the opprobrious School of the Americas. This is not limited to the U.S. regular army; the U.S. National Guard itself participates in joint maneuvers with Latin American armies.
Throughout the report, reference is made to the need to do as much as possible with the money available, which is understandable since it is a speech addressed to those who will approve the country’s budget, but a not minor fact is that the hospital ship USNS COMFORT reduced the number of days of its medical visits to countries in the region to 30 percent of what is customary.
The United States intends to counteract China’s influence in the region, among other things through the massive use of information and intelligence. In key areas such as aerospace, they promise to move nimbly to supply the needs of our countries before China, but it is impossible to see a willingness and a possibility that the United States will offer a “new deal” to our region in terms of investment given its structural problems.
The United States today is weaker on a global scale than it has been in the last 100 years, but the countries of the region are also very weak, having for the most part relegated the discourse of sovereignty and the unity of the Patria Grande to ceremonial occasions. This situation must change, and only political will will will make it possible to achieve this.
There are several countries that are not mentioned in Richardson’s report. Among those countries is Bolivia, which together with Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela also belongs to the “axis of evil” in the region. Nor is there any mention in the report of most of the countries with self-defined progressive governments in the region – the most obvious case being Mexico. These countries should not believe that the United States has forgotten about them; on the contrary, they are in the crosshairs. Often the role of “partner” of the United States is the least enviable of all, because the Western powers have simply never known partners, only vassals.
Originally Published in Spanish
Translation by Internationalist 360°
Featured Image: The combatant command has responsibility for U.S. defense strategy in Central and South America and the Caribbean. This includes 31 nations as well as 12 dependencies and areas of special sovereignty. | U.S. Department of Defense
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