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12 September 2008

Cuban missile crisis II?

A ratcheting up of tension in the Caribbean is underway with the deployment of ships and other milit

By Kenzie Eliasen

The black shadow of the Cuban missile crisis, that series of miscalculations and mishaps which brought the world closer to the abyss of nuclear war in 1962 than ever before or since, is rapidly falling over the Caribbean once again.

In July the US government decided to resurrect its navy’s Fourth Fleet for the first time since 1950 and get it sailing round the Western Hemisphere. The idea, according to the US Navy is to “promote coalition building and deter aggression” and “to promote peace, stability, and prosperity”. That is a very tall order. For one thing it is difficult to see any Latin American state threatening the US with the sort of military aggression which could be repelled with warships. For a second thing the Bush government has few allies now in Latin America with whom to build coalitions.

President Hugo Chávez, for instance, is still smarting from Washington’s backing of the brief military coup of 2002 which overthrew him for 48 hours in favour of a conservative businessman who closed down Congress and sacked the judges. Evo Morales, the popular and democratically elected president of Bolivia, has just announced the expulsion of the US ambassador who, he said, has been implicated in the violent efforts of right-wing politicians in the oil-rich Santa Cruz region and elsewhere to secede

And the idea of such US naval vessels promoting “peace, stability and prosperity” in the light of its record of supporting military dictatorships from Chile and Argentina to the Dominican Republic makes one think back to Gandhi. His response to a question about what he thought of Western civilisation was, “It would be a good thing.”

The revival of the Fourth Fleet has coincided with the overflight of Venezuelan islands by US warplanes based in the Netherlands Antilles just off the Venezuelan coast. As usual in such an event, Washington put this down to “navigational errors” by US pilots – a worrying state of affairs, even if the excuse were true. The Brazilians for their part are worrying about US warships nosing around the vast, newly discovered offshore oilfields which hold an important key to Brazil’s prosperity and probably entry into OPEC. The Ecuadoreans have given the US notice to quit their base at Manta before the end of this year.

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In the next few weeks the situation in the Caribbean cockpit is going to get much more tense. Within weeks of the Georgian actions in South Ossetia, mounted with US and Israeli help on the first day of the Olympic Games, Russians bombers have just landed in Venezuela and its ports are preparing to welcome next month a big Russian naval force including the heavy cruiser Peter the Great and an anti-submarine warship. There are 1,000 men aboard. There may well be Russo-Venezuelan war games.

Washington’s only big ally is President Álvaro Uribe in Colombia and the shine is coming off him. Earlier this week Venezuelans deported back to his homeland a former Colombian minister of agriculture who had crossed into Venezuela with false papers. Álvaro Araújo Nogueira, who formerly ran a landowners’ bank, the Caja Agraria, is said to have the closes ties to extreme right-wing paramilitary terrorists and has been on the run since March last year. He has been evading questions about the kidnapping of Víctor Ochoa, a local politician during the 2002 elections: his son, also Álvaro, is in prison charged with similar links: his daughter María Consuelo was Colombian foreign minister until her family history caught up with her last year.

Colombia, which is Washington’s ally in the so-called “War on Drugs” – the campaign which targets cocaine and heroin but ignores the really important and dangerous drugs like alcohol and tobacco – is lauded by the US as a beacon of democracy and is supplied with arms by Britain.

In fact the truth behind the propaganda is that Colombia is a nest of right-wing extremism and terror with its Supreme Court ordering the arrest of 33 members of congress for links with the paramilitaries and another 30 are about to be pounced on.

This month at long last Rito Alejo del Río, a retired general for long accused of revolting murders of country people in his so-called “War on Terror”, had his collar felt at the Military Club in Bogotá and has been put away – again.

Meanwhile the UK’s Trade Union Congress conference a strong call went out from delegates to halt the supplies of British weapons to the Uribe regime which rules a country where the rights – and lives – of trade unionists are worth very little.

If Britain can suspend arms shipments to Colombia; if the US suspends naval operations around Latin America which it can’t afford; if Russia brings home the Peter the Great and if President Uribe cracks down on his paramilitary terrorists there will be relief all round. If not, Caribbean crisis will be with us again – with a vengeance.

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