Pentagon-funded base construction in 2009-10

Latin America and the Caribbean

Every year, at least until 2013, the Defense Department must report to Congress about how it uses its rather untransparent counter-narcotics budget to give aid to other countries' militaries and police. We endeavor to obtain those reports, and usually succeed (they are here.)

We recently got a copy of the report covering aid in 2010. One of the types of aid the Defense Department can provide is "The establishment ... and operation of bases of operations or training facilities for the purpose of facilitating counter-drug activities," including facilities "of a foreign law enforcement agency outside the United States." In other words, building military and police bases in other countries.

As in previous years, the report lists the sites where the Defense Department used its counternarcotics budget to build or maintain bases. This map, created with major help from WOLA Intern Carlos Hasbún, shows where these construction sites were in 2009 and 2010.

View Defense Department Counter-Drug Construction Projects in a larger map

This map should not be read as a map of "U.S. bases" in the region. We do not know if U.S. personnel are present at any of these sites, or even whether they regularly get permission to visit them. (However, the fact that they spent significant amounts of money to build facilities at these bases probably confers some privileges on U.S. personnel.)

A few highlights:

  • Note the $754,000 spent in 2009 to build an operations center and barracks at the Poptún headquarters of the Guatemalan Army's special forces, the Kaibiles. This is despite a ban on using foreign aid (but not Defense) funds to support the Guatemalan Army because of longstanding human rights concerns. It is also despite the Kaibiles' notorious reputation as the perpetrators of some of the bloodiest massacres in Guatemala's civil war, as well as the widely alleged presence of many ex-Kaibiles among Mexico's Zetas organized crime group.
  • Note the large contracts for helicopter facilities and fuel for Colombia. Amid shrinking U.S. assistance and an effort to "Colombianize" U.S.-supported aid programs, the report tells us that fuel support for Colombian Navy riverine operations was to end in 2010.
  • Note the profusion of maritime base construction in Central America, an evident attempt to improve local forces' ability to curtail the constant arrival of narcotraffickers' boats to Central American shores.
  • Despite their leaders' fiery criticisms of U.S. foreign policy, base construction and maintenance continued in Ecuador and Nicaragua.