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Über dieses Buch

This book explores domestic opposition to formal US military bases in Latin America, and provides evidence of a growing network of informal and secretive base-like arrangements that supports US military operations in the Latin American Region.




The US military lost the Howard Air Force base, one of its most valuable operating locations in Latin America, when it returned to Panama its possessions in 1999. Soon after, the United States repeatedly used surveillance flights to monitor Venezuelan territory, and Venezuela’s new president, Hugo Chávez, denied the use of its airspace to US military planes. The loss of the US bases in Panama and Venezuela’s reluctance to allow US flights over its territory left a considerable gap in US surveillance capabilities in the area connecting Central America with South America, an area that was key to controlling drug trafficking and illegal migration.
Sebastian E. Bitar

1. US Bases in Latin America

The United States has a long history of maintaining military installations in Latin America. The permanent presence of US bases has its origins in the construction of the Panama Canal, and the eviction of Spain from Puerto Rico and Cuba. These three events were the foundation of a network of bases that expanded and contracted throughout the twentieth century, depending on US security concerns. From these bases the United States enhanced its defenses when its security was challenged, and also launched military interventions against Latin American and Caribbean countries to protect US interests beyond its borders. US interventionism and its military presence in the region were a major concern for Latin Americans, who often saw their autonomy as being curtailed. But the US military has not always been opposed in the region. On the contrary, examples abound of Latin American governments requesting US military operations in their territories, as well as military aid and training.
Sebastian E. Bitar

2. Base Politics: Conceptual Framework

US military bases overseas sustain the projection of The United States as a superpower on a global scale. Ranging from full-sized townships with multiple facilities to small installations for storing pieces of strategic equipment, US military bases around the globe serve as multipliers of the capacity of the United States to act as a superpower in the international system (Lutz, 2009). But in order to sustain a network of bases, the United States has had to establish different forms of legal and semilegal arrangements, where the host nation permits the use of a part of its territory for US installations. In many cases, these arrangements are not problematic, but in some cases they become major problems for the US military. First, host nations might demand increased rents or benefits from the United States in order to open a new base or maintain an existing one, and the threat of eviction is always present. Second, even when governments in the host nation are willing to maintain a US base, domestic opposition might turn it into a political issue and challenge the government on the grounds that it is compromising the sovereignty of the country.
Sebastian E. Bitar

3. Successful Basing Agreements

This chapter analyzes the successful basing negotiations that the United States conducted in Latin American countries in the 1990s, which resulted in the installation of the Manta Air Base, Ecuador and the installation and later renewal of the Comalapa Air Base, El Salvador. The chapter is the shortest of the empirical section of the book, since it looks quickly at the few cases where formal basing negotiations actually worked in the 1990s, as opposed to the failed negotiations in the 2000s that I seek to examine later. The chapter briefly surveys the current academic literature to describe the party system and the strength of the domestic opposition in both countries, and explores how domestic politics affected the ability of host governments to accept foreign military bases. The chapter then analyzes the opening of the Comalapa base in El Salvador, with a focus on the domestic political dynamics and the role of the opposition party, the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), and the renewal of the base lease later. Similarly, the chapter continues with a discussion about the domestic political dynamics that allowed the installation of the US air base in Manta, Ecuador.
Sebastian E. Bitar

4. Failed Basing Agreements I: Ecuador’s Domestic Transformation and the Loss of Manta

A series of economic and political crises at the beginning of the twenty-first century created a decade of extreme political instability in Ecuador. Between 1996 and 2006, no president was able to hold power for a complete constitutional term. Popular resistance and anti-US sentiment grew in the country as the relationship with Washington did not seem to benefit the Ecuadorean people during times of crisis. As the banking system and the national currency collapsed, civil society organizations, including labor unions and indigenous movements, blamed the Ecuadorean elite for siding with the United States and foreign capital instead of protecting the interests of the Ecuadorean people.
Sebastian E. Bitar

5. Failed Basing Agreements II: The Seven Formal Bases in Colombia

Between 2006 and 2010 the United States and Colombia negotiated an agreement allowing the installation of seven Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) in Colombian territory (Carvajal & Cardona, 2011). The governments of both countries shared an interest in moving and expanding US operations to Colombia from the air base in Manta, Ecuador, which was due to be closed in 2009 (see chapter 3).
Sebastian E. Bitar

6. Quasi-bases in Latin America

The cases of El Salvador, Ecuador, and Colombia illustrated in the previous chapters how formal basing negotiations succeed or fail. The ideal-typical model developed in chapter 2 was useful to turn the attention to the domestic political challenges that help explain the success or failure of formal basing agreements. But in order to explain why the United States has failed to open or maintain formal bases in Latin America, we need to understand the emergence of quasi-bases as an alternative to formal bases, and their use in accomplishing the objectives of US security policy in Latin America. Instead of retreating from the region as a result of failed negotiations, the US military has found ways to operate from an expanding network of quasi-bases in the region.
Sebastian E. Bitar


Through this book, I have sought to provide an explanation of why formal basing agreements have not commonly been successful in Latin America since the start of the twenty-first century. The book has considered negotiations where formal bases have succeeded and a series of cases where they did not. The explanation for the different outcomes seems to come, not from the diverging preferences of national governments, but from the domestic processes that allowed or blocked basing negotiations, despite government preferences.
Sebastian E. Bitar


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