On Apr. 24, 2008, the Dept. of Defense formally announced the re-establishment of the Fourth Fleet.[1]  --  The news received some regional coverage (e.g. in the Miami Herald), but has been ignored by most of the U.S. mainstream media.  --  On May 4, Fidel Castro, in his new guise as newspaper columnist, published a piece noting that the decision to revive the Fourth Fleet had been revealed several weeks earlier, and was "vigorously condemned by Latin American leaders at the Rio Group meeting held in the Dominican Republic’s capital."[2]  --  Castro's article led to two pieces on the Fourth Fleet by AFP, in which U.S. leaders emphasized the benign purposes of what was presented as a "only an administrative measure that assigns no permanent naval assets to U.S. forces in Latin America."[3,4]  --  Reuters also published an article in which U.S. spokespersons promised to "respect Brazil's maritime claims, including offshore oil reserves" and stressed "humanitarian" purposes.[5]  --  A biweekly maritime paper published in San Diego invoked Americans' "personal security" and said American "boaters "should be relieved to know that Uncle Sam is back to protect them . . . the Navy is working hard to keep U.S. boaters safe in southern waters."[6]  --  Council on Hemispheric Affairs Director Larry Birns dismissed such explanations in his analysis:  "The Fleet’s rebirth implies that Washington’s gunboat diplomacy represents a new call to arms.  The U.S. may again be prepared to use the prospect of military force if it is found necessary to protect U.S. national interests in Latin America.  In particular, the possibility of using the Fourth Fleet already seems to be involved in a calculated and provocative move against Washington’s current bête noire, Hugo Chávez."[7] ...

1.

IMMEDIATE RELEASE No. 338-07

NAVY RE-ESTABLISHES U.S. FOURTH FLEET

Department of Defense
April 24, 2008

http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=11862

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead announced today the re-establishment of the U.S. Fourth Fleet and assigned Rear Adm. Joseph D. Kernan, currently serving as commander, Naval Special Warfare Command, as its new commander. Fourth Fleet will be responsible for U.S. Navy ships, aircraft, and submarines operating in the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

U.S. Fourth Fleet will be dual-hatted with the existing commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (NAVSO), currently located in Mayport, Fla. U.S. Fourth Fleet has been re-established to address the increased role of maritime forces in the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) area of operations, and to demonstrate U.S. commitment to regional partners.

“Re-establishing the Fourth Fleet recognizes the immense importance of maritime security in the southern part of the Western Hemisphere, and signals our support and interest in the civil and military maritime services in Central and South America,” said Roughead. “Our maritime strategy raises the importance of working with international partners as the basis for global maritime security. This change increases our emphasis in the region on employing naval forces to build confidence and trust among nations through collective maritime security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interests. “

Effective July 1, the command will have operational responsibility for U.S. Navy assets assigned from east and west coast fleets to operate in the SOUTHCOM area. As a result, U.S. Fourth Fleet will not involve an increase in forces assigned in Mayport, Fla. These assets will conduct varying missions including a range of contingency operations, counter narcoterrorism, and theater security cooperation (TSC) activities. TSC includes military-to-military interaction and bilateral training opportunities as well as humanitarian assistance and in-country partnerships.

U.S. Fourth Fleet will retain responsibility as NAVSO, the Navy component command for SOUTHCOM. Its mission is to direct U.S. naval forces operating in the Caribbean, and Central and South American regions and interact with partner nation navies to shape the maritime environment.

Kernan will be the first Navy SEAL to serve as a numbered fleet commander.

For more information on U.S. Fourth Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, including the map of its area of responsibility, go to http://www.cusns.navy.mil .

2.

THE UNITED STATES' HEMISPHERIC RESPONSE: A FOURTH INTERVENTION FLEET
By Fidel Castro Ruz

Fog City Journal
May 7, 2008 (posted May 4)

Original source: Fog City Journal

Editor’s Note: It’s now official, the Pentagon announced in late April plans to reconstitute the U.S. Navy’s Fourth Fleet with the mission of patrolling Latin America and the Caribbean. Could it be that the U.S. is considering military action against oil-rich Venezuela?

It had come into being in 1943 as a means of combating Nazi submarines and protecting navigation routes during the Second World War. It was decommissioned in 1950, when it became superfluous. The South Command was designed to meet the United States’ hegemonic needs in our region at the time. After 48 years, however, it has recently been resurrected, and its interventionist aims need not be proved: U.S. military chiefs themselves divulge these in their declarations in a natural, spontaneous, at times discreet fashion. Overwhelmed by problems with food prices, energy, unequal trade, the economic recession which affects the most important market their products have; inflation, climate change, and the investments required to satisfy their consumer dreams, they mismanage the time and energy of leaders and subordinates alike.

Truth is the decision to reassemble the Fourth Fleet was announced the first week of April, almost a month after the Ecuadorian territory was attacked with U.S. bombs and technology and when, owing to U.S. pressures citizens of different countries were killed or wounded. This was vigorously condemned by Latin American leaders at the Rio Group meeting held in the Dominican Republic’s capital.

But worst still is that this is taking place at a time when the dismemberment of Bolivia encouraged by the United States meets with nearly unanimous condemnation. U.S. military chiefs themselves have explained they will be responsible for over 30 countries and for covering 15.6 million square miles of neighboring waters in both Central and South America, the Caribbean Sea and its 12 islands, Mexico, and the European territories this side of the Atlantic.

The United States has 10 Nimitz aircraft carriers whose parameters, more or less similar, are the following: maximum load capacity of between 101 and 104 thousand tons; 999-feet-long and 230.4-feet-wide deck; 2 nuclear reactors; maximum speed of 35 miles/hour; capacity for 90 war planes. The last to be commissioned bears the name of George H.W. Bush, the current president’s father. It has already been baptized with a bottle of champagne by the progenitor himself and should be ready to join the other vessels in coming months.

No other country in the world can boast of a vessel like these, equipped with sophisticated nuclear weapons, able to get within a few miles of any of our countries. The next aircraft carrier to be commissioned, the USS Gerald Ford, will be a new type of vessel which employs stealth technologies that cannot be detected by radars and electromagnetic weapons. The main manufacturer of the two types of vessels is Northrop Grumman, whose current president is also a member of the board of directors of the U.S. oil company Chevron-Texaco. The last Nimitz cost six billion dollars. This did not include the cost of the planes, projectiles, or operations, which can reach figures in the billions. It sounds like a science fiction story. With that money, the lives of millions of children could have been saved.

What is the declared objective of the 4th Fleet? “To combat terrorism and illegal activities such as drug trafficking,” not to mention sending a message to Venezuela and the rest of the region. It has been announced that it will begin operations next July 1st.

Head of the South Command U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavrides has stated that the United States needs to work harder in “the market of ideas, to win over the hearts and minds” of the people in the region.

The United States has already deployed the Second, Third, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh fleets in the Western Atlantic, Eastern Pacific, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Eastern Atlantic, and Western Pacific Oceans. The Fourth Fleet was needed to patrol all the seas worldwide. The United States has a total of nine [sic -- the correct number is ten, as Castro stated four paragraphs earlier.] Nimitz aircraft carriers, active or nearly ready for combat, such as the George H.W. Bush. It has sufficient reserves to triple or quadruple the power of any of its fleets in a given theater of operations.

The aircraft carriers and nuclear bombs our countries are threatened with serve to spread terror and death, but not to combat terrorism and illegal activities.

They should also serve to fill the empire’s lackeys with shame and strengthen solidarity among the peoples.

3.

NEW U.S. FOURTH FLEET RAISES QUESTION: GUNBOAT DIPLOMACY?

Agence France-Presse
May 10, 2008

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gTydi81nrsoFzDYW6KqZpbMgaj7A

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Navy has raised the profile of its operations in Latin America, reviving the U.S. Fourth Fleet after nearly a 60-year slumber.

And some, beginning with Cuba's Fidel Castro, are asking why.

The ailing Castro raised the question in a column published Monday in the Communist Party newspaper Granma, suggesting it signaled a return to gunboat diplomacy.

"The aircraft carriers and nuclear bombs that threaten our countries are used to sow terror and death, but not to combat terrorism and illegal activities," he wrote on Monday.

Evo Morales, president of landlocked Bolivia, called it "the Fourth Fleet of intervention" in an interview with Cuban television.

The U.S. Navy insists the re-establishment of the fleet is only an administrative measure that assigns no permanent naval assets to U.S. forces in Latin America.

U.S. warships and submarines will come under the fleet's control as they pass into the Caribbean and waters off the coast of Central and South America, the navy says.

The move also puts the U.S. naval command for the region, which is headquartered in Mayport, Florida, directly under the chief of U.S. naval operations, positioning it to compete bureaucratically for assets and resources, officials and analysts say.

Unlike the other U.S. fleets, which are led by three-star admirals, the Fourth Fleet will be led by a two-star, Rear Admiral Joseph Kernan, when it goes into operation July 1.

Re-establishing the Fourth Fleet in itself is largely symbolic, analysts say.

Rear Admiral James Stevenson, the current commander of U.S. naval forces in the region, said it "sends the right signal, even to the people that you know aren't necessarily our greatest supporters."

But what is the signal?

"On the one hand in the region there are those who make the argument, "Uh-oh, here we go again," said Frank Mora, a professor at the National War College.

"The United States' obsession with Venezuela, Cuba, and other things indicates they are going to use more military force, going to use that instrument more often," he said.

The opposite view, one that Mora said he shared, is "this is not about the United States trying to use this military instrument to invade or cooerce any country, but to actually work together with other countries to deal with common threats and challenges."

The United States has watched with concern as leftists have been elected to power in a string of Latin American countries, sometimes with an assist from oil-rich Venezuela and its vehemently anti-American President Hugo Chavez.

Venezuela's acquisition of high performance fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, and diesel submarines also have raised flags for the U.S. military.

But since becoming head of the U.S. Southern Command in 2006, Admiral James Stavridis has taken a soft power approach to the region, pushing exercises, port visits and humanitarian missions to better U.S. relations.

An amphibious assault ship, the USS Boxer, is currently working its way down the Pacific coast of Central America and South America with doctors, dentists, and engineers to work on community health care and construction projects.

The USS Kearsarge, another amphibious assault ship, will deploy from August through November on a similar humanitarian mission with stops in six countries in the Caribbean and South America.

The aircraft carrier USS George Washington made a port visit in Rio de Janeiro at the end of April, and took part in exercises with the Brazilian and Argentine navies.

"This doesn't have to be seen as some kind of deterrence, or as threatening things for countries. That's not the intent," said Jay Cope, a retired army colonel and former chief of staff at the US Southern Command.

Stavridis' aim is broader than that, he said.

"Maybe once upon a time, back in the Cold War era, we liked to be able to think of this as sort of our backyard. The fact is today that is really a bad way to look at this region. It's not our backyard.

"We have got to compete with other countries of this world for our relationships with the countries of this hemisphere," he said.

Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, said the muted U.S. response in March when Venezuela and Colombia nearly went to war over a raid against leftist guerrillas in Ecuador "suggests that the whole notion of a backyard is gone really."

"Is it because the U.S. now recognizes Latin America is more mature, that it can deal with its problems on its own, and that it's giving it space to do so? "Or is it that basically that the U.S. doesn't care right now, it just doesn't feel threatened by all this? It's impossible to know at this point," he said.

4.

U.S. ADMIRAL REASSURES LatAm MILITARY ON FLEET DEPLOYMENT

Agence France-Presse
May 15, 2008

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5jnePZPvQ5OWQZsNk_wease40vu9Q

BRASILIA -- The commander of U.S. Southern Command, Admiral James Stavridis, sought Thursday to reassure Latin American military chiefs that reinstating the U.S. Fourth Fleet in the region posed them no threat.

"It is not an offensive force in any way," he told reporters after a meeting of military chiefs from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay in Brasilia.

"The IV Fleet's entire purpose is cooperation, friendship, response to natural disaster, missions of peace and, yes, there will be counter-narcotics work, as is traditional."

The Navy's announcement last month that it was reviving the fleet after a nearly 60-year slumber, to direct increasing American naval presence in the Caribbean and Latin America, has provoked concern among leaders in the region.

Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro said it signaled a return to gunboat diplomacy, while Bolivian President Evo Morales called it "the Fourth Fleet of intervention."

The Fourth Fleet was a major U.S. navy command during World War II when it was used to enforce blockades and protect against enemy submarines and raiders, but was eliminated in the 1950s.

From July 1 it will take operational responsibility over navy ships assigned to the region from the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific Fleets, based out of Florida.

Stavridis said the fleet's objectives included training exercises and humanitarian relief, adding: "It is strictly for planning and training.

"When the IV Fleet executes one of the missions that I mention, it will do so with ships that are given to it by the U.S. Navy, for that mission. There is no aircraft carrier in the IV Fleet."

5.

U.S. REASSURES BRAZIL ON TERRITORIAL WATERS AND FLEET
By Raymond Colitt

Reuters
May 15, 2008

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSN1530837620080515

 

BRASILIA -- The United States will respect Brazil's maritime claims, including offshore oil reserves, and will use a new naval fleet in Latin America mostly for peaceful purposes, the U.S. commander for the region said on Thursday.

The head of Brazil's oil market regulator had said on Wednesday he was worried the United States might contest the country's rights over huge oil reserves lying in a so-called exclusive economic zone.

"The United States will respect the territorial seas and exclusive economic zones of nations of the world," Adm. James Stavridis, head of the U.S. Southern Command, told reporters in Brasilia when asked about Brazil's concern.

The 1994 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the United States has signed but not ratified, says coastal states have exclusive economic zones extending 200 nautical miles, where they enjoy exclusive rights over all natural resources.

The U.S. Fourth Fleet, which the Navy is re-establishing 58 years after decommissioning it, will help combat drug trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean, Stavridis said at the end of a defense conference.

But this did not indicate an upsurge in counter-narcotics operations, Stavridis said.

"It is not an offensive force in any way," he said.

Acknowledging the fleet had been "a subject of concern" in the region, the admiral said it would mainly support peacekeeping missions, aid in natural disasters, provide humanitarian relief, and take part in naval exercises.

"The largest ship that will work for the Fourth Fleet is a hospital ship," Stavridis said.

Brazil is not concerned about the new fleet, Brazilian Adm. Marcos Martins Torres said.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

6.

REVIVED FOURTH FLEET COVERS PACIFIC MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA
By Capt. Pat Rains

The Log (San Diego, CA)
May 15, 2008

 

http://www.thelog.com/news/logNewsArticle.aspx?x=6884

 

Boaters worried about their personal security while heading south should be relieved to know that Uncle Sam is back to protect them.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead announced last month the re-establishment of the U.S. Navy’s Fourth Fleet, which has brought an undisclosed number of naval ships, aircraft and submarines to cover the waters of Central America and the Eastern Pacific -- as well as South America and the Caribbean. The areas are known as “South COM.”

“Reconstituting the Fourth Fleet recognizes the immense importance of maritime security in the southern part of the Western Hemisphere, and sends a strong signal to all the civil and military maritime services in Central and Latin America,” the admiral told news sources in Mayport, Fla. U.S. sailors will be working with international partner military units for drug interdiction, counter-illicit trafficking, international security, and multinational training in the marine environment.

Boaters could expect more frequent boardings at sea. But don’t be miffed -- the Navy is working hard to keep U.S. boaters safe in southern waters.

The Fourth Fleet was established in 1943 to protect against enemy submarines, raiders and blockade runners, but the Second Fleet took over those duties in 1950. The new Fourth Fleet is headed by Rear Adm. Joseph D. Kernan, formerly commander of Naval Special Warfare.

7.

WASHINGTON REVIVES THE FOURTH FLEET: THE RETURN OF U.S. GUNBOAT DIPLOMACY TO LATIN AMERICA
By Larry Birns and Aviva Elzufon

** Administration not bothering to conceal implicit threat to the region -- After ignoring Latin America for most of his Presidency, Bush dispatches the Navy -- The steady remilitarization of Panama may provide a safe haven for the revitalized fleet -- FTA with Panama could grant U.S. access to canal zone military facility for Fourth Fleet -- Correa facetiously suggests that Manta be moved to Colombia  **

Council on Hemispheric Affairs
June 2, 2008

 

Original source: COHA

 

The dearth of diplomatic content in the April 24 Pentagon announcement left little mystery regarding the purpose behind Washington’s decision to reestablish the Fourth Fleet to patrol Latin American and Caribbean waters. As Washington shifts its attention back to the Western Hemisphere, it will have to grapple with issues that have been on the back burner for more than a decade. The return of the Fourth Fleet, largely unnoticed by the U.S. press, appears to represent a policy shift that projects an image of Washington once again asserting its military authority on the region, coincidentally coinciding with the announcement that Brazil has just launched a military initiative, the Conselho Sul-Americano de Defesa, embracing two of its neighbors with whom Washington has chilly relations.

THE RISE OF AN AUTONOMOUS LATIN AMERICA DURING A PERIOD OF U.S. NEGLECT

While Washington has been involved in the Middle East, a number of Latin American governments have been enjoying a degree of de facto freedom from the State Department’s traditionally pervasive influence. This has given regional policymakers the opportunity to implement economic models, trade patterns, and ideological commitments contrary to the liking of the U.S. Certainly, Venezuela’s Chavez stands out as the most energized and driven anti-U.S. regional leader, easily outranking Castro’s Cuba in regards to their contemporary influence. Not without his critics, the boldness of Chavez’s challenge to U.S. hemispheric supremacy and his willingness to duke it out mano-a-mano with the most powerful country in the world has aided his ascent to becoming a pivotal hemispheric leader. The surge in crude oil prices worldwide that began soon after Chávez took office, vaulting from $8 in 1998 to over $130 a barrel has today allowed him to implement an aggressive and foreseeing foreign trade and aid policy. Chávez single-handedly upgraded Venezuela’s military by using surplus petro-dollars to purchase large quantities of sophisticated Russian and Spanish military hardware.

In an apparent victory for Washington diplomacy, the socialist Chilean diplomat José Manuel Insulza was elected in 2005 to head the Organization of American States. Initially supporting the State Department’s perspective on trade strategy, he, in practice, asserted himself as a fairly reliable defender of Latin American autonomy. In 2006, Venezuela had fought a determined campaign against Washington favorite, Guatemala, to gain a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. To the dismay of both countries, a relatively “neutral” Panama eventually won the seat. While Washington campaigned to prevent Caracas from being seated, countries with compromised international standing such as Libya and Iran were chosen by their regional caucuses to the Security’s Council’s 2007-2009 term, without concerted U.S. opposition, indicating a lack of consistency in U.S. policy.

THE REGION'S ARRAY OF IDEOLOGIES AND BALANCE OF FORCES

The most significant legacy for Washington arising from its recent absence from American policy is the rise of ideologically left-leaning governments. This group of often like-minded leaders, sometimes referenced as the Pink Tide nations, is now considered a threat to Washington’s regional supremacy. At the forefront leftward shift are Venezuela’s Chavez, Bolivia’s Morales, Ecuador’s Correa, Cuba’s Castro, and Nicaragua’s Ortega. Comprising a more moderate left are Uruguay’s Vasquez and Paraguay’s Lugo. Brazil and Argentina, generally considered charter members of the Pink Tide countries, continue to deal with matters pragmatically, usually influenced by their status as regional heavyweights.

The U.S. only has two reliable allies in South America, Colombia’s Uribe and Peru’s Garcia. As these two leaders see it, it is in their best interest to not join the Pink Tide. Uribe, whose high domestic approval ratings reflect successes in his combating of the FARC, is receiving financial support from the U.S. Garcia, who tends to engage in “chameleon” politics, has made domestic policy rather than foreign policy his priority. This is in his best interest as he faces waning approval ratings that reflect the divisions within his ruling APRA party and the complex fall out from the trial of former dictator Alberto Fujimori.

THE WHITE HOUSE DOES NOT GET IT WHEN IT COMES TO LATIN AMERICA

The inattention to Latin America by the Bush Administration has created a debacle in recent years. The White House and the State Department did not place seasoned Latin Americanists at the top of the policymaking ladder. In spite of his Jamaican descent, for example, Colin Powell never demonstrated a strong interest in the region as Secretary of State. During Powell’s term, policy initiatives regarding Cuba were left almost exclusively to Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich, U.S. Diplomat Roger Noriega, and United States Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. These Cold War-era hawks continued to center regional policy on a decidedly anti-Cuban bias, while focusing a comparably hostile posture toward Hugo Chavez. Visits to the Latin America by U.S. leaders including Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice from April 25-30, 2005, to Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and El Salvador; President Bush in March 2007 to Brazil; and by then Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to Paraguay in April 2005, tended to be photo opportunities that did little to improve relations in any significant manner.

Recent U.S. policy initiatives in Latin America include the debut of the Central American Free Trade Agreement-Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR). Gaining the backing of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, CAFTA-DR will expose signatory countries economies to an influx of cheap U.S. subsidized agricultural produce and the domination by multi-national corporations that may stamp out local competition. Also, the shadowy, coerced ousting of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti in February 2004 had several members of the Caribbean Community upset with the U.S. and France of helping bring about the de-facto coup against the Haitian president.

NAVY PREPARES FOR THE FOURTH FLEET

The revived Fourth Fleet will be headquartered at the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) base at Mayport Naval Station in Florida. Rear Admiral Joseph Kernan, current commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, will direct it when it becomes operational on July 1, 2008. The degree of integration among the Fourth Fleet, SOUTHCOM, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other Homeland Security agencies in carrying out discreet operations in the area of anti-terrorism remains to be seen. The precise size of the fleet is also unclear. An April 24 Bloomberg report mentions that the fleet will be led by the nuclear aircraft carrier, USS George Washington. SOUTHCOM presently has eleven vessels that could potentially be placed under the authority of the Fourth Fleet. The head of SOUTHCOM, Admiral James G. Stavridis, is also a ranking naval officer. The working relationship among fleet commanders in terms of coordinating forces and missions could prove to be problematic.

This past April, vessels from the U.S., Brazil, and Argentina participated in UNITAS Atlantic, “a SOUTHCOM-sponsored multi-national naval exercise to enhance security cooperation.” Part of the series of international exercises that are emerging in the region, participating Latin American militaries saw UNITAS Atlantic as a way to train their personnel and gain access to greater military technologies. The USS George Washington was among the participating U.S. warships. In March-April of 2008, another military exercise, TRADEWINDS 2008, took place off the coast of the Dominican Republic and involved a number of Caribbean countries, the U.S., and the United Kingdom. Some Latin American and Caribbean military personnel may be excited by the arrival of the units of the Fourth Fleet at their docks with the possibility of obtaining valuable instruction from their U.S. and British counterparts while others will uncomfortably recall the days of the era of U.S. naval supremacy.

FRIENDLY PORTS

The emerging geopolitical situation in the Western Hemisphere calls into question where the friendly ports will be available for the Fourth Fleet to harbor. Ecuador’s Correa adamantly insists that he will not tolerate any renewal of the U.S. lease of Manta, a multipurpose facility located on Ecuador’s Pacific coastline, which expires in 2009. Rumors have been circulating that Peru is the next candidate for the U.S. to negotiate moorage rights, but President Alan Garcia repeatedly denies such speculations. With the loss of Manta, what other friendly harbors will exist in the region? A close ally of the U.S., President Uribe of Colombia, could invite the Manta base operation to relocate to [La] Guajira, near the border with Venezuela. Although the rumor received some validation by U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield, who previously served as ambassador to Venezuela, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos emphatically has denied the possible move.

Panama instead has emerged as one of the U.S.’s most plausible candidates. Recently, there have been steps taken which indicate that the country is cautiously militarizing. Panamanian President Martín Torrijos appointed military man Jaime Ruiz to the head of the police force on May 13 even though the country’s constitution states that it should be a civilian post. The Panamanian Minister of Government and Justice, Daniel Delgado Diamante, in reference to Merida Initiative (passed by the U.S. House of Foreign Affairs on May 14th and currently awaiting action Senate action, its goal is to combat crime and narco-trafficking in Mexico and Central America), has stated that Panama deserves a greater quantity of U.S. monetary aid since it previously seized 70 tons of cocaine, as opposed to Mexico’s 46 tons. If Panama is militarizing under the cover of its anti-drug efforts, then the government is likely to welcome U.S. economic aid, technology, equipment, and expertise. There is potential for the perfect swap; military aid for a naval haven for the Fourth Fleet. If U.S. anti-drug and anti-terrorism operations are moved from Manta, the next step could very well be relocating to La Gaujira or the Panama Canal among other possibilities.

THE FOURTH FLEET FROM A GEOPOLITICAL POINT OF VIEW

The revival of the Fourth Fleet may do little more than attempt to introduce a quick fix to Bush’s failed U.S. policy towards Latin America. The Fleet’s rebirth implies that Washington’s gunboat diplomacy represents a new call to arms. The U.S. may again be prepared to use the prospect of military force if it is found necessary to protect U.S. national interests in Latin America. In particular, the possibility of using the Fourth Fleet already seems to be involved in a calculated and provocative move against Washington’s current bête noire, Hugo Chávez. As Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, stated, “this change increases our emphasis in the region on employing naval forces to build confidence and trust […] through collective maritime security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interests.” The senior naval commander’s ominous words evoke sentiments akin to the collective security provisions of the Rio Pact of 1947, rather than a civic action template that stresses the use of military assistance mainly to provide humanitarian aid and relief. Traditionally organized along other lines, [it] requires a different type of explanation than the rationale given for the revival of the Fourth Fleet. Left-leaning Latin America has good reason to question the motives behind over the renewal of the U.S. notion that the Caribbean Sea is virtually mar americanus [sic -- properly, mare americanum ('American Sea')].

The Pentagon’s aspirations -- particularly during the tenure of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, to improve ties with militaries throughout the Americas by regular “ministerials,” could inadvertently encourage its Latin American counterparts to initiate similar scenarios of expansion, modernization, and the revival of their dangerous central roles plagued by past military juntas in their respective societies.

THE DISPATCH OF THE FOURTH FLEET: A TURN TO STYLE, NOT SUBSTANCE

Washington’s Fourth Fleet initiative is mainly not a welcomed development in U.S. Latin American policy relations. While raising apprehensions of covert U.S. military and intelligence ranks to the armed forces of hemispheric leftist regimes, as voiced by Correa of Ecuador in April 2008, the Fleet’s presence could also lead to the diminishment local funding for broad social and humanitarian needs as Latin America’s defense establishments will seek to bolster their budgets in response to the growing threat posed by neighboring militaries which are building up their armed forces. The return of gunboat diplomacy is only a confirmation to Latin America that the U.S. is unaware of some of the new realities as the region seeks out its destiny without the White House at its helm.

--This analysis was prepared by COHA Director Larry Birns and Research Associate Aviva Elzufon.