Latin America: A threat to America?

Dwight Peterson writes: I believe that Tim Brown's comments are well taken on security threats from Central America and that Jon Kofas' remarks are naive when it comes to our national security.  Grenada was building a mammoth airfield capable of handling all types of aircraft, and it was funded by declared enemies of USA.  El Salvador and Nicaragua were trying to impose governments hostile to us.  These locations could have become prospective launching sites of missiles and/or dirty bombs against our country.  They would have also, perhaps, been areas of penetration for terrorist intrusion into USA.  Chile under Allende was a powderkeg waiting to explode after the nationalization of businesses was completed.  During my two decades in Uruguay and Argentina there were always strong leftist movements, but they have largely disappeared by sometimes tragic action.

What is happening in Ciudad del Este in Paraguay today on the Argentine, Brazilian border?  There is a huge Arab population and smuggling and intrigue seems to rule.  There seems to be a sense of lawlessness and this frightens me.  Where is Chavez going in Venezuela and our friend Lula in Brazil?  We have been blessed in this country by our isolation between two oceans, so it makes defense a bit easier than it would in Europe or Asia.  But we must be vigilant regarding our neighbors.  We must strive to eliminate terrorism, but we must do it before it arrives in this country; thus, we seek it out at its source and cut its ugly head off and kill it.

Jon Kofas says "Does any one with any common sense and modicum of realism actually believe that the U.S., which spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined, has legitimate security concerns regarding Latin America?"  I believe that I am possessed with common sense and a modicum of realism, and I have concerns that harm can come to us from any place on earth and from whatever ideology because of inability to emulate our prosperity.  Mr. Kofas saves his most outlandish remarks for the end.  "And does majority in the rest of the world take seriously U.S. arguments that it is fighting to preserve its national security while spreading freedom and democracy, or do most people on this planet view the U.S. as the real threat to global security, freedom, and democracy?"  It is clear that our last elections show that people in this country clearly  appreciate and approve the actions of the Bush Administration.  I want to live in peace without terroristic bombings and enjoy the life style that this country offers to its residents.  Does Mr. Kofas actually believe that the U.S. is the real threat to global security, freedom and democracy?

I do not go to bed at night wondering or caring if the rest of the world loves America or not.  Sometimes I go to bed wondering why we spend so much money caring for other countries which malign us.  Power is never really sharedm so those less blessed must find accomodation with ideological compatibles.  The American sense of charity is unknown elsewhere in the world so I do not worry about our efforts to comply with ethical responsibilities. 

RH: One possibility is that Lopez Obrador will become the next president of Mexico, and that almost all Latin America will go socialist. Europe seems to be going socialist, and Latin American will be attuned to it.  If is is a socialism of the Chilean variety, the US can live with it.  Otherwise there will be problems.

Both Dwight Peterson and Clyde McMorrow know Latin America very well, but they certainly do not agree.  Clyde writes: Dwight Peterson's comments about Granada are just plain silly.  Granada was attempting to build an airfield far smaller than Los Angeles, Miami, Denver, Mexico City or Houston.  They were building a runway long enough to handle 747s, the largest transatlantic passenger plane of that time.  I suppose a runway for a 747 full of passengers could be considered a "mammoth airfield capable of handling all types of aircraft" since almost all military aircraft require much shorter runways.  Yes, it was being financed by that dastardly Fidel Castro, who violated U.S. interests by deposing the angelic Batista democracy, but do we need to go to war against everyone who has a financial interest with anyone but the World Bank?  Every location in the world and much of outer space could  "become prospective launching sites of (sic) missiles and/or dirty bombs against our country".  How about Granada just wanting to develop its own tourist industry, with European visitors possibly traveling on to Cuba, without the necessity of landing in Miami and dealing with the U.S. attempt to blockade Cuba?  Sometimes the truth can be found in the simple and the obvious.  The only reason we could have to fear the Terrorists of Granada is if we deny them the opportunity "to emulate our prosperity" by destroying their only industry, tourism.
As far as Paraguay is concerned, they have had a substantial Arab population as far back as I can remember.  Many of these Arabs are, in fact, Lebanese merchants operating without the benefit of clear documentation (smuggling).  Paraguay produces almost nothing but imports and exports goods that find there way to or from Brazil and Argentina.  Dwight should not be frightened.  These people know very well what they are doing and are participating in a market established by their grandparents.  However, he should probably not buy a Mercedes in Paraguay.
I hope Dwight invites me along when we go to South America to seek out the terrorists and cut off their ugly heads.  That should be a lot of fun.  Maybe he could point them out and I could lop off the offending member.

RH: The US has just decreed that passenger planes flying over the United States without landing here must supply a list of passengers for clearance. Foreign countries, especially Mexico and Canada, are displeased.
Jon Kofas writes: Perhaps I am naive in believing that the tiny island of Grenada posed a national security threat to the U.S.  However, the real issue is not what I nor any WAISer believes, but the perception of governments and people outside the U.S. The question we need to pose is whether the majority of the governments and people around the world agree with my analysis or with that of Cold Warriors who in the 1990s reinvented themselves as neo-cons in the absence of a Communist threat. While I have no doubt that  many WAISers concur with Mr. Dwight Peterson's and Mr. Tim Brown's views, do such views serve our best broader national interests which go beyond geopolitics? Can we make progress as a nation and make a contribution to civilization on all fronts from the arts to medical science by pursuing unilateralist-militarist foreign policy predicated on ever-rising defense spending? Have we lost all perspective regarding the limits of power?

Cuban exile Alberto Gutierrez writes: Of course it would be unrealistic to assume that Central America and all Latin America combined ever was a threat to the US. But that was precisely what Castro attempted, often with the help of the Soviet Union.  Castro was behind all the guerrillas and "liberation movements" that plagued Latin America years ago.  He supported with money General Velasco Alvarado to stage a leftist military coup in Peru. Indeed in Grenada the worrisome issue was the airport Castro began to construct in order to facilitate the traffic of Cuban airplanes to his African adventures. But at the same time his troops were protecting US oil interests in Angola. What is the "logical" explanation?.
Today Castro remains an influential figure among the Colombian narco-guerrillas and the "cocaleros" who follow the Bolivian Evo Morales. In Venezuela, more and more Chávez imitates Castro, and in Nicaragua Daniel Ortega expects a return to the presidential chair with the support of his two "compadres". I also heard that Castro favors López Obrador in Mexico.
I share Mr Peterson's concern for the border of Paraguay with Argentina and Brazil near Foz do Iguacú. The largest Moslem population of South America lives there. I am sure that most are hard-working and law-abiding people. But a few rotten apples can make a difference, and is easy to smell the smuggling operations on the air. About eigth years ago when I entered the Brazilian territory heading to the unique spectacle of Iguazú Falls, the police were not interested in passports, but in the registration papers of the Paraguayan taxi I had hired because the number of stolen cars.
I do not applaud the US interventions in Latin American. On the contrary. But, considering the warlike embraces among the "sister" republics of the region, I wonder how could it be if they ever have the equivalent  to the US military might. The US sense of charity is laudablem and quite a few countries do not appreciate it. On the other hand, US speech about spreading freedom and democracy sometimes doesn't fit with reality. Cuba is a good example.  Even setting aside our misgivings about the outcome of the Bay of Pigs invasion and a few minor incidents, Washington has done its best for the last four decades to protect Castro from Cuban exiles. We must strive to eliminate terrorism before arrives to this country. But are we doing enough in the right direction? Have we forgotten Osama bin Laden? It seems that he is no longer an important foe of this country. Inside US I see other potential threats to the life style Mr Peterson cites. Perhaps I should stop reading 1985.

R H: Does Alberto mean Orwell's 1984, thus  summarized by the Literature Network?: In 1984, Winston Smith lives in London which is part of the country Oceania. The world is divided into three countries that include the entire globe: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. Oceania, and both of the others, is a totalitarian society led by Big Brother, which censors everyone’s behavior, even their thoughts. Winston is disgusted with his oppressed life and secretly longs to join the fabled Brotherhood, a supposed group of underground rebels intent on overthrowing the government. Winston meets Julia and they secretly fall in love and have an affair, something which is considered a crime. One day, while walking home, Winston encounters O'Brien, an inner party member, who gives Winston his address. Winston had exchanged glances with O'Brien before and had dreams about him giving him the impression that O'Brien was a member of the Brotherhood. Since Julia hated the party as much as Winston did, they went to O'Brien’s house together,where they were introduced into the Brotherhood. O'Brien is actually a faithful member of the Inner-Party and this is actually a trap for Winston, a trap that O'Brien has been cleverly setting for seven years. Winston and Julia are sent to the Ministry of Love which is a sort of rehabilitation center for criminals accused of thoughtcrime. There, Winston was separated from Julia, and tortured until his beliefs coincided with those of the Party. Winston denounces everything he believed him, even his love for Julia, and was released back into the public where he wastes his days at the Chestnut Tree drinking gin.

RH: Orwell's vision of 1984 turned out to be totally wrong, but Alberto may think that the description of Oceania fits Castro's Cuba.

Tim Brown answers Clyde McMorrow: What a series of silly comments! To begin with, to my knowledge, the US had never acted against Granada, which is in Spain. At the very least you have an obligation to get the name of the country right!  But getting the name of the country wrong is the least of Mr. McMorrow's errors. I had been Deputy Director for Cuba at State for two years just before going as Consul General in Martinique. We had a great deal of very concrete information that what was being built was far more than just a large civilian airport for tourism. Grenada had a hard left government, and Cuba was taking advantage of the situation to establish bases that could have been used to interdict Caribbean SLOCs.
As to Paraguay, where I served in the '70s before being Desk Officer in 1979-80, Mr. McMorrow has both a very short memory and bad reference resources.  While it does have many persons of Middle East ancestry, there are far fewer of them than, let's say, Germans.  It was true, Paraguay has historically been involved in  "unregistered trade". But this was a statistical aberration. Studies I did indicated that the value of these imports and exports were roughly equal to registered trade. But when the two were combined, all this did was raise Paraguay's M/X from levels more or lest half those of other South American countries to levels of trade roughly comparable to the rest of Latin America.  Again true, while it was involved in lots of what its neighbors call smuggling, from the Paraguayan perspective these goods enter and leave legally. In value terms both Panama and Belize were bigger entrepots. And don't even start on the levels of smuggling in and out of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, at times Chile and Peru!
As to Paraguay's productivity, while it isn't a rich country, it is not true to say that it "produces almost nothing."  It produces cattle and soy beans for starters and more electricity per capita than Switzerland.. And, finally, unless things have changed, Paraguay probably is still the best place in South America to buy a Mercedes!

RH: The question is: Are the Moslems in Paraguay engaged in anti.US activity?
Dwight Peterson writes: I am replying to comments by Clyde McMorrow on my recent posting.  I was talking about the island of Grenada in the Caribbean, which has expelled its marxist thugs and is expanding its tourism industry through aggressive solicitation from a friendly populace.  I presume Mr. McMorrow was talking of the island as well rather than Granada, the Moorish architectural gem in Spain.  I do not see why Mr. McMorrow sees my comments as silly but sometimes those who do not believe there are people who plot our demise are blinded by their naivete.   Missile projection technology is limited by distance and Grenada, like Cuba, is very close to our country, indeed
Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile are the four countries of South America that I lived and worked in and I was always conscious of a large and vocal Arab population in each country.  Ciudad del Este, Paraguay had a population of less than one thousand under Stroessner and today has a population of almost 250,000 in a country of just over 6,000,000.  There is an Arab community of immigrants nearly 30,000 strong and, yes, they are for the most part Lebanese who control the smuggling activity.  Arab businessmen send large amounts of money abroad to purchase goods for import and, in some cases, they are suspected to be financially aiding Arab terrorist groups.  Local police and international security agencies suspect that the amount of money from smuggling and money laundering going out of Paraguay to overseas banks is far in excess of any presumptive business activity and it suggests to local police officials that some in the Arab community are supporting radical terrorism with the spoils of illegal trade.  The U. S. State Department advises that there are individuals and organizations with ties to extremist groups operating in Ciudad del Este and along the Tri-border area between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. 


Clyde McMorrow writes: Sorry again about the misspelling of Grenada.  As far as information at the State Department, the current events indicate quite clearly that there is little head paid to actual information unless it supports the political view of the administration.  In Tim Brown's earlier discussion he spoke of his fear of Arabs in Paraguay.  I responded that there have been "Arabs" in Paraguay for a long time.  I don't understand why we are now discussing Germans.  The fact that goods enter and leave Paraguay legally doesn't make any difference if the final disposition is that they are smuggled into or out of Brazil or Argentina.  I wasn't going to start on smuggling into or out of Brazil and Argentina¡ but Tim must see the connection as it relates to Paraguay.
When I said Paraguay produces almost nothing I meant in the way of manufactured goods.  As far as soybeans, Paraguay does produce about 1.4% of the world's exported beans.  Most of this goes to Brazil which produces about 27% of exported beans.  Paraguayan electricity comes from Itaipú and Yacyretá and and represents about 200 times Paraguayan consumption.  These are two of the largest hydroelectric projects in the world.  Paraguay's contribution is that it occupies one side of the river.  Essentially all of the investment and construction expertise for Itaipú came from Brazil, while Argentina made the vast majority of contributions for Yacryetá.  If one were to eliminate these two projects, Paraguayan electrical production would be essentially nothing.
I didn't mean to disparage Paraguayan Mercedes.  Paraguay is a wonderful place to purchase these fine cars, though almost all of the production of the Mercedes plant in Paraguay goes to Brazil. I have visited this facility in person.  It is unconnected with the German firm of the same name.  Paraguayans prefer to buy cars from Brazil.  I merely suggested that if Tim is concerned about smuggling in this region, he might want to avoid this market sector.
I don't personally know any real Arabs from this region though I know many people who the locals call Arabs.  These include Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians and Iranians.  Generally they are in the mercantile trades and their children tend to become engineers, doctors or teachers.  There are some families that have amassed great wealth, but most manage small shops or work for engineering firms.  I worked for Brown Boveri at the time so it is likely that I was exposed to more engineers than others.
As far as the question about anti-US activity, what could one do from Paraguay? 

RH: The Mercedes plant in Paraguay is involved in intellectual theft if it uses the name without an agreement with the German original. As for the groups knows as Arabs, Iranians would feel insulted to be thus described.  There is a hierarchy of names. "Turco" is the lowest, then comes Arabe, then Sirio-libanés, amd finally Libanés.  I believe Alem of Argentina is described as a sirio-libanés.  There are substantial German colonies in the Southern Cone.  They and the "Arabs" could harm the US by  promoting a Latin American common market hostile to the US. That is the aim of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Tim Ashby responds:to Clyde McMorrow: I grew up in Grenada (not "Granada") and was a businessman there during the 1979 Marxist coup d'etat.  In fact, my house was at Pt. Salines, directly across the road from the main Cuban camp for the airport engineering team, and I befriended several of the Cuban engineers.  Because I was in the tourism business at the time, I can assure Clyde that the Bishop regime actively discouraged tourism, and the "international airport" had camouflaged anti-aircraft artillery emplacements encircling it long before the 1983 US invasion.  I suggest that Clyde read my book The Bear In The Back Yard: Moscow's Caribbean Strategy (DC Heath, 1987), based on my PhD dissertation, which was considered by both Republican and Democratic policy makers to be a definitive work on Soviet strategic designs on Central America and the Caribbean.

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: June 10, 2005