U.S. Military Operations / Latin America

September 25, 2007

The Military Assistance Program (MAP) constitutes the most important U,S. program aimed at military operations in Latin America. As noted by Prof. Edwin Lieuwen of the University of New Mexico in his excellent study, The Latin American Military, "The origins of U.S. military assistance to Latin America can be traced to the eye of World War II, when Washington, in order to counter the threat of Fascist and Nazi subversion, began to establish military missions."(1) (The United States has maintained a monopoly on military missions in Latin America since 1941, when the European military missions were withdrawn, except of course in Cuba.) Initially, the objectives of U.S. aid were "to enable the area to defend itself better against external aggression.. and to gain military cooperation in the event the Western Hemisphere became involved in World War II."(2) These objectives were largely realized following the entry of the United States in the war, when Latin America provided temporary bases, stepped up production of strategic materials, and collaborated in antisubmarine and other defense operations.

Military aid to Latin America was suspended in the immediate postwar era; as the Cold War intensified, however, the rearmament of Latin American armies once again became a U.S. policy objective. Under the Mutual Security Act of 1951, funds were to be made available for the strengthening of Latin armies in the interests of Hemispheric defense. A country became eligible for these funds upon ratification of bilateral mutual defense assistance pacts with the United States. Such agreements were subsequently signed with Ecuador, Cuba, Colombia, Peru, and Chile in 1952; with Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Uruguay in 1953; with Nicaragua and Honduras in 1954; with Haiti and Guatemala in 1955; and with Bolivia in 1958.

Total U.S. military assistance to Latin America in the period 1953-1966 amounted to $1.136 billion (see Table I). Aid to Latin America is currently running at $98 million per year (of which $13.3 million represents training, $4.2 million for civic action projects, and the remaining $80.5 million for arms acquisition). U.S. aid represents about seven percent of Latin America's total defense expenditures (which run at about $1.516 billion annually); however, the $80 million in arms assistance supplements the amount Latin armies spend on arms purchases by more than 50 percent, and by more than 90 percent in some of the smaller countries.(3)

As recently as 1960, the main objective of the Military Assistance Program in Latin America was the development of a strong antisubmarine capability; according to the then Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, Charles H. Shuff, "the most positive threat to hemispheric security is submarine action in the Caribbean Sea and along the coast of Latin America." (4) However, after the Kennedy administration took office in 1961, "the basis for military aid to Latin America abruptly shifted from hemispheric defense to internal security, from the protection of coastlines and from antisubmarine warfare to internal defense against Castro-Communist guerrilla warfare." (5) Consequently, grants for counterinsurgency training and equipment were made available under the MAP program beginning in 1963. At the same time, the U.S. Southern Command in the Panama Canal Zone, and the other U.S. agencies described below, began to emphasize anti-guerrilla warfare in all programs aimed at Latin America.

At the 1967 Congressional hearings on the Foreign Assistance Act, Defense Secretary McNamara asserted that "the primary objective of the MAP program] in Latin America is to aid, where necessary, in the continued development of indigenous military and paramilitary forces capable of providing, in conjunction with police and other security forces, the needed domestic security." (6) And, as can be sensed from General Westmoreland's September speech to the Eighth Conference of the American Armies (printed intact below), the development of a counterinsurgency capability by Latin armies to be the preeminent objective of U.S. military programs in Latin America.


The Panama Canal Zone is the site of the U.S. Army Forces Southern Command (CINCSOUTH), which directs all U.S. military programs in Latin America. U.S. military training programs in South and Central America, including the counterinsurgency training provided by Special Forces units, are all responsible to CINCSOUTH. This command, headed by General Robert W. Porter, also supervises U.S. support of the civic action programs of Latin American armies. Finally, CINCSOUTH assumes command of any U.S. Army troops engaged in combat or "stability operations" in Latin America, such as the 1965 intervention in the Dominican Republic, or as in the case of the team of 16 "green berets" sent to Bolivia in 1967 to assist in the Bolivian army's campaign against the guerrilla band of Ernesto Che Guevara.

Ordinarily, the most important activities of CINCSOUTH involve direction of America's 43 military advisory missions located in 17 Latin countries (see Table II) and supervision of the Military Assistance Program. The advisory missions--separate from the military attaches on each embassy staff-range in size from five men in Panama to well over one hundred in Brazil; as of December 31, 1966, there were a total of 737 officers and enlisted men assigned to the U.S. missions in Latin America. (7) These men provide training in varied military and technical skills, although since 1961 the emphasis has been on civic action, counterinsurgency- and other functions associated with "internal defense."

The U.S. Army School of the Americas, located at Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone, is the only U.S. training institution catering exclusively to Latin Americans. It is also the only service school to teach in a foreign language. An element of the U.S. Army Forces Southern Command, Fort Gulick has already trained over 20,000 Latin Americans in various military skills (an average graduating class includes some 400 officers and enlisted personnel). Most of the courses at the School deal with military civic action and counterinsurgency. According to the September 1968 issue of Army Digest magazine, the School's Irregular Warfare Committee "teaches various measures required to defeat an insurgent on the battlefield, as well as military civic action functions in an insurgent environment." As part of the civic action instruction, U.S. Army engineers teach water purification, well drilling, operation of heavy equipment and construction support equipment.

Fort Gulick boasts that "alumni have risen to such key positions as Minister of Defense and Chief of Staff in Bolivia, Director of Mexico's War College, Minister of War and Chief of Staff in Colombia, Chief of Staff for Intelligence in Argentina and Undersecretary of War in Chile." The U.S. profits from this system as well: Army Digest writes that "training Latin Americans in U.S. military technical skills, leadership techniques and doctrine also paves the way for cooperation and support of U.S. Army missions, attaches, military assistance advisory groups and commissions operating in Latin America." (8)

Albrook Air Force Base in the Panama Canal Zone is the Air Force equivalent of the Army's School of the Americas. Like the Fort Gulick facility, Albrook caters exclusively to Latin American personnel and teaches all courses in Spanish. Programs at Albrook include flight training with U.S. Air Force jet fighters.

The U.S. Army Jungle Warfare School occupies some 55 square miles of tropical jungle near Fort Sherman in the Panama Canal Zone. An element of CINCSCUTH, the School offers two week intensive training programs on jungle survival and combat. Since the onset of the Vietnam war, the School has stepped up its training program so that by 1967 some 8,000 soldiers were taking the course annually. The Fort Sherman location is especially attractive to U.S. officers because of its similarity to the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia. According to Col. Roy M. Jones, the School's commander, "there's not a jungle area in the world as close to Vietnam in topography and type of growth as right here in Panama." (9)

The 8th Special Forces contingent, with headquarters at Fort Gulick, is designated the Special Action Force for Latin America. The unit consists of some 800 green berets who in turn constitute 17 mobile training teams that travel through Latin America, supplementing the work of resident U.S. military missions by offering special instruction in counterinsurgency. Since the formation of the unit in 1962, such mobile teams have operated in every Latin American country except Mexico, Haiti and Cuba. One of these units, consisting of 16 green berets, was sent to Bolivia in April 1967 to train the Bolivian Ranger batallion that eventually captured Ernesto Che Guevara.10 At the end of September 1968, a team of 30 Special Forces advisers arrived in Buenos Aires to train Argentine soldiers in counterguerrilla operations.

The U.S. Army Tropic Test Center (USATTC), like the Jungle Warfare School, has only come into prominence since the outbreak of the Vietnam war. Recognizing that the jungle environment poses unusual problems for military communication and logistics, the Army in 1962 established the Tropic Test Center as a component of the Test and Evaluation Command of the Army Material Command. The Test Center is used primarily for field testing of new weapons and other military equipment. Recent projects have included tests of counter-guerrilla surveillance systems using infrared sensors, counter-infiltration devices using acoustic detectors, and tactical communications systems utilizing stationary satellites.


Puerto Rico performs for the U.S. Navy the same strategic role performed for the Army by the Panama Canal Zone. 1l Puerto Rico is the headquarters of the Commander South Atlantic Force (CCMSOLANT), as well as of the 10th Naval District commanding the Caribbean Sea Frontier. The Navy offices in San Juan and at the Roosevelt Roads base command all U.S. naval activity in the Atlantic Ocean south of the Tropic of Cancer and in the Caribbean (Other Navy bases, in Trinidad and at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, are also under the jurisdiction of these commands.) The naval blockade of Cuba and the Navy's support functions during the 1965 intervention in the Dominican Republic were both directed from Puerto Rican bases. Puerto Rico is also the location of the only Strategic Air Command (SAC) base in Latin America. Puerto Ricans serve in the U.S. Armed Services and like all American citizens are subject to the draft.

Roosevelt Roads is an all-purpose naval base located on the east coast of Puerto Rico. It has three harbors, the largest of which can berth dozens of major ships at one time (thus performing for the South Atlantic the role played by Pearl Harbor in the Pacific). The facilities at Roosevelt Roads can accommodate any warship in the world, including the aircraft carrier Enterprise, which trained here before going to Vietnam. The base also encompasses a large air base, which houses several squadrons of jet fighters and reconnaissance aircraft.

Vieques is an island located just off the eastern tip of Puerto Rico which is used primarily for military functions. Of the island's 33,000 acres, some 26,000 have been appropriated by the U.S. Navy for bases and training facilities. The eastern section of the island is occupied by a Marine unit engaged in field engineering and training, while the western section is used mainly as an ammunition depot comprising huge underground storage warehouses.

Vieques acquires special importance periodically during the year as the site of the Atlantic Fleet's training exercises. In April 1965, for instance, some 10,000 servicemen participated in exercises at Vieques which involved some 22 Naval warships and 160 Air Force, Marine and Navy aircraft. According to a Nev York Times dispatch dated April 10, 1965, "about ,000 Marines and Army paratroopers fought a sham war today across the sunbaked brown hills of Vieques.... The troops. supported by a Navy amphibious force and Air Force, Marine and Navy planes continued Quick Kick VII, a combined airborne-amphibious assault." It is clear from this and other reports that these exercises are designed to prepare the Atlantic Fleet for any future crisis which would require an amphibious invasion of any country on the Atlantic coast of Latin America or in the Caribbean.

Ramey Air Force Base is a SAC nuclear base which houses two reconnaissance wings and one bombardment wing, with their accompanying jet tankers. In the past, each wing comprised 15 B-52 aircraft, but the number may have been reduced due to the Vietnam war. The B-52s are equipped with nuclear-tipped Hound Dog missiles, and possibly with more advanced air-to-ground missiles.

Ramey also has a full complement of heavy transport equipment capable of airlifting almost every type of military equipment, plus large numbers of troops, to airstrips in any Latin American country. During the Dominican crisis of 1965, Ramey provided logistical support to General Wessin y Wessin's blockaded troops at San Isidro airbase. Ramey was later used to ferry in U.S. troops to the Dominican Republic, and for a crucial period provided the only air link to that country. Massive airlift operations of this sort are assuming an increasingly more important role in U.S. strategic planning for "police actions" of the Dominican type, and it is thus safe to assume that Ramey will play a major role in any future U.S. military intervention in Latin America.

Other facilities: The huge Salinas Training Area, located in southern Puerto Rico, is regularly used for counter-guerrilla training exercises involving thousands of Army, National Guard and Army Reserve troops. The large rain forest in Puerto Rico, the Luquillo, is also employed for anti-guerrilla and jungle warfare training exercises.


The International Police Academy (IPA), located in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., is administered by the Office of Public Safety of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). IPA was originally known as the Inter-American Police Academy, and was first located in the Panama Canal Zone. About five years ago, the Academy moved into a former streetcar barn in Washington, which is rented from prominent Democratic Party supporter 0. Roy Chalk's D.C. Transit Company for some $220,000 annually. (12)

IPA's students come from 4$6 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America (all Latin American countries are represented except Cuba and Haiti). Multilingual instructors brought in from America's civilian, military and federal law enforcement agencies conduct courses at the Academy in police management, operations, and internal security. Nearly 2,000 police officers have graduated from IPA, of which more than 60 percent came from Central and South America.

Although IPA teaches conventional police procedures in such things as laboratory techniques and the handling of tear gas, it is evident that the primary purpose of the Academy is to provide training in para-military operations for urban counterinsurgency. Using a large-scale model of a mythical city called Rio Bravos, IPA students practice such maneuvers as the suppression of "a communist-inspired riot at the city's university" (read: Mexico City), or the prevention of "a bombing attempt by communist subversives from the hostile neighboring country, Maoland" (read: Cuba). Students at the Academy regularly travel to the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for instruction in counterinsurgency techniques. IPA officials claim that the Academy's program has influenced the behavior of hundreds of thousands of police around the world-and it is indeed easy to see their handiwork in the brutal suppression of the Mexican student movement by the para-military granadero corps.

The Inter-American Defense College (IADC) was established in 1962 by the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) of the OAS as a senior service school similar to the U.S. National War College, the Imperial Defense College of Great Britain and the NATO Defense College. The IADC is located at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C., in a building that was refurbished for IADC use by the U.S. Military Assistance Program at a cost of $1 million. The Inter-American Defense Board, composed of representatives of the 22 member nations of the GAS, supervises IADC's curriculum and approves all major appointments to the staff. Director of the IADC (always an American) is Major General John B. Henry, Jr., formerly a deputy inspector general at the headquarters, U.S. Air Force in Washington, D.C. The present Deputy Director of IADC is Brigadier General Martin Garcia Villasmil of the Venezuelan Army, and the Chief of Studies is Brigadier General Emilio Molino Pizarro of the Bolivian Army. (These latter two positions are rotated among representatives of the OAS member states.)

Emphasis at IADC is on quality, not quantity. Admission requirements include the rank of lieutenant colonel or above, graduation from an advanced command and staff college and military experience at an advanced level. The purpose of the College is described in official publications as follows: "The Inter-American Defense College is a military institution of high-level studies, devoted to conducting courses on the Inter-American System and the political, social, economic, and military factors that constitute essential components of Inter-American defense, in order to enhance the education of selected armed forces personnel and civilian government officials of the American Republics for carrying out undertakings requiring international cooperation." (13) As part of the regular curriculum, students take part in complete strategic planning exercises involving principles of collective defense and counterinsurgency warfare. As of June 1968, 227 students had graduated from the College. (14)

The Center for Research in Social Systems (CRESS) of the American University in Washington, D.C. is the Federal Contract Research Center responsible to the U.S. Army for social science research relevant to counterinsurgency, military civic action and psychological warfare. The Center is comprised of the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) and the Cultural Information Analysis Center (CINFAC). SSRI conducts intensive research studies in the areas of CRESS' responsibility; CINFAC is the Department of Defense Information Analysis Center responsible for collecting, storing and disseminating information produced nationwide at universities and other institutions on the characteristics of the peoples and societies of the underdeveloped world.

CRESS is the successor to the Special Operations Research Office (SORO), which had been founded in the mid-1950s to consolidate Army-financed research on psychological warfare. During the Kennedy administration, SRO's activities were broadened to include research on internal security, remote area conflict and counterinsurgency. These new activities culminated in 1964 with the commencement of Project Camelot, a multi-million dollar study of the "internal war potential" in Latin America. When the project was exposed in 1965, the resulting diplomatic furor forced the United States to cancel the project, and caused American University to change the name of SORO to CRESS to blunt further criticism. A large percentage of CRESS projects, however, continue to be concerned with U.S. counterinsurgency activities in Latin America (see NACLA Newsletter, September 1968, for a list of CRESS projects).

A major responsibility of CRESS is the preparation of the Army's Intercultural Communications Guides for underdeveloped societies. These guides (originally called Psychological Operations Handbooks) have been prepared for many Latin American countries. According to testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, "Each handbook provides appeals and symbols of tested persuasiveness for communicating messages to specific audiences in a given country. Each study further seeks to identify various groupings in the population-ethnic, geographic, economic, social, etc.-and their attitudes and probable behavior toward the U.S." 15 Such propaganda handbooks have already been prepared for Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.

The Georgetown Research Project, an activity of the Atlantic Research Corporation of Alexandria, Virginia (a subsidiary of the Susquehanna Corporation), is concerned with the collection of intelligence on potential insurgent movements in Latin America and on the capability of indigenous Latin American armies to combat insurgencies. This work is part of Project Agile, the counterinsurgency research program of the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The Latin America studies are supervised by Hans Weigert of Atlantic Research. These reports include: "A Depth-Study of Contemporary Insurgency and Counterinsurgency Operations in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia;" "A Depth-Study of Castro-Communist Operations and Insurgency Potentials in Guatemala;" "Internal Security Forces in Venezuela;" and "A Depth-Study of Communist Insurgency and Government Counteraction in Colombia."

NOTE: This article comprises a general overview of U.S. military programs and facilities aimed at Latin America. Undoubtedly, there are some gaps and inaccuracies in this presentation-although the very nature of the subject suggests that some operations have been kept secret or so camouflaged that little if anything of significance has ever been revealed. NACLA therefore urges all Newsletter subscribers who possess further information on this subject to forward it to us for future publication.

U.S. Military Operations / Latin America FOOTNOTES 1. Edwin Lieuwen, Survey of the Alliance for Progress: The Latin American Military, a study prepared at the request of the Subcommittee on American Republics Affairs of the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, October 9, 1967, p. 21.

2. Lieuwen, p. 21.

3. Lieuwen, p. 25.

4. Mutual Security Appropriations for 1960, hearings before the House Committee on Appropriations, p. 736.

5. Lieuwen, p. 23.

6. Foreign Assistance Act for 1967, hearings before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, April 11, 1967 statement.

7. Lieuwen, p. 27.

8. "Bridge of the Americas," Army Digest (September 1968).

9. "The Deadliest School in the World," Saga (January 1968), p. 15.

10. John M. Goshko, "Latins Blame the United States for Military Coups," The Washington Post (February 5, 1968).

11. "United States Military Bases in Puerto Rico and Their Strategic Function," unpublished paper by Richard Krushnic. (Available from the office of Student World Relations, Room 924, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, New York 10027.)

12. David Sanford, "U.S. State Department Trains Police of Many Countries," York (Pa.) Gazette and Daily (February 14, 1967).

13. IADC promotional brochure.

14. "Inter-American Defense College Educates Officers of 22 Nations," Army R&D Newsmagazine (March 1968). 15. Winning the Cold War: The U.S. Ideological Offensive, hearings before the Subcommittee on International Organizations and Movements of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, January 15-16, 1964, p. 1086.

Tags: US military aid, military training

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