The US Military Descends on Paraguay
Counterfeit Rolling Papers and Viagra
Washington has justified its military presence in Paraguay by stating that the Triple Border area at Ciudad del Este is a base for Islamist terrorist funding. In a June 3, 2006, Associated Press report, Western intelligence officials, speaking anonymously, claimed that if Iran is cornered by the United States, it could direct the international network of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah to assist in terrorist attacks. The Justice Department has indicted nineteen people this year for sending the profits from the sale of counterfeit rolling papers and Viagra to Hezbollah. "Extensive operations have been uncovered in South America," the AP article states, "where Hezbollah is well connected to the drug trade, particularly in the region where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet."
Other claims about terrorist networks said to be operating in the Triple Border region include a poster of Iguaçu Falls, a tourist destination near Ciudad del Este, discovered by US troops on the wall of an Al Qaeda operative's home in Kabul, Afghanistan, shortly after 9/11. Aside from this, however, the US Southern Command and the State Department report that no "credible information" exists confirming that "Islamic terrorist cells are planning attacks in Latin America."
Luiz Moniz Bandeira, who holds a chair in history at the University of Brasília and writes about US-Brazilian relations, was quoted in the Washington Times as saying, "I wouldn't dismiss the hypothesis that US agents plant stories in the media about Arab terrorists in the Triple Frontier to provoke terrorism and justify their military presence."
Throughout the cold war, the US government used the threat of communism as an excuse for its military adventures in Latin America. Now, as leaders such as Bolivia's Evo Morales and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez move further outside the sphere of Washington's interests, the United States is using another "ism" as an alibi for its military presence. As Greg Grandin pointed out in his article "The Wide War," first posted on TomDispatch.com, the Pentagon now has more resources and money directed to Latin America than the Departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce and Treasury combined. Before 9/11 the annual US military aid to the region was around $400 million. It's now nearly $1 billion. Much of this goes to training troops.
Making wild allegations about Paraguayan farmers being terrorists is one way to justify the increased spending and military presence in the region. "The US government is lying about the terrorist funding in the Triple Border, just like they did about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," said an exasperated Castillo of Serpaj. Indeed, the street markets I walked through in Ciudad del Este, and the farmers I met along the way, seemed to pose as much of a threat to US security as a pirated Tom Petty CD or a bottle of counterfeit whiskey.