February 20, 2007

A Base By Any Other Name

A Base By Any Other Name

Deep into our show about American empire, Chalmers Johnson and Thomas Barnett argued about whether the United States operates a military base in the Ecuadorian city of Manta.

References to Ecuador and Paraguay and how they’d be happy if our bases were pulled are kind of fanciful, because we don’t have any bases there.

Thomas Barnett, on Open Source, February 8, 2007

The base in Ecuador is at Manta. It’s a naval base, it’s large, it was illegally taken. It has contributed to the considerable instability in Ecuador ever since.

Chalmers Johnston, on Open Source, February 8, 2007

Technically, Thomas Barnett is right: the Department of Defense doesn’t call its Manta facility a “base.” According to the Commission on Review of Overseas Military Facility Structure, the Manta Air Base is a “cooperative security location,” or CSL, which differs from a base by its “little or no permanent U.S. presence.”

But we wanted to know what “little or no” US presence actually meant, so we Googled “Manta” and “base,” and came up with John Lindsay-Poland, the author of a Foreign Policy in Focus report called U.S. Military Bases in Latin America and the Caribbean. Lindsay-Poland is an activist, researcher, and the Co-Director for Latin American Programs at the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He told us that that the US stations up to 440 US personnel at the Eloy Alfaro Air Base in Manta. He knows, he says, because he’s been there.

I’ve looked at it from a sand dune outside. It’s an airbase. It’s clearly active. You can see planes moving around and people moving around. There are huge military aircraft that have these AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control Systems] on them. The US controls a part of the compound—it’s a separate piece, and they’ve renovated it. They appropriated over $100 million to renovate the airway and the buildings. Sometimes you’ll hear people say that it isn’t a military base, but Congress was appropriating money for renovations, so at least that part was on the table.

John Lindsay-Poland, in a conversation with Open Source, February 14, 2007.
Manta base Ecuador

The US facility in Manta [John Lindsay-Poland]

Manta base Ecuador

A watchtower on the Manta base [John Lindsay-Poland]

Some consider the Manta facility “illegal” because when the US negotiated its 10-year lease of the property with Ecuadorian President Jamil Mahuad in 1999, the Ecuadorian legislature never approved the deal. Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s newly-elected president, plans to evict the US from the airbase when its lease is up in 2009. During his campaign, he told the New York Times: “We can negotiate with the U.S. about a base in Manta, and if they let us put a military base in Miami, if there is no problem, we’ll accept.”

And it turns out that when it looks like a base and functions like a base, sometimes even the US military slips:

“The base here is a terribly important asset in the war on drugs. The geographical position of Manta is invaluable.”

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Javier Delucca, ranking U.S. officer in Ecuador, quoted in Ecuador’s divided loyalties, The Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2007.
Update, 2/21/07 1:30pm

John Lindsay-Poland just emailed us photos from his visit to Manta, so we’ve posted them above.

Related Content

  • Isn’t “war on drugs” a code name for CIA supplying corrupt governments with weapons and money that they in turn use to oppress their starving populations?

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Technically, Thomas Barnett is right: the Department of Defense doesn’t call its Manta facility a “base.”

    Reminds me of an old SNL skit in which John Belushi exclaims: we’re not a gang, we’re a club.

  • Tom B

    Actually I don’t live in a “house”, but a single family residence. I don’t drive a “car”, but rather an automobile. I don’t eat “food”, but meals. And I don’t have a “job”, but have employment… Shall we continue with these important distinctions?

  • katemcshane

    Thanks for doing this research. I really appreciate this.

  • herbert browne

    Hurrah for investigative journalism!

    Re (rr anderson) “Isn’t “war on drugs” a code name for CIA supplying corrupt governments with weapons and money that they in turn use to oppress their starving populations?”

    Well, there’s been a big change since SE Asia in the ’70s- the CIA no longer flies the drugs out for them (I don’t think) as described in MacCoy’s “Politics of Heroin in SE Asia”.

    Of course Manta is valuable… isn’t there oil in Ecuador? ^..^

  • Ben

    This is great. Is there any way to make this into a show? It would be really interesting to have some numbers and justifications discussed for the presence of US Armed Forces overseas. Not really a debate on the semantics of whether a something is a US Armed Services base or cooperative security location, but how big is the actually US military footprint by any name?

  • tbrucia

    For those who haven’t been to Thomas Barnett’s weblog, here are some interesting links posted there by Keith_Indy today (Feb 21): http://www.southcom.mil/AppsSC/news.php?storyId=39




    As often happens, I find myself caught between feuding folks ‘with an agenda’ — and I resent it… Neither side is being candid, and the truth (as it so often does) lies somewhere outside of the ideologues’ rigid categories…

  • herbert browne

    Interesting… from tbrucia’s list of southcom stories, =67 (Dec 13, ’06) calls it “Manta Forward Operating Base”… and by =115 (Feb 14,’07) it’s “Manta Forward Operating Location”.

    The recent stirring of Italian civilians who have taken umbrage at the proposals to expand a U.S. airbase in their country may bear watching, in this study of the many and varied footprints of the Pentagon around the globe. There’s kind of ongoing friction in some of these places (eg Okinawa), and some places there’s no one left to protest (eg Diego Garcia). I’m reminded of a note about U.S. airmen that Bob Hope recorded in his book about working the USO circuit during WWII (called “Never Left Home”). Some of the English (probably the RAF) described our fellows as “overfed, over-dressed, over-sexed, and over here.” It’s gotta be tough, when even your allies refer to you thus… ^..^

  • rc21

    Looking at tbrucias links, it seems as Americans are doing some good things down at the base.

  • Lumière

    ///…the truth (as it so often does) lies somewhere outside of the ideologues’ rigid categories…\\\

    An ideology is the perversion of an ideal

    From the 48 laws f power:

    Law # 20 Do Not Commit to Anyone

    It is the fool who always rushes to take sides.

  • Igor

    Nice job!