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.

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