United States Announces IV Fleet Resumes Operations
By Matthew Flynn, Americas 11/7/08
Jul 27, 2008 - 8:50:29 AM
In a region where there are virtually no terrorist groups seeking to
attack the United States, or deployment or even development of nuclear
arsenals, it is time for a civilian and not a military approach to
define and lead U.S. foreign relations in Latin America. The
announcement of the IV Fleet setting sail does not represent any major
change in U.S. military activity, but it does reveal how the U.S.
government's approach to Latin America can be an element of division in
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead announced on April 24
the re-deployment of the IV Fleet.1 He said that "[r]e-establishing the
Fourth Fleet recognizes the immense importance of maritime security in
the southern part of the Western Hemisphere, and signals our support
and interest in the civil and military maritime services in Central and
South America." Effective July 1, the new command structure will have
operational responsibility for U.S. Navy ships that operate in the
SouthCom area (see picture)—one of the six regions of the world that
the Pentagon divides into unified commands.
Spokespersons for the U.S. Navy affirm that the announcement of the IV
Fleet's redeployment does not imply new military assets to the region.
"There has been some misperception that with the re-establishment of
U.S. Fourth Fleet comes more ships to the region. In Navy culture the
word 'fleet' can mean two things—a 'physical' fleet of ships or an
'organization' staffed to fulfill a planning and coordination mission.
U.S. Fourth Fleet will be an organizational fleet," clarified
Lieutenant Joe "Myers" Vasquez, U.S. Navy Public Affairs Officer, U.S.
Naval Forces Southern Command (SouthCom).2 The new organizational
structure thus implies an additional duty for U.S. Naval Forces
Southern Command headquartered in Mayport, Florida. The IV Fleet will
concentrate efforts on the fight against illicit trafficking and
providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief, officials say.
But leaders from South America are not convinced. They point to the
poor response of the U.S. government when Hurricane Katrina struck New
Orleans as reason to question the official explanation. "The United
States must have some information above and beyond what we know, which
made them make this decision," said Venezuelan Rear Admiral César
Augusto Manzano.3 The June headline for Le Monde Diplomatique's Brazil
edition states "The Empire Strikes Back: Worried about the leftward
drift of Latin American governments and the discovery of formidable oil
reserves and abundance of natural resources, the United States restarts
its IV Fleet."4 While Le Monde's headlines may appear as fear-mongering
since no new military forces have been earmarked for deployment, it
does call attention to suspicions that increased U.S. military presence
aims at economic control over natural resources and political control
to rein in South American efforts to chart a course less oriented to
the United States. The Union of South American Nations (Unión de las
Naciones del Sur—UNASUR) symbolizes this latest attempt.
U.S. Hegemony on the Wane and a United South on the Rise?
South America's relationship with the rest of the world has changed
substantially in recent years. While the United States has been
preoccupied with the War on Terrorism and focusing its attention mainly
in the Middle East, South America has increased its trade relations
with the rising economies of Asia. The Council on Foreign Relations
recently released a report saying the United States is losing hegemony
in the region and new direction is needed.5 The Council's Task Force on
Latin America bluntly states this new reality: "If there was an era of
U.S. hegemony in Latin America, it is over."
But in the same breath, the authors of the report say that as a region
Latin America has "never mattered more" to the United States, since it
is the largest supplier of oil, one of the fasting growing trading
partners, and largest source of immigrants. The Task Force concludes
with recommendations, stressing that the United States should focus on
common areas of concern—poverty and inequality, public security,
migration, and energy security—and recognize that Latin America's fate
is largely in Latin America's hands."
The latest move toward building continental unity was announced on May
23. The presidents of 12 South American nations gathered in Brasilia,
the capital of Brazil, to sign on to UNASUR. This follows up on efforts
begun in December 2004 when the region's countries pledged to create
the South American Community of Nations. The latest gathering may seem
like yet another attempt at unifying under a new name, alongside
Mercosur, Andean Community, and Pacific Arc, to name a few. However,
the new institution will be recognized as a formal international
organization and will create a stronger forum to work toward
integration among the 12 countries of South America, home to 360
million people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of US$2.5 trillion
(in 2006 dollars).
UNASUR pledges to work on developing a common customs union, currency,
and passport. As outlined in previous agreements, the Union plans to
establish executive headquarters in Ecuador, a South American
parliament in Bolivia, and the Bank of the South in Venezuela. The
twist on this effort is Brazil's proposal to create a South American
Defense Council comprised of the region's ministers of defense. Celso
Amorin, Brazil's minister of foreign affairs, said that the purpose of
the council is to provide a "space for dialogue between the militaries
of the countries of the region in order to formulate policies and
Centrifugal Forces in South American Unity
The initial steps of the organization demonstrate the challenges ahead.
The first two candidates for the rotating secretary-general of UNASUR
turned down the offer before Chile's President Michelle Bachelet
accepted the post. The position was first offered to Colombia's
President Alvaro Uribe who refused because no other member of the union
would recognize the National Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (Fuerzos
Armados Revolucionarios de Colombia-FARC) as a "terrorist group." The
other regional leaders follow the United Nations' denomination of the
group as a "belligerent force."
Ecuador's ex-President Rodrigo Borjas also turned down the
secretary-general position because his proposal to accelerate the
merger of Mercosur with the Andean Community fell on deaf ears. UNASUR
was legally constituted despite its political problems concerning who
would be the first leader. The next bump in the road was Colombia's
differences with its neighbors. The recent intrusion of the Colombian
military on Ecuador's soil to attack a FARC encampment revealed both
the need for such a forum and the difficulties of forming it. An
editorial in Colombia's El Pais said that Uribe has resisted the idea
of the Defense Council since it would provide another space for Hugo
Chavez and his allies to take advantage of South American solidarity to
denounce the United States and to create military bodies for political
To avoid ruptures at the outset of UNASUR, members decided to create a
working group to analyze the creation of the Defense Council for 90
days. Both El Pais and Brazil's business daily Valor Economico consider
the Defense Council another useless bureaucracy. But other news media
considered its creation an increasing urgency: "If at the beginning the
Defense Council seems little more than a forum, this is its most
pressing necessity," wrote Brazilian weekly Carta Capital.7 Border
disputes continue to be the main source of conflict in the region. Not
only did Ecuador (followed by its ally Venezuela) mobilize their forces
after the Colombian incursion, but in 1995 Ecuador and Peru exchanged
artillery over a border skirmish. Also, there are a number of internal
conflicts, besides Colombia's decades-long civil war, such as
separatist movements in Bolivia and dissidence in Venezuela. Nelson
Jobim, Brazil's Minister of Defense, who turned down U.S. offers to
participate in the Defense Council, foresees its mission as
coordinating disaster relief efforts and peacekeeping missions.
If the nations' leaders finally are able to breathe life into the South
American Defense Council and obtain the active participation of all the
member countries, it could achieve two long-desired objectives. First,
while South American unity remains far removed from the degree of
institutionalization of its model entity—the European Union—at least
the region will have achieved what the African Union has accomplished
in policing its area. Second, instead of relying on the Organization of
American States (OAS), seen as dominated by the United States, the
continent's leaders will have formal space to resolve internal
conflicts and define a common agenda.
U.S. Strategic Posturing in South America
South America's growing political independence as a region raises the
question: what is the United States' role in the area? To answer, first
it is necessary to define U.S. interests. According to Lieutenant
Vasquez of SouthCom, "Thirty-eight percent of U.S. global trade is with
countries in the Western Hemisphere and we import 34% of our oil from
the region. Two-thirds of ships that transit the Panama Canal are bound
for U.S. ports." SouthCom's priorities also include counter-terrorism,
counternarcotics, and engagement of the region's militaries via joint
training exercises. Secondary missions are arms control and
non-proliferation, humanitarian and civic assistance, search and
rescue, and disaster relief.8
In this scheme, re-activating the IV Fleet would seem to respond to
objectives aimed at keeping sea lanes open for trade and closed to
illicit trafficking. "The stature of a Fleet sends the right signal
even to those that are not our greatest supporters," Admiral Jim
Stevenson told a Bloggers Roundtable.9 One scenario he depicted in
which the IV Fleet could be called into action is if the Cuban people
do not accept the leadership of Raul Castro's leadership and decide to
flee in mass—thus repeating the Mariel Boatlift of 1980. "If you don't
have the capability to rescue these people, you have a disaster on your
hands. I don't think anyone can sit around and watch hundreds and
hundreds of thousands of people die at sea," the Admiral said.
U.S. presence in South America continues to grate on the nerves of
nationalists who fear that the United States' primary interest is
access to natural resources. The most important and recent relevant
fact was Brazil's announcement of large oil deposits discovered in the
Tupi field off its southeast coast, estimated to produce 5-8 billion
barrels. Haroldo Lima, the head of the National Petroleum Agency
(Agencia Nacional do Petroleo), boasted that the country's oil reserves
could reach 33 billion barrels and possibly much more, a huge jump from
proven reserves of 12 billion barrels as of last year.10
Minister of Defense Jobim said that the IV Fleet will not enter
Brazilian waters without authorization: "Here they do not enter," he
told military authorities. But the question of how far Brazilian
sovereignty extends still remains an open question. The Convention of
Montego Bay establishes the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) at 200
nautical miles but could be extended to 300 if the continental shelf
extends outward. Both Brazil and the United States are signatories of
the convention but the United States has yet to ratify it. Lima stoked
nationalist fears when he said last May that the United States has
repeatedly violated the EEZ. But U.S. Admiral James Stavridis countered
that the U.S. Navy indeed does respect it.11
Despite fears from Brazilian nationalists, Brazil-U.S. relations have
tightened lately, especially on issues of energy security. Brazil's
state-owned oil giant Petrobras continues to rely on a number of
foreign sub-contractors, including Halliburton, but more important is
the recent biofuels partnership between George W. Bush and Brazil's
President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva. The agreement pledges to expand
technical assistance to Central American and Caribbean countries to
develop the use of ethanol. Also, Brazil has never pressured foreign
investors to renegotiate contracts as have the governments of
Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
The IV Fleet is designed to improve the administrative and command
structure of the U.S. Navy in SouthCom's joint operations with other
countries in the theater. The most important event is the Partnership
of the Americas, a six-month naval deployment in the Caribbean,
Central, and South America. The partnership includes a number of
multinational exercises carried out by U.S. forces with the region's
militaries. The biggest naval operation of the partnership is UNITAS
Atlantic & Pacific, held since 1959, which includes two annual
maritime scenario training exercises aimed at enhancing security
cooperation and improving coalition operations. Other naval exercises
include Teamwork South, Siforex, Community Relations, New Horizons,
Counter-Drug Operations, Panamax, and Disaster Relief (see endnote 8).
U.S. Military Presence as a Continental Unifier or Divider
With so many different military exercises held in willing partnership
with South American militaries, the restart of IV Fleet without any
ships and equipment may seem like a minor development. Are those
fearful of U.S. encroachments just crying wolf? But within SouthCom's
region, U.S. naval operations complement the ring of U.S. military
bases. These include Comapala, El Salvador; Manta, Ecuador; Guantánamo,
Cuba; Atuba, Curacao; and Comayuga, Honduras. The U.S. forces have also
undertaken training exercises at the Mariscal Estigarribia airport in
Paraguay12 although a recent look at the alleged U.S. base in Paraguay
discovered a nearly deserted airstrip.13
The formally established bases in the region have been more active—the
most polemical with regard to U.S.-Latin American relations is Manta.
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa refused to renew the base's contract
that expires in 2009, so the United States is discussing with Colombian
authorities to move it to La Guajira, near the Venezuelan border (see
Moving the base to La Guajira would undoubtedly inflame tensions
between Venezuela and Colombia and by extension, the United States.
Uribe claims that Chavez supports the FARC, while the Venezuelan
government characterizes Colombia as a puppet of the United States. In
fact, the Latin American press considers Colombia's attack on
Ecuadorian soil to be based on information from U.S. intelligence
The Chavez government has reacted angrily to the U.S. bases surrounding
Venezuela and U.S. generals listing "radical populism" a major new
security threat.14 One dangerous scenario (outright war would be worse)
is an acceleration of the alleged arms race occurring in South America.
Former Brazilian President Jose Sarney and other regional leaders warn
about Venezuela increasing its military strength. "If [Venezuela] truly
becomes a military power, an arms race in Latin America will ensue. It
will lead to a strategic disequilibrium on the continent," Senator
Based on percentage of GDP, however, Venezuela is the Andean country
that spends the least on defense at 1.39%, with Ecuador in the top spot
at 3.14%. But other sources claim that Venezuela is spending billions
of dollars in recent years that are not included in the regular budget.
According to Military Power Review, which measures military power in
terms of brute measures of military hardware, Brazil continues to
occupy the top spot in all of South America, and Venezuela the fifth,
followed by Colombia.16 One problem according to this ranking is that
it does not account for the fact that much of Brazil's equipment is
near obsolete, while Colombia has been receiving the latest military
hardware from the U.S. government as part of Plan Colombia.
Analysts continue to debate on how to measure military power in Latin
America, but all agree that if a "strategic imbalance" exists in the
hemisphere, it continues to favor the United States. SouthCom's
communications officers did not respond to requests concerning its
operating budget, but documents available on the internet put it around
US$170 million for 2008.17 This amount does not include military aid.
Oddly enough, since the end of the Cold War when U.S. economic aid was
more than the amount of military aid, now the two are growing closer.
In 2005, Congress appropriated $921.07 million in economic aid and at
least $859.69 million in military aid.18
The Pentagon continues to lead U.S. foreign policy in the region. For
all of the Pentagon's talk of partnership with South American
countries, the U.S. Navy's presence felt more ominous than amicable
when its warships docked in Rio de Janeiro last April. The only ones
celebrating were the city's brothel owners, who registered a marked
increase in business.
1. U.S. Navy, "Navy Re-Establishes U.S. Fourth Fleet," Press
Release: April 24, 2008,
http://www.southcom.mil/appssc/factFiles.php?id=55 [accessed June 16,
2. Lieutenant Joe "Myers" Vasquez, U.S. Navy Public Affairs Officer,
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (SouthCom), (email exchange:
3. María Daniela Espinoza, "Decisión de EEUU de reactivar IV Flota
genera inquietud," El Universal,
[accessed June 16, 2008].
4. Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil, No. 11. June 2008.
5. Council on Foreign Relations (2008), U.S.-Latin America
Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality, INDEPENDENT TASK FORCE
REPORT No. 60, Chairs: Charlene Barshefsky and James T. Hill.
6. El Pais,
[accessed June 16, 2008].
7. Antonio Luiz M.C. Costa, "Vamos Olhar Para o Sul," Carta Capital,
No. 468, 4 de Junho de 2008.
8. For more details of
http://www.cusns.navy.mil/Main%20Pages/ops.htm and of SouthCom's
missions and objectives, see "Theater Security Operations"
"Exercises/Operations" [accessed June 15, 2008].
9. Bloggers Roundtable,
http://www.southcom.mil/appssc/factFiles.php?id=55 [June 16, 2008].
10. The Economist, "What lies beneath," April 16, 2008,
[accessed June 23, 2008].
11. Iuri Dantas, "EUA respeitam mar do Brasil, diz comandante," Folha
de S. Paulo, 16/5/2008.
12. Sam Logan and Matthew Flynn, "U.S. Military Moves in Paraguay
Rattle Regional Relations" (Silver City, NM: International Relations
Center, Dec. 14, 2005).
13. Luiz Carlos Azenha, "Poeira e consipiração," Carta Capital, No.
493, March 25, 2008.
14. General James T. Hill, United States Army Commander, United
States Southern Command Testimony Before House Armed Services
Committee, United States House of Representatives, March 24, 2004,
15. Maruricio Dias Carta, "Rosa-dos-Ventos," Carta Capital, No. 495,
May 12, 2008.
16. Mlitary Power Review, http://www.militarypower.com.br/ranking.htm
[accessed June 23, 2008].
17. Lt Col Juan Berrios, "Security Assistance Executive Conference,"
USSouthCom J5 Unclassified,
[accessed 8 July 2008].
18. Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Blurring the Lines:
Trends in U.S. military programs with Latin America, Sept. 2004.
Source: Ocnus.net 2008