Last week the Argentine lower house of Congress, voted 214–2 to allow the “entry of foreign troops” and the participation of Argentine troops in exercises abroad. Several of the military exercises listed in the bill are being organized and financed by the Pentagon.
Most prominently, it includes three “Unitas” exercises organized by the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and the Brazilian regime of former captain President Jair Bolsonaro, and the “Gringo Gaucho” exercise, which involves receiving a US aircraft carrier with thousands of troops and sailors.
The bill was introduced by the previous conservative government of Mauricio Macri, which left office last December. However, there was unanimous support by the Peronist ruling coalition Frente de Todos of President Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
This included the so called “left” front of the ruling coalition, which means all the Peronist trade union leaders voted in favor, including Hugo Yasky, Facundo Moyano, Vanesa Siley and Walter Correa. The affirmative list also includes the Frente Patria Grande, a party created by Juan Grabois, a “popular economy” leader. Also serving this role within the ruling coalition, Juan Carlos Alderete and Verónica Caliva of the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR) voted “yes” to welcoming US troops.
The US Southern Command built a military base in Neuquén, a project approved since 2012 and temporarily halted in 2018 due to local protests. The southern province of Neuquén has the vast Vaca Muerta oil and gas deposits being exploited in a partnership between the Argentine state and major US corporations like ExxonMobil, Chevron and other firms.
Under the administrations of the late Néstor Kirchner (2003–2007) and his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007–2015), Gringo-Gaucho military exercises with US aircraft carriers took place in 2004, 2008 and 2010. Preserving this route around Argentina is crucial for US carriers since they are too large to cross the Panama Canal.
In February 2011, a US military cargo plane was retained temporarily by Argentina presumably for “administrative” reasons; however, it was exploited by the Kirchnerists to varnish the government’s “anti-imperialist” image. The plane and materiel were soon returned, and Kirchner expressed her approval for future Gringo-Gaucho operations, but no other joint exercises were carried out during her term.
Nonetheless, Fernández de Kirchner continued to increase military collaboration, agreeing to a new US-built military base in the Chaco region, signing into law “anti-terrorist” legislation demanded by Washington and hosting a special US military training program for Ministry of Defense officials. A scathing report by investigative journalist Horacio Verbitsky found that the E-IMET program employed in the training aimed at “bringing down the barriers that often exist between the Armed Forces, civil officials and legislators.”
During Macri’s term, Argentina vowed to carry out more “anti-drug” and “anti-terrorist” operations with US agencies and allowed the Pentagon to build outposts near the country’s strategic northern border with Paraguay and Brazil and another at the southernmost city of Ushuaia.
When US forces arrived in May 2018 for a military exercise, Peronist legislators protested that Congress had not been consulted—a fraudulent ploy exposed by the recent vote.
At the same time, a space station built by China in Neuquén and used in the lunar landing in January 2019 has been denounced by the US Southern Command head, Maj. Gen. Craig S. Faller, who told the US Congress last year that it could be used to monitor and aim at “US, allied or partner targets in space activities.”
Preceding this increased collaboration, the Obama administration agreed to declassify tens of thousands of documents revealing US training at its School of the Americas and the arming of death squads under the Argentine military dictatorship that kidnapped, tortured and murdered thousands of radicalized workers and youth. The Argentine officials then became key advisers in setting up death squads that served the US-backed regimes in Central America until the 1990s.