On Wednesday (6), the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, made a call to Guyanese President Mohamed Irfaan Ali to reiterate unconditional support for Guyana and an appeal for the country and Venezuela to find a peaceful solution to the issue of the disputed territory of Essequibo.
The following day, however, the United States embassy in Georgetown (capital of Guyana) announced the holding of joint military exercises between the American and Guyanese air forces in the disputed region. This is the first military exercise of its kind since Venezuelans voted in a plebiscite to incorporate Essequibo on December 3.
The escalation of tensions in South America raises an alarm for a possible armed conflict, which could include the participation of the United States, in a scenario of conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, as well as growing tension in the South China Sea.
The US military presence in Latin America
The number of US military bases abroad is unofficial, and is based on estimates that mix data provided by the government and evidence collected by experts.
Currently, the United States operates at least 76 military bases in Latin America and the Caribbean, under the direction of the Department of Defense’s Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). Mexico is left out of this count and these bases are divided into 3 categories.
The first are the Main Bases, or Operation Bases. According to the Pentagon, these are bases that belong entirely to the USA, have at least 200 military personnel, are more than 10 acres (approximately 0.4 hectares) and cost more than US$10 million (more than R$50 million) . This is the case at the Guantánamo base in southern Cuba.
The second category are the so-called Minor Bases, or Lily Pads. These, according to the Pentagon, are also US bases, but smaller: they have less than 10 acres and cost less than US$10 million.
The third category are bases that do not belong to the US, but where the US military operates with full control or partial control through bilateral agreements. The Alcântara Space Center, in Maranhão, is in this category.
Finally, there are Unconfirmed Bases. These, as the name suggests, are not confirmed by either the Pentagon or local governments. These are bases where the US army supposedly operates, according to complaints from civil organizations.
SOUTHCOM, as described on its own website, has “a staff of more than 1,200 military and civilian personnel representing the Army, Navy, Armed Forces, Marines, Coast Guard and several other federal agencies”.
The number of soldiers in the Southern Command is much lower than in other regions of the world such as Japan, which has more than 51 thousand US soldiers, or Germany, which has more than 47 thousand. Even so, according to the SOUTHCOM website, the number was already 135 thousand in the Second World War, which indicates that it could increase considerably with a possible conflict between Venezuela and Guyana.
Editing: Rodrigo Durão Coelho