Winds of change carrying old habits are blowing through the territories of Latin America and the Caribbean. The hegemonic vocation and the permanent need to renew it and reaffirm it brings with it a portfolio full of elements of seduction, dissuasion or repression, employed simultaneously or in isolation. They allow for the most widely diverse and versatile combinations, always to the same end: on occasion explicit, but more often masked by untenable pretexts such as the “restoration of democracy”.
During the twenty-first century, we have seen new authoritarian figures, reminiscent of past times, but with a different essence. The capitalism of this new century arrived with renewed impetus but with other characteristics. Its material conditions have changed, as well as its modes and meanings. Yesterday’s primary resources have lost relevance in the face of new materials; technologies occupy new spaces and take other routes; communications are ever-present and involve new forms and vehicles; the sense of reality is transformed and is alienated through new mechanisms.
In terms of conception there are notable changes, corresponding to capitalist modalities of the twenty-first century, a time in which States both take on new life and are dissolved, but above all are re-designed; in which territories are defined in accord with a new sense of cohesion and new material imperatives; in which society is transformed from the ethical and esthetic power offensive, in which material, social, cultural, political and symbolic values are destroyed by the same powers that, in other times, had created them, in their dominant and dominating version.
The new battlefield
1. Perhaps the most relevant element has been the change in the idea of war and its purpose. If, up to now, we have become accustomed to judge wars by winners and losers, today we have to get used to infinite wars. These undefined wars that seek to maintain territories in a war situation, see war not as a means but as an end. It is the state of war itself that achieves the desired benefits. It opens the way to looting, stimulates a variety of dealings (in arms, drugs, food, trade in persons, mercenaries and others) and allows for a control over populations that is not legitimate, since it is exercised under conditions of exception.
2. A second distinctive element involves the notion of the enemy. The enemy is, in this twenty-first century, “the other” under any of its forms. And the other, in virtue of competition and the resulting picture of the battlefield that goes with it, should be dominated, negated, converted into – or treated as – an object. Something to be manipulated, used, or destroyed. The other, that appears in any spot, as happened in Vietnam, as happens wherever there is a people in resistance, is something like a virus.  A virus is relatively invisible, imperceptible and incomprehensible, except when it disturbs us. A virus, like human beings in mass, is useful but regarded with disdain, harmful when it reaches a certain dimension or when it takes charge. It needs to be controlled, “for the good of humanity”, although in this case it forms part of this humanity.
3. The main idea that leads us to a different understanding of the battlefield, which at the same time is an equivalent of a market, is the problem of incompleteness, something that accompanies all vital processes, but that needs to be overcome, from the perspective of power, in order to avoid permeability that endangers the whole. The task is impossible, but a variety of forces are employed: overwhelming and domineering technologies; psychological and behavioural research about complex systems; techniques of convincing and degradation, dissuasion or paralysis; calculation of asymmetric equilibriums; cultural, linguistic, anthropological research and practices, all destined towards maintaining dominance; unilateral production and universalisation of “common” meanings through mass media, the contents of education, directions taken in scientific research and other similar vehicles.
4. The concept of full-spectrum dominance has been the key to the transformation in the art of war and gives direction to its operational practice. This is a complex notion that is updated through daily experience of war in all its distinct scenarios, and through the study of human behaviour, and even of all the life forms present in each case.
One of its lessons, evident in disputes over territoriality at the present time, is that of a simultaneous and unremitting application of varied mechanisms that tend to confuse and at the same to produce results as they wear down, in principle, the physical and moral forces of the enemy (See, in this regard, the harassment of Venezuela since February 2014).
With the guiding idea of “leaving no chink to the enemy”, no place to hide, no moment to breathe, a body of elements have been put into practice among which I distinguish three, that in combination have an explosive impact: overwhelming, simultaneity, impunity.
Overwhelming. When the enemy is conceived as an invisible force, or one difficult to recognise because it is lost in the mass of beings too small or irrelevant to merit attention, the procedure adopted could be considered a general purge, related to tasks of prevention or dissuasion but with long term goals. This mechanism consists in preventing asymmetry from creating a situation of vulnerability, by the application of overwhelming and disproportionate force that devastates and demolishes.
Simultaneity. The best way to wear out an enemy is to attack it remorselessly from all sides at once, like at attack from wasps’ nest.  In this line, destabilizing mechanisms are simultaneously employed in every area of the life of society. From cases such as that of Mexico where a deluge of anti-popular reforms (labour, fiscal, control of communications, education, civil codes and energy) that created confusion, fragmentation and uncoordinated responses and which substantially changed, at one blow, labour relations, educational parameters, the nation’s heritage (that of the Mexican people), the wage levels and the vigilance or interference in the private lives of people and the margins of manoeuverability of society; including processes directly leading to a coup d’état as in Venezuela, in which images and meaning are manipulated to generate violence and confusion, introducing elements of social decomposition, corruption and bribery, while scarcity of basic goods is artificially created, thus attacking both government and society.
That is to say, simultaneity is the element that most clearly allows us to understand the strategy of full-spectrum dominance, always combined with the notion of limiting the permeability that allows chinks for recuperating strength and meaning. It is something that can be applied in any area, in combined areas, in of them all at once and at any level.
Impunity. The dislocation of meaning and the confusion thus created results in a situation where formal references to justice and social morality are discarded in practice with ostentation of illegal behaviour. The loss of solid social references, of what is understood as a state of law, is equivalent to the establishment of a context in which the state of exception and a no-man’s-land become an inseparable duo. Crime, extortion, corruption, violations of the established order, abuse, authoritarianism, voiding justice, law and social respect, are the elements of a new scenario which is unilaterally imposed. On a greater or lesser scale, the complicity between crime and the apparatus of justice generates conditions of senselessness and defenselessness of society, which is then submitted to a murky dynamic in which it can only move with difficulty and without a clear vision of the route to be taken.
Mexico in the twenty-first century may present one of the most eloquent cases of the dislocation of the rules of the game and the imposition of a general policy of impunity in the sense referred to above.
Full spectrum dominance and the elements of intervention that we have highlighted can be seen as well on a planetary level, that is to say, either as macro policy, or at local levels, with all the degrees and differences corresponding to the specifics of the case and to the moment or the degree of intervention that is sought.
Intervention mechanisms
5. In the matter of ways and means, or of the material spatiality of the occupation, we can note significant changes.
The first decade of the twenty-first century was characterized by a new deployment of US military installations in certain strategic points of Latin American and Caribbean territory. This had a double effect. On the one hand, following the norm of overwhelming, the excessive military presence with high technology and ability to respond had an intimidating and dissuasive impact; on the other, it showed the dimension of a potential confrontation and the margin of nearly instantaneous deployment of US or allied forces. The deployment and repositioning of US forces in the area during these years, when they were supposedly distracted in the Middle East and Central Asia, is remarkable (See map:
The style of installations after 2013 is already different; it has a more discreet profile. The proposal is less one of intimidation and more functional in character; it is a question of training and homogenization of programmes in the struggle against “contingencies” of different kinds, such as possible urban uprisings (especially in Chile, but with general application), environmental problems and situations of “ungovernability”, among which is the rejection of open-cast mining, of the building of a highway through the jungle or of a hydroelectric dam, or simple territorial disputes. That is to say, the field is prepared for “special” actions involving elite troops.
6. A direct military presence, or even police-military presence, can generate suspicion and rejection in populations. They are therefore accompanied by multiple mechanisms of linkage with populations that appear as non-military activities, among which the USAID programmes stand out, contributing money, expertise, technical assistance, training or similar elements. Thus, USAID, born in the framework of the anti-communist policies of the Alliance for Progress in 1961, looking to eliminate any influence of the Cuban revolution in other countries of the region (and whose correlative was the economic blockade of Cuba), had a history clearly tied to the military coups of the 1960s and 1970s. In the years following these military dictatorships, US presence was most notorious in Central America, and in the wars of the period, and at the present time is visibly expanding in countries which, for the hegemonic vision, appear as strategic, such as Haiti, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, to which financial support has been granted in the respective amounts of; $1,224; $582; $290; $217; and $212 million dollars, in the course of only three years, from 2010 to 2012.
From 1990 to 2003, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, considered the southern arm of Plan Colombia, were the countries in receipt of most financial aid ($2,753; $2,333; and $2,190 million dollars respectively). These were closely followed by El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras (with $1,923; $1,414; $1,116 million), related to the control of the area of the Greater Caribbean and with the narcotics and migration routes. In the 1980s, during the period of the wars in Central America, El Salvador alone received 4,047 million dollars [1].
The same thing happens with agencies such as the DEA, which not only operate in the whole continent but which also involve policies of occupation in strategic countries or areas. During 2008-2014, the budget destined to CARSI (Central American Regional Security Initiative) amounted to some 665 million dollars, while those of Colombia (279 in 2013) and of Mexico (154 in 2013), key countries in the security strategy of the continent, appear moderate in the face of that amount, justified by the “. . . transfer of 1,388 billion dollars for electronic equipment whose use is exclusively military, some of which is expressly reserved for the use of US military personnel in Honduras. This may possibly be one of the greatest centres of information and telecommunications in the Continent.” [2]
The discreet encroachment through these mechanisms can be considered as high risk – combined with the explicit advances of the previous decade – since it allows for a more subtle, deeper, unnoticed and more consistent penetration, creating complicities even as it creates conditions for disciplining or for intervention.
Undermining in order to intervene in depth
7. What is significant here is that economic intervention is continuous and ever more extensive, while the other forms exhibit more erratic behaviour. The relations between States can deteriorate even as investments in mining, petroleum and similar resources continue, to the point of extracting the last gram of Latin American resources. The looting economy, in connivance with local oligarchies, are a reminder of the time of the (first) Conquest. The voracity of capital today, along with the mechanisms of discipline and control, is demolishing, simultaneous and unpunished. At the slightest negligence, it occupies space and empties and transforms territories.
Chevron, Anglo Gold, Repsol, Halliburton, Barrick Gold, Monsanto, Cargill and some others are as harmful as are the military bases and disciplinary measures. They are as predatory as are military actions. They are also forces of occupation, looting and desolation.
For this reason, struggles grow and explode everywhere. For this reason, destabilization measures multiply.  For this reason, the process of militarization cannot stop, as the peoples affected are unable to stop it.
Geographies of power
8. The geography of the security area of the United States in the continent has also changed. From its centre established in Colombia in the first decade of the twenty-first century, today it has extended to Peru and Paraguay in the south and to Central America and Mexico in the north, forming a geographical corridor of security and guaranteed hegemony. The policies and methods applied in Colombia; the processes of community destructuring and physical devastation; the imposition of economic methods involving looting, predation and monoculture, be it African palms, sugar cane, coffee, soya or any other crop that provides guaranteed profits in the global market; open cast mining, with immediate foreign markets; displacements of populations; violence, both selective and unspecific; all these elements accompanied by changes in national and international norms, penal and civil codes and in general customs and habits, have spread territorially to the point of creating a security and commodity producing corridor that goes through America from one end to the other. This corridor marks a line between countries joined together in ALBA or regional organizations of resistance in the face of hegemonic policies, and traces the route of the Pacific Alliance or the Transpacific Treaty that recalls the legendary FTAA, but reinforced with a militarized shield. As Colin Powell said, there is no point in creating free trade agreements if these cannot be guaranteed and shielded with security agreements.
Nevertheless today, even in these circumstances, the people cling to life and find ways to reopen the chinks, and re-establish the community clusters and fabric. All this in spite of fear, in spite of the pain; or maybe because of them.
(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)
[1] The presence of USAID has been strongly contested. Ecuador resolved to sever all relations with in them May of 2014, regarding them as intrusive and prejudicial to national stability and sovereignty.
[2] Ceceña, Ana Esther 2014: La dominación de espectro completo sobre América” (Full spectrum dominance of America) in Patria (Ecuador, Ministry of Defence) with information from Isacson, Adam et. al, Time to listen: trends in US security assistance of Latin America and the Caribbean (USA: Latin America working group education fund, CIP, WOLA).
– Ana Esther Ceceña is the coordinator of the Observatorio Latinoamericano de Geopolítica, Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Universidad National Autónoma de Mexico.
* Article published in ALAI’s Spanish language magazine América Latina en Movimiento, No. 495 (May 2014) titled “Reordenando el continente” (Reordering the continent)