Thursday, October 05, 2017

Sebastian Bitar's U.S. Military Bases, Quasi-Bases, and Domestic Politics in Latin America

I read Sebatian E. Bitar's US Military Bases, Quasi-Bases, and Domestic Politics in Latin America (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). It's a good read.

The core argument is that Latin American domestic politics is the key variable for understanding why the United States has pursued more quasi-bases that are secret and not well known. In a democratic era in Latin America, domestic opposition can use electoral or institutional means to block the approval of formal bases. If the government is willing, then the U.S. can pursue more informal "quasi-bases" (use of airports or local bases, etc.). This provides less oversight but it's also suboptimal for the U.S. because a change of government can change the entire arrangement whenever it wants. With formal bases newly elected governments must wait until an agreement ends (like in Ecuador).

I don't agree with the idea that George W. Bush neglected Latin America and that Barack Obama's administration was marked by "excessive neglect" (p. 32) but that doesn't detract from the empirical argument. In fact, he points out that Latin American countries were more autonomous than the past but still welcomed military bases. They were rejected (as in the case of Colombia) only after domestic outcry.

In short, democratization gave opposition groups institutional veto power. He pays particular attention to the judiciary, parties, and civil society. Although he looks at the universe of cases, he has chapters on failed agreements in Ecuador and Colombia.


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