The U.S. military is reviving a naval command for the Latin America and
the Caribbean region, which has not been active since World War II. Officials say the re-establishment of the Fourth Fleet does not change
the Navy's mission in the area. But VOA's Brian Wagner reports some
regional leaders fear it will lead to an increased U.S. military
The head of Southern Command, Admiral James Stavridis
is to lead a ceremony Saturday for the re-establishment of the Fourth
Fleet based in Mayport, Florida. The fleet was created in 1943 to guard
against enemy boats, submarines and blockade runners, and was retired
shortly after the end of World War II. Since then, the Second Fleet
based in Virginia has handled naval operations throughout the Atlantic
But military officials say now it is time to renew the
Fourth Fleet command to oversee ongoing operations in the Caribbean and
Latin America, such as joint training, counterdrug operations and
Lieutenant Myers Vazquez, a spokesman for
Southern Command, says the decision reflects the growth in naval
activity in recent years.
"So effectively U.S. naval forces in
Southern Command had been operating as a fleet organization command
without the name. Basically it is just the name catching up to
reality," he said.
Recent Southern Command operations include
the visit last year by a navy hospital ship to 12 Latin American and
Caribbean nations to provide free medical care. And this year, the
aircraft carrier USS George Washington flowed into the area for an
annual exercise aimed at boosting ties with partner naval forces.
Latin American leaders, however, see the carrier visit and the
re-establishment of the Fourth Fleet as a new U.S. military push in the
At a recent trade summit, Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez said the U.S. naval command could pose a threat to Venezuela's
vast oil resources.
Chavez said Latin American leaders should
ask the United States what the Fourth Fleet plans to do in Latin
American waters, and said he sees it as a clear threat.
Cuban state newspaper, former leader Fidel Castro cited an Argentine
newspaper article suggesting the U.S. fleet could be used to seize food
and energy resources, as prices for those goods are soaring. Bolivia's
President Evo Morales called it the Fourth Fleet of intervention.
officials dispute the claims, saying the Fourth Fleet will not have a
new mission or bring any new ships to the area. They note the George
Washington carrier was only passing through Latin American waters to
reach its new homeport in Japan.
General Barry McCaffrey, who
led Southern Command in the late 1990s, says the criticism from leftist
leaders is not surprising. He says the comments are unlikely to strain
the Navy's ties with partner nations.
"I would think the
professional navies of Latin America will welcome the increase in
stature of the cooperative naval presence we will have in the region,"
Still, the words of leftist leaders like Mr. Chavez and
Mr. Castro often carry considerable weight across Latin America and
elsewhere. Frank Mora, professor at the National War College, says the
criticism may create confusion about U.S. military goals.
think it is a public diplomacy issue or challenge for the United States
not to give over the debate to Chavez, Morales and Fidel Castro,
allowing them to shape the reason or motivation why the command was
created," he explained. "When obviously it has nothing to do with
Mora says the revival of Fourth Fleet was driven mainly
by budget and command decisions inside the Pentagon, and not by
political developments in Latin America.
Mora adds the new
command helps bring attention to progress that Southern Command has
made to engage partner nations and provide military training and
He said the command's leadership also
deserves credit for expanding its outreach in Latin America and the
Caribbean to non-military roles.
"Admiral Stavridis is trying to
make a point of engaging more Latin America on issues that are
non-kinetic, but have more to do with humanitarian [aid], disaster
relief, and dealing more with the non-traditional threats we are seeing
in the region," he added.
Mora says some of those
non-traditional threats include environmental degradation and gang
violence issues that are plaguing some Central America nations. The
revival of the Fourth Fleet may help advance those concerns even