News

Sao Tome Sparks American Military Interest

Multimedia

Audio
The tiny West African islands of Sao Tome and Principe are interesting to the United States government not only for their oil potential, but also for strategic positioning in the Gulf of Guinea. This has led to growing cooperation between Sao Tome's government and the U.S military, as well as discussions over a possible presence of U.S. forces.

In an interview with VOA, President Fradique de Menezes says he approached the U.S. government three years ago with the idea of developing economic and security ties, and he says Washington was immediately receptive.

"We would like to have this very close relationship with Americans," he said. "Of course, we talk about military [protection], and why because myself at a certain moment, due to the expectations created around this oil business and due to our weakness, this is a very small islands state, like you say tiny island state, it's better to have good friends who really can care about us, and this is the response I had very positively from Washington."

Since then, Sao Tome has received many American visitors, including senators and the deputy commander of the U.S European Command, General Charles Wald, who said the islands could become another Diego Garcia. That's a coral island in the middle of the Indian Ocean that serves as a United States air-naval base.

Other U.S officials, especially at the Department of Defense, have downplayed General Wald's comment, saying the war in Iraq is the priority, and that there would be no budget for any such project right now.

But U.S. officials say Sao Tome could become a so-called lillypad, a forward operating base with several hundred troops, not only to safeguard American interests in the islands' possible oil fields, but across West Africa.

President de Menezes is himself receptive to the idea.

"This could be a place and can be a place that you can choose to be a suitable place to do something to be a central point, a place [from] where you can go to the continent or to assure yourself to protect your investments," he explained. "Because why? It's the position of the island in the Gulf of Guinea; this is a very suitable place to have any support, any technical support to any kind of operation in defense of the economic interests in the Gulf of Guinea."

Recent estimates indicate the Gulf of Guinea could soon account for up to a quarter of U.S. oil imports.

U.S officials also say because Sao Tome and Principe is heavily Catholic there would be no anti-American sentiment rooted in Islamic militancy here. Most residents on the islands interviewed for this report said they would welcome a strong partnership with a country other than Portugal, the former colonial power.

But former Prime Minister Guilherme Posser says there should be more openness about projects in military cooperation. He says it shouldn't be just Sao Tome's president and a few American officials who are aware of what exactly is being planned.

"The problem is we try to make this thing as a taboo, and I think that this thing must be an object of a national debate," he said. "This is not only the problem of only one organ of sovereignty. This must be a question that must be discussed, must be debated by all the nation."

Mr. Posser suggests that if Americans do decide to establish some sort of base, the idea should be submitted to a national referendum.

Former mercenary Arlesio Costa, who led a brief and bloodless military coup last year, says the United States and other countries should focus first on helping Sao Tome's armed forces. The coup ended with promises of better governance and amnesty for all the coup participants, but Mr. Costa warns it could happen again.

"We cannot be hostage of our own forces," he said. "Let's go down and try to finalize this to see what is the problem, why they are not happy. They are not happy. If you talk about army, they don't have medical assistance, sometimes they don't have water, the barracks are not in the proper condition for living in. And the government, we say every day, they must concentrate on the army and know what are their problems, to finalize this once and for all."

The entire military consists of about 300 soldiers. Most look barely 18. Only one armored vehicle works.

Last year, U.S. officials prepared a report on how to restructure Sao Tome's army, but it has yet to be implemented. The U.S. government is also giving one boat as the starting point for a Coast Guard.

In the meantime, the president has been building up a menacing-looking presidential guard. It is present both at the presidential palace and at his heavily protected estate up in the hills of the main island of Sao Tome.

It seems that for now, only the president has adequate security, while a new oil era, fraught with new realities and dangers, looms ahead for the rest of the population.
This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs