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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs