U.S. Soldiers Preparing for Green Mission in Latin America

Published July 1, 1997

If the Pentagon and the State Department have their way, American soldiers attached to the U.S. Southern Command (SouthCom) will soon become warriors for the environment.

In at least 32 Latin American and Caribbean nations, members of the U.S. armed forces may soon begin training local military personnel to guard rainforests, protect endangered species, and undertake a variety of other environmental tasks. Among the duties being considered for U.S. soldiers are guarding Brazilian rainforests and assisting in the creation of an “international park” in hotly disputed territory along the border between Columbia and Venezuela.

“This is a legitimate military issue,” Timothy E. Wirth, under secretary of state for global affairs, told the Western Hemisphere Defense Environmental Conference on June 3. “This is not a bunch of trendy greenies.”

Trendy greenies or not, the Pentagon’s environmental mission, which has been in the planning stages for years, has at least one prominent Capitol Hill lawmaker seeing red. Senator Phil Gramm (R-Texas), has written Defense Secretary William Cohen saying he was “stunned” to read recent reports that the State Department and SouthCom were exploring “a radical redefinition of its duties from fighting wars and preserving peace to, literally, guarding South American trees and teaching Brazilians how to do it too.”

“At a time when base closings are being proposed again to pare back defense expenditures, when we are attempting to privatize military depot work in order to save money, when maintenance and equipment are being shortchanged, it is difficult to believe that there is actually discussion in your Department of sending warriors to the rainforests of Brazil,” Gramm wrote.

“I hope these reports are simply mistaken,” Gramm went on, “that no one at the Pentagon is seriously proposing to deploy American soldiers to the jungles of Central and South America to help guard rainforests or build parks, Sec. Wirth’s enthusiasm notwithstanding.” Lest the message be lost on his former Senate Republican colleague, Gramm concluded his letter by saying, “Should any such proposal ever reach the Senate floor, I can assure you that it would proceed no further.”

Reprinted from the June 17, 1997 issue of EPA Watch.