Two weeks ago the U.S. Navy reactivated the long-defunct 4th Fleet to oversea American warships in South American waters. It was part of the Navy’s new emphasis on the world’s former backwaters, Africa included. The idea? To use a little gunboat diplomacy, plus humanitarian missions and international exercises, to shore up security in developing countries and prevent simmering conflicts from becoming crises.
But Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez doesn’t see it that way. “I don’t have any doubt it’s a threat,” he said of the 4th Fleet in early July. And this week, in a letter to Fidel Castro, Chavez accused the U.S. of rekindling the Cold War through its actions down south. “They’re trying … to press the fear buttons,” he said.
But how scary is this? Next week I’ll join the USS Kearsarge amphibious ship for a mission to Nicaragua handing out free medical care. Such “medical diplomacy” is one of 4th Fleet’s primary missions, according to Southern Command boss Admiral James Stavridis. The admiral said the hospital ship Comfort (pictured) saw 400,000 patients during its recent four-month southern cruise.
Kearsarge‘s mission will be “similar,” Stavridis said.