By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
QUITO, Ecuador — A plan from the Obama administration to deploy troops and station aircraft at seven Colombian military bases aimed at combating drug operations has generated controversy across Latin America, with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez warning that it could lead to war.
According to the Washington Post, the agreement with Colombia would last ten years and allow for U.S. aircraft to be stationed at up to five Colombian air bases and for U.S. naval vessels to dock at two Colombian ports, one on the Caribbean and the other on the Pacific. Up to 800 U.S. military personnel and 600 private contractors could use the bases.
The President of Venezuela cautioned leaders at the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) summit held in Ecuador this week that an American military presence in Colombian bases “may result in a war in South America.”
“Winds of war are starting to blow,” warned Chávez, as he added that his country was gearing up because “we are in their sights,” referring to American military forces.
A day before the summit got under way, the Venezuelan Secretary of State, Nicolás Maduro, said that the military bases “are part of a plan to blow up South America, to divide South America once again, and to turn South America into a destabilized region.”
The President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, who took over Unasur’s leadership from Brazil, kept the issue of the bases out of the summit’s agenda but condemned the Colombia-U.S. deal.
“We have put up with seven years of crop-dusting, we have put up with bombings, we have put up with 300,000 displaced, we have put up with Colombia allowing its southern border to go unprotected and where we have to keep over 10,000 troops and spend millions of dollars for a problem that is not ours,” Correa said. “We have put up with too much, we are honestly tired, truly tired,” he added.
The presidents of Brazil and Chile said they did not like the idea of an expanded American presence in the region but seem to agree that the deal is a Colombian sovereign matter.
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe had embarked on a three-day South American trip in anticipation of the Quito summit to reassure fellow leaders, including populists such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales and moderates such as Chile’s Michelle Bachelet.
Uribe was not intending to attend the Unasur meeting in Quito. Ecuador and Colombia broke off diplomatic relations last year when the Colombian army raided a terrorist camp in Ecuadorian territory that killed a guerrilla chief and twenty-five other people. Bogotá says that documents found at the rebel camp show the guerrilla had at least tried to help finance Rafael Correa’s first presidential campaign.
But at the summit, the Latin American leaders called for a separate meeting in Argentina in late August to confront the issue with Presidents Uribe and Obama.
Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina said such a meeting could help allay disquiet over the plan, which was announced last month. Mrs. Kirchner said the proposal was creating “a belligerent, unprecedented and unacceptable situation.”
Uribe accepted to attend the Unasur meeting in Argentina later this month on condition that the illegal weapons trafficking in the region be discussed as well as the “military agreements that Venezuela and Ecuador hold with Russia and China, and those between Venezuela and Iran.”
As of June 19, there were 268 U.S. military personnel in Colombia and 308 civilian contractors.
For more information, please see:
Buenos Aires Herald – Uribe confirms attendance at UNASUR meeting – 13 August 2009
Noticias Cooperativa – Chávez: Soplan vientos de guerra en Sudamérica – 10 August 2009
The New York Times – Ecuador: Area Leaders Voice Worry Over G.I.’s for Colombia – 10 August 2009
The Washington Post – U.S. Plan Raises Ire in Latin America – 08 August 2009