By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BARILOCHE, Argentina — A special televised presidential summit of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) held in Bariloche on Friday to discuss the use of Colombian military bases by the United States ended in tension and acrimony between leaders and resulted in a vague resolution.
Leaders from the left-leaning countries of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia made clear their intense opposition in heated speeches to Colombia’s decision of allowing the United States to use up to seven Colombian bases to counteract drug trafficking and violence by insurgents.
Two of the most vocal leaders, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, demanded that Colombia give the group copies of the agreement with the United States.
Correa argued that the accord is a risk to the region’s stability. “You are not going to be able to control the Americans,” said Correa, staring down at Uribe. “This constitutes a grave danger for peace in Latin America.”
Apparently bowing to requests from President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, who leads the region’s rising economic and political power, Chávez refrained from his characteristic personal attacks and instead spoke of his deep mistrust of the President of Colombia and read a long document that he said demonstrated the United States is planning a war on South America.
Uribe insisted at the meeting that Colombia would not cede its sovereignty or even a “millimeter” of its territory to the United States. He said that the military bases would be under Colombian control and that the American soldiers will only combat the narcotics trade and domestic terrorism. He told the leaders that a copy of the 20-point accord with the United States was available on the Internet.
Uribe also went on to accuse Venezuela of giving refuge to top guerrilla commanders, and said that arms “from other countries” have been supplied to Marxist rebels in Colombia.
Although Chávez and his allies have been the most vocal opponents to the base access plan, less polarizing countries like Brazil and Chile are also opposed to the presence of foreign soldiers on the continent. But they also said Colombia’s neighbors should respect its sovereignty.
In a sign of the animosity that pervaded the discussions, Uribe had to be physically led by the country host’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, to participate in the traditional end-of-summit photograph with his peers.
The United States was not present at the meeting. Although not a member of the regional organization, it elected not to send an observer. “We and the Colombians have been clear about the nature of the bilateral agreement,” Charles Luoma-Overstreet, a State Department spokesman, said in an e-mail message. “We will continue to reach out to our hemispheric neighbors to explain the agreement.”
The tensions during the seven-hour long meeting eased after the leaders unanimously agreed to a vague resolution that says no foreign military force should be allowed to threaten the sovereignty of a South American nation. The statement does not mention either Colombia or the United States, a result the Colombian press hails as a success.
“The resolution does not name Colombia or the United States but applies to all Unasur countries,” said Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina.
Partly in reaction to the U.S.-Colombia agreement, Venezuela has recently announced a series of military equipment purchases from Russia. And The New York Times reported just over a week ago that Russia will also help Ecuador develop a nuclear energy program for peaceful purposes.
Ecuador’s government said the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation, or Rosatom, would provide “support and assistance” to Ecuador. Russia wants to increase ties with leftist governments in Latin America, a move that has renewed some cold-war-era antagonism with the United States.
For more information, please see:
The Washington Post – South American Leaders Assail U.S. Access to Colombian Military Bases – 29 August 2009
The New York Times – Leaders Criticize Colombia Over U.S. Military Pact – 28 August 2009
The Washington Post – U.S.-Colombia Deal Prompts Questions – 27 April 2009
The New York Times – Ecuador: Russian Nuclear Energy Aid – 21 August 2009