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Possibilities In Colombia For A U.S. Military Base

U.S. Ambassador Maintains: "Without a doubt. There are possibilities in Colombia (for a US military base)"

Last Monday, Colombia's Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos once again has reiterated that Colombia "does not have, nor will have" any American military bases. However, rumors persist that the US plans to relocate its military facility from Manta, Ecuador to an unspecified location in Colombia. These have been circulating since late last year, but several recent incidents lend additional credence to them. First, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff's visit to Colombia early in January could signal, according to Colombian Liberal senator Juan Manuel Galante, a subtle indication that the U.S. is, in fact, interested in establishing a military base in the country. The Colombian senator assured his listeners at the time that there is a base with the necessary infrastructure at Tres Esquinas, which has already been provided with radar equipment by the U.S.

In an April 22 meeting between Santos and US ambassador to Colombia, William Brownfield, the Colombian defense minister was informed that due to an improvement in the country's human rights performance, as well as in its military operations, the veto against the military base at Palanquero, that in effect, de-certified the base from receiving U.S equipment, had now been lifted. According to Santos, the US now aims to provide intensified assistance in Bogota's fight against narco-trafficking and terrorism as a result of the removal of this veto. As deputy secretary John Negroponte, who was ambassador to Honduras during much of the Reagan presidency and who at the time served one of the most controversial ambassadorial tenures in Central America when it came to ignoring human rights, stated in a June 2 press conference in Medellin, that the United States and Colombia have a "very extensive relationship of cooperation." This particularly was the case in the areas of "military cooperation, military assistance, military advisors, and so forth."

Although its suggestions hint otherwise, the Colombian government has posited that the US will not be able to establish bases in Colombia, and as Juan Manuel Santos declared, they "have already discussed this with the Americans." Furthermore, this past May, Colombian Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo also declared that Colombia did not have intentions to place a US military base on its territory.

The question then arises: if the US and Colombian administrations already have concluded discussions on the issue, and if Washington was already aware of the official stance of the Colombian government, then why did US ambassador Brownfield declare on June 7th that "without a doubt. There are possibilities in Colombia" to replace the military base at Manta? One wonders if this statement was the result of a lack of poor communication between Colombia and the United States, or if it was in fact, a demonstration of the sizeable influence wielded by the U.S over Colombia's basic government decisions.

To comprehend Bogota's motives and actions, the implications of a US base in Colombia for the Uribe administration must be fully understood. Agreeing to a military base publicly, especially after Ecuador's president has vehemently refused to renew his country's military contract with the US at Manta, might spell a significant political mistake and a massively imprudent step for President Uribe to take. Furthermore, taking into consideration Colombia's episodically expressed fear of being dominated by the United States and remembering the humiliating days of the United Fruit Company and the massacre of the "Bananeros," establishing a US military base in Colombia would be seen by some Colombians as a threat to the nation's sovereignty and a loss of their country's sense of dignity.

With the prospect of a likely reelection campaign looming in the near future, President Uribe needs to remain as popular as he can and at the same time not lose U.S. support. Furthermore, the Peruvian government also seems to be hoping for a U.S. military base on its territory and the aid that such relationship is sure to bring. Yesterday, according to the Latin News, a Peruvian army general reported that they were in negotiations with the U.S. Army about building an airbase in the zone of Pichari, in Ayacucho, Peru.

Perhaps, the Uribe administration, as well as Peruvian authorities view the US military presence as an opportunity to obtain an increase of economic aid under Plan Colombia, or a new version of it for Lima, as well as a more advantageous position with the United States towards achieving a free trade agreement. If this were so, Colombia might come to feel that the price being paid for it was too high and comparable to the nation's flag being dragged down a dusty street where it could be bought and sold to the highest bidder, while its neighbors contemptuously stare at Bogota's loss of its sovereignty.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Erina Uozumi

June 17th, 2008

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