While the US Embassy in Bogotá says the new agreement for expanded US access to Colombian military bases enters into force immediately, a Colombian court ruling finds the agreement is “broad and unbalanced” in favor of the United States and not based on any previous treaty, so therefore must be reviewed by Colombia’s Congress and Constitutional Court. The agreement puts no limits on the number of US personnel to be deployed in Colombia nor on the number of military bases they will use.
The Colombian State Council, a court created to issue opinions on the presence of foreign troops, stated in its ruling Oct. 13 that the agreement gives the US the power to decide what operations will occur, gives immunity to US troops, allows access to bases beyond the seven named in the agreement’s text, and defers the most important questions about military operations to future “operational agreements.”
The Council reviewed 15 prior treaties and declarations cited by the Colombian government as the foundation for the current base agreement, and found that none of them offer a basis for the current agreement on stationing of military troops and use of military bases. It concludes that the agreement is a treaty, and so must be approved by the Colombian Congress and reviewed by the constitutional court. Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez, in signing the deal, said the government would bypass legislative approval of the agreement.
Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro Nov. 4 called on the government to renounce the pact. Petro asserted, “because it didn’t go through Congress, the pact is ineffectual, and any occupation by [US] soldiers in Colombia is illegal.”
In addition, 27 European non-governmental organizations called on President Barack Obama to reconsider the agreement, and urged him to prioritize human rights in US relations with Colombia. “The militarization of Colombia,” the groups wrote, “will lead to an increase in internal destabilization, will involve even more of the civilian population in the war, increasing the violations of human rights and strengthening the resurgence of the paramilitary groups and the receding guerrilla groups.”
On Nov. 1, a group of activists from several organizations, including some from the US, raised a banner at the Palanquero base saying “No US Troops in Colombia” and remembered the 17 Colombians killed by pilots operating from the base in 1998. “It will be worse than the School of the Americas, because it will not only be part of a process of training the Colombian army, but now the US army will be able to operate here with impunity,” said Gilberto Villaseñor, a former Fellowship of Reconciliation Colombia team member who participated in the action.
The new US air base in Palanquero will “expand expeditionary warfare capability” and “improve global reach” for “conducting full spectrum operations,” according to a newly disclosed Pentagon budget document submitted to the US Congress (“Military Construction Programs,” FY 2010, Department of the Air Force). The document describes South America as “a critical sub region of our hemisphere where security and stability is under constant threat from narcotics funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-US governments, endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters.” The document seemingly contradicts well-publicized claims by US Ambassador William Brownfield that soldiers based in Colombia will “never, never, never” participate in armed operations, and that the base agreement doesn’t allow operations outside Colombian territory. (Colombia Peace Update, FOR, November; El Espectador, Bogotá, Nov. 4; El Tiempo, Bogotá, Nov. 1)
See our last post on the militarization of Colombia.