Colombia nears deal with Washington for military base
Colombia's government says it is close to sealing an agreement with Washington which would make the country the hub for US anti-drug operations in South America. The deal would give the US access to air bases in Colombia to gather intelligence and support operations across the continent. The administration of President Alvaro Uribe rejected accusations that the deal would infringe the country's sovereignty. The US was forced to seek a new center for regional operations after Ecuador refused to renew the lease on its military base at Manta. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has said he would rather "cut off his arm" than allow the US to stay on at Manta. (BBC News, July 16)
The Colombian State Council, which oversees the judiciary, is at odds with the Uribe administration over the deal. State Council President Ostau de Lafont says the constitution obliges the government to have the green light from the high court before allowing foreign troops to enter the country.
Defense Minister Freddy Padilla said the agreement "complies with the Colombian constitution" because it is an extension of US support for Colombia's fight against illegal armed groups and drug trafficking. Uribe stated that "to obtain agreements with countries like the United States to—with all respect for the Colombian constitution and the autonomy of Colombia—help us in this battle against terrorism and drug trafficking, is of utmost convenience for the country." (Colombia Reports, July 16)
Fears that the United States would seek to replace the Manta base with an installation in Colombia were confirmed in May, when the Pentagon budget submitted to Congress included a $46 million request to develop an airbase at Palanquero, in the central Andean department of Cundinamarca. A Southern Command statement on the plan said the Palanquero base would have “air mobility reach on the South American continent” through 2025. (CIP Americas Program, May 28)