View Full Version : Colombia, U.S. Finalize Deal ,Venezuela says winds of war are blowing

08-15-2009, 01:22 PM
Colombia, U.S. Finalize Deal on Military Bases
Published: 15 Aug 2009 09:35
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BOGOTA - Colombia says it has finalized an agreement with the United States allowing Washington to use its military bases to track drug-runners, despite anger elsewhere in Latin America over the idea.

"This agreement reaffirms the commitment of both parties in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism," Colombia's foreign ministry said in a statement Aug. 14.

Officials here said the two countries agreed the text of an agreement, which now has to be reviewed by government agencies in Bogota and Washington before getting a final signature.

The controversial deal would permit the U.S. military to operate surveillance aircraft from seven bases to track drug-running boats in the Pacific Ocean.

A senior U.S. general said Aug. 15 that the United States needed to reassure regional powers about the deal, after reports of negotiations rankled several leaders and prompted to claim that the "winds of war" were blowing.

"I think we need to do a better job of explaining to them what we're doing and making it as transparent as possible, because anybody's concerns are valid," Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference.

Washington sought out its ally Colombia to make up for the loss of its hub for counternarcotics operations in Manta, Ecuador.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa had refused to renew an agreement that allowed the U.S. military to fly out of Manta for the past 10 years.

The deal is worth over 40 million dollars for Bogota, along with expanded U.S. military assistance for Bogota's counternarcotics efforts, according to a U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Cartwright and Defense Secretary Robert Gates also said this week the deal was not a unilateral move but the product of a partnership with Colombia designed to target drug cartels.

"The strategic intent is, in fact, to be able to provide to the Colombians what they need in order to continue to prosecute their efforts against the internal threats that they have," Cartwright said.

Colombia raised concern throughout the region, which has a troubled history of U.S. military interventions, after announcing July 15 that it was negotiating the deal.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez led the charge, alongside his Ecuadorian counterpart and ally Correa.

Speaking in Quito at a regional summit last weekend, Chavez said he was fulfilling his "moral duty" by telling fellow leaders that the "winds of war were beginning to blow."

"This could generate a war in South America," he said.

Other regional leaders, including Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have asked Colombia to explain its decision.

Responding to criticism, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said Aug. 14 the purpose of the deal was to "defeat terrorism," adding that the accord with the United States will serves "as an insurance policy for neighboring nations."

Uribe said he would attend an emergency summit of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) that will gather on August 28 in Bariloche, Argentina, to discuss the situation created by the Colombian base agreement.

However, Frank Mora, a U.S. Defense Department official for Latin America, said the controversy was a storm in a teapot.

"This agreement simply formalizes what already almost exists right now," he told AFP.

In his remarks, Uribe also extended an olive branch to Ecuador, saying the two countries "could have dialogue" and "resolve their differences in the future."

Ecuador broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia over last year's air strike by the Colombian military against a Colombian leftist guerrilla base located in the Ecuadorian selva. Raul Reyes, a top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was killed in that attack.

"I apologize for that," Uribe said. "But we are interested in the future, and the same goes for Venezuela."