Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bases deal signed, but what are the real intentions?

November 16 update: Another version has been published on under the title “Obama Signs Military Basing Deal with Colombia -- Could Set Stage for Expeditionary Warfare.”
November 11 update: A version of this piece has been published on under the title "Signing of Colombia Bases Deal Could Set the Stage for 'Expeditionary Warfare'".

After several months of secrecy and controversy, on October 28th the US and Colombia signed an agreement to allow the US military extensive access to seven Colombian bases, notwithstanding serious concerns about true intentions and eventual consequences.

Despite pledges by Colombian and U.S. governments about the limitations of the agreement, the agreement text and U.S. military documents contradict such assurances. One of the principal concerns raised by regional governments after news was leaked of the pending agreement has been the possibility of the bases’ use for aggressions against neighboring countries. In an interview Sunday with the Colombian daily El Tiempo, Ambassador Brownfield claimed that joint operations aren’t planned outside of Colombia, and that Article IV of the agreement expressly forbids such operations. In fact, a careful review of the text of the agreement reveals no such prohibition.

Not only that, but similar assurances by Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva that the agreement "has no geopolitical or strategic connotation, other than being more effective in the fight against drug trafficking" are even more hard to believe after reading a recently-uncovered Pentagon budget document that expresses clear regional intentions for the Palanquero base. The document describes the U.S. presence in Palanquero as an “opportunity for conducting full spectrum operations throughout South America,” and confirms the fears of Colombia’s neighbors when it discusses the possibility of using the base to confront the "threat" of what it calls "anti-US governments." The most chilling phrase, however, is the discussion of the potential use of Palanquero to “expand expeditionary warfare capability.”

Perhaps in hope that the true scope of the agreement wouldn’t be discovered, the Colombian government has pushed through the signing of the agreement without Congressional approval, claiming that as a mere bilateral agreement no approval is required. This is despite the fact that Colombia’s State Council, a judicial body that advises the government on administrative issues, found that the agreement is in fact a treaty and should be reviewed by Congress. The Council also called the agreement “very unbalanced for the country."

For Colombians who live near the bases, the deal is also worrisome, as the agreement lacks environmental protections. The U.S. has no obligation to remediate ecological damage, nor does the deal provide for damages claims on behalf of the Colombian government. The agreement states, for example, that bases will be turned over in “as is” condition upon termination of the agreement. Given the U.S. military’s legacy of environmental damage around the world, this is a serious concern for the land and populations surrounding the bases.

Criticism of the deal signing has come from many corners. Presidential candidate and Senator Gustavo Petro urged the Colombian government to renounce the deal, calling it illegal without Congressional approval and pointing to the regional tensions it has fueled. Brazilian president Lula da Silva proposed a “non aggression pact” for UNASUR (Union of South American Countries) over concerns about the “gaps” in the deal that could allow U.S. military personnel based in Colombia to participate in attacks on neighboring countries. Twenty-seven European organizations signed a letter to President Obama just before the deal was signed, urging him to reconsider. On November 1st, several pacifist organizations from the U.S. and other countries protested at the Palanquero air base, raising a “no to US troops in Colombia” banner and comparing the plan to “a little School of the Americas in Colombia.” The activists commemorated the 1998 massacre of 17 peasant farmers launched from the Palanquero base and carried out with the participation of pilots from a U.S. company under contract with Occidental Petroleum.

You too can support a change U.S. policy toward Colombia by urging your Representative to sign a Dear Colleague letter to Secretary Clinton. The letter, initiated by Representatives McGovern, Schakowsky, Payne and Honda, calls for reduced aid to Colombia's military and increased support for human rights and humanitarian efforts. Click here to take action.


Kevin Gallagher said...

Hi Moira
I saw this article in Common Dreams also. Very informative, thank you. I will put it up on FB if you don't mind. I too love Latin America but Nicaragua. I have a blog here
Take Care

Anonymous said...

I live in a Colombian Military base and there have always been American soldiers here, I dont think anything much will have or has changed. The US military has a huge reach around the world, for better or worse, lets hope this relationship is not a one night stand.

Moira said...

Kevin, please feel free to post the article on FB!

Espionrouge, it's true the U.S. has a huge presence around the world, but if you'll read some of my previous postings on the topic, you'll see that the precedent in those bases is a big part of the reason the bases in Colombia worry me.