Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Colombia became a “colony” when it granted the US permission to expand its military presence in Colombian territory in an accord signed on October 30th, the details of which became public on Tuesday.
“Colombia decided to hand over its sovereignty to the United States… Colombia no longer governs its territory,” said Chavez in a televised meeting of his Council of Ministers. “Colombia today is no longer a sovereign country… it is a kind of colony.”
The ten-year accord grants the US access, use, and free movement among two air bases, two naval bases, three army bases, and “the rest of the installations and locations” in Colombia, in accordance with Colombian law.
The bases and any enhancements carried out on them by the US remain the property of Colombia. Meanwhile, US military, civilian, and diplomatic personnel, contractors, ships and planes working under the accord are exempt from customs duties, tariffs, rent, taxes, and most inspections of its cargo, according to the deal.
In addition, the accord grants diplomatic immunity to US personnel. To reinforce this immunity, “Colombia will guarantee that its authorities will verify, in the least amount of time possible, the status of immunity of the personnel of the United States and their dependents who are suspected of criminal activity in Colombia, and will turn them over to the appropriate US military or diplomatic authorities,” the accord states.
The purpose of the increased military cooperation, according to the preamble to the accord, is to “promote and facilitate regional cooperation in order to counteract the persistent threats to peace and stability, such as terrorism.”
The Venezuelan government argues that the US plans to infiltrate Venezuela and conjure evidence that links Venezuela to drug trafficking and Colombian guerrilla insurgents in order to justify a military intervention. It also argues that the granting of immunity to US officials will facilitate human rights abuses.
After the negotiations of the military accord were made public in July, Chavez said the US would use the accord to “dominate all of South America,” especially its natural resources, and that Colombia would become an “operational center that will permit the US to cover all of South America with its planes, spies, spy satellites, intelligence and counterintelligence agencies.”
US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have repeatedly denied such allegations and asserted that the accord pertains strictly to the US and Colombia. In a press conference in August, Clinton said, “This is about the bilateral cooperation between the United States and Colombia regarding security matters within Colombia.”
However, the US military’s financial documents contradict Clinton and Obama’s public declarations. The Pentagon budget for the year 2010 says the Department of Defense seeks “an array of access arrangements for contingency operations, logistics, and training in Central/South America,” and cites a $46 million investment in the “development” of Colombia’s Palanquero air base as a key part of this.
According to the 2010 fiscal year budget of the US Air Force Military Construction Program, the purpose of the upgrades to the Palanquero base is to “enhance the US Global Defense Posture Strategy,” and the base “offers an opportunity for conducting full spectrum operations throughout South America.”
The budget refers to the Palanquero base as a “Cooperative Security Location (CSL),” and says it “provides a unique opportunity for full spectrum operations in 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.”
“A presence [at the Palanquero base] will also increase our capability to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), improve global reach, support logistics requirements, improve partnerships, improve theater security cooperation, and expand expeditionary warfare capability,” the budget continues.
In a recent radio interview, Colombian Ex-President Ernesto Samper said Colombians “should not deceive ourselves” about the fact that the accord will allow the US to bring more advanced spy equipment into the country.
He also implied that the possibility of war as a result of the deal is not far-fetched, considering how Colombia-Venezuelan relations have deteriorated since July.
“I would say we are in a pre-war situation; the poorly managed issue of the bases, Venezuela feels threatened by the bases, the government signs on to the bases without a public discussion of the issue, and all this starts to accumulate,” he said. “The situation can harden and reach extremes.”
To avoid such a conflict, Brazil suggested that Colombia and Venezuela sign a non-aggression treaty, and offered technical support if the two countries launch joint border surveillance operations.
“It would be very interesting if Venezuela and Colombia were to agree to a system of joint surveillance of their common border, and I would not rule out a non-aggression pact,” said Marco Aurelio Garcia, an advisor to Brazilian President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva, in an interview with the Colombian newspaper El Pais. “We would help with the technical means, such as surveillance planes,” he said.
With regard to the US-Colombia military deal, Garcia said, “It does not seem correct to us. We cannot impede Colombia from making its decisions, but there is a lack of guarantees that an imbalance in the region will not be produced,” said the presidential advisor.
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This post was written by James Suggett