Saturday, May 30, 2009

New Colombian Base

Pentagon Plans Latin America-Wide Intervention Ability
for New Military Base in Colombia

Colectivo de Abogados
José Alvear Restrepo

Sistema Interamericano (OEA)Herramientas prácticasAcciones
públicasD.E.S. C.Derechos civiles y políticos EditorialPaz y Derechos

Miércoles 27 de mayo de 2009, por Fellowship of
Reconciliation - FOR

United States is planning to establish a new military facility in
Colombia that will give the U.S. increased capacity for military
intervention throughout most of Latin America. Given the tense
relations of Washington with Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, as well
as the Colombian military’s atrocious human rights record, the
Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) believes the plan should be
subjected to vigorous debate.

base would feed a failed drug policy, support an abusive army, and
reinforce a tragic history of U.S. military intervention in the
region,” said John Lindsay-Poland, Latin America Program Co-director
for FOR. “It’s wrong and wasteful, and Congress should scrap it.”

The new facility in Palanquero, Colombia would not be limited to
counter-narcotics operations, nor even to operations in the Andean
region, according to an Airlift Military Command (AMC) planning
document. The U.S. Southern Command aims to establish a base with “air
mobility reach on the South American continent” in addition to a
capacity for counter-narcotics operations, through the year 2025.

With help from the Transportation Command and AMC, the Southern
Command identified Palanquero, from which “nearly half of the
continent can be covered by a C-17 without refueling.” If fuel is
available at its destination, “a C-17 could cover the entire
continent, with the exception of the Cape Horn region,” the AMC
planners wrote.

President Obama’s Pentagon budget, submitted May 7, includes $46
million for development of the Palanquero base, and says the Defense
Department seeks “an array of access arrangements for contingency
operations, logistics, and training in Central/South America.” A U.S.
Embassy spokesperson in Bogota told FOR that negotiations were not yet
concluded for the base.

The Southern Command is also pursuing access to a site in French
Guiana that would permit military aircraft to reach sites in Africa,
via the Ascension Islands, according to AMC. SouthCom apparently sought
use of facilities in Recife, Brazil for the same purpose, but “the
political relationship with Brazil is not conducive to the necessary
agreements,” AMC wrote.

The lease for the U.S. “Forward Operating Location” in Manta,
Ecuador expires in November 2009, and Ecuador notified Washington last
year that it would not renew the lease. The facility in Manta was
authorized to conduct only counter-drug operations, but drug traffic in
the Pacific, where aircraft from Manta patrolled, has increased in recent years,
according to military spokesmen. U.S. forces in Manta also carried out
operations to arrest undocumented Ecuadorans on boats in Ecuadoran
But public documentation of U.S. operations conducted from
Manta does not indicate use of C-17 cargo aircraft, so their use in
Palanquero apparently would represent an expanded U.S. military
capacity in the region.

The “mission creep” in the proposal for continent-wide operations from
Colombia is also evident in President Obama’s foreign aid request
for Colombia. While the budget request for $508 million tacitly
recognizes the failure of Plan Colombia drug policy by cutting funds
for fumigation of coca crops, the White House is asking for an increase
in counterinsurgency equipment and training to the Colombian Army.

Colombian and U.S. human rights and political leaders have objected to
continued funding of the Colombian army, especially after revelations
that the army reportedly murdered more than 1,000 civilians and alleged
they were guerrillas killed in combat, in order to increase their body
count. The Palanquero base itself, which houses a Colombian Air Force
unit, was banned from receiving U.S. aid for five years because of its
role in a 1998 attack that killed 17 civilians, including six
children, from the effects of U.S.-made cluster bombs. The United
States resumed aid to the unit last year.

Colombian Defense Ministry sources said
that Colombia was attempting to obtain increases in U.S. military aid
as part of the base negotiations. Palanquero offers the U.S. military
a sophisticated infrastructure
– a 10,000-foot runway, hangars that hold more than 100 aircraft,
housing for more than 2,000 men, restaurants, casinos, supermarkets,
and a radar system installed by the United States itself in the 1990s.

U.S. law caps the number of uniformed U.S. soldiers operating in
Colombia at 800, and the number of contractors at 600. Until last year,
a significant number of them were intelligence personnel assigned to
the effort to rescue three U.S. military contractors kidnapped by the
leftist FARC guerrillas. With the rescue last year of the three
contractors, many U.S. intelligence staff left Colombia, leaving space
for soldiers to run operations in the prospective new U.S. base or

“That the Colombian government asks for a U.S. base now would be a
serious error,” says former defense minister and presidential
candidate Rafael Pardo.

FOR believes replacing one military base that was set up for the
failed drug war with another base to intervene in South America and to
support the abusive Colombian army would be a serious error for the
United States as well.

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