Source: Colombia Journal
Leaders in South America have publicly expressed their concerns regarding the recently-signed agreement between the U.S. and Colombian governments that provides the U.S. military with long-term access to seven bases in the territory of its closest Latin American ally. Some leaders, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez in particular, have claimed that the agreement poses a threat to left-leaning South American nations. The recently released text of the base agreement and a related U.S. military document confirm that the fears of Chávez and other South American leaders are not mere paranoia. The documents make evident that U.S. military objectives extend beyond Colombia’s borders, stating that the Palenquero Air Base “provides an opportunity for conducting full spectrum operations throughout South America.”
According to the agreement, increased cooperation between the United States and Colombia is crucial “in order to address common threats to peace, stability, freedom, and democracy.” The Obama administration has repeatedly rejected the concerns of South American leaders by claiming that the ten-year cooperation agreement between the two countries only permits U.S. military operations to be conducted in Colombia in order to achieve these objectives and that it poses no threat to neighboring nations. “This is about the bilateral co-operation between the United States and Colombia regarding security matters within Colombia,” explained U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Colombia’s Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez declared, “Some third countries have expressed some concern regarding the agreement. We have always said that this agreement applies exclusively to Colombia.” But nowhere in the agreement does it actually state that U.S. military operations launched from the Colombian bases are to be restricted to Colombia.
This subtle omission in the text of the agreement is crucial when taken in conjunction with another U.S. military document. In its Fiscal Year 2010 Military Construction Program budget estimate, submitted to Congress in May 2009, the U.S. Air Force requested $46 million in funding to upgrade Colombia’s Palenquero Air Base, the largest base covered under the cooperation agreement. This document makes clear that U.S. military objectives related to the use of the Colombian bases extend far beyond Colombia’s borders to those South American countries viewed as posing threats to U.S. interests.
According to the U.S. Air Force, the Palenquero base “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 insurgencies, anti-US governments, endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters.” The term “full spectrum operations,” as the document makes clear, means that the Colombian base can be used as a launching pad not only for counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism operations, but for any form of military operation anywhere in South America.
The document reiterates the importance of Palenquero to U.S. regional interests by stating that the air base “is essential for supporting the U.S. mission in Columbia [sic] and throughout the United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR),” which constitutes all of Latin America. It goes on to state: “The intent is to leverage existing infrastructure to the maximum extent possible, improve the U.S. ability to respond rapidly to crisis, and assure regional access and presence at minimum cost.”
The U.S. Air Force concludes by making clear that the importance of the Palenquero base goes beyond being able to conduct counter-narcotics operations and warns Congress that a failure to fund the required upgrades to the existing facilities “will severely limit the ability of USSOUTHCOM to support the U.S. Global Defense Posture (GDP) Strategy” and limit “USSOUTHCOM to four other CSLs [Cooperative Security Locations] which are restricted to supporting aerial counter narcotics missions only and two other locations that, while not mission restricted, are too distant to accommodate mission requirements in the AOR.”
In accordance with the U.S. Air Force’s stated objectives in the region, the text of the U.S.-Colombia base agreement clearly affirms that U.S. military operations will not be restricted to supporting counter-narcotics missions, as was the case with the expired agreement with Ecuador for the use of the Manta Air Base and current accords with several Central American and Caribbean nations. According to the U.S.-Colombia base agreement, its objective is “the deepened cooperation in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism, among other things.” Furthermore, according to the U.S. Air Force, “Palenquero will provide joint use capability to the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, and U.S. Interagency aircraft and personnel.”
In conclusion, the U.S.-Colombia base agreement does not restrict U.S. military activities to the territory of Colombia nor does it limit them to counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism operations. In other words, the U.S. military can use the Colombian bases to launch any type of military operation it wants against any target anywhere in South America. And in its report to Congress, the U.S. Air Force made evident the importance of Colombia’s largest air base to achieving U.S. military objectives throughout South America, including managing the threat posed by “anti-US governments.” Clearly, South American nations, particularly Venezuela and Bolivia, have ample reason to be concerned.