Washington defends agreement to use army bases

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has defended a controversial military agreement with Colombia, insisting that the US is not 'creating' army bases, but will be using existing bases in the South American country to fight drug trafficking.


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has defended a new US-Colombian anti drug-trafficking deal in an attempt to quell South American fears that the agreement will lead to enhanced US military hegemony on the continent.

“I want to be clear about what this agreement does and does not,” Clinton said at a press conference with Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez. “First: the agreement does not create US military bases in Colombia. [But] It does provide US access to Colombian bases,” she explained.

The US Secretary of State urged sceptics to look at the agreement closely before they criticised it. “I certainly hope that anyone who is speaking out about the agreement will take the time to understand that this is built on years of agreements between the United States and Colombia. It does not pertain to other countries. This is about the bilateral cooperation between the United States and Colombia,” she said.

Clinton insisted that the agreement, reached on August 14 and expected to be ratified in a few weeks, would lead to “no significant permanent increase in US military presence in Colombia”. Under the current rules, US personnel levels in Colombia are limited by a Congressional cap to 800 military personnel and 600 civilian contractors.

The US secretary of state said the agreement would allow the two countries “to continue working together to meet the challenges posed by narco-traffickers, terrorists, and other illegal armed groups in Colombia."

Critics have raised doubts as to whether the new agreement will be more effective than the previous ones in dealing with these challenges. “The US-Colombian deal is far from perfect and has drawn serious criticism from circles other than the extreme left,” says Renée Fregosi, a political scientist at the Paris-based High Institute for Latin American Studies (IHEAL). “I myself believe that enhancing military repression has so far proven inefficient in the fight against drugs”, she added.

The deal is expected to give the US access to three Colombian airfields, two navy bases and two army bases. Colombia defended the agreement saying it would be in line with "the principle of non-intervention, and the principle of the territorial integrity of states."

The spectre of US imperialism

According to Fregosi, Clinton feels compelled to issue these reassurances because South America’s leftist governments, led by firebrand Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, categorically reject any form of US influence in the region. Colombia’s immediate neighbours, Ecuador and Venezuela, perceive US military presence in Colombia as a direct threat to their security, claiming Americans merely use anti-drug efforts as a cover for their military ambitions.

In a direct response to Clinton’s statement, Chavez bluntly accused Clinton and her Colombian counterpart of lying. “Nobody will believe what the secretary of state is saying – she doesn’t believe it herself!” he said.

Speaking on Venezuelan state television, Chavez warned against imperialist deceit: “What she said – and the Colombian chancellor repeated, looking a bit nervous and gloomy there – is not credible. Unless, that is, they know nothing about US imperialism. Then they should read about it, learn about what imperialist strategy is.”

The Bogota-Washington agreement has also raised concerns among more moderate Latin American leaders.

“Of course South Americans are right to be wary of US attempts to wield influence in the region and speak up about their sovereignty, but Chavez is just being provocative as usual, which mainly serves his internal interests,” Fregosi told FRANCE 24.

Chavez had previously warned that agreement could lead to war in South America and beefed up his defences by ordering tanks and military equipment from Russia. “Venezuela is number one on the list [of U.S targets]. Using Colombia and the bases in Aruba and Curacao, they are surrounding us”, he said over the weekend. “We do no want war, we hate it. But we must prepare for it,” the Venezuelan leader warned.

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