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Seven New US Military Bases in Colombia Is Hardly a Move to the Left

In a recent edition of the
Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O'Grady laments an apparent shift left in the Obama
administration's Latin America policy.  Clearly, O'Grady hasn't
been keeping up to date with current events. If she had been, she would
have heard about negotiations underway between the U.S. and Colombia
to establish at least seven U.S. military bases in Colombia. Last I
heard, folks on the left tend to oppose increased militarization; it's
tough to see seven new military bases as a move to the left.

Why is the Obama administration
pushing for these bases, despite having previously
criticized
Colombia's
human rights record?

The Administration's goals
for the military facilities are "filling the gaps left by the eventual
cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia," according to sources in Washington and Bogotá. The proposed
bases, replacements for the soon-to-closed U.S. base in Manta, Ecuador,
would serve to expand the U.S. military's counter-narcotic operations
in the region, deepen involvement in Colombia's counterinsurgency
war, and combat "other international crimes," according to Colombia's
Foreign Minister.

Despite these hints at the
intention of the bases, many serious questions remain.  In fact,
even the Colombian Congress has yet to receive detailed information
from the Uribe administration, despite repeated official requests. 
Nonetheless, on Tuesday Uribe began a South
America tour
to
convince his regional counterparts of the plan, despite not having briefed
his own Congress.

Such secrecy is worrisome.
Fellowship of Reconciliation's John Lindsay Poland, who has spent
years studying U.S. military bases around the world, writes, "the locations of the bases under
negotiation raise further questions. None of them are on the coast of
the Pacific Ocean, where aircraft from the Manta base patrolled for
drug traffic – supposedly with great success, reflecting how traffic
has increased in the Pacific. Three of the bases are clustered near
each other on the Caribbean coast, not far from existing U.S. military
sites in Aruba and Curacao – and closer to Venezuela than to the Pacific
Ocean. Why are U.S. negotiators apparently forgoing Pacific sites, if
counternarcotics is still part of the U.S. military mission? What missions
'beyond Colombia's borders' are U.S. planners contemplating?"

Even if we had answers to these
questions, however, there exist plenty more reasons to be wary of the
bases.

In cooperating with the Colombian
army, the U.S. would be demonstrating support for an institution with
an atrocious human rights record.  More than 1,000 civilians have
been murdered
by the Colombian army

in recent years, in a criminal attempt to portray them as guerrillas
in order to raise the number of guerrillas killed in combat. Proposing
these seven bases unmasks Obama's previous statements calling for
the improvement of Colombian's human rights record as merely lip service.

Colombian forces aren't the
only ones to worry about: U.S. military forces will be not be bound
by Colombian law and will potentially get away with all kinds crimes.
US negotiators have made
it known
that "even
if they won't interfere in the exercise of command by Colombian officers
on the bases, they will ensure the autonomy of U.S. military forces
when operations go beyond Colombia's borders." And there is precedent
that validates these concerns. In 2007 two U.S. soldiers carrying out
a Plan Colombia mission in the small town of Melgar raped a 12-year-old
girl, and have yet to be punished.  When confronted by the girl's
mother, the soldiers were quoted
as saying
, "Yeah,
we raped her, so what?  We are in Colombia, the law doesn't affect
us." An all too accurate depiction of the US military's mentality
in Colombia.

These bases would lack oversight
in the financial arena as well.  While Plan Colombia funding has
been open for Congressional debate, funding for US military activities
has not. Congress would therefore exercise little to no control over
the funding – and therefore the actions – of the bases in Colombia.

The many unanswered questions
and ominous possibilities that come with seven new US bases have raised
alarms among Colombia's neighbors, fueling serious regional tensions.
Venezuela has
frozen diplomatic relations
,
and Ecuador has
threatened
"increased
military tensions" over their concerns about the increased U.S.
presence in the region. Brazil's President Lula said last week he was "not happy" at even
one base being handed over for U.S. operations.

Many Colombians are opposed
as well, backed up by the fact that such an agreement would bypass Article
173 of the Colombian Constitution, which prohibits the presence of foreign
troops except in transit, and then only after legislative approval.
Multiple protests have been held in downtown Bogota, and a national
day of action is being planned for August 7 – the national holiday celebrating
the Colombian armed forces – as opposition to these military bases grows.  

The bases agreement has not
yet been signed; there is still time to convince Colombian and U.S.
leaders to scrap the idea.  The Fellowship of Reconciliation has
compiled a bilingual (English and Spanish) resource page for those opposing
the bases: www.forcolombia.org/bases, and asks that you call the White
House Comment Line (202-456-1111) today to say NO to military bases
in Colombia.


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