Backed Into a Corner

Rarely has there been such a show of unanimity in Latin America. Last week, in response to a new agreement between Washington and Bogotá that grants U.S. access to seven military bases in Colombia, almost every member of UNASUR—the South American group that some would like to replace the Organization of American States (perhaps because it excludes the U.S., Mexico, and Canada)—used a summit meeting to lambaste U.S. President Barack Obama and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.--Newsweek

7 de septiembre de 2009

Some did it graciously, like the leaders of Brazil and Chile; others, like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Evo Morales of Bolivia, did it stridently, as is their wont. But everyone seemed to agree there was more to the arrangement than meets the eye. Despite U.S. and Colombian insistence that the deal will be limited to drug-enforcement and antiterrorism measures, most Latin leaders see it as an attempt to increase the U.S. military presence in the region. In this they are both right and wrong.

The agreement—at least the parts that have been made public—does stick to these issues, and does not call for an increase in U.S. personnel in Colombia (currently capped at 1,400). Nor does it entail the stationing of more U.S. aircraft, weapons, or surveillance equipment than was previously at the Drug Enforcement Administration base in Manta, Ecuador. Yet therein lies the crux of the problem. When the U.S. lease on Manta expired this year, Correa shut it down. Reasonably enough, Washington sought alternatives. Colombia seemed ideal, precisely because there is already a small U.S. military presence there.

As a result, however, Colombia now finds itself in exactly the state of isolation that Chávez warned would result at the UNASUR meeting. Colombia is threatened from the east by Chávez, who not only has initiated an arms race by purchasing huge amounts of Russian planes, tanks, Kalashnikovs, and personnel carriers, but also tolerates safe havens for Colombian FARC guerrillas on his side of the border. Many experts, and the Colombian government, claim that he also provides money, weapons, training, and medical treatment to the FARC. To the southwest, Colombia faces a similar menace from Ecuador, which also supports the narco-insurgents and grants them sanctuary. And at home, Uribe faces the challenge of trying to wipe up the rebels, who are mortally wounded but remain active in many parts of the country.
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