My San Antonio

.S., Colombia need new approach to out maneuver Chávez

Sept 11--Rarely has there been such a show of unanimity in Latin America. Last week, in response to an agreement between Washington and Bogota that grants U.S. access to seven military bases in Colombia, almost every member of UNASUR — the South American group 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.

11 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.

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, Washington sought alternatives. Colombia seemed ideal, because there is already a small U.S. military presence there. As a result, Colombia now finds itself in the state of isolation that Chávez warned would result.
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