U.S. Military Base Plan Puts Colombia in Hot Water
Aug 12--As one of the few surviving pro-U.S. conservative heads of state in a continent that has swung left, Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe is used to being at odds with his neighbors. But accustomed though he may be to swimming against Latin America's political tide, Uribe is scrambling to explain his less-than-transparent decision to allow the U.S. military to use air bases on Colombian soil to track drug traffickers and even rebels.
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Although the pact has yet to be signed, officials in Bogota say the U.S. will be given basing rights on at least seven Colombian army, navy and air force facilities. The intention is for U.S. P-3 Orion and AWACS surveillance planes flown from these bases to monitor Colombia and the eastern Pacific for aircraft and boats transporting cocaine and heroin. But confusion surrounding the proposed base agreement, deep-seated anti-American sentiment in the region, and a botched rollout this summer have produced a diplomatic firestorm that caught Uribe's government by surprise.
Some of the response has been predictably hyperbolic. Hardcore leftists, led by Venezuela's President Hugo Chévez, say the plan effectively gives los yanquis a launching pad for an armed offensive against U.S. foes in Latin America. Chévez says he'll respond by bolstering his own armed forces with more Russian tanks. But even in Chile, ruled by the reliably moderate socialist President Michelle Bachelet, Uribe faced angry protesters during a seven-nation damage-control tour last week. "For the neighbors, this is about gringo bases on Colombian territory," noted the Colombian newsmagazine Semana. "In other words, an imperialist beachhead in Latin America."
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