October 30, 2009
By Associated Press
Colombia and the US today signed a pact to expand Washington’s military’s presence in the country.
The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, said the agreement was a threat to the region’s security.
The US ambassdor, William Brownfield, signed the deal with the Colombian foreign, justice and defence ministers at the foreign ministry in Bogota, Ana Duque, a US embassy spokeswoman, said.
Officials said the agreement would increase US access to seven Colombian bases for 10 years.
The Colombian foreign ministry said the pact “respects the principles of equal sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states”.
Chávez, who survived a 2002 coup attempt he claimed was backed by the US, warned that Washington could use the bases agreement to destabilise the region.
However, South America’s main power broker, the Brazilian president, Inacio Lula da Silva, dropped objections to the agreement after senior US officials visited to discuss it.
Colombia’s conservative president, Alvaro Uribe, told a regional summit in August that US military operations would be restricted to Colombian territory, where a 50-year-old leftwing insurgency, and violence related to drug trafficking, persist.
US anti-drug flights that have previously operated from Ecuador will be based at Palanquero, in the central Magdalena valley, and navy port visits will be more frequent.
Colombian and US officials said the pact would not increase the current limits of 800 military and 600 civilian contractors set by US law.
The leading US defence department official for Latin America, Frank Mora, told the Associated Press in August that there would be no “US offensive capacity”, such as fighter jets, operating from any of the bases.
However, construction to expand facilities at Palanquero is planned.
Under the terms of the pact, US military personnel will continue to have diplomatic immunity from prosecution. Some Colombians had objected to exempting them from local criminal jurisdiction.
Duque said the text of the agreement would be published in the US federal record within about a month.