After Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa decided not to renew an agreement allowing the U.S. to use an air base in Manta — the only U.S. base in South America for anti-drug flights — speculation has swirled as to where in the region the U.S. will move.
The U.S. is reportedly considering moving its operations from Ecuador to Colombia.
Anastasia Moloney is a British freelance journalist based in the Colombian capital, Bogotá. She writes at “World Politics Review” about the mixed reactions in Colombia.
U.S. Air Base Thorny Issue for Colombia
With a U.S military air base in the Ecuadorian coastal city of Manta scheduled to be shut down later this year, it looks increasingly likely that Colombia will step in as a new host for U.S. military assets in the region.
Newly re-elected Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has refused to renew Washington’s decade-long lease when it expires in November, arguing that the presence of U.S troops undermines the country’s sovereignty.
With Washington looking for a new hub for its counternarcotics operations in Latin America, speculation has been rife in recent months about Colombia’s possible role once the Manta base is closed. In addition to its strategic location, Colombia is a staunch U.S ally and the largest recipient of U.S aid in Latin America, making it the obvious choice for the U.S’s most important air base in the region.
But the potential move has raised controversy in Bogotá, and threatens to strain already fraught relations with Colombia’s neighbors, Venezuela and Ecuador.
As a result, the Colombian government’s stance on the relocation of the Manta base to Colombian soil has been unclear and contradictory. Last year, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe appeared to leave the door open for the possibility of a new U.S. military base in the Andean nation. “All that we [Colombia] can do to strengthen the help of the U.S. so that we can defeat drug trafficking, we’ll keep on doing,” he said.
Several months later, though, Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez said that while Colombia wants to “strengthen cooperation with the U.S. in the fight against drug trafficking,” there would be no new U.S. military bases in Colombia.
Colombia’s top military chief, Gen. Freddy Padilla, further clarified the nature of that “cooperation” earlier this month, when he revealed that discussions between the two countries were underway that could allow the U.S. military to use certain Colombian airports and existing military bases for logistical support, maintenance and technical needs.
This was recently reiterated by Colombia’s defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, who said that facilities in some of the country’s military bases could be “extended” for U.S. military use.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, William Broomfield, said that collaboration between the two nations in battling drugs “requires access to installations between the two countries.” Broomfield added that access regulations “should be adjusted,” but reiterated that the Colombians would remain in charge of their bases, which would continue to fly the Colombian flag.
All this suggests that the U.S. is seeking a deal that would give Washington privileged access to several Colombian bases across the country, and that Bogotá is likely to acquiesce. Washington will almost certainly be eyeing the large and well-equipped Palanquero air base, some 125 miles north of Bogotá, as a launchpad for its counternarcotics operations.
But if the Colombian government is adamant that transferring U.S. military hardware from Manta does not constitute establishing a U.S. military base in Colombia, others argue that shipping the U.S. fleet of E-3 AWACS and P-3 spy planes from Manta to Colombia would in practice convert Colombian military bases into de facto U.S. military bases.
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