[News] New Military Base in Colombia Would Spread Pentagon Reach Throughout Latin America
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri May 29 12:47:42 EDT 2009
New Military Base in Colombia Would Spread
Pentagon Reach Throughout Latin America
John Lindsay-Poland | May 28, 2009
Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)
The Pentagon budget submitted to Congress on May
7 includes $46 million for development of a new
U.S. military base in Palanquero, Colombia.
The official justification states that the
Defense Department seeks "an array of access
arrangements for contingency operations,
logistics, and training in Central/South America."
The military facility in Colombia will give the
United States military increased capacity for
intervention throughout most of Latin America.
The plan is being advanced amid tense relations
between Washington and Venezuela, Bolivia, and
Ecuador, and despite both a long history and
recent revelations about the Colombian military's
atrocious human rights record.
President Obama told hemispheric leaders last
month that "if our only interaction with many of
these countries is drug interdictionif our only
interaction is militarythen we may not be
developing the connections that can over time
increase our influence and have a beneficial effect."1
In this Obama is on point. This base would feed a
failed drug policy, support an abusive army, and
reinforce a tragic history of U.S. military
intervention in the region. It's wrong and
wasteful, and Congress should scrap it.
The new facility in Palanquero, Colombia would
not be limited to counter-narcotics operations,
nor even to operations in the Andean region,
according to an Air Mobility Command (AMC)
planning document. The U.S. Southern Command
(SouthCom) aims to establish a base with "air
mobility reach on the South American continent"
in addition to a capacity for counter-narcotics
operations, through the year 2025.2
With help from the Transportation Command and
AMC, the SouthCom noted that "nearly half of the
continent can be covered by a C-17 without
refueling" from Palanquero. If fuel is available
at its destination, "a C-17 could cover the
entire continent, with the exception of the Cape
Horn region," the AMC planners wrote.3
A U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Bogota said that
negotiations are not yet concluded for the base.
The SouthCom is also pursuing access to a site in
French Guiana that would permit military aircraft
to reach sites in Africa, via the Ascension
Islands, according to AMC.4 SouthCom apparently
sought use of facilities in Recife, Brazil for
the same purpose, but "the political relationship
with Brazil is not conducive to the necessary agreements," AMC wrote.
The lease for the U.S. "Forward Operating
Location" in Manta, Ecuador expires in November
2009, and Ecuador notified Washington last year
that it would not renew the lease. The facility
in Manta was authorized to conduct only
counter-drug operations. Yet, according to
military spokesmen, drug traffic in the
Pacificwhere aircraft from Manta patrolledhas
increased in recent years.5 U.S. forces in Manta
also carried out operations to arrest
undocumented Ecuadorans on boats in Ecuadoran
waters. But public documentation of U.S.
operations conducted from Manta does not indicate
use of C-17 cargo aircraft, so their use in
Palanquero apparently would represent an expanded
U.S. military capacity in the region.
The "mission creep" in the proposal for
continent-wide operations from Colombia is also
evident in President Obama's foreign aid request
for Colombia. While the budget request for $508
million tacitly recognizes the failure of Plan
Colombia drug policy by cutting funds for
fumigation of coca crops, the White House is
asking for an increase in counterinsurgency
equipment and training to the Colombian Army.6
Colombian and U.S. human rights and political
leaders have objected to continued funding of the
Colombian army,7 especially after revelations
that the army reportedly murdered more than 1,000
civilians and alleged they were guerrillas killed
in combat, in order to increase their body
count.8 The Palanquero base itself, which houses
a Colombian Air Force unit, was banned from
receiving U.S. aid for five years because of its
role in a 1998 attack that killed 17 civilians,
including six children, from the effects of
U.S.-made cluster bombs.9 The United States resumed aid to the unit last year.
Colombian Defense Ministry sources said that
Colombia was attempting to obtain increases in
U.S. military aid as part of the base
negotiations.10 Palanquero offers the U.S.
military a sophisticated infrastructurea
10,000-foot runway, hangars that hold more than
100 aircraft, housing for more than 2,000 men,
restaurants, casinos, supermarkets, and a radar
system installed by the United States itself in the 1990s.11
Colombian activists also point out that a new
base at Palanquero would reinforce the existing
U.S. military presence at other bases in
Colombia, such as Tres Esquinas and Tolemaida.
"The militarization of Palanquero is an obstacle
to effective and visionary peace initiatives such
as those promoted by communities throughout the
country, as well as to the humanitarian exchanges
developed by Colombians for Peace," says Danilo
Rueda of the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace.12
"Colombian military bases where there are
foreignespecially U.S.soldiers, provide
tangible evidence that in this country there is
neither sovereignty, nor autonomy, nor
independence," says the Medellín Youth Network.
The Palanquero base, the Youth Network says, "is
the political lobby, is the payment and the legal
lie so that the armed conflict generated by
social inequality may be turned over to others."13
U.S. law caps the number of uniformed U.S.
soldiers operating in Colombia at 800, and the
number of contractors at 600. Until last year, a
significant number of them were intelligence
personnel assigned to the effort to rescue three
U.S. military contractors kidnapped by the
leftist FARC guerrillas. With the rescue last
year of the three contractors, many U.S.
intelligence staff left Colombia, leaving space
for soldiers to run operations in the prospective new U.S. base or bases.
Former defense minister and presidential
candidate Rafael Pardo opposes the base. "That
the Colombian government asks for a U.S. base now
would be a serious error," he says.14
Replacing one military base that was set up for
the failed drug war with another base to
intervene in South America and to support the
abusive Colombian army would be a serious error for the United States as well.
* CNN, "Obama: Summit of the Americas
'productive'," 19 April, 2009, at:
* "White Paper, Air Mobility Command, Global
En Route Strategy," p. 22, preparatory document
for Air Force Symposium 2009AFRICOM, at
* "Global En Route Strategy," p. 22.
* Chris Kraul, "Cocaine Culture Creeps into
Ecuador," Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2007,
* Adam Isacson, "First Peek at the Obama
Administration's 2010 Aid Request," 7 May 2009,
* In February 46 national and regional U.S.
organizations urged Obama to terminate military
aid to Colombia, while a letter from more than a
hundred Colombian leaders urged a reformulation
of policy, putting promotion of a negotiated end
to the armed conflict at its center. See
* Nadja Drost, "In Colombia, Suspicious
Deaths," Global Post, 11 May 2009, at:
See also "426 militares han sido detenidos por
ejecuciones extrajudiciales," Semana, 11 May
* Congregación Intercongregacional de
Justicia y Paz, "Masacre en Santo Domingo, 13 de
diciembre de 1998," at:
* "Con traslado de base de Manta," El Tiempo,
18 April 2009, at:
* "De Manta a Palanquero?" Cambio, 2 November
* Statement by Danilo Rueda, May 2009, at:
* Statement by Medellín Youth Network, May
* "De Manta a Palanquero?"
John Lindsay-Poland co-directs the Fellowship of
Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and
the Caribbean, in Oakland, California. He can be
reached at johnlp(at)igc(dot)org.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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