[News] New Military Base in Colombia Would Spread Pentagon Reach Throughout Latin America

Anti-Imperialist News 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.

End Notes

    * 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 

    * Ibid.
    * "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, 
see also: 

    * 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 
2009, at: 

    * 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 
2008, at: 

    * Statement by Danilo Rueda, May 2009, at: 
    * Statement by Medellín Youth Network, May 
2009, at: 

    * "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.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

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