Colombia will sign a controversial security pact with the United States to enhance its war on “narcoterrorism” by the end of the week, Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva said on Tuesday.
The agreement, which gives U.S. troops access to seven bases to enhance Colombia’s anti-drug and counter-insurgency operations, has been criticized by neighboring countries for allowing a American military presence in the region.
But Silva said the accord was a continuation of current policy and Colombia had gone to great lengths to explain that to apprehensive neighbors.
“It is another step in a cooperation effort that has lasted for more than 50 years, and specifically aimed at drug trafficking,” he told reporters. “The agreement has no geopolitical or strategic connotation other than being more effective in the fight against drug trafficking.”
Silva, who was in Washington for talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said the agreement would most likely be signed on Friday on his return to Bogota.
The U.S. government has already appropriated $46 million to fund the new arrangement. Most will go to refurbish the Palanquero air base near Bogota.
Colombia, the most reliable U.S. ally in South America, has received around $6 billion in aid since 2000, though Silva said U.S. aid currently represent only 4 percent of the Colombian defense and security budget.
U.S. officials have said the American military presence in Colombia will not exceed the current caps of 800 military personnel and 600 civilian contractors.
They are mainly involved in training, logistical and intelligence support to help Colombia’s armed forces in their fight against cocaine traffickers and leftist guerrillas.