President Alvaro Uribe headed off on a whirlwind South American tour
Tuesday to defend his plans to expand the U.S. military’s presence in
Colombia, a prospect that worries even friendly nations in the region.
The trip coincides with a two-day visit to Brazil of U.S. National
Security Adviser James Jones, who met Tuesday with defense officials
and with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s foreign affairs adviser.
President Michelle Bachelet said Colombia’s decision to host more U.S.
forces “affects all the (region’s) countries, and they are uneasy.”
foreign minister, Celso Amorim, told the Folha de San Paulo newspaper
over the weekend that he understands “the bases will allow for aircraft
operations with a wide radius of action” and said his country is
worried about “a strong military presence whose objective and capacity
to go a lot further than Colombia’s internal needs.”
officials say they hope talks next week will produce an agreement that
will give U.S. forces greater access to three Colombian air bases and
two naval bases. The Palanquero base in the central Magdalena valley
would host U.S. Air Force counternarcotics missions that had been based
The 10-year lease agreement would not boost the
presence of American troops and civilian military contractors above the
1,400 currently permitted by U.S. law, the Colombians say.
officials have refused to discuss details of the negotiations, although
U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield has insisted that an accord would
not produce U.S. bases but rather “cooperative security locations” at
In Brasilia on Tuesday, Jones told
reporters that the bases issue “will have a good explanation and a
satisfactory outcome that will in no way interfere with the progress of
our friendship and our cooperation together on matters of mutual
Uribe has put Colombia’s leftist rebels on
the defensive with more than $5 billion in U.S. aid, including special
forces training and the sharing of intelligence from satellite and
airborne communications intercepts.
While Colombia’s ties with
the rest of the continent have been on the whole cordial, it has feuded
with Ecuador and Venezuela over their leftist leaders’ alleged ties
with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has
been seeking to overthrow Bogota governments for 45 years.
Neither country is on Uribe’s itinerary.
President Hugo Chavez pulled his ambassador from Bogota last week after
Colombia complained that three Swedish anti-tank rocket launchers
bought by Venezuela’s military in 1988 wound up in a FARC weapons cache
seized in October.
President Rafael Correa of Ecuador was stung
by a FARC video given to The Associated Press last month in which a
rebel commander discusses making contributions to Correa’s 2006
In a telephone interview with the AP, Silva’s
foreign affairs adviser Marco Aurelio Garcia said Brazil believes that
“the region’s problems should be resolved basically in the regional
Ecuador is hosting a summit on Aug. 10 of South America’s
fledgling UNASUR defense community, which most of the continent’s
presidents are expected to attend. Uribe and his foreign minister,
Jaime Bermudez, plan to be absent.