On Sunday the London Independent reported that the U.S. national security state, concerned that it is being forced out of Ecuador, has chosen Colombia as the place for seven newly acquired military bases capable of extending U.S. power throughout Latin America, including a soon-to-be-upgraded base at Palanquero, near Bogota, apparently chosen as the locus from which "full-spectrum operations" can be conducted "throughout South America," including "mobility missions by providing access to the entire continent, except the Cape Horn region, if fuel is available, and over half the continent if un-refuelled," in the words of an Air Force document. -- "'Full-spectrum operations' is the Pentagon's jargon for its long-established goal of securing crushing military superiority with atomic and conventional weapons across the globe and in space," Hugh O'Shaughnessy reminded readers. -- "Palanquero could also be useful in ferrying arms and personnel to Africa via the British mid-Atlantic island of Ascension, French Guiana and Aruba, the Dutch island off Venezuela. The U.S. has access to them all." -- The Associated Press reported on "ongoing tensions" between Colombia and Venezuela on Sunday. -- Christopher Toothaker said that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez believes "Venezuela must prepare for a possible armed conflict . . . because the United States and Colombia could attack. He claims U.S. 'imperialists' want to undermine his 'Bolivarian Revolution.'" -- Reuters reported Friday that Chavez is sounding the tocsin in Venezuela: "'I would go to war with Colombia in tears, but it is not in our hands to do it or not to do it. It's not even Colombia, it's the North American empire,' Chavez said at a meeting of leftist parties on Friday." -- On Thursday, "Venezuelan troops blew up two wooden plank pedestrian bridges connecting the countries. . . . Chavez said the flimsy foot bridges that were destroyed had been built illegally and used by smugglers. But Colombia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling their destruction 'an aggression against the civilian population and the frontier communities.'" ...
U.S. BUILDS UP ITS BASES IN OIL-RICH SOUTH AMERICA
By Hugh O'Shaughnessy
November 22, 2009
The United States is massively building up its potential for nuclear and non-nuclear strikes in Latin America and the Caribbean by acquiring unprecedented freedom of action in seven new military, naval, and air bases in Colombia. The development -- and the reaction of Latin American leaders to it -- is further exacerbating America's already fractured relationship with much of the continent.
The new U.S. push is part of an effort to counter the loss of influence it has suffered recently at the hands of a new generation of Latin American leaders no longer willing to accept Washington's political and economic tutelage. President Rafael Correa, for instance, has refused to prolong the U.S. armed presence in Ecuador, and U.S. forces have to quit their base at the port of Manta by the end of next month.
So Washington turned to Colombia, which has not gone down well in the region. The country has received military aid worth $4.6bn (£2.8bn) from the U.S. since 2000, despite its poor human rights record. Colombian forces regularly kill the country's indigenous people and other civilians, and last year raided the territory of its southern neighbor, Ecuador, causing at least 17 deaths.
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has not forgotten that U.S. officers were present in government offices in Caracas in 2002 when he was briefly overthrown in a military putsch, warned this month that the bases agreement could mean the possibility of war with Colombia.
In August, President Evo Morales of Bolivia called for the outlawing of foreign military bases in the region. President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, overthrown in a military coup d'état in June and initially exiled, has complained that U.S. forces stationed at the Honduran base of Palmerola collaborated with Roberto Micheletti, the leader of the plotters and the man who claims to be president.
And, this being U.S. foreign policy, a tell-tale trail of oil is evident. Brazil had already expressed its unhappiness at the presence of U.S. naval vessels in its massive new offshore oilfields off Rio de Janeiro, destined soon to make Brazil a giant oil producer eligible for membership in OPEC.
The fact that the U.S. gets half its oil from Latin America was one of the reasons the U.S. Fourth Fleet was re-established in the region's waters in 2008. The fleet's vessels can include Polaris nuclear-armed submarines -- a deployment seen by some experts as a violation of the 1967 Tlatelolco Treaty, which bans nuclear weapons from the continent.
Indications of U.S. willingness to envisage the stationing of nuclear weapons in Colombia are seen as an additional threat to the spirit of nuclear disarmament. After the establishment of the Tlatelolco Treaty in 1967, four more nuclear-weapon-free zones were set up in Africa, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia. Between them, the five treaties cover nearly two-thirds of the countries of the world and almost all the southern hemisphere.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the world's leading think-tank about disarmament issues, has now expressed its worries about the U.S.-Colombian arrangements.
With or without nuclear weapons, the bilateral agreement on the seven Colombian bases, signed on 30 October in Bogota, risks a costly new arms race in a region. SIPRI, which is funded by the Swedish government, said it was concerned about rising arms expenditure in Latin America draining resources from social programmes that the poor of the region need.
Much of the new U.S. strategy was clearly set out in May in an enthusiastic U.S. Air Force (USAF) proposal for its military construction program for the fiscal year 2010. One Colombian air base, Palanquero, was, the proposal said, unique "in a critical sub-region of our hemisphere where security and stability is under constant threat from . . . anti-U.S. governments."
The proposal sets out a scheme to develop Palanquero which, the USAF says, offers an opportunity for conducting "full-spectrum operations throughout South America. . . . It also supports mobility missions by providing access to the entire continent, except the Cape Horn region, if fuel is available, and over half the continent if un-refuelled." ("Full-spectrum operations" is the Pentagon's jargon for its long-established goal of securing crushing military superiority with atomic and conventional weapons across the globe and in space.)
Palanquero could also be useful in ferrying arms and personnel to Africa via the British mid-Atlantic island of Ascension, French Guiana and Aruba, the Dutch island off Venezuela. The U.S. has access to them all.
The USAF proposal contradicted the assurances constantly issued by U.S. diplomats that the bases would not be used against third countries. These were repeated by the Colombian military to the Colombian congress on 29 July. That USAF proposal was hastily reissued this month after the signature of the agreement -- but without the reference to "anti-U.S. governments." This has led to suggestions of either U.S. government incompetence, or of a battle between a gung-ho USAF and a State Department conscious of the damage done to U.S. relations with Latin America by its leaders' strong objections to the proposal.
The Colombian forces, for many years notorious for atrocities inflicted on civilians, have cheekily suggested that with U.S. help they could get into the lucrative business of "instructing" other armies about human rights. Civil strife in Colombia meant some 380,000 Colombians were forced from their homes last year, bringing the number of displaced since 1985 to 4.6 million, one in ten of the population. This little-known statistic indicates a much worse situation than the much-publicized one in Islamist-ruled Sudan where 2.7 million have fled from their homes.
Amnesty International said: "The Colombian government must urgently bring human rights violators to justice, to break the links between the armed forces and illegal paramilitary groups, and dismantle paramilitary organisations in line with repeated U.N. recommendations."
Palanquero, which adjoins the town of Puerto Salgar on the broad Magdalena river north-west of the capital, Bogota, is one of the seven bases that the government of President Alvaro Uribe gave to Washington last month despite howls from many Colombians. Its hangars can take 100 aircraft and there is accommodation for 2,000 personnel. Its main runway was constructed in the 1980s after Colombia bought a force of Israeli Kfir warplanes. At 3,500 meters, it is 500 meters longer than the longest in Britain, the former U.S. base outside Campbeltown, Scotland. The USAF is awaiting Barack Obama's signature on a bill, already passed by the U.S. Congress, to devote $46m to works at the base.
Many Colombians are upset at the agreement between the U.S. and Colombia that governs -- or, perhaps more accurately, fails to govern -- U.S. use of Palanquero and the other six bases. The Colombian Council of State, a non-partisan constitutional body with the duty to comment on legislation, has said that the agreements are unfair to Colombia since they put the U.S. and not the host country in the driving seat, and that they should be redrafted in accordance with the Colombian constitution.
The immunities being granted to U.S. soldiers are, the council adds, against the 1961 Vienna Convention; the agreement can be changed by future regulations which can totally transform it; and the permission given to the U.S. to install satellite receivers for radio and television without the usual licences and fees is "without any valid reason."
President Uribe, whose studies at St. Antony's College, Oxford, were subsidized by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has chosen to disregard the Council of State.
VENEZUELA: NO DIRECT TALKS WITH COLOMBIA ON BASES
By Christopher Toothaker
November 22, 2009
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela has no interest in talking directly to Colombia to end a monthslong crisis but would support an effort by other South American nations to broker a solution, a top government official said Sunday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Francisco Arias Cardenas said tensions between Caracas and Bogota should be taken up by the Union of South American Nations, a 12-member organization known as Unasur.
Any mediation efforts aimed at easing ongoing tensions between Colombia and Venezuela "must be done within the heart of Unasur," Arias Cardenas said during a televised interview.
The diplomat spoke a day after President Hugo Chavez urged civilians to join government-organized militias to be ready to defend Venezuela from a foreign invasion. He said he thinks "it's the obligation" of every member of his socialist party to participate in an ongoing effort to organize combat groups.
Chavez, a former paratroop commander, said the 300 armored vehicles and Russian war tanks that are due to arrive in Venezuela soon along with radar and air defense systems, will help the country's military expand its operational capacity.
Venezuela has already bought more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms since 2005, including 24 Sukhoi fighter jets, dozens of attack helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles. And in September, Russia opened a $2.2 billion line of credit for Venezuela to purchase more weapons.
The military acquisitions, coupled with weapons purchases among South American nations including Brazil and Ecuador, have raised concerns of an arms race in the region.
Venezuela must prepare for a possible armed conflict, Chavez said, because the United States and Colombia could attack. He claims U.S. "imperialists" want to undermine his "Bolivarian Revolution," a political movement named after 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar.
He vehemently denied that Venezuela plans to attack its neighbor.
Venezuela and Colombia have been feuding for months over the agreement between Bogota and Washington allowing the U.S. military to increase its presence at seven Colombian bases under a 10-year lease agreement.
Colombian and U.S. officials say the deal is necessary to more effectively help Colombia fight drug traffickers and leftist rebels, but Chavez claims the agreement poses a threat to Venezuela.
"We are the No. 1 target on the imperial map of this continent," he said.
COLOMBIA SAYS WILL NOT BE PROVOKED BY VENEZUELA
By Hugh Bronstein
November 20, 2009
BOGOTA -- Colombia will not be provoked into armed conflict with Venezuela despite its neighbor's aggressive rhetoric and dynamiting of two border bridges, Colombia's defense minister said on Friday.
"We will not be provoked. The insults bounce off us," Gabriel Silva said a day after Venezuelan troops blew up two wooden plank pedestrian bridges connecting the countries.
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez this month ordered his army to prepare for war after Colombia signed a military cooperation pact with Washington allowing U.S. troops greater access to its territory to run anti-narcotics surveillance flights.
Chavez says the agreement could set the stage for a U.S. invasion of oil-rich Venezuela, a claim that Washington and Bogota dismiss. He calls Colombian President Alvaro Uribe "a traitor" to the region for signing the deal.
"I would go to war with Colombia in tears, but it is not in our hands to do it or not to do it. It's not even Colombia, it's the North American empire," Chavez said at a meeting of leftist parties on Friday.
"The Yankee empire is preparing for war in Latin America."
Chavez said the flimsy foot bridges that were destroyed had been built illegally and used by smugglers. But Colombia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling their destruction "an aggression against the civilian population and the frontier communities."
WADING ACROSS THE BORDER
Residents of the northern border area where the bridges had were blown up waded through the thigh-high Tachira River to get to work and school and to shop for food.
"It's scary because the rocks are slippery. I'm afraid of falling," Mery Garcia, a pregnant Venezuelan woman trying to cross the water to get to her doctor's office on Colombia's side of the border, told local TV.
Colombia said it would denounce the dynamiting of the bridges at the United Nations and the Organization of American States in Washington.
Tensions run high along the 1,375-mile (2,200-km) border, an area rife with Marxist Colombian rebels and other groups involved in smuggling cocaine, guns and other contraband.
Chavez has halted the import of some Colombian goods, clamping down on the $7 billion-a-year trade relationship between the countries. He refuses to meet with Uribe, calling him a "mafioso" linked to right-wing paramilitary criminals.
Silva met with military commanders near the Venezuelan border, but he said no troop build-up was planned.
"What we cannot accept is aggression against the civilian population or against our territory. We are already prepared for that," Silva said.
Uribe, Washington's most reliable ally in left-tilting South America, is widely seen as a hero for attracting investment and making Colombia's cities and highways safer with his U.S.-backed crackdown on drug-running FARC guerrillas.
Chavez's popularity has slipped this year amid high inflation, electricity blackouts and water rationing. Critics say he is stoking tensions with Colombia to try to divert attention from Venezuela's domestic problems.
(Editing by Anthony Boadle and Chris Wilson)