US Establishes Military Bases in Colombia as Honduran Crisis Continues

US Establishes Military Bases in Colombia as Honduran Crisis Continues

Written by Benjamin Dangl

Thursday, 05 November 2009

In a quiet ceremony behind closed doors in the Colombian Presidential Palace, US Ambassador William Brownfield sat down with three Colombian ministers to sign a deal allowing for 1,400 US military and private contractors to operate in seven expanded military bases in the country. The date was October 30, just one day after an apparent solution had been reached to allow ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to return to power. These two developments are central to the mixed messages the Obama administration is sending to Latin America.

On June 28, Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup. He returned to the country on September 21 and has taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy ever since. Though the recent negotiations appeared to offer somewhat of a solution to the crisis that has gripped the country, it is still unclear whether or not the Honduran Congress and coup leaders will actually respect the agreement, and allow Zelaya to return to power.

The US further complicated matters when Tom Shannon, the US Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, recently told CNN that the US will officially recognize the results of the November 29 election whether or not Zelaya is in office. In response, Zelaya sent US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a letter asking for clarification on the US stance. Such conflicting signals have defined the US response to the situation in Honduras since the coup took place.

The US sent another troubling message to the region when it signed the military bases agreement with Colombia. Most aspects of the deal remain unknown as the Colombian government has not responded to requests from various Latin American presidents for more information and transparency. The leaders are concerned that the expanded US military presence poses a regional security threat and violates Latin American sovereignty.

One of the bases is to be expanded to allow for the use of C-17 planes. “The idea”, the Associated Press reported, “is to make Colombia a regional hub for Pentagon operations… nearly half the continent can be covered by a C-17 [military transport] without refueling”, which “helps achieve the regional engagement strategy”.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose country neighbors Colombia, has been a major critic of the deal from the start. He has asked why C-17 planes, with “warfighting capability” and the capacity to carry 200 paratroopers, would be used at these bases. Chavez pointed out that the plane that kidnapped Zelaya from Honduras stopped at a US air force base in the country before heading to Costa Rica.

“The official signing of the agreement, which allows the United States to deploy seven military bases in the heart of our America… threatens not only Venezuela, but all the peoples in the center and the south of our hemisphere,” Fidel Castro wrote in a recent column. “A country like Cuba is well aware that after the United States imposes its military bases, it leaves only when it desires to do so.”

Colombia decided to hand over its sovereignty to the United StatesColombia no longer governs its territory,” President Chavez said on a Venezuelan TV program. “Colombia today is no longer a sovereign country… it is a kind of colony.”

The US-funded Plan Colombia in the so-called war on drugs in Colombia has been characterized by terrible human rights violations – violations that are only likely to increase with this military escalation.

“The Colombian regime, which backs death squads and has the continent’s worst human rights record, has received US military support second in scale only to Israel,” political commentator John Pilger pointed out.

While the crisis drags on in Honduras, relations between Washington and Latin America have taken another turn for the worse. As George Withers of the Washington Office on Latin America told the Associated Press, “At a time when we should be pursuing every kind of diplomatic avenue to reduce tensions, this appears to be a military decision that may increase tension.”