Colombia “Hands Over Its Sovereignty” to U.S. with Military Accord, Says Chavez

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Colombia became colony when it granted the U.S. permission to expand its military presence in Colombian territory in an accord signed on October 30th, the details of which became public on Tuesday.


U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield (center left) and Colombian Foreign Relations Minister Jaime Bermudez (center right) signing the accord on October 30th (EFE)

by James Suggett -

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez saidColombia became a “colony” when it granted the U.S. permission toexpand its military presence in Colombian territory in an accord signedon October 30th, the details of which became public on Tuesday.

“Colombia decided to hand over its sovereignty to the UnitedStates... Colombia no longer governs its territory,” said Chavez in atelevised meeting of his Council of Ministers. “Colombia today is nolonger a sovereign country... it is a kind of colony.”

The ten-year accord grants the U.S. access, use, and free movementamong two air bases, two naval bases, three army bases, and “the restof the installations and locations” in Colombia, in accordance withColombian law.

The bases and any enhancements carried out on them by the U.S.remain the property of Colombia. Meanwhile, U.S. military, civilian,and diplomatic personnel, contractors, ships and planes working underthe accord are exempt from customs duties, tariffs, rent, taxes, andmost inspections of its cargo, according to the deal.

In addition, the accord grants diplomatic immunity to U.S.personnel. To reinforce this immunity, “Colombia will guarantee thatits authorities will verify, in the least amount of time possible, thestatus of immunity of the personnel of the United States and theirdependents who are suspected of criminal activity in Colombia, and willturn them over to the appropriate U.S. military or diplomaticauthorities,” the accord states.

The purpose of the increased military cooperation, according to thepreamble to the accord, is to “promote and facilitate regionalcooperation in order to counteract the persistent threats to peace andstability, such as terrorism.”

The Venezuelan government argues that the U.S. plans to infiltrateVenezuela and conjure evidence that links Venezuela to drug traffickingand Colombian guerrilla insurgents in order to justify a militaryintervention. It also argues that the granting of immunity to U.S.officials will facilitate human rights abuses.

After the negotiations of the military accord were made public inJuly, Chavez said the U.S. would use the accord to “dominate all ofSouth America,” especially its natural resources, and that Colombiawould become an “operational center that will permit the U.S. to coverall of South America with its planes, spies, spy satellites,intelligence and counterintelligence agencies.”

U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clintonhave repeatedly denied such allegations and asserted that the accordpertains strictly to the U.S. and Colombia. In a press conference inAugust, Clinton said, “This is about the bilateral cooperation betweenthe United States and Colombia regarding security matters withinColombia.”

However, the U.S. military’s financial documents contradict Clintonand Obama’s public declarations. The Pentagon budget for the year 2010says the Department of Defense seeks “an array of access arrangementsfor contingency operations, logistics, and training in Central/SouthAmerica,” and cites a $46 million investment in the “development” ofColombia’s Palanquero air base as a key part of this.

According to the 2010 fiscal year budget of the U.S. Air ForceMilitary Construction Program, the purpose of the upgrades to thePalanquero base is to “enhance the U.S. Global Defense PostureStrategy,” and the base “offers an opportunity for conducting fullspectrum operations throughout South America.”

The budget refers to the Palanquero base as a “Cooperative SecurityLocation (CSL),” and says it “provides a unique opportunity for fullspectrum operations in a critical sub region of our hemisphere wheresecurity and stability is under constant threat from narcotics fundedterrorist insurgencies, anti-US governments, endemic poverty andrecurring natural disasters.”

“A presence [at the Palanquero base] will also increase ourcapability to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance(ISR), improve global reach, support logistics requirements, improvepartnerships, improve theater security cooperation, and expandexpeditionary warfare capability,” the budget continues.

“Pre-war Situation”

In a recent radio interview, Colombian Ex-President Ernesto Sampersaid Colombians “should not deceive ourselves” about the fact that theaccord will allow the U.S. to bring more advanced spy equipment intothe country.

He also implied that the possibility of war as a result of the dealis not far-fetched, considering how Colombia-Venezuelan relations havedeteriorated since July.

“I would say we are in a pre-war situation; the poorly managed issueof the bases, Venezuela feels threatened by the bases, the governmentsigns on to the bases without a public discussion of the issue, and allthis starts to accumulate,” he said. “The situation can harden andreach extremes.”

Brazil’s Response

To avoid such a conflict, Brazil suggested that Colombia andVenezuela sign a non-aggression treaty, and offered technical supportif the two countries launch joint border surveillance operations.

“It would be very interesting if Venezuela and Colombia were toagree to a system of joint surveillance of their common border, and Iwould not rule out a non-aggression pact,” said Marco Aurelio Garcia,an advisor to Brazilian President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva, in aninterview with the Colombian newspaper El Pais. “We would help with thetechnical means, such as surveillance planes,” he said.

With regard to the U.S.-Colombia military deal, Garcia said, “Itdoes not seem correct to us. We cannot impede Colombia from making itsdecisions, but there is a lack of guarantees that an imbalance in theregion will not be produced,” said the presidential advisor.