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Colombia, US finalize deal on military bases

Chiding Obama, Chavez warns Venezuelans to prepare for war
President Hugo Chavez Sunday bridled at US plans to use military bases in Colombia, asserting that Venezuela was the top US target in the region and that Venezuelans should prepare for war. Speaking in his weekly live radio and television broadcast, Chavez also chided US President Barack Obama for accusing leftist Latin leaders of "hipocrisy" for demanding that Washington intervene more forcefully to reinstate Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Obama "is lost in the clouds. I think he is entering a terrible labyrinth," Chavez said. "Obama doesn't understand. He needs to study a bit more. He is a young man, full of good intentions." "Obama, we are not asking you to intervene in Honduras. To the contrary, we are asking that the empire remove its hand from Honduras and that the empire remove its claws from Latin America," he said. His comments come amid growing tension over a plan by Colombia to give US forces access to seven of its military bases to accomodate counter-drug operations following the closure of a base in Ecuador. Chavez cast the move as a US attempt to encircle Venezuela, warning of a coming military escalation aimed at the country's oil, access to the Amazon basin and plentiful water sources. "An aggression against Venezuela will be met not only by Venezuela; various countries would take up arms," he said. "It is clear to me that a great anti-imperialistic movement would rise up on these lands, God help us." "But we have to prepare for it. And one of the best ways to avoid it is to show the enemy that it would be so costly for them to attack Venezuela that they would repent," he said. "We do not want war, we hate it. But we must prepare for it. We are number one on the list, Venezuela. We are the first target of the (United States). Using Colombia and the bases in Aruba and Curacao, they are surrounding us," Chavez warned.
by Staff Writers
Bogota (AFP) Aug 15, 2009
Colombia says it has finalized an agreement with the United States allowing Washington to use its military bases to track drug-runners, despite anger elsewhere in Latin America over the idea.

"This agreement reaffirms the commitment of both parties in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism," Colombia's foreign ministry said in a statement Friday.

Officials here said the two countries agreed the text of an agreement, which now has to be reviewed by government agencies in Bogota and Washington before getting a final signature.

The controversial deal would permit the US military to operate surveillance aircraft from seven bases to track drug-running boats in the Pacific Ocean.

A senior US general said Thursday that the United States needed to reassure regional powers about the deal, after reports of negotiations rankled several leaders and prompted Venezuela to claim that the "winds of war" were blowing.

"I think we need to do a better job of explaining to them what we're doing and making it as transparent as possible, because anybody's concerns are valid," General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference.

Washington sought out its ally Colombia to make up for the loss of its hub for counternarcotics operations in Manta, Ecuador.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa had refused to renew an agreement that allowed the US military to fly out of Manta for the past 10 years.

The deal is worth over 40 million dollars for Bogota, along with expanded US military assistance for Bogota's counternarcotics efforts, according to a US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Cartwright and Defense Secretary Robert Gates also said this week the deal was not a unilateral move but the product of a partnership with Colombia designed to target drug cartels.

"The strategic intent is, in fact, to be able to provide to the Colombians what they need in order to continue to prosecute their efforts against the internal threats that they have," Cartwright said.

Colombia raised concern throughout the region, which has a troubled history of US military interventions, after announcing July 15 that it was negotiating the deal.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez led the charge, alongside his Ecuadoran counterpart and ally Correa.

Speaking in Quito at a regional summit last weekend, Chavez said he was fulfilling his "moral duty" by telling fellow leaders that the "winds of war were beginning to blow."

"This could generate a war in South America," he said.

Other regional leaders, including Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have asked Colombia to explain its decision.

Responding to criticism, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said Friday the purpose of the deal was to "defeat terrorism," adding that the accord with the United States will serves "as an insurance policy for neighboring nations."

Uribe said he would attend an emergency summit of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) that will gather on August 28 in Bariloche, Argentina, to discuss the situation created by the Colombian base agreement.

However, Frank Mora, a US Defense Department official for Latin America, said the controversy was a storm in a teapot.

"This agreement simply formalizes what already almost exists right now," he told AFP.

In his remarks, Uribe also extended an olive branch to Ecuador, saying the two countries "could have dialogue" and "resolve their differences in the future."

Ecuador broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia over last year's air strike by the Colombian military against a Colombian leftist guerrilla base located in the Ecuadoran selva. Raul Reyes, a top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was killed in that attack.

"I apologize for that," Uribe said. "But we are interested in the future, and the same goes for Venezuela."

earlier related report
US must reassure region over Colombia base deal: general
The United States needs to reassure Latin American countries about a deal allowing it to use military bases in Colombia, a top US general said on Thursday.

The controversial deal with Bogota, which has sparked an angry reaction in capitals across the region, would permit the US military to operate surveillance aircraft from seven bases to track drug-running boats in the Pacific Ocean.

"I think we need to do a better job of explaining to them what we're doing and making it as transparent as possible, because anybody's concerns are valid," General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference.

Washington sought out its ally Colombia to make up for the loss of its hub for counter-narcotics operations in Manta, Ecuador. Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa had refused to renew an agreement that had allowed the US military to fly out of Manta for the past ten years.

With the use of Ecuador's base set to expire this year, US officials say they are close to sealing an agreement with Colombia that will allow US aircraft to continue tracking narcotics traffickers.

Colombia said on Wednesday it was close to finalizing talks with Washington on the US military's use of seven of its bases. And Colombian negotiators were in Washington Thursday at work on the deal.

Colombia will receive more than 40 million dollars in the deal as well as US military assistance for Bogota's counter-narcotics efforts, said a US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Cartwright and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the deal was not a unilateral move but the product of a partnership with Colombia designed to target drug cartels.

"The strategic intent is, in fact, to be able to provide to the Colombians what they need in order to continue to prosecute their efforts against the internal threats that they have," Cartwright said.

Colombia raised concern throughout the region, which has a troubled history of US military interventions, after announcing July 15 that it was negotiating a deal that would give US forces access to the bases.

Frank Mora, a Defense Department official for Latin America, however, insists that the controversy is a tempest in a teapot.

"This agreement simply formalizes what already almost exists right now," he told AFP by phone.

"At Palanquero (air base) 46 million dollars are going to be invested simply to modernize the base. Aside from that there is nothing new. There are some tax issues that are going to be formalized and made clearer, which possibly were not earlier," Mora added.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama decided to extend measures in place since 2003 aimed at stopping planes suspected of drug trafficking in Colombia, the White House said, in reference to the Air Bridge Denial program. The program is reviewed annually.

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Summit split on U.S. presence in Colombia
Quito, Ecuador (UPI) Aug 12, 2009
The Quito summit of the Union of South American Nations has highlighted divisions among the leaders on how to view the Colombian-U.S. military collaboration against heavily armed drug-trafficking cartels, but that has not prevented Venezuela from mounting a diplomatic initiative to counter Colombia. In a much publicized trade agreement with Argentina, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ... read more







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