Colombia: military bases and disagreements
María Isabel García, Radio Nederland [Dutch radio—SC]. February 18, 2011
(Translated by Steve Cagan, a CSN Volunteer Translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, a CSN Volunteer Editor.)
The United States government will have signed more than one hundred contracts for an approximate sum of $13 million for construction projects on Colombian military base. This was revealed by Jorge Robledo, a Senator of the Polo Democrático Alternativo [the Alternative Democratic Pole]. Some are among the seven that in past years created a scandal of regional proportions, for which in its time it was said that Colombia "offered its balcony to snoop on the neighborhood."
The alert was given this week by Senator Jorge Robdedo, of the opposition Polo Democrático Alternativa (PDA). He sent a questionnaire to the Minister of Defense, Rodrigo Rivera, asking for explanations of the contracts, about which he said that he obtained information in web sites such as usaspending.gov <http://usaspending.gov> and ffata.org <http://ffata.org> . Further, the legislator asked about specific aspects like the number of US military personnel in the country; how long they have been here, the places they have been, and the brigades they have been assigned to, and the sorts of functions they carry out (intelligence, training, equipment, arms), the firms to which civilian technical advisors have been assigned, and the funds that the Colombian Government has available to fulfill their role in the bi-national military agreements.
Even before getting a reply, Robledo declared to Radio Nederland that "one thing about which I am certain by now is that there is no agreement between the government of Colombia and that of the United States that allows these investments to be made, because legally it is not possible." To which he added that, "If this is what it appears to be, the issue is a violation of sovereignty and of serious acts that will certainly arouse claims here and there."
In October of 2009 the Government of the then-president, Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) signed an agreement through which US troops were permitted to use and control up to seven Colombian military bases for 10 years, which could be extended. That authorization foresaw the stationing of military personnel within our territory, the construction, updating and control of the military installations and operations named as such, all within the framework of the global struggle against narcotics trafficking and terrorism. Animosity towards the agreement, both in Colombia and among our Andean neighbors, blossomed in July when the secrecy of the negotiations was broken.
In August, the then-commander of the Colombian Military Forces, General Freddy Padilla, said to a Latin American generals' summit that took place in Cartagena that "only terrorists and narcotics traffickers should be afraid," and specified the bases foreseen in the agreement: Malambo, Palanquero, Apiay, Cartagena, Málaga, Tolemaida and Larandia, in the four cardinal points of our territory. "They are not North American bases, they are Colombian, but we are offering them the possibility of having access to our installations," he explained.
To calm feelings, Uribe undertook a tour through the countries of UNASUR [Unión de Naciones Suramericanas—the Union of South American Nations—SC], which organization called an extraordinary [meeting].
Finally, in August of 2010, the Constitutional Court published a decision in which they made clear that the agreement on the bases was not, as the government had said, the broadening of a previous one, but rather that it was a treaty in itself, and as such, had to be put up for consideration by the Congress, which has not happened. Now Robledo affirms that neither that nor other Washington-Bogotá military treaties have a basis in law.
Radio Nederland: On what do you base your affirmation that the government of the United States is investing in infrastructure on Colombian military bases, and what is the reach of that denunciation?
Jorge Robledo: In the documents of the United States government. In the contract that can be seen on the internet, that is not secret information, nor much less, there appears the information that in the bases of Málaga, Laranbdia and Tolemaida investments of this kind are under way; there are 126 contracts for between 12 and 13 million dollars. I have written to the Minister of Defense, Rodrigo Rivera, asking him to explain what the legal basis for this business is, because several of these contracts are from after the [publication of] the idea of the Constitutional Court, which sunk the agreement with the United States about the war bases, which also had to do with these three bases. We are waiting for a reply. But there is something about which I am already certain: there is no agreement between the government of Colombia and that of the United States that could permit them to make these investments, because legally that is not possible.
Radio Nederland: In a preliminary way, the office of the Minister speaks about the idea that the investments are supported by the agreements of Plan Colombia.
Jorge Robledo: Yes, I saw something about this in the press. The Minister has not answered me yet. He says that this is based on the Agreement about the military missions of 1974 and on the military annexes of an old agreement of Plan Colombia. I know the detailed text of those documents that the minister cited, and I am absolutely certain that what they are doing cannot be sheltered by those documents that the minister mentioned. Let's wait to see what the reply will be. But I know that they have a problem: both the Council of State and the Constitutional Court analyzed the topic of the bases, and the Court says that there is no previous military agreement between Colombia and the United States that would permit this kind of thing to be done.
Radio Nederland: How do you explain the fact that despite the recent pronouncements of the Constitutional Court, that being at the start of a new Government, these kinds of irregularities are seen? Therefore, what is the policy of the government of Colombia towards the United States?
Jorge Robeldo: The first thing is that, in these themes, in the government of Juan Manuel Santos there is nothing new. Although they have tried to erase it from the minds of Colombians, Santos was the Minister of Defense of Álvaro Uribe. They did it all together. There is a Wikileaks document in which Santos and Uribe come to an agreement with the North American ambassador that in the agreement about the bases, the bases would not be mentioned, and that it would not go through the process in the Congress: that is an agreement to commit an illegal act. Really, this does not surprise me. I am about to publish a book in which I explain in detail how all, absolutely all, the military relationships between the United States and Colombia have been erected on the basis of illegal actions. If not everything, almost everything, at least what they used as the fundamental [point] in the agreement on bases. The Council of State and the Constitutional Court maintain that they were not put through the correct process because they were international treaties and they were processed as simple agreements between the governments. None of it was brought for review by the lower Chamber and the Senate, nor for review of its constitutionality, first in terms of the Constitution of 1991, a review by the Supreme Court, and afterwards a review by the Constitutional Court. That is, all of this has been based on a kind of castle of illegal acts.
Radio Nederland: Given that regional organizations like UNASUR are increasingly sensitive to this kind of behavior between Washington and the Latin American capitals, what is the immediate future?
Jorge Robledo: It would not surprise me if there were strong reactions. We have already seen those that there were throughout America, from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, against the seven bases in Colombia. These acts, of course, disturb them, and even more if it is confirmed, as it could turn out to be confirmed, that part of the money that is being invested had to do with the agreements about the seven bases. If that is so, of course it would aggravate the case, because then what is going on is that investments in the bases are being hidden. This, of course, is serious. It is already very bad that our national sovereignty is wounded legally and that gringo troops are permitted to operate in Colombia. But, of course, it is worse if they are doing that secretly, violating the open method of our national legality.
Radio Nederland: How far does the call you have made on the Minster of Defense go? And, will the legislative branch operate as overseer?
Jorge Robledo: Right now, the incontrovertible fact is that there are 123 contracts with investments of around $13 million. I am going to wait to see what the Minister says; it would not be surprising if I called for a debate in the Senate of the Republic to deal with this topic, because this is what it seems to be, that is to say, an illegal act that violates our national sovereignty. We are talking about very serious acts.
They are asking for an accounting
Members of the No Bases Coalition—an organization that came out of the World Social Forum in India (2004)— have expressed the same feeling as the letter by the legislator, which leans towards "a great agreement that there not be foreign troops in any country," and therefore towards the abolition of some thousand US military bases in different countries in every continent. For his part, Alfredo Beltrán, an ex-magistrate of the Constitutional Court, declared to the Colombian daily El Espectador that construction projects by foreign governments in national military bases are "a clear violation of our national sovereignty," and he recalled that, during his time, there was an attempt to justify the basing of US troops under what he called "a disguised agreement."
Clara López, the President of the PDA, the party in which Robledo is a militant, joined the demands and manifested her hope that the Minister will not say that those investments are part of the "aid" that Washington gives to Bogotá, and that they will not come out with "cynical excuses" like recent ones, referring to a scandal over US war armaments being placed in Argentina.
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