It was a moment that promised to define a new era in U.S.-Latin American relations: Obama greeted Hugo Chávez at the Summit of the Americas with a smile and a handshake, and Chávez responded with a gift and a heavily accented “I wanna be your friend.” The Cold War-style chasm between Washington and the leftist leaders of the Andes that had widened during the Bush administration finally seemed to be narrowing a bit.
But a nearly completed agreement between Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the Obama administration to grant the U.S. military access to Colombian bases is rapidly undermining whatever diplomatic progress was made in that fleeting moment.
The Uribe administration announced on July 12 that it had nearly reached an agreement on the terms of a decade-long lease to allow U.S. military personnel to use Colombian military bases to conduct anti-drug trafficking and anti-terrorism operations. No draft of the agreement has yet been made public. The increased access would serve to replace the U.S. lease at Manta, Ecuador, the only U.S. base of operations in South America until the lease was allowed by the Correa administration to expire this month.
President Uribe defended the agreement as a necessary step in his administration’s fight against drug traffickers and Marxist guerrillas at a public event in Santa Marta last week. “This agreement guarantees continuity in the era of an improved Plan Colombia,” he said, referring to the pact that has funneled $6 billion in U.S. aid to the Colombian government and military.
The lease agreement has drawn criticism from Colombian congressmen across the political spectrum, who argue that the executive does not have the authority to allow foreign troops into the country. Liberal Senator Juan Manuel Galán claimed that the Uribe administration “bypassed the Senate.” Senator Jairo Clopatofsky, an uribista of the right-wing Partido de la U, echoed Galán’s criticisms.