Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Increased U.S. Military Presence in Colombia Could Pose Problems With Neighbors

A plan to increase the American military presence on at least three military bases in Colombia, Washington’s top ally in Latin America, is accentuating Colombia’s already tense relations with some of its neighbors.


Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua, which are members of a leftist political alliance that is led by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and backed by his nation’s oil revenues, have all criticized the plan, saying it would broaden the military reach of the United States in the Andes and the Caribbean at a time when they are still wary of American influence in the region.

The usual suspects.

Despite a slight improvement in Venezuela’s relations with the United States in recent months, Mr. Chávez has been especially vocal in lashing out at the plan. Speaking on state television here Monday night, he put Venezuela’s diplomatic ties with Colombia under review, calling the plan a platform for “new aggression against us.”

This from the man who threatens Honduras with punishment.

The United States has been negotiating the increase of military operations in Colombia in recent weeks, faced with Ecuador’s decision to end a decade-long agreement allowing E-3 AWACs and P-3 Orion surveillance planes to operate from the Manta Air Base on Ecuador’s Pacific Coast.


Colombia, which has already received more than $5 billion in military and antidrug aid from the United States this decade, has found itself isolated diplomatically as Mr. Chávez presses ahead with his efforts to expand Venezuela’s oil diplomacy while eroding American influence in the hemisphere.

Other countries chafe at Colombia for different reasons. Colombia’s diplomatic relations with Ecuador have soured since Colombian forces carried out a raid on a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebel camp on Ecuadoran territory last year. A festering boundary dispute with Nicaragua has also made for tensions between Colombia and Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, an ally of Mr. Chávez.

Isolated? These three are hardly favorites of any country.

But with Venezuela itself, Colombia remains locked in a complex game of interdependence. Its sales of manufactured and agricultural goods to Venezuela remain resilient despite Mr. Chávez’s occasional outbursts directed at his ideological opposite, Colombia’s president, Álvaro Uribe. And faced with disarray in its oil industry, Venezuela relies on imports of Colombian natural gas, narrowing the possibility of a severe deterioration in ties between the two countries despite their sharply different views of cooperation with the United States.

All bluster; anti-imperialist bluster, but simply bluster.

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