US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to reassure Latin America on Tuesday that a pending agreement to give US forces greater access to Colombian military facilities will not create permanent US bases. The planned expanded US military presence in Colombia has worried both US-friendly nations in the region and members of US President Barack Obama’s own political party.
Clinton said the agreement, which the countries hope to sign in the “near future,” provides the US with access to Colombian bases to cooperate in fighting terrorists and drug dealers.
“These threats are real, and the United States is committed to supporting the government of Colombia in its efforts to provide security to all its citizens,” Clinton said, speaking to reporters with Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez after meetings at the State Department.
But, she said, “The United States does not have and does not seek bases inside Colombia.”
Command and control of the bases and security are Colombia’s responsibility, she said.
Bermudez, speaking through an interpreter, said Colombia wants to strengthen cooperation with the US in fighting drug trafficking and terror.
“What Colombia needs is more effective mechanisms of cooperation,” he said. “We have suffered, and we have learned from the lessons as a result of this suffering.”
He said cooperation with the US will benefit the region as well as Colombia.
The Colombians have said the 10-year lease agreement would not boost the presence of US troops and civilian military contractors above the 1,400 currently permitted by US law.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called the plan a serious threat to the region. Asked about Chavez’s comments about the agreement, Clinton urged more countries to “help us in this fight.”
“Don’t just stand on the sidelines, and certainly don’t contribute to the problems by doing and saying things that undermine the efforts that our governments are taking to try to protect the entire region from the scourge of narco-traffickers,” Clinton said.
In Caracas, Chavez responded that the US could use Colombian military installations as launching pads for future operations to unseat Latin American leaders such as himself. He scoffed at US claims that the pending agreement with Colombia was aimed only at fighting drug trafficking and terrorism.
“They are thinking about the domination of South America,” Chavez said. “It’s part of the imperialist strategy. Colombia is offering itself so the United States can establish a system and it threatens all of us.”
He said US officials have used drug-related accusations to oust Latin American leaders in the past, citing the overthrow in 1989 of Panama’s General Manuel Noriega.
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