Colombia Impedes Discussion of U.S.-Colombia Military Pact at UNASUR Summit

At a summit on Friday, the twelve member countries of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) agreed to work together to keep the continent free of war and nuclear weapons.
Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Nicolas Maduro (Ministry Website)

Mérida, November 29th 2009 ( — At a summit on Friday, the twelve member countries of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) agreed to work together to keep the continent free of war and nuclear weapons, but the absence of Colombia’s top officials impeded substantial discussion of the recent Colombia-U.S. military pact.

The summit was held in Quito, Ecuador, the country that currently holds the rotating presidency of UNASUR. The focus was regional security issues.

According to Ecuadoran Defense Minister Javier Ponce, the “starting point” of the agenda was intended to be Colombia’s October 30th military accord with the U.S., which grants U.S. military personnel access to seven Colombian bases and diplomatic immunity for their activities.

However, Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva and Foreign Relations Minister Jaime Bermudez cancelled their participation in the summit at the last minute. In their place, Colombia sent lower level officials who blocked debate about the presence of foreign military bases on South American soil.

In an official statement, the Colombian government said it had taken the measure because “the attitude and the recent increase in offenses that the government and the people of Colombia have received do not permit us to foresee that the discussions [in UNASUR] will be carried out in a tone of respect and objectivity.”

“Colombia wishes for UNASUR to move forward on the tasks it has been assigned,” Colombia stated, implying that the issue of the U.S.’s use of Colombian bases is not one of those tasks.

At the last two UNASUR summits in September and August, nearly every country in South America expressed concern about the Colombia-U.S. accord, but no consensus was reached on the issue. Venezuela fervently denounced the accord as a threat against all progressive and left wing governments in the region, and scaled back diplomatic and economic relations with Colombia.

Further alarm was raised when an official budgetary document of the U.S. Air Force revealed that the U.S. intends to use Colombia to launch “full spectrum operations” and to expand intelligence and espionage across the entire continent, despite official declarations to the contrary.

Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Nicolas Maduro, who had announced plans to confront Colombia and reveal evidence of Colombia’s spy operations in Venezuela during the summit, described Colombia’s move as “an inexplicable absence, a gigantic error, an insult to UNASUR.”

Maduro said he received a letter from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Colombian Foreign Relations Minister Jaime Bermudez offering some guarantees that the military pact will not affect other countries.

“Such documents need to become reality,” said Maduro about the letter. He accused Colombia of “lying” and the U.S. of hypocrisy. “On one hand, [U.S. President Barack] Obama smiles, makes promises, and extends his hand, and one the other hand, the Pentagon … promotes coup d’Etats and implants military bases,” said Maduro.

Agreements Reached

Because of the impasse over Colombia, the UNASUR countries were limited to discussing and expanding upon agreements that had already been reached or discussed around issues such as national sovereignty, nuclear power, and military information sharing.   

The countries agreed to prohibit “the use or the threat of force, as well as any other type of military aggression or threats to the stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the other member states,” according to the final document of the summit, which Ecuadoran officials are still finalizing.

Specifically, the countries agreed that military accords that permit the presence of foreign military personnel or equipment in a member state must not threaten the “sovereignty, security, or stability” of any other member state.

Also, they agreed to contribute to “guaranteeing that South America remains a zone that is free of nuclear arms, and assure that nuclear technology is used exclusively for peaceful ends.”

Moreover, the countries coincided on the need to create a communications network, an “information bank,” and a voluntary system of inspections to help guarantee the transparent exchange and registration of information about weapons acquisitions and multilateral military accords both within and beyond the region. However, the final declaration of the summit stipulates, “Such a mechanism, at the request of [any state], will respect the principle of confidentiality.”

General Fabian Varela, the chief of command of the Ecuadoran Armed Forces, emphasized, “The Defense Council of UNASUR should have an absolute consensus of all member countries” in order to assure compliance with agreements.

Minister Maduro congratulated UNASUR for consolidating itself as a “space for dialogue” and for helping to make South America a “peace zone.” However, he said the agreements that resulted from the summit were “a step forward, but still not sufficient.”

Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Paraguay, and Suriname sent either their defense ministers or foreign relations ministers, or both, to Friday’s meeting, and the rest of the UNASUR member countries sent delegations of lower level officials from those ministries.

UNASUR was formed in May 2008 with the goal of comprehensive regional integration. In March of this year, member countries held the first meeting of a continent-wide Defense Council with the purpose of preventing and diffusing military conflict in the region.