Mérida, October 26th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – In response to reports that Colombia may not open seven of its military bases to United States military personnel as previously planned, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the decision reflects “rationality, common sense, and responsibility.”
The vice president of the Colombian Senate, Alexandra Moreno, told the news agency EFE last week that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos does not plan to present the US-Colombia military accord to the Colombian Congress for approval.
“The president has expressed to us that he will not process [the accord] in the Congress, that he will leave it aside, and we hope this policy continues,” said Moreno, who heads the Foreign Relations Committee in the Colombian Senate. “The accord fell apart the moment the Supreme Court said it was imperative for it to be approved by the Congress and that has not been done, so there is no military cooperation accord in those terms at this moment.”
Following Moreno’s announcement, government officials declared that no final decision has been made about whether or not to present the military accord to Congress.
The accord was originally signed in October 2009 as an extension of previously existing military cooperation with the US, a status that allegedly meant it did not need congressional approval. In August, however, the Colombian Supreme Court ruled that the deal constituted a new international treaty and thus had to be approved by the Congress before taking effect.
The deal, officially titled “Complementary Accord for Cooperation and Technical Assistance in Defense and Security between the Governments of Colombia and the United States of America,” would have granted US military personnel diplomatic immunity for their actions in Colombia, and permitted the US to increase its military presence and carry out military and espionage operations across the South American continent from seven Colombian bases.
The majority of South American countries opposed the deal, including Venezuela and Ecuador, which share lengthy borders with Colombia and have suffered the spillover effects of Colombia’s decades-old civil war, including the influx of millions of refugees, most of them poor peasants. Venezuela said the accord heightened the risk of US military interventions against governments that are politically at odds with Washington.
On Sunday, President Chavez applauded Santos’s decision. “The majority of the peoples of the region should breathe a sigh of relief. Rationality, common sense, and responsibility have prevailed,” he told the Venezuelan daily Ultimas Noticias.
“The previous government acted as part of the Pentagon’s war strategy,” Chavez added, referring to ex-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, whose administration signed the original accord without congressional approval.
Chavez and Uribe shared friendly economic relations, but diplomatic relations soured and were severed several times by issues such as a Colombian attack on rebels in Ecuadoran territory in 2008, the US-Colombia military accord in 2009, and Uribe’s recent accusations that Chavez supports the Colombian rebels.
When Santos took office in August, the two countries renewed diplomatic relations and held talks on economic policies and policies toward armed rebel groups. Chavez said on Sunday that during these talks, various officials from both governments discussed the possibility of Colombia not activating the accord with the US, but that “it was not a condition.”
Senator Moreno, in her interview with EFE, said if the military deal were to be presented to Congress, “the debate would be of a different character in the Congress, very distinct from the one that was carried out initially.”
Military accords with the US “have not had results,” and there is less support for them than in the past, said Moreno. She also suggested that Santos, despite having served as Uribe’s minister for defense, may bring a shift in policy away from Uribe’s military policy. “There has been a 180 degree turn by President Santos and the priority will no longer be war, conflict, and military issues,” said the congressperson.
President Santos met with US officials on Monday to renew what he called a “true strategic partnership.” He will travel to Venezuela this Friday to meet with President Chavez and discuss the continuation of bilateral accords in the areas of cross-border economic relations, infrastructure, and military policy in the border region.