South American Leaders Concerned Over Colombia-U.S. Military Plan

South American presidents expressed deep concerns over a United States plan to increase its military presence in Colombia at a Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) Summit in Quito, Ecuador, on Monday.
Latin American Presidents Zelaya (Honduras), Correa (Ecuador), Chavez (Venezuela), Ortega (Nicaragua), and Morales (Bolivia) celebrate Correa's inauguration for a second term, in Quito, Ecuador. (Prensa Presidencial)

Caracas, August 11, 2009 ( – South American presidents
expressed deep concerns over a United States plan to increase its military
presence in Colombia at a Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) Summit in
Quito, Ecuador, on Monday.

Full details of the U.S.-Colombia
military plan have not been released, but the U.S. is expected to have a
significant presence at three air bases and two naval bases, in addition to the
two Colombian military bases it currently operates in.

The discussion of the U.S.-Colombia
plan was introduced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during a ceremony to
inaugurate Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa as temporary president of UNASUR.

"I don't want to sabotage
your ceremony Rafael … [but] we are very worried," Chavez said, explaining he
felt a "moral obligation" to warn about "the winds of war that are beginning to
blow" in the region.

The bases constitute a
"threat" to Venezuela and "could generate a war in South America," Chavez

In an open letter circulated
to his South American counter-parts at the summit Chavez warned that the June
28 military coup against the democratically elected president of Honduras,
Manuel Zelaya and the U.S.-Colombia military plan signify that "the U.S. Empire
… has launched a retrograde and anti-historic counteroffensive, with the aim of
rolling back the union, sovereignty, and democracy of our continent."

Correa agreed, saying, "It
is an issue that concerns all of us, because it can destabilize the region."

Bolivian President Evo
Morales, supported by Chavez and Correa, introduced a motion to the summit to
condemn Colombia's actions.

The Colombian President
Alvaro Uribe refused to attend the summit because of his strained relations
with Correa (due to Colombian military raid on a guerrilla camp in Ecuadorian
territory last year), but sent vice-Foreign Minister Clemencia Forero instead.

Earlier Uribe had also said
he would not attend the summit, arguing it "is not the appropriate place" to
discuss the U.S.-Colombia military plan "it is only an agreement between two

"Some people do not want to
talk. The Colombian government, for example, does not want unity. It is acting
against the unity," Chavez said at the summit.

"The Colombian government
does not want South American unity because it is tied to the empire's orders,
it is subordinated," he added.

Although Colombia signed
the UNASUR Treaty in Brazil in May 2008 – together with Argentina, Brazil,
Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela and Surinam
– the staunch U.S. ally has had an uneasy relationship with the regional bloc.

Uribe refused to host the
temporary presidency of the organization and opposed the formation of the
UNASUR Defense Council initially refusing to join it, but later changing his

Uribe and U.S National
Security advisor James Jones undertook a
seven-country tour of South America last week to drum up support for the
military agreement, saying the agreement was to assist Colombia in its internal
conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and to combat
narco-trafficking. Only Peruvian President Alan Garcia openly supported the

During discussion at the
UNASUR summit, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he was
"disturbed" by the "climate of unease" resulting from the Colombia-U.S. plan,
but argued UNASUR should not convert itself into "a club of friends, surrounded
by enemies," but should resolve the issue with Colombia through dialogue.

He also called on U.S.
President Barack Obama to meet with South American leaders to explain the plan,
"I think we should directly discuss our discontent with the American government
– directly with them," he said.

Silva also indicated that
he was concerned over "information we receive about [U.S.] ambassadors that
still intervene in internal electoral processes in our countries" and the
reactivation of the U.S. Navy's Fourth Fleet.

Despite saying the
Colombia-U.S. plan "is creating an unacceptable and unprecedented state of
belligerency in the region," Argentine President Cristina Kirchner said she was
worried about the tone adopted by other presidents at the summit towards Uribe.

The motion to condemn
Colombia was not included in the final declaration of the summit, as no
consensus was reached. However, the leaders agreed to hold a presidential
summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, later this month to discuss the matter.

Kirchner argued this would
"take away any excuses" Uribe had for not attending the summit in Quito.

The Colombian vice-foreign
minister told the summit, "The bases will continue being Colombian, entirely
under Colombian jurisdiction and sovereignty."

However, in an interview
with Colombian television station RCN on Sunday, Chavez disputed the claim that
U.S troops will be under Colombian jurisdiction, pointing out that under the
agreement they are granted immunity.

"Do you think Colombia will
be giving orders to U.S. troops? It is a lie, the U.S Empire would never allow
it," he said.

Venezuela has broken off
diplomatic relations with Colombia and cut subsidized oil to its neighbour over
the military plan.

Relations between Colombia
and its neighbours Venezuela and Ecuador have become increasingly strained in
recent weeks. A few weeks ago Colombia said it has a FARC video proving the
guerrilla group financed Correa's 2006 presidential campaign – a claim
categorically denied by Correa.

Colombia has accused
Venezuela of providing arms to the FARC, after Colombian soldiers found FARC
was using rocket launchers allegedly from the Venezuelan military.

Both Venezuela and Ecuador
have denounced the accusations as false, saying they are designed to justify
the increased U.S. presence in the region.

In other news at the summit, the leaders of the
UNASUR member states also called for the immediate and unconditional return of
Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, and affirmed that they will not recognise the
outcome of any elections held while the coup government remains in power.