Air Force Document Reveals Ulterior Motives Against “anti-US governments” in Military Agreement with Columbia
By Jesse Strecker
While mainstream media outlets have granted plenty of airtime to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s decision to break relations with Colombia after the nation accused him of harboring ‘terrorists,’ few sources are reporting on the military buildup that is surrounding the left-leaning Bolivarian nations, Venezuela and Bolivia. In recent months, the US has signed agreements with both Colombia and Costa Rica allowing increased access and troop presence at bases in the two countries.
Officials in San José, Bogotá and Washington have repeatedly insisted that the agreements will not affect neighboring nations, and that bases are to be used only for increasingly urgent counter-narcotics operations. An Air Force document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, however, paints a different picture.
The document, written in May 2009, stated that following $46 million in Pentagon spending for upgrades to the Palenquero base in Columbia, the site would “provide for a unique opportunity for full spectrum military operations in a critical sub region of our hemisphere”. The plan is of vital importance, the report continues, in a region where, “security and stability is under constant threat from narcotics funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-US governments, endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters”.
Venezuela, home to the world’s largest reserves of crude oil, has consistently been portrayed as the leading ‘anti-US state’ in the region since President Chavez’s democratic election in 1998.
Congress has since approved the requested funds, and on October 30, 2009 the agreement between the two nations went into effect.
The Accusations, The Break
At the July 22 meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS), Colombian diplomats accused Venezuela of harboring 1500 “terrorists” and “terrorist training camps,” within its borders, referring to the Marxist guerilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC, from the Spanish).
In response, Venezuela broke off relations with Columbia after Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez accused Columbia and the United States of plotting attacks on his nation.
At the OAS meeting, Colombian officials presented photographs of FARC members and their bases as evidence of Venezuelan complicity with the guerillas’ efforts. During an interview on Pacifica Radio’s Flashpoints program on Thursday July 22, Venezuelan-American lawyer and journalist Eva Golinger, managing editor of the English-language edition of the national newspaper, Correro del Orinoco, said that the evidence bore no verification that the rebels were operating in Venezuela, or that the photographs were taken in Venezuela.
Nonetheless, Columbian officials called for an investigation of the charges, and gave Venezuela a vague, yet ominous “30-day ultimatum” to comply with international investigations of the claims. U.S. officials have likewise stated support for diplomatic probes into the allegations.
Meanwhile, the US has expanded military presence in both Columbia and neighboring Costa Rica, whose constitution prohibits the build-up of internal military forces. The October agreement allows the US to occupy seven new military bases in the country and to use all other Columbian territory for military operations on an as-needed basis, with virtually no restrictions. Upon the widening of airstrips at Palenquero, the Air Force document writes, the site will not only “increase our capacity to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), [and] improve global reach,” but also, “expand expeditionary warfare capability”.
In addition to extensive access, US military personnel, including private contractors, will be granted virtual immunity from prosecution within the Colombian justice system.
While the deal has provoked criticism within Columbia, including marches drawing more than 10,000 in Bogotá, the agreement was not debated, revised, or agreed upon by the nation’s legislature before being signed.
On July 1, Costa Rica granted 46 US war ships, along with 7,000 marines, access to maritime and land territory, assembling the first US Caribbean fleet since the Second World War. The US’s stated goals, again, are to combat drug trafficking.
Since the nation’s 1948 civil war, the abolition of the military has been a defining characteristic of Costa Rican political and social identity. Accordingly, the pact has taken heat from the Costa Rican press, legislators and social movements.
A History of Intervention
Plan Columbia—$10 billion USD
These developments are part of a longer-term US military expansion in the region, known as Plan Columbia, which has dedicated around $10 billion USD to armament of US forces, Colombian military, and rightwing paramilitary forces, in the last 11 years. The U.S. currently occupies 3 military bases, 12 radar sites, and has several thousand military agents on the nation’s soil.
In addition to this overt military presence, US operatives in the region have had a continuous history of covert political and military intervention. Most recently, the attempted coup against Chavez in 2002 received encouragement from officials of the Bush administration.
Golinger also cites documents obtained under the freedom of information act to denounce the National Endowment for Democracy, a congressionally-funded organization, for granting over $2.6 million USD in 2008-9 alone to NGOs and media outlets dedicated to destabilizing the Chavez regime.
At times, it appears as though the US corporately funded media is receiving some of those funds as well. At the commencement of the US backed attempted coup of Chavez in 2002, The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and Long Island’s Newsday all ran editorials praising the coup of the democratically elected leader as a triumph for democracy. The LA Times also ran an Op-Ed with mixed sentiments about the coup, concluding, however that the event would benefit Venezuelan democracy in the long run.
In a similarly complicit move, although journalists present at the OAS meeting questioned the veracity of Colombian evidence against Venezuela, not a single major daily or television station has raised such questions again.