|Diane Lefer and Hector Aristizábal|
| U.S. and Colombian officials signed an agreement granting the U.S. military access to seven Colombian bases for ten years. |
The United States thereby increased its ties to the military known for the worst human rights abuses in the Western Hemisphere and is a troubling indication of what can be expected of the Obama Administration and its promise of change. Does this agreement (signed in the fall of 2009) really change anything? We take a look at the history of each of these bases as well as conditions in the surrounding communities and the nation as a whole.
This base, located in Melgar, Cundinamarca, has been sending students to the School of the Americas for Army Ranger training for more than 50 years. The US military and its contractors already have a long association with the base where they have enjoyed immunity from prosecution for such crimes as the rape and sexual abuse of Colombian girls as young as twelve (documented by video), and the trafficking for profit of arms to illegal paramilitary groups. The new agreement will allow unparalleled access by the US armed forces and will apparently continue diplomatic immunity for US personnel, both military and civilian.
#2. Bahía Málaga
This naval base in Valle de Cauca department is located outside Buenaventura which, as the nation's largest Pacific port, is also notorious for its role in exporting cocaine--a clear rationale for the base. The city itself is
The base is situated in the heart of Colombia, near Puerto Salgar on the Magdalena River, the country's principal inland waterway, notorious for the mutilated bodies floating downstream or, unseen, confined to its depths. While the guerrilla movements continue to carry out killings, kidnappings, sabotage, and other atrocities--extensively covered by the mainstream media, the vast majority of murders, disappearances, and other human rights abuses have been rarely covered in the press and clearly tied to the Colombian Army and its paramilitary allies.
As the home of the country's largest naval base, and with the omnipresent police and military on the streets, Cartagena--even during the worst periods of violence in Colombia--continued to attract tourists with its beaches and cultural life. Its patrimony of Spanish Colonial architecture won the city designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The US has conducted joint training exercises with Colombian sailors here.
This air base also hosts the Colombian Army and Navy as well as hundreds of US military personnel and contractors who have been there since 2004, supporting the anti-FARC military campaign called Plan Patriota. Given that oil and gas facilities are often a guerrilla target, it's worth noting that Apiay is also home to an oil refinery. A gas pipeline to Bogotá runs from the nearby city of Villavicencio which has been overwhelmed, like Bogotá, with internally displaced people who live in new slums that lack access to clean water. There's no sanitation in poor neighborhoods and the electrical grid is insufficient to meet the needs of the city.
This base in Caquetá department is home to Colombian counter-insurgency brigade No. 89, trained at WHINSEC. Most of the several hundred US military advisors, Special Forces, and DynCorp contractors sent to the country by Plan Colombia have been based here.
Air Force officers from Malambo, located on Caribbean coast in Colombia's Atlantic department, have trained at WHINSEC. In the 80's, in addition to its anti-narcotics operations, the base was charged with defense against a presumed Sandinista threat. No wonder South and Central American countries are not reassured by US statements that all operations will be confined to Colombian territory.
When funding for the SOA was threatened, the Department of Defense renamed it WHINSEC. The agreement on bases represents one more example of sleight-of-hand: As Congress loses faith in Plan Colombia after investing more than six billion dollars, the DOD taps the military budget to keep the failed policies going with even less Congressional oversight.