• Narrow screen resolution
  • Wide screen resolution
  • Auto width resolution
  • Increase font size
  • Decrease font size
  • Default font size
  • default color
  • red color
  • green color
Member Area


Apr 01st
¡Presente! Home
Colombian Bases for Training and Operations PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Lindsay-Poland   

President Obama was forced to address the growing clamor in South America in opposition to plans for U.S. military use of at least seven bases in Colombia. The base agreement proposes to carry out regional operations with a wide and ambiguous mandate and has raised concerns among governments throughout the region.

"We have no intent in establishing a U.S. military base in Colombia," Obama said on Friday.

But the South American presidents who met in Quito on Monday weren't buying it. They agreed to meet again later this month to discuss the bases in Colombia. Despite a seven-nation tour by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe the previous week, only Peru openly supports the proposal. President Lula da Silva of Brazil—the continent's superpower—called for President Obama to attend the meeting, and several Latin American presidents and Colombian leaders echoed the call. Obama needs to "explain in depth U.S. policy for the region," Lula said.

His declaration came following an explosive exposé of base negotiations between the Pentagon and the State Department, and the Colombian government in the Colombian weekly Cambio. The report generated broad discontent in Colombia and the region. The article noted that the plan would include "filling the gaps left by the eventual cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia," according to sources cited in Washington and Bogotá.Image

Whether the bases are "U.S." in name matters little in practice. The proposal has always been for U.S. military use of national bases in Colombia, which is how the United States works at military bases in Honduras, Ecuador, and many other countries in the world. The Pentagon does not acknowledge having "U.S. bases" in Iraq, for example. In Ecuador, the U.S. government denied it had any military base, though now supporters of the military deal with Colombia claim the U.S. operations in Manta, Ecuador were "truly a gringo presence." Obama's announcement doesn't change the situation that has bothered so many Latin Americans and U.S. citizens who hoped for something better from Obama's government.

The issue is really the missions of U.S. forces at those bases and the message they send to Colombians and others in the region that the United States will respond militarily to every problem, from poverty to bilateral tensions. The State Department says the bases are to address narcotics trafficking and "should be viewed as nothing more than that." But the most recent military budget document and the Colombian government define the purposes much more broadly. The Pentagon seeks sites for "contingency operations, logistics, and training," and plans to deploy C-17 cargo aircraft—not used for counter-narcotics—at Palanquero air base in Colombia.

In fact, the facilities under negotiation appear to be aimed at replacing the former School of the Americas and other U.S. military training sites for Latin American armies. In a July 28 written response to Colombian senators, Interior Minister Fabio Valencia said that the agreement seeks to "deepen cooperation in areas such as: interoperability, joint procedures, logistics and equipment, training and instruction, strengthening monitoring and reconnaissance capacity, combined exercises, and especially exchange of intelligence information."

There will be an attempt to "expand training offered to other countries in the region through instruction of helicopter pilots and in human rights and international humanitarian law." Colombia is already imparting military training to jungle commandos and naval forces of other countries, Valencia says, and "plans to continue doing so with low-cost training of the same quality as that offered by countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom."

The bases also will lock in a U.S. military presence well beyond President Obama's tenure to address issues that should be addressed with diplomacy, negotiation, economic development, and drug treatment. Rather than responding to a specific and justified military mission, these bases represent a presence in search of a mission.

It is not credible that U.S. military activities will be restricted to Colombian territory. First of all, U.S. and Colombian drug warriors have been saying for years that narco-trafficking is an international threat that must be met through international operations. So it's no surprise the Pentagon has its eye on Colombia's Palanquero air base, with its capacity for C-17s that can reach half of South America.

Second, President Obama has maintained the doctrine of transnational attacks against groups the United States designates as terrorist, including in Ecuador. Obama supported the March 2008 Colombian attack over the border—and sponsored U.S. attacks in Pakistan, leading to many civilian deaths.

Third, President Uribe launched his defense of the base agreement by announcing what he said was new evidence that officials from Venezuela and Ecuador were aiding the FARC. Leaders of those countries dispute the evidence, but even if it is true, escalating the U.S. military presence on bases in Colombia will hardly resolve the conflict. It will instead further polarize it.

Latin American leaders have rejected this statement as a justification for the bases. Brazil's foreign minister Celso Amorim said that "many weapons get to the FARC, just as they get to the favelas of Río de Janeiro. That announcement is no more than a small episode, compared with the United States bases."

The State Department appears to be clueless about why regional leaders would be so worried. Asked whether it was time for Obama to talk with hemispheric leaders about U.S. intentions, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said blandly, "We have a positive plan for the hemisphere … We talk to leaders all the time." But are they listening?

The operations of U.S. military forces inside Colombian territory are formally based on two claims with equally poisonous implications: that the biggest problems of Colombia are drug trafficking and guerrillas, and that U.S. and Colombian military cooperation is the best way to address these problems.

The largest number of killings of civilians each year in Colombia is not committed by the guerrillas, but by the army and paramilitary groups, according to the Jesuit-run Center for Research and Grassroots Education (CINEP). A large majority of Colombia's 4.7 million internally displaced people were forced from their homes by paramilitary violence, with more than 11 million acres of land violently stolen. The increased U.S. military presence won't contribute anything to returning those lands to their rightful owners, nor to holding the Colombian Army accountable for more than 1,700 civilian killings committed since 2002.

Neither will U.S. soldiers at seven bases in Colombia put a brake on Colombian intelligence agencies' harassment, attacks, and surveillance of human rights defenders, Supreme Court justices, journalists, and opposition party leaders. Although these problems constitute grave threats to Colombian democracy and citizen security, none of that is the U.S. soldiers' mission.

Similarly, more than $6 billion spent on Plan Colombia since 2000 has done nothing to stop the production and flow of cocaine from Colombia to the United States. U.S. and Colombian negotiators appear to be in a hurry to replace the flights conducted from the military base in Manta, Ecuador, which ceased last month. But there is no need to immediately replace the operations based at Manta. When operations there began in 2002 after the United States upgraded the airstrip, it was after a two-year hiatus of aerial monitoring of the region because of the closure of Howard Air Force Base in Panama, yet there was no detectable impact of this hiatus on cocaine arriving in the United States.

Supporters of the base agreement ask what the big deal is, saying that it changes nothing in U.S.-Colombian military cooperation. But the U.S. military presence in Colombia should change, because the facts on the ground either have changed, or cry out for a policy change. There are whole Colombian brigades of 2,000 men chasing tiny bands of guerrillas in some areas. This is a time when Washington should invest in peace talks, not institutionalize its relationship with the military.

Leaders from all over Latin America and Europe are calling for a paradigm shift in how to deal with the narcotics trade. Yet Colombian negotiators say the bases aim to replace Plan Colombia's U.S. military aid, which has been reduced because of human rights scandals and ineffectiveness. This is a blatant attempt to defuse citizen criticisms of the old strategy by simply giving it a new face.

Moreover, it is not true that the agreement does not change anything. U.S. presence will be more oriented toward the Caribbean and Venezuelan side of Colombia, instead of the south, where U.S. aid to date has been concentrated. Whatever the reasons for it, it sends a threatening military message to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Also U.S. activities in Colombia become even more secretive and impervious to policy-making under this new plan. The Defense Department doesn't set counternarcotics budgets by country, so Congress never knows how much the U.S. military will spend in Colombia until after the fact. That's a change from Plan Colombia, most of which is debated openly in Congress as part of the foreign aid budget. The base agreement would not be up for annual review, as Plan Colombia aid has been, but will install a long-term agreement.

The number of U.S. soldiers and military contractors is also likely to be increased from the current 575, toward the limit of 1,400 set by Congress. Even the cap of 1,400 may not hold. The Senate Armed Services Committee recently called on the Pentagon to review these limits and consider whether to remove them in light of the new basing agreement.

What will make the Obama and Uribe governments table their ill-considered deal? U.S. and Colombian negotiators will meet again late this month or in early September, and haven't reached an agreement on nine of 26 articles in the agreement, including five articles in which they have "encountered some difficulties," according to Valencia.

Will the Obama government take seriously the rising tide of opposition to this deal? Not only South American presidents, but Colombian senators and civil society groups and grassroots leaders from across Latin America and the United States are telling Obama and Clinton to back off and reconsider.

"Besides the problem of national sovereignty," more than a hundred Colombian organizations and leaders wrote on August 5, "this kind of agreement generates risks to the region's security and stability, prolongs failed anti-drug policies, creates incentives for the arms race, and aims to expand and prolong an internal armed conflict that we are sick of."

More than 100 grassroots, religious, academic, and labor leaders and organizations wrote to Hillary Clinton this week, urging a suspension of base negotiations, and a fundamental review of drug and Colombia policy. They outlined the reasons why the military bases agreement is seen as a threat, including President Obama's support for Colombia's March 2008 cross-border attack on a guerrilla camp in Ecuador.

For all the assurances that the U.S. and Colombian militaries will abide by international law, the doctrine of transnational attacks in counterinsurgency wars, demonstrated repeatedly in Pakistan, may be the most acute reason for international concern about the bases in Colombia. If both countries formally abandon that doctrine, it would be an important step to stabilizing hemispheric relations.

The Americas-wide coalition contesting free trade agreements and militarization, the Continental Social Alliance, denounces the deal as "an intervention in Colombian internal affairs and a threat against democratic process in the whole region. For example, the Soto Cano military base in Honduras has been used by the coup leaders of that country to demonstrate U.S. support for the military coup."

Colombians are also worried about judicial immunity for U.S. soldiers, who reportedly committed 37 acts of sexual abuse in 2006-07. A U.S. soldier and contractor reportedly raped a 12-year-old Colombian girl inside the Tolemaida military base in 2006, dumping her outside the gates in the morning. This week her mother, Olga Lucia Castilla, was prevented by pro-government legislators from testifying before the Colombian Senate, although she was recently the target of a military attack, according to Senator Gustavo Petro. The two alleged rapists, who were whisked away to the United States, were never prosecuted for their attack, according to Petro.

These realities call for serious consideration of the proposals by Uruguayan president Tabaré Vasquez to oppose foreign military bases in Latin America and Evo Morales to prohibit such bases. Ecuador has led the way, through a constitutional provision banning the "establishment of foreign military bases or foreign installations with military purposes" as well as "ceding national military bases to foreign armed forces."

The presence of a U.S. military base in Palmerola, Honduras has contributed to the Pentagon's reluctance to sanction the Honduran military's brutal treatment of coup opponents. U.S. withdrawal from the base would offer concrete pressure to restore the constitutional government and send a signal of commitment to democracy over Pentagon priorities, but has so far been rejected by the administration.

A pact to reject all foreign military presence in the hemisphere would prevent the United States and other countries from imposing their will through violence, and make space for a true community of American nations. Concerned people in the United States should support this effort and reject the dangerous plans for a U.S.-Colombia base agreement.


John Lindsay-Poland co-directs the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean, in Oakland, California. He can be reached at johnlp(at)igc(dot)org.

To reprint this article, please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it . The opinions expressed here are the author's and do not necessarily represent the views of the CIP Americas Program or the Center for International Policy.


Hits: 29916
Comments (4)Add Comment
written by James T. Dette, June 02, 2009
Colombia has been the victim of its own military, an ineffective government, an international drug trade, and internal terrorism on a scale not equaled in the Western Hemisphere. Yet in 2006 alone, 80% of the $728 million of the aid we spent in Colombia went to the military. All it has accomplished is aiding and abetting the paramilitary groups who are responsible for the murder of union and cooperative leaders and their supporters on a regular basis. Now we want to build a base there. For what? Instead, we should stop funding brutality. When will we stop deluding ourselves that peace can be attained through military intervention?

report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +6
..., Lowly rated comment [Show]
written by Clara, June 03, 2009
We all know by now that the fail war on drugs is an excuse to fund money into militias that protect the big interest. If Colombia was did not have all the natural resources that it has there would be no violence because its all about who takes the takes the resources and who works to protec the big interest of the American Corporations that pifering our Country.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +6
written by Valerie, November 12, 2009
It's kind of stupid to fight drug traffic at the supply end. Who in the U.S. is funding an end to the demand? Countries produce cocaine because there's a demand for it. I lived down there, I know what it's like. The whole so-called drug war is senseless; the School of the Americas should be shut down; the U.S. should look to the needs of its own people and leave other countries to take care of their needs - then the world would be a much better place.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters

< Prev   Next >
Featured Article
  • Pause
  • Previous
  • Next
Spring 2015 Issue of Presente Out Now! Do you want to receive a copy of Presente, the newspaper of the movement to close the School of the Americas sent to your home? Click here to sign up for free!

Presente is already the most widely-read Latin America Solidarity publication in North America, but we won't stop there. We want to expand the reach of the paper even further! Can you help to increase the print run by 20,000 copies?

Can you distribute Presente in your community? To order a box, visit SOAW.org/distribute (or make a donation instead).

SOA Violence
Image Update from Honduras

“I want to see justice for the assassination of my son. I don’t want there to be any more blood of Hondurans in the streets. But how will the murders stop if there is no justice? Without justice, they aren’t afraid to keep murdering young people....”

The Americas
SOA Instructor Who Oversaw Dozens of Killings Commands US-Aided Unit A key vehicle for US military aid in Colombia is a special operations unit, known by its Spanish acronym CCOES. The unit is sent in after bombing runs to gather bodies of guerrillas and other material. CCOES is the Colombian counterpart to the US Joint Special Operations Command, which conducts secret targeted killings around the world.

International Human Rights Encuentro in Bajo Aguán, Honduras

fathermila.jpgInterview with Father Fausto Mila in Honduras

SOA Watch participated in the International Human Rights Encuentro in Honduras in February 2012. Laura Jung spoke with Father Fausto Milla, a religious leader in the Honduran movement who has been persecuted by the State of Honduras.  

Local Organizing
Peoples Movement Assembly


The Saturday morning assembly in the Convention Center during the 2013 November Vigil was organized in the Peoples Movement Assembly (PMA) format. The PMA model has been developed by Project South and through the US Social Forum (USSF).

Six-hundred people took part in 21 small group discussions about the role of nonviolent direct action, and grassroots organizing. The groups developed collective political understanding through dynamic conversations, and new relationships started to form. A goal for the PMA process is to engage everyone to come up with answers to questions about strategies, to develop our political analysis, and to come up with joint plans for action.

Image H.R. 2989 - The Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2013

H.R. 2989, the Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2013 renews the legislative efforts against the notorious U.S. military training institute, formerly known as the School of the Americas.

SOA Watch in Latin America
SOA Watch Youth Encuentro In July 2014, young activist leaders from across the Americas will gather in the majestic hills of Sanare, Venezuela to share stories of resistance, inspiration, and to ORGANIZE! Organize to continue the resistance against militarism and the ways it affects our communities. Organize to close the School of the Americas that has brought death and devastation to our continent. Organize to continue building alternatives for and by our people with our rights, dignity, and sovereignty at the forefront!
Image Looking Back to Move Ahead I was asked to write a piece about people of color organizing to attend the 2009 SOA Watch vigil and about our plans for 2010. I believe everything happens for a reason.
Gran OM

maspaz_infopage.jpg The Spring 2015 issue of ¡Presente! included a poster about the disappeared 43 students from Guerrero, Mexico by Omar Inzunza, who is kown under the artist name Gran OM. Omar is one of Mexico’s most recognized wheatpaste and visual artists and we are excited about the permission to reprint his poster in  ¡Presente!

  • SOA Watch
    SOA Watch webpage
  • SOAW Latina
    SOAW Latinoamericana
  • Submissions
     Presente is always looking for drawings and cartoons for its print edition. Please send us your artwork.

    Due to the space constraints, we usually solicit articles on specific topics, but we also encourage activists to submit queries.

    For more information, go to Submissions.




Now is the moment to build barriers, to build walls and to fight against intolerance, against racism, sexism and globalisation, to fight vigorously against that. And to re-unite people.

- Augusto Boal


Book Tip

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer's book cover



flickr  facebook MySpace twitter YouTube


On the Line

On the Line  

A challenging new documentary has quickly become one of the widest-reaching films to encapsulate the history of the SOA Watch movement.

Taxi to the Dark SideTaxi to the Dark Side

An in-depth look at the torture practices of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, focusing on an innocent taxi driver in Afghanistan who was tortured and killed in 2002.



Which part of the campaign to close the SOA are you most interested in?

Who's Online

We have 10 guests online


Newspaper Delivery
Educate your community. 


Place your ad in ¡Presente! 


Piggy Bank
We rely on donations from supporters like you.

Contact Us

Contact Us
Complaints, suggestions, feedback or ideas?