Colombian and US officials will wrap up negotiations this weekend in Washington, DC on an agreement allowing US military counternarcotics forces to use seven military bases in Colombia including three air bases, two navy bases and two army bases.
“God willing, this weekend everything will be closed,” says General Freddy Padilla, commander of Colombia’s armed forces.
Padilla’s confirmation that the Colombia-US base rights agreement is practically a done deal certainly will trigger more rhetorical broadsides from President Hugo Chavez, who is doing everything thinkable to turn a mole hill into a regional geopolitical Krakatoa.
President Chavez claims the US government, but not President Barack Obama, is establishing seven US military bases in Colombia from where it plans to launch a military invasion of Venezuela to seize control of its oil and gas reserves – the largest on the planet, boasts Chavez. Chavez said this in a recent interview with Colombia’s RCN.
At the Unasur summit in Quito, Chavez ratcheted up his wild unfounded accusations, saying the “Yanqui Imperialists” also want to invade and seize control of “Amazonia.” The Colombia-US base rights agreement is an imperialist scheme to invade and steal all of South America, Chavez concludes, rather hysterically.
Three questions, for consideration:
Is the Colombia-US base rights agreement necessary?
Does the Colombia-US base rights agreement threaten the national security of Venezuela?
Does the Colombia-US base rights agreement threaten the national security of any Latin American or Caribbean country?
Is the agreement necessary?
Forget chicken/egg views with respect to whether a base rights agreement would be necessary if the US government was to change its drug policies and laws, etc. Things are what they are. The national governments of Colombia and the US agree on the need to expand and strengthen a several decades-old bilateral security relationship which has resembled a roller coaster during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
The ten-year base rights agreement certainly does that.
US and Colombian officials say it was negotiated because President Alvaro Uribe Velez offered the US the possibility of basing counternarcotics assets in Colombia after Ecuador’s President Correa refused to extend the base rights agreement at Manta.
But Manta was one base, and Colombia is allowing US military counternarcotics (and, yes, counterterrorist) assets usage rights at seven very strategically located bases, including:
Air bases: Palanquero in Central Colombia, Apiay in the East and Malambo in Colombia’s northern/Caribbean region.
Army bases: Tres Esquinas in southern Colombia and Tolemaida in central Colombia.
Navy bases: Cartagena on the Caribbean Sea and Bahía Málaga on the Pacific Ocean.
Look at a map. This is full-court coverage. The location of these seven bases greatly expands the geographical/territorial reach of air, sea and land-based US counternarcotics/counterterrorism assets. The signals intelligence capabilities of US/Colombian intelligence services also will expand very significantly. The “business” climate is going to get more difficult, even lethal, for Colombian drug trafficking organizations, including the FARC. The extent of the FARC’s drug trafficking relations with senior elements of the Venezuelan government probably will become easier to detect – because it’s a safe bet that the enhanced Colombia-US counternarcotics & counterterrorism partnership will focus more sigint, elint and humint assets at the Chavez regime’s drug kingpins.
Over the past decade since former President Andres Pastrana first proposed a Plan Colombia in mid-1998, the Colombia-US bilateral partnership has made extraordinary progress on all fronts – though the US since 2006 has failed to hold up its end of the partnership. Even so, as of August 2009 the bilateral Colombia-US relationship is working quite well. The international cocaine trade continues to flourish, with the FARC accounting for over 60% of Colombia’s total cocaine exports as of end-2007 and end-2008. However, the FARC has been damaged significantly by the Uribe government’s US-backed military offensive against the FARC.
The group has shrunk from over 17,000 fighters to about 9,000 today. Its top leaders –Manuel “Tirofijo” Marulanda and Rafael Reyes, among others – are dead of natural causes, or were killed by attacking Colombian army troops. Most of the FARC’s top leaders today are hiding in Venezuela or Ecuador. Some FARC chieftains remain in Colombia – like Mono Jojoy and Alfonso Cano, who replaced Tirofijo as the FARC’s commander in chief. But while the FARC is wounded, these wounds are not even remotely fatal.
However, the new Colombia-US base rights agreement will put more hurt on the FARC’s operations, principally drug trafficking and kidnapping. A likely result will be to drive more FARC forces – and related organized criminal activities – out of Colombia and into the FARC-friendly territories of Venezuela, Ecuador, the Peruvian Amazon (Iquitos), and northern Brazil.
For example, the FARC accounts for about 70% of the cocaine shipped through Venezuela. Total cocaine shipments through Venezuela in 2007 were about 270 metric tons, of which about 189 metric tons belonged to the FARC. At the very least, the much-enhanced Colombia/US counternarcotics capabilities will confirm what everyone already knows – that the Chavez regime cooperates actively with the FARC.
President Uribe is playing his geopolitical cards wisely. The US is Colombia’s most important political and commercial partner. However, Colombia’s closest neighbors and largest regional trading partners – Venezuela and Ecuador – have presidents that cooperate actively with the FARC, a terrorist group which is one of the world’s largest drug trafficking organizations and also kidnaps (and murders) hundreds of innocent civilians each year. This is public record.
Presidents Chavez and his less talented sidekick, Correa, are helping the FARC wage its decades-old “war” to topple Colombia’s democratically elected government and replace it with a tropical Marxist revolutionary state aligned with Caracas, Havana and other revolutionary regimes in the region. Whether or not the FARC’s war against the Colombian state has more chances than a cockroach in a chicken coop isn’t the issue. With the active support and cooperation of the Chavez and Correa governments, the FARC’s opportunities to evolve and adapt to the challenges the group currently faces are significantly improved.
Throughout its existence since 1964, the FARC has successfully evolved and adapted to every internal and external challenge it has ever confronted. The FARC hasn’t suffered any internal schisms. It has matured as a cohesive rural-based militant force, assimilating at least three separate generations of leaders. And as the joint Colombia-US security partnership is expanded with the goal of striking at the FARC more aggressively, there are many indications that the FARC once again is evolving and adapting. The FARC is globalizing, and President Chavez is aiding the process. He was clear about that in the RCN interview. When asked if the FARC are terrorists, he said, repeatedly, “No, no they aren’t, no, no on, no they’re not, no…”
Is Venezuela’s national security threatened?
No. But Colombia’s national security is strengthened against its declared enemies in Caracas and Quito. If there’s ever a war between Bolivarian Venezuela and Democratic Colombia, there’s no doubt which side the US will back. This bothers Chavez very much because it upsets his strategic plans to help the FARC destabilize Colombia by letting it deploy attacking forces from camps inside Venezuela (and Ecuador). With US forces “listening” just across the street, literally, the FARC’s active collaborators within the Chavez regime will have to be more cautious about their drug trafficking and terrorist activities. Since these activities usually overlap with Chavez’s regional political agenda with the FARC, it’s understandable that Chavez is raising a holy ruckus about the new base rights agreement. However, it also gives Chavez a political opportunity he has wasted no time in leveraging.
President Chavez will visit Moscow shortly, to sign more bilateral energy, trade and security agreements. He confirmed plans to purchase “battalions of new tanks…like 007’s…” Apparently the Chavez regime is looking at the latest generations of the T-80 and T-90 battle tank. However, it’s also possible that Chavez will extend the Medvedev/Putin regime another invitation to forge a comprehensive bilateral security partnership including a base rights agreement for Russian navy, air force and even army troops. The first time Chavez offered the Russians a base rights agreement was in September 2008, but Medvedev/Putin turned him down. But times have changed, and Russia-Venezuela ties have grown considerably in the past year.
Imagine a Venezuela-Russia base rights agreement juxtaposed to a Colombia-US base rights agreement. Old Fidel must be leaping with glee in Havana. And while Chavez is raging publicly against Colombia and the US, inwardly he must be delighted. The hysterical edge to Chavez’s shrieks of impending war with Colombia, a “yanqui” invasion to steal Venezuela’s oil and the “imperialista” designs on Amazonia is deliberate, calculated. Chavez is on the verge of landing a starring role in a Bolivarian mini-Cold War with the US. Now, if he can just persuade Medvedev/Putin to join the game…
Will Moscow play with Chavez? Hard to say, but Chavez certainly is offering the Russians some sweet deals which other important Bolivarian allies like China and Iran aren’t getting yet.
Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin was in Caracas 27-29 July to refine the agenda of Chavez’s upcoming visit to Moscow. During his stay, several agreements were signed.
For example, Pdvsa and the Russia Consortium (LUKoil, Gazprom, TNK-BP, Rosneft and Surguneftegaz) signed an agreement to advance studies on a joint venture to develop 200,000 b/d of extra-heavy crude production capacity in the Orinoco oil belt’s Junin 6 block, which containes 30.4 billion “certified” barrels of 7-8 API extra-heavy crude. However, Sechin remarked that the Russia Consortium is studying the development of between 400,000 and 1 million b/d of Orinoco production capacity, implying that between two and five joint ventures with Pdvsa are being studied. That works out to between $10 billion to $25 billion of investment, of which the Russians would put up 40%, at least.
A second agreement between Pdvsa and Gazprom Latin America aims to create an oil services joint venture in which Gazprom would have a 40% stake and direct operational control of some 50 gas compression/injection plants owned by US firms Williams Cos and Exterran Holdings until they were nationalized in May 2009. The former owners have not received any compensation yet, but Gazprom has been awarded their seized Venezuelan assets.
A third agreement seeks to create a new subsidiary we shall call Pdvsa Bank. Imagine Pdvsa going into the banking business with Russian financiers via the oil companies in the Russia Consortium? We may anticipate extraordinary transparency.
Also, Venezuela and Russia just signed a bilateral investment treaty which says that any disputes in Venezuela-Russia joint ventures will be resolved by arbitration at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce in Sweden. But Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez continues to insist, backed by a Venezuelan Supreme Court ruling, that Pdvsa will never agree to any international dispute resolution procedures in any of its joint ventures.
However, Putin – a cunning veteran KGB expert with a keen understanding of energy geopolitics – likely will engage with Chavez only to the extent that it benefits Putin’s strategic concerns. At the least, Chavez’s trip to Moscow will produce increased military/security cooperation in parallel with more arms buys.
Does the agreement threaten the national security of any Latin American or Caribbean country?
No, although Chavez is trying to whip up popular and political concerns by vastly exaggerating the scope and reach of the Colombia-US base rights agreement. Unasur is trying to make it into a South American security crisis, which it is not by any means. The long-buried ghosts of the bad interventionist gringos are being trotted out again, though the folks doing the reviving reek of hypocrisy. But the real threat to South American democracy and stability isn’t the “Yanqui Imperio.”
The real threat is Chavez. Uribe and the Colombians know this, and so do Alan Garcia and his fellow Peruvians. Chavez foams at the mouth against Colombia and the US, accusing them of plotting to invade Venezuela. However, in the past 18 months Chavez has been the interventionist. He threatened to send Venezuelan troops to Bolivia. He also deployed army battalions and tanks to the border and threatened Colombia with war after FARC’s No. 2 chieftain Raul Reyes was killed in northern Ecuador by a Colombian air strike in March 2008. And most recently, Chavez threatened to send troops to Honduras to restore democratically deposed President Manuel “All Hat, No Cattle” Zelaya to power. Now he is also pounding the drums of war against Colombia.
Of course, Chavez doesn’t follow through on these overt threats. He doesn’t have the force multiplier/projection capabilities yet. And he doesn’t have the stomach for a real fight, either. Chavez talks a mean fight, but he’s not a standup slugger. Given the choice, Chavez favors clandestine, indirect, from-behind disruptions. He plots and leads coups like February 1992 and slaughters like April 2002, but is always first to surrender and flee when the going gets a little difficult.
Chavez’s way is on show currently in Peru and Honduras, where the Bolivarian regime has been very active in recent weeks financing street violence against the governments of the two countries.
An interesting aspect of the Chavez regime’s foreign policy in the region is the presence in every Latin American country of groups associated with the Bolivarian Continental Coordinator (CCB) and the Congress of the Bolivarian Peoples (CPB). The CCB and CPB operate with the direct support of Venezuela’s embassies in these countries, often from offices inside the embassies.
The CCB was the conceptual brainchild of long-dead FARC ideologue Jacobo Arenas, and is a FARC initiative.
The CPB is the radical offspring of the Sao Paulo Forum, which was co-created in 1990 by Fidel Castro and Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, then a radical Marxist Brazilian labor activist and today president of Brazil. The Sao Paulo Forum still meets every year, but is a fossil. The real action today is inside the CPB.
The common mandate of the CCB and CPB is to spread the gospel of the Bolivarian revolution, which embraces seeking power democratically or by force if democracy isn’t an option, and having gained power to hold it at any cost while a “revolution” from within uses the institutions of democratic governance to kill democracy.
This is the Chavez model, perfected in Venezuela and now being applied with varying degrees of success in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
The Colombia-US base rights agreement is a positive development. But a critical detail is still lacking in the enhanced US-Colombian strategic partnership: President Barack Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress have not shown any interest in approving the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, sometimes called the Colombia Free Trade Agreement or FTA, which was signed on November 22, 2006.
The Chavez and Correa regimes are seeking to punish the Uribe government (and Colombia) by breaking trade relations. In Venezuela’s case, Commerce Minister Eduardo Saman, a real dyed-in-the-wool communist who actually believes the silly destructive nonsense he preaches/practices, has declared that Venezuela will replace everything it imported from Colombia with new suppliers in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, etc.
Deals were already signed this week to purchase 10,000 Argentine-made autos instead of importing 10,000 autos from Colombia. President Chavez also announced that Ecopetrol will not participate in developing the Orinoco oil belt, and warned (very mistakenly) that western Venezuela can survive nicely without the 300 million cf/d of Colombian natural gas which is imported from Punta Ballenas via the Antonio Ricaurte gas pipeline. Commerce sources on both sides of the border in San Antonio and Cucuta tell Caracas Gringo trade has dried up completely.
Colombian exporters are hurting, of course, but Venezuelan consumers will hurt much more. The Chavez regime has wrought such ruin on Venezuela’s agriculture sector that most of the fresh food that Venezuelans consume is imported from Colombia. It takes a week to import anything from Colombia, but it takes at least two months to import anything from Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay, and the cost of those imports from afar can be three and four and five times higher than if imported from Colombia. But don’t expect your typical Bolivarian Marxist to understand this.
If the Obama administration is serious about growing the US-Colombia strategic partnership, the US president has to persuade Congress to approve the US-Colombia FTA quickly.
The USTR website says:
“The US-Colombia FTA is a comprehensive free trade agreement. When the Colombia FTA enters into force, Colombia will immediately eliminate most of its tariffs on U.S. exports, with all remaining tariffs phased out over defined time periods. The Colombia FTA also includes important disciplines relating to customs administration and trade facilitation, technical barriers to trade, government procurement, investment, telecommunications, electronic commerce, intellectual property rights, and labor and environmental protection. U.S. firms will have better access to Colombia’s services sector than other WTO Members have under the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade. All service sectors are covered under the Colombia FTA except where Colombia has made specific exceptions. Colombia’s Congress approved the agreement and a protocol of amendment in 2007. Colombia’s Constitutional Court completed its review in July 2008, and concluded that the Agreement conforms to Colombia’s Constitution. President Obama tasked the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative with seeking a path to address outstanding issues surrounding the Colombia FTA.”
Ideally, the new US-Colombia base rights agreement would be accompanied by swift US congressional approval of the US-Colombia FTA. But that won’t happen. As always, Washington is way behind the curve, always reacting to events instead of anticipating them.