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In late March, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield said the U.S. is close to signing bilateral military accords with two unspecified countries in Latin America. Brownfield did not specify whether military collaboration meant having troops on the ground or the provision of equipment and/or advisory services.
But this is an important difference.
In October 2009, following a failed attempt to keep the details secret, the U.S. and Colombia hastily announced a deal to expand the U.S. presence in Colombia in six bases for anti-narcotics purposes. This came one month prior to the closing of the base in Manta, Ecuador. The deal came to light when the now defunct Cambio magazine leaked details, forcing both countries to react quickly to the news. This announcement provoked varying degrees of anger and worry among regional neighbors.
Fearing a similar fate, the two unspecified countries have asked to keep their identity a secret, according to an interview with Brownfield published in El Espectador.
By not revealing the identity of the two nations involved in the pending agreements, the U.S. is acknowledging the diplomatic blunder it helped to create during the announcement of the Colombia deal. This is wise for two reasons. First, it shows that the U.S. recognizes its culpability in creating a polarized Latin America and the threat this poses to U.S. allies and interests in the region. Secondly, it shows the U.S. is committed to becoming the partner of choice that the administration allegedly seeks. Sometimes being the partner of choice means letting your cohort set the rules.
And there are signs the U.S. is starting to listen.
To regain goodwill, the U.S. may start to change how it sends personnel and military assistance. For example, discussions between the U.S. and Brazil about establishing an antinarcotics base in Rio de Janeiro as well as U.S. intelligence sharing at antinarcotics bases in Panama suggest that U.S. military involvement in Latin America may involve military attaches, intelligence, equipment, and advisors—but will stay clear from any discussion of soldiers.
We can only wait and see if these newest yet-to-be-announced military deals are a sign of just how the U.S. may revamp its engagement in the region. It sure can’t hurt.
*Eliot Brockner is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org and a Latin America analyst at iJET Intelligent Risk Systems. Based in Washington DC, he covers security, politics, and diplomacy in the Americas. He is the managing editor of Southern Pulse | Networked Intelligence and a regular contributor to the blog Latin American Thought.
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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.