On Tuesday, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe began a tour of seven Latin American countries to talk to leaders uneasy about a new U.S.-Colombia military pact that grants the United States access to seven military bases and is expected to increase the number of U.S. troops on Colombian soil. His meetings come ahead of an August 10 gathering in Ecuador of the Union of South American Nations, which Uribe will not attend.
The 10-year agreement, which caps the number of U.S. soldiers at 800—the maximum number permitted under an existing pact—was reached after Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa refused to renew the lease that allowed the United States to conduct operations from the base at Manta in Ecuador. That lease expired on July 17, 2009. President Uribe explains that the bases are not meant to threaten anyone but instead to combat drug trafficking and promote security in the region. Washington has had a military presence in Colombia since the launch of Plan Colombia in 1999.
Uribe has met with Presidents Alan García of Peru and Evo Morales of Bolivia and is scheduled to also meet with the leaders of Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. While García was welcoming and supportive, Morales insisted that he wouldn’t feel safe with U.S. troops in his country or in the region. The Colombian president will not meet with two of the pact’s fiercest critics—Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Rafael Correa of Ecuador.