BOGOTA – A soon-to-be-signed, 10-year bilateral cooperation pact will give U.S. military personnel the right to operate from five bases in Colombia, the newsweekly Cambio reported Thursday.
The United States is seeking basing rights in Colombia because Ecuador declined to renew an accord allowing Washington to coordinate drug-interdiction efforts from the Manta airbase on the Andean nation’s Pacific coast.
Colombia’s three main airbases: Palanquero, in the central part of the country; Alberto Pouwels, in the north, and Apiay, in the south, will play host to U.S. units, according to the Bogota-based magazine.
The U.S. military will also have access to the Colombian naval bases at Cartagena, on the Caribbean, and Malaga, located on the Pacific.
The hub of U.S. operations in Colombia will be Palanquero airbase, which has room for up to 60 planes and a runway that extends for 3,500 meters (11,475 feet), long enough to allow up to three takeoffs and/or landings at a time, Cambio said.
Colombia’s armed forces chief, Gen. Freddy Padilla, told reporters Thursday that the accord cited by Cambio remains subject to change.
From the beginning of the talks, he said, it has been understood by both sides that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
“It has been progressing in four meetings; we hope that the fifth will be definitive,” Padilla said. “I reject and criticize the Colombians or Americans who leaked this information, because this is an accord between two serious nations that is being done with the reserve approriate for the sensitivity of the issue.”
Asked if the United States might deploy aircraft carriers in international waters near Colombia, he said such a development was possible with or without a basing agreement.
Padilla declined to comment on one of the most difficult points in the negotiations: whether U.S. military personnel stationed at Colombian bases would enjoy the equivalent of diplomatic immunity, as has been the case at Manta
The armed forces chief would say only that the pact now under negotiation was “an accord with a basis different from” the one underlying the U.S.-Ecuador treaty regarding Manta.
Cambio said the prospective U.S.-Colombia deal calls for American personnel at Colombian bases to be involved not only with drug interdiction but with anti-terrorism efforts as well.
Colombia, which receives about $500 million a year in military aid from Washington, is the world’s leading cocaine producer and the scene of a decades-long conflict among leftist guerrillas, security forces and right-wing militias. EFE