BOGOTA – Colombia hopes to sign in two weeks the controversial pact allowing U.S. military forces the use of up to seven bases on its territory, one in a series of causes of deteriorating relations with neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela, countries with which the Alvaro Uribe government wishes to renew talks.
A source linked to Colombia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday that the Uribe administration’s goal is to have the pact with the United States signed “in two weeks,” after negotiations were wrapped up Friday in Washington.
A brief communique from the Colombian Foreign Ministry confirmed Friday that negotiations on the defense and security pact with the United States have been concluded, and it will now go “for technical review by government agencies in each country for its subsequent signing.”
Almost parallel to that confirmation, President Uribe expressed his willingness for dialogue with the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments to rebuild their shattered bilateral relations.
The proposed 10-year agreement for leasing military bases has sparked harsh criticism from left-wing governments in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia and also caused concern in Brazil and Chile.
Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez – who was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup, which he claims the U.S. government supported – says the base deal represents a threat to his country and could spark a war in the region.
Colombia, however, contends Venezuela has nothing to fear and maintains the agreement will bolster the fight against drug trafficking and terrorist activity and is necessary after Ecuador ended a lease allowing U.S. access to a base in that country.
“I believe that dialogue with Ecuador is possible,” Uribe said Friday at the assembly of the National Association of Business Owners, or ANDI, in Medellin, and added that the same could be true with Venezuela.
Uribe again offered his apologies to Ecuador for Colombia’s bombing on March 1, 2008, of a FARC camp installed in that country.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa accepted Saturday Uribe’s apology but conditioned the renewal of relations between the two countries with the fulfillment of several requirements, and repeated his criticism of Colombia’s military pact with the United States.
Uribe’s offer of talks reinforces recent contacts between the Catholic hierarchies of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, which plan to meet in the next few days, possibly in Bogota, to try and relieve tensions in the three countries.
Unease over the U.S.-Colombia military alliance has also led the Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, to call a special presidential summit to be held in the southern Argentine city of Bariloche on Aug. 28.
Uribe confirmed his assistance at the meeting, but warned that it won’t change Colombia’s agreement with the United States, which could be signed even before the Unasur summit.