Pubdate: Wed, 12 Aug 2009
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2009 Miami Herald Media Co.
Bookmark: (Opinion)


Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, never one to let facts get in his way, is 
stoking another anti-American controversy among his neighbors. This 
one involves non-existent U.S. military "bases" in Colombia.

Given the region's traditional sensitivity to claims of U.S. 
intervention, it's no surprise that he's getting traction, but it's 
disappointing to see moderate leaders like Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula 
da Silva take the bait. "I don't like the idea of an American base in 
the region," Brazil's president said recently.

Neither would Congress, nor the Pentagon, nor the people of Colombia. 
That's why there are no U.S. bases in Colombia today, nor any plans 
to change that. Mr. Chavez has taken an innocuous proposal between 
the United States and Colombia to increase military cooperation and 
fanned that ember into a roaring fire over alleged U.S. imperialism.

A bit of history: Colombia has had substantial U.S. help for more 
than a decade in waging a war against narcotics trafficking involving 
guerrillas. U.S. troops have been in Colombia as trainers since the 
1990s. In 2000, President Clinton signed a military aid package of 
$1.3 billion that raised the U.S. profile but kept it within manageable limits.

The number of U.S. troops in the country cannot surpass 800. Contract 
workers are limited to no more than 600. On any given day, the usual 
number in-country is far smaller, and both U.S. and Colombian 
officials say there are no plans to push for an increase.

The latest round of cooperation is designed to compensate for the 
loss of of U.S. landing rights at a military base in Ecuador. One 
proposal would have U.S. troops working with Colombian forces on 
anti-narcotics and intelligence matters in at least seven Colombian 
military bases. These would be Colombian military bases, controlled 
by Colombian forces, flying the Colombian flag. No infringement of 
Colombian sovereignty is planned or intended.

Of course, that hasn't stopped Mr. Chavez's effort to create a major 
flap. "This could provoke a war in South America," he told fellow 
presidents at a recent summit. The leaders stopped short of 
condemning the plan, but they're concerned about what it means.

Mr. Chavez is winning this war of disinformation because there is no 
effective counter-strategy by the United States and Colombia. That's 
a mistake. Both countries need to undertake an anti-disinformation 
campaign to put this phony issue to rest.

The Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, which has good relations with 
its counterparts in the region, should take the lead. Until somebody 
steps up, Hugo Chavez, who has done more than anyone to deepen 
regional animosities, will keep right on fanning.
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