Pentagon Building Bases in Central America and Colombia
Despite Constitutional Court Striking Down Base Agreement
by John Lindsay-Poland
U.S. military agencies in September 2010 signed contracts for construction at Tolemaida, Larandia and Malaga bases in Colombia worth nearly US$5 million, according to official U.S. documents available to the Fellowship of Reconciliation. U.S. military contracts for Tolemaida [excel file] in the fiscal year ending September 30 were larger than the last four years combined.
The contracts included two for an “Advanced Operations Base” [pdf flles] for the U.S. Southern Command special operations unit in Tolemaida, located south of Bogota. The special operations unit, known as SOCSOUTH, has as its mission “the use of small units in direct or indirect military actions that are focused on strategic or operational objectives,” including “provid[ing] an immediately deployable theater crisis response force.”
Last August, Colombia’s Constitutional Court struck down the agreement that would give the United States military use of seven bases in Colombia for ten years, because the agreement was never submitted for Congressional approval or judicial review. Yet, even after the agreement was declared “non-existent” by Colombia’s highest court, the Pentagon initiated unprecedented amounts of new construction on bases in Colombia. The contracts place in serious doubt the Pentagon’s respect for Colombian sovereignty.
The base agreement also provoked strong regional opposition in 2009 after Pentagon planning and budget documents referred to “anti-U.S. governments” and the use of “full spectrum operations” in the region, indicating that the Pentagon seeks to project military power in South America. The construction now of a U.S.“advanced operations base” in Colombia raises similar concerns.
Besides the contracts naming military bases, there were also military contracts for $2.5 million construction at unnamed locations in Colombia signed in September. The new contracts may have been signed in September in order to spend funds allotted for the U.S. 2010 fiscal year, which ended September 30. Another military construction contract described as being for “Talemaida Avaition” [sic] for $5.5 million was signed in October 2009, just days before the United States and Colombia signed a military base agreement, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of this month. FOR obtained the contract information from a public website that posts federal contract information, including where the contracts will be carried out.
An Army Corps of Engineers document of plans for Fiscal Year 2011 also shows plans to build an integrated logistics center in various locations in Colombia, for $14 million, apparently funded by Colombia itself, through a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) account. However, FMS projects frequently offer the United States the potential for continued access through “interoperability,” as well as lowers costs for the buyer.
FMS projects “promote standardization (by providing customers with defense articles identical to those used by U.S. forces) [and] provide contract administration services which may not be readily available otherwise,” according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
US Military increases Construction in Region. The Army Corps on Engineers Mobile District’s plans indicate that US military construction in Central and South America has more than doubled this year compared to 2009. This includes a SouthCom Counter-Narco-terrorism account that is funding construction in summer 2011 of facilities in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador and Belize, as well as a $10 million upgrade in Soto Cano, Honduras. [see our interactive map for details]
Facilities funded through the Counter Narco-terrorism account are generally for strictly military uses, not for civilians, nor for unarmed approaches to social and economic problems. Moreover, the Army Corps explicitly recognizes the military uses of even civilian-oriented projects. “Every soldier a sensor” proclaimed Lester Dixon, program director for the Corps’ division that operates in Central and South America. Corps “Civilians/Soldiers can collect information and intelligence” and “provide entry point into country” Dixon said in November. He noted that Central and South America are “key locations of recent interest.”
It is important to note that U.S. construction of a base does not necessarily mean that the United States will have title to the base or keep personnel there. But it is an intelligence asset to know in detail another nation’s military base, and it contributes to “interoperability” — that is, integration — of armed forces. Public disclsoure of access agreements for U.S. forces is key, since these will shape the terms of U.S. use of the military facilities.
From Bogota to Kabul. On September 30, the US military’s Transportation Command signed two contracts, to be performed out of Bogota, for “Afghanistan rotary wing pax and cargo movement”, to be carried out by the Medellin-based Vertical de Aviacion Ltda. The contract shows how the United States is using the Colombian military to support the war in Afghanistan, which has become unpopular in the US as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan.