Colombia U.S. bases up for court review

BOGOTA, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. forces' use of military bases in Colombia in the war on gangs supplying narcotics to North America is under scrutiny in the country's Constitutional Court ahead of the Saturday's inauguration of Juan Manuel Santos as Colombian president.

Outgoing President Alvaro Uribe signed the agreement last year despite opposition criticism and fiercer condemnation from populist neighbors like Venezuela, who saw the military pact as a preparation for war, a charge dismissed by both U.S. and Colombian officials.


Critics say the pact remains controversial and must be reviewed by the new Santos presidency and probably revised so much as to bar U.S. forces from using the Colombian military bases. One counter-criticism is that the joint Colombian-U.S. military cooperation to fight the drug overlords is a product of the South and Central American states' failure to stem the outflow of narcotics to North America and beyond.

Colombia embarked on a $4 billion upgrade of its military in 2009, buying equipment from France, Israel, Russia and the United States. Included in the acquisition program are aircraft, naval vessels and submarines, armored vehicles and small arms and ammunition and training aircraft assembled in Colombia.


Colombia's shopping list includes 15 U.S. Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters, five Russian-made MI-17 helicopters, at least 20 105mm artillery cannons and Israeli-built KFir fighter jets.

It isn't clear how much of the defense refurbishment program is related to the military pact with United States but much of the financing comes from a special tax and compensation agreements with international corporations.

The Constitutional Court hearing, which began Tuesday, is a response to critics' calls to study the legality of the agreement that allows U.S. forces to operate in Colombia. The pact was opposed in varying degrees by several Latin American countries.

The review is focused on determining whether the agreement is in line with the provisions of the country's constitution. The court will make its decision known after Aug. 17.

If the court rules the agreement unconstitutional it will be referred to the Congress for further debate, officials said.

U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield told local radio station La FM that mechanisms would be available to continue the base arrangement if it faced opposition.

If the decision is to ask for a revision of the agreement, he said, "we can cooperate ... under the agreements we already have from the years 1952, 1962 and 1974."


"The agreement of last year was based on the reality of the 21st century," Brownfield said.

When asked if a negative decision from the Constitutional Court could affect bilateral relations, Brownfield said, "in absolute terms, I think not."

Santos was accredited this week as the next president by the National Electoral Council, which is in charge of endorsing elections in Colombia.

Angelino Garzon got his accreditation as vice president-elect.

Santos won the runoff presidential election with 9 million votes, the highest in Colombia's elections in decades.

More than 20,000 members of Colombia's armed and security forces will be on duty in the capital Saturday during the inauguration ceremony.

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