Even now that Bogotá and Washington concluded their talks over the U.S.-Colombian military deal on Friday, questions linger over how and why it sparked so much controversy. The general consensus—even by the Pentagon’s own admission—is that Bogotá and Washington mangled the public message.
Now that more details are coming out about the deal, it’s clear that it didn’t need to be such a lightening rod. And even if it did, why did the U.S. allow Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to twist in the wind?
The core of the deal is to grant the U.S. access to seven of Colombia’s military bases (five air and two naval) to help build up Colombia’s current assets and capability (particularly on surveillance and intelligence gathering). The deal seeks to “provide to the Colombians that what they need in order to continue to prosecute their efforts against the internal threats that they have,” as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine General James E. Cartwright said at a Pentagon briefing on August 13, 2009.
This is NOT about increasing the ceiling for U.S. personnel in Colombia, or in South America.
Under current law, the U.S. cannot have more than 800 military and 600 contract personnel in Colombia. Last year, there were only 71 military personnel and some 400 contractors in Colombia. More importantly, the U.S. Congress has little appetite to increase the number of U.S. troops stationed there.