Chavez: US base in Colombia means war

The US will likely receive an eviction notice at the end of its ten-year lease from Ecuador for its base in Port Manta. Rumor has the Bush administration negotiating with Colombia to move the only American military base in South America to a peninsula on the Caribbean Sea, near the border with Venezuela. Hugo Chavez vociferously protested that idea, calling it a provocation and warning Alvaro Uribe that Chavez won’t allow it:

President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday warned Colombia not to allow a U.S. military base on its border with Venezuela, saying he would consider such an act an “aggression.”

Chavez said he would not permit Colombia’s U.S.-backed government to establish an American military base in La Guajira, a region spanning northeastern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela.

The Venezuelan leader said if Colombia allows the base, his government will revive a decades-old territorial conflict and stake a claim to the entire region. …

Chavez urged his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe, to “think it over well” before making such a decision because Venezuela will do “whatever it takes” to ensure that a U.S. military base is not built on the peninsula in the Caribbean Sea.

Currently we have an agreement with Ecuador that runs out in November 2009 that allows us to use Eloy Alfaro Air Base to stage drug-interdiction flights throughout the region. We have as many as 475 military personnel stationed at the bas, and the base primarily looks for drug-runners in boats coming out of Colombia. In 2007, the Manta base caught 200 such transports in approximately 1200 missions.

The US does not want to end this program and surrender to the cartels, but Manta simply won’t be available. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa has refused to negotiate an extension, not surprisingly given his ties to Chavez, but it will be akin to cutting off his nose to spite his face. The US base pumps almost $7 million into the local economy and spent over $70 million refurbishing Eloy Alfaro Air Base. Correa offered a deal: he’d extend the lease if we allowed an Ecuadorian military base in Miami. Bush passed on that offer.

Afterwards, the Bush administration said the US would operate from already-established bases in Key West, El Salvador, and Curacao. However, a closer alliance with Colombia would make sense. First, the trafficking originates there, but strategically, strengthening Colombia and Uribe against Chavez would certainly help contain Venezuela’s nuttiness. Their exposure as a terrorist-supporting regime makes it even more important for the US to pressure Chavez into either retreating or cracking up, and a base near his border would do nicely.

Chavez may discover that he can’t dictate terms to Uribe, especially when he’s busily undermining him by funding FARC. Colombia can do what it likes with its territory, including leasing bases to the US, and particularly when Colombia keeps hearing threats from Caracas.