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US helped subvert Colombia’s congress on military ‘escalation’ deal, cable shows

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A year before the United States and Colombia announced an enhanced military cooperation agreement, the US embassy in Bogotá was working with the administration of Colombian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez to dodge congressional approval of the deal, which saw US troops stationed in the nation and inflamed regional tensions.

The revelation was made in a confidential US diplomatic cable composed in Nov. 2008, given to secrets outlet WikiLeaks and republished on Dec. 18. It was forwarded with priority to US embassies in Brasilia, Caracas, Lima, Panama, Quito and to officials in Washington, DC and the US Southern Command.

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The document specified that by renaming the multilateral agreement, “a major escalation in US engagement” would become “simply an extension of our existing cooperation.”

The deal to station US troops in Colombia was announced in the summer of 2009 and finalized in October. Then-President Álvaro Uribe Vélez has since been succeeded by Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s former secretary of defense, who took office in August.

Amid negotiations with US officials, the Colombian administration issued a counter-proposal which the US embassy in Bogotá analyzed to make recommendations for Washington strategists. The document it produced noted that the administration wanted to avoid “use of the word’ base'” in describing US installations. They also insisted upon finding a way to “place the agreement under the umbrella of existing bilateral and multilateral accords to avoid the need for Colombian congressional approval.”

In order to do that, Colombian officials engaged in wordplay, renaming a US proposal for a “Defense Cooperation Agreement” to the much-less descriptive “Supplemental Agreement for Cooperation and Technical Assistance.” The rephrasing shows that both US and Colombian officials knew their deal would not fall within the boundaries of standing agreements without significant alterations to its framing.

The US embassy at Bogotá concurred with the suggested changes, noting that a less descriptive title would shift the troop deal from “a major escalation in US engagement” to “simply an extension of our existing cooperation.”

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“[Tying] the agreement to existing bilateral and multilateral agreements does not impact U.S. interests and is important to the GOC’s capacity to conclude an accord. If we can get the access and authorities we need by changing the title, we recommend changing the title.”

Sure enough, it worked: Colombia’s defense minister said in July, 2009 that no congressional approval was needed for the administration to allow foreign troops.

The Colombian administration also asked for the US to build strategic air defense installations, but US officials noted that could cost billions of dollars and should only be considered if it’s absolutely necessary.

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When the US announced its deal with Colombia, officials said it was only to operate drone aircraft in the region, to aid the US war on drugs and help protect Colombia from terrorism.

Venezuela, which shares a border with the South American nation, took the agreement as a sign that Colombia was preparing for war. Tensions have run high between the two nations ever since.

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The prior president of Colombia has been dogged by protesters ever since leaving office. Critics charge he presided over one of the nation’s worst periods for human rights, during which labor leaders and thousands of civilians were slaughtered by former government paramilitary groups.

Human Rights Watch claimed in a report earlier this year that when the prior government displaced tens of thousands of soldiers between 2003 and 2006, their ties to the administration did not really end.

In his inaugural address, Colombian President Santos said his nation would have peace “by reason or force.”

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Another diplomatic cable released last week revealed that Colombia’s last administration also pushed the US to engage in a public campaign to discredit Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.


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