NATO and US Special Services Beachhead in Colombia
Nil NIKANDROV | 02.09.2014 | OPINION

NATO and US Special Services Beachhead in Colombia

Colombia wanted to cooperate with NATO on Afghanistan. It was in the plans. In 2009, the Colombian Government asked to be part of the ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) and work with the Spanish contingent in the mine detection operations, but this didn't materialize due to the internal conflict that Colombia faced. In March 2011, Colombia voted in favor of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, thus officially allowing for NATO military intervention in the Libyan civil war. In April 2012, Colombia was amended into the NATO document ATP-56(B) which gave Colombia the «associate» status to conduct air-to-air fuel operations with NATO member countries. No doubt the great experience of countering guerilla forces and drug traffickers acquired by Colombian servicemen would be a welcome contribution. The armed forces of the country have proven they are capable of spearheading an attack against any enemy. 

Then President Alvaro Uribe considered the fact that his country was invited to take part in the fight against the Taliban as substantiation to claim the status of US Latin American privileged partner. Juan Manuel Santos was defense minister in the Uribe’s cabinet. Washington highly valued his contribution into the Colombia’s war record against FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People's Army, Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — Ejército del Pueblo) guerillas. The United States supported his presidential campaign. It was evident that former President Uribe and the country’s ruling establishment wanted special relationship with the North Atlantic Alliance. 

 In August 2014 the Colombian Congress approved a communication alliance with NATO. Colombian President Santos came up with an initiative to establish closer ties with the Alliance in early 2013. He coordinated his proposal with the Pentagon and NATO. On June 25, 2013 NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow and Juan Carlos Pinzon Bueno, the Defence Minister of Colombia, signed an Agreement on the Security of Information, an accord that will allow NATO and Colombia to explore future cooperation and consultations in areas of common interest. The Security of Information Agreement does not formally recognize Colombia as a NATO partner but constitutes a first step for future cooperation in the security field. It will facilitate the participation of Colombia in a number of NATO activities. The concrete plans are to be coordinated under conditions of top secrecy. 

The Colombian government has faced considerable pushback from Latin American countries. Many of them have expressed negative attitude towards the contradicting statements made by President Santos and Defense Minister Pinson regarding the country’s NATO policy. Several states have expressed concern that Colombia would become a member of NATO and pose a threat to the region. Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega said the Bogota plans «stab the heart of the Latin American peoples with a dagger because NATO is notorious for bombings, murders and destruction». Venezuelan President Nikolas Maduro said the Colombia-NATO rapprochement was an ill-conceived policy. According to him, the world has «no respect for fools who cringe to empires» (The phrase would hit the nail right on the head if used to describe Poroshenko, the current Ukraine’s leader). Bolivian president Evo Morales believes that the Colombia’s policy is an aggression, a provocation and a conspiracy against anti-imperialist governments. 

Brazil did not trust the Bogota’s explanations regarding its close ties with NATO. In recent years the United States has used Colombia for subversion of regional integration, fight against «populist» regimes in Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua and countering the growing geopolitical clout of Brazil. As a result of implementing the plans ‘Columbia’ and «Patriot», that the US has allocated billions of dollars for, the Colombia’s military potential is catching up with Brazil. No doubt it will take advantage of its relations with NATO to gain superiority in this field. 

Bogota cannot turn a blind eye on Latin American negative reaction as the US intensifies covert activities targeted at converting Colombia into the beachhead of NATO. It pushed Defense Minister Pinzon into making explanatory notes. According to him, there are no plans to establish a formal membership but the country will make steps to become a NATO partner. 

The Colombian government appears to be after some kind of security arrangement. This is the first time that NATO has signed a security-oriented accord with a Latin American nation. The continent’s history has known few instances of interaction with the North American Alliance. Prior to this agreement, only two Latin American nations had formally partnered with NATO. Both Argentina and Chile participated in the Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Argentina was also involved in the Kosovo Force peacekeeping mission. In theory there are also different kinds of non-binding partnership arrangements which presuppose few concrete commitments and could be considered as «honorary», «symbolic» or «virtual». 

Minister Pinzon tried to calm the neighbors down. He excluded the NATO military presence on Colombian soil. The US Defense Department and NATO officials said the same thing. But they are not trusted. If the US needs to go around the NATO Charter, it will do so without any hesitation. The geographic importance, the tradition of political and military cooperation of the country’s elite with the Empire, the rich experience of fight against drug dealers and guerillas – all told, these factors make Colombia important enough to make pro-NATO elements dominate the top echelons of power. 

Their logic is easy to follow: dynamic global changes are underway and it’s hard to predict the development of events in the multipolar world. In the past Colombia has always relied on the United States. This policy meets its expectations. It needs the US to guarantee that tycoons continue to stay in power. Bogota believes that the close ties with the US will help it to compete with Brazil (a BRICS member) which plays the leading role in the Latin America’s integration process. Even the member-states of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), prone to follow a socialist pattern, take into consideration the Brazil’s stance on political, economic, social and military transformation of Latin America and the states of Caribbean basin. 

The US State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA are adamant to advance their interests as Latin America tries to cope with its burning problems. They need Colombia to this end. The country has increased its potential to influence things and is willing to be an ally at the global level. Bogota has increased its clout in many international organizations to make it a valuable asset as a NATO ally. The North Atlantic Alliance tends to take on «global responsibility.» In 2006, then senior fellow at Brookings Ivo Daalder, who was the United States Ambassador to NATO from May 2009 to July 2013, together with then professor of political science and international affairs, George Washington University, James Goldgeier, now the dean of the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC, conceived the term «Global NATO». Subsequently ideas for membership of various states were floated: Brazil, South Africa, Singapore, India, Israel, and most frequently of Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Colombia. The idea is to transform the Cold War institution into a «Global alliance of democracies». Accordingly President Santos, himself a former defense minister, announced early summer that «NATO is going to sign an agreement with the Colombian government, with the Ministry of Defense, to start a whole process of reaching out, of cooperation, also with a look at entering that organization.» Afterwards Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon, told W Radio that the country merely plans to sign a deal with NATO for cooperation in human rights, military justice and the education of troops. «Colombia cannot be a member, does not want to be a member of NATO,» he said. The ministry later reinforced that message with a news release. But the words that slipped the President’s tongue actually were devoted to an opportunity for NATO to expand the area of responsibility with the help of Columbia. What he said about having no intention to become a NATO member is nothing more than an attempt to cover up real intentions. It is done to make Latin Americans get accustomed to what is inevitable. Sooner or later Columbia will become a full-fledged member of the Alliance. 

What about the South American Defense Council (CSD – el Consejo Sudamericano de Defensa or South American Defense Council), which includes 12 states including Columbia? What are the missions of priority for the country? The Council sets the mission of converting Latin America into a region of peace, democratic stability and general progress of the peoples. It applies efforts to formulate a common security policy. Military budgets, arms procurement, crisis management are among the issues on the CSD agenda. Until recently the CSD members kept away from NATO influence while working out a common defense doctrine. Could Colombia manage to combine the allegiance to South American cause and the policy aimed at rapprochement with NATO? 

There are other problems. The US has strong military presence in Colombia under the pretext of fighting drug trafficking and guerilla formations. In reality the US servicemen stationed there are tasked with neutralization of Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba, the states with governments hostile to the USA. According to experts, Venezuela is the prime target. The US conducts intensive subversive activities to undermine its government. Economic and trade war is waged under the guidance provided by Colombia-based US intelligence operatives. 

The Venezuelan power agencies fight smugglers who try to get out of the country huge quantities of combustive-lubricating materials, medical supplies and other hard to find items. The economic impact runs to several billion dollars a year. Anti-smuggling efforts provoke skirmishes between Venezuelan military and Columbian paramilitaries who control the smoothly running business and on many occasions act under the protection of Colombia’s military and police. Venezuelan special services have uncovered agents in the ranks of the country’s power agencies working for Colombian paramilitaries. The sporadic fighting takes place along the 2850 km long border between the two countries. Shots are fired with the number of victims growing and the paramilitaries, drug traffickers and corrupted officials suffer great damage. It all makes the situation extremely explosive. 

As if upon a command, the radical opposition of Venezuela starts activities aimed at making people hit the streets again accompanied by cacerolazo (a form of popular protest practiced in Venezuela which consists in a group of people creating noise by banging pots, pans, and other utensils in order to call for attention) like it was in the most difficult times of Hugo Chavez rule. The voices raised in protest against Venezuela’s government efforts to fight smuggling, including closing the border at nights, are getting louder in Colombia. There is evidence that the US defense intelligence and CIA agents have become more active in the conflict area. According to experts, Americans apply concerted efforts to provoke armed clashes along the border. The final goal of the ongoing operation (there have been so many of them in the past!) is to topple Venezuelan President Maduro and the restore of «traditional democracy» along with curtailing Russian and Chinese presence in the country.

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