Foreign Policy Blogs

Summit in Bariloche: Why Discuss US Military Presence in Colombia Now?

Today leaders met in Bariloche, Argentina, for a session of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). Atop the agenda was discussion of the military agreement between Colombia and the United States, signed to maintain efforts against drug-trafficking and terrorism in the region. See this BBC Mundo article for a preview of the meeting.

As part of the agenda, Evo Morales, President of Bolivia and a close ally of Hugo Chávez, proposed an additional referendum. This would be a vote by all in attendance on whether they approve of US military presence in South America.

In reality, US soldiers and advisors have been operating in Colombia for years, and there has been funding for “Plan Colombia” since the late 1990s. This largely represents a military effort to counter drug smuggling but also includes some economic aid. Depending on who one listens to, the campaign has been declared largely successful, or a human rights disaster. All you need to do is a quick web-search to see this range of opinion.

Either way, the new 10-year accord does not appear to change the number of US troops in Colombia – or at least this is what has been publicized. While public discussion is almost always a positive, was there a more opportune time to debate US military presence, perhaps a few years ago?

It seems to me that Chávez has more or less hijacked political debate within South America, focusing the region’s attention on Colombia. In doing so, he is able to draw attention away from the actions of his own government in Venezuela. A Washington Post editorial titled Advantage, Mr. Chávez gives more insight into this possibility. (A potential case in point: here I am writing a blog post on the UNASUR summit rather than focusing on news within Venezuela.)

However, it remains understandable that South American leaders would wish to discuss any and all foreign presence. There is a history of US intervention in the region. As recently as 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson sent troops into the Dominican Republic. The US has also supported dictators within other Latin American countries.



David D. Sussman

David D. Sussman is currently a PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), in Boston, Massachusetts. Serving as a fellow at the Feinstein International Center, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the lives of Colombian refugees and economic migrants in Caracas, Venezuela. David has worked on a variety of migrant issues that include the health of displaced persons, domestic resettlement of refugees, and structured labor-migration programs. He holds a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School, where he studied the integration of Somali and Salvadoran immigrants. David has a B.A. from Dartmouth College and is fluent in Spanish. He has lived in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela, and also traveled throughout Latin America. In his free time David enjoys reading up on international news, playing soccer, cooking arepas, and dancing salsa casino. Areas of Focus: Latin America; Migration; Venezuela.