U.S. might use Colombia's military bases

Colombia's armed forces chief Wednesday said negotiations could conclude this weekend on an agreement to increase the U.S. military presence in the South American country — a vaguely explained deal that has sparked strong protests in the hemisphere.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has warned that "the winds of war are blowing." Bolivia's Evo Morales urged Latin Americans to "rescue" Colombia from the grip of U.S. imperialism. Argentina's Cristina Kirchner called the move "belligerent." And Fidel Castro alleged it could "block social change" in the region.

Even moderates like Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva joined the more strident leftists in expressing concerns, indicating that the controversy is undermining the Obama administration's efforts to forge warmer ties with the region and reviving memories of past U.S. interventions around the hemisphere.

The agreement involves the use of Colombian military bases by U.S. aircraft and troops engaged in counter-narcotics and counter-guerrilla surveillance programs. They would make up for last month's closure of a similar U.S. operation out of the Ecuadorean port of Manta, from where U.S. planes swept the Pacific for vessels smuggling cocaine north to Central America and Mexico, where it would be taken by land to the U.S. border.

Manta was one of the three U.S. "Forward Operating Locations" (FOLs) — others are in El Salvador and Aruba-Curaçao — that feed data to the counter-drug Joint Interagency Task Force based in Key West.

U.S. officials are adamant that the Colombia FOLs will not be "bases" — no U.S. flags, no U.S. sovereignty, no U.S. controls over base security, no lethal equipment, no use of force.

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