WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new U.S.-Colombia security pact that has angered some South American nations is aimed at fighting drug trafficking and terrorism and will not create U.S. bases in the Andean nation, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.
The proposal to allow U.S. forces to use up to seven Colombian military installations has fueled tensions in the Andes, where Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his leftist allies oppose U.S. influence.
But Clinton sought to ensure critics like Chavez that the United States did not have ulterior motives with the bases.
“The agreement does not create U.S. bases in Colombia,” Clinton said in a news conference with Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez. “The United States does not have and does not seek bases inside Colombia.”
A senior State Department official said the plan combines a number of existing cooperation agreements relating to counter-narcotics, defense and security.
Colombia, the world’s top cocaine exporter, has received more than $5 billion in U.S. aid since 2000 to battle drug traffickers and Marxist FARC guerrillas waging Latin America’s oldest insurgency.
Under the new agreement, which was reached on August 14 and is expected to be signed in a few weeks, there will be no “significant” permanent increase in U.S. military presence in Colombia, Clinton said.
Under the current U.S. agreement, U.S. personnel levels in Colombia are capped at 800 military troops and 600 civilian contractors. There are around 268 U.S. military personnel in the country, where U.S. operations focus on providing training and intelligence support for the Colombian armed forces.
The U.S. military has key operations in six countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region.
Chavez says the U.S. plan risks sparking war in the region and has vowed to reduce trade with Colombia as a reprisal.
He has said his country needs to be prepared for an attack and plans to beef up Venezuela’s army by buying tanks and other weapons from Russia.
Bermudez defended the bilateral agreement between Colombia and the United States and said it clearly spells out the principles of territorial integrity and non-intervention.
Clinton urged critics of the deal to look at it closely.
“I would also ask that ...more countries, you know, actually help us, help us in this fight. Don’t just stand on the sidelines, and certainly don’t contribute to the problems by doing and saying things that undermine the efforts that our governments are taking to try to protect the entire region from the scourge of narco-traffickers,” Clinton said.
Editing by Phil Stewart