Colombia's Constitutional Court Rules US Military Bases Agreement Unconstitutional
by Charles Lemos, Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 08:34:41 PM EDT
In a six to three vote, Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday that US-Colombia agreement signed by the Uribe Administration in October 2009 that gave the US military unfettered access to seven army, navy and air force bases across Colombia is unconstitutional. The agreement took effect in May 2010 but a new agreement must now be renegotiated and then submitted to the Colombian Congress for approval.
Article 173 of the Colombian Constitution prohibits the presence or the transit of foreign soldiers in or through the country without congressional approval. The Álvaro Uribe Administration and the successor Juan Manuel Santos Administration, had argued that the agreement with the US was not a new one, but rather an extension of an existing, decades-old military pact and, consequently, should not require separate scrutiny nor Congressional approval. The agreement gave the US the power to decide what operations will occur, provided blanket immunity to US troops, allowed access to bases beyond the seven named in the agreement's text, and deferred the most important questions about military operations to future "operational agreements."
The decision has been expected since mid July when Judge Jorge Ivan Palacio, who was delegated by the nation's Constitutional Court to study the constitutionality of the US-Colombia bases agreement, released his preliminary report stating that the controversial pact was unconstitutional and needed to be reviewed. The Colombian Constitutional Court assigns cases to a single judge who then issues a finding upon which the entire Court rules.
In his report, Judge Palacio suggested that the Colombian Congress be given a period of twelve months to process a new bilateral agreement with the US military.
Within Colombia, the agreement is largely supported with the exception of granting of immunity to US military personnel. That's largely due to the case of Sgt. Michael Coen and US military contract employee César Ruiz, who stand accused of raping a 12 year old child in Melgar, Tolima on August 27, 2006. When charges were brought against the pair, US officials simply flew them out of the country.
Nor is the Coen and Ruiz case the sole irritant. Since 2007, over 70 formal complaints of sexual assault against American military personnel have been filed by Colombian women in Melgar alone. In 2004, home made pornographic videos starring Melgar teenagers with US soldiers and technicians from the nearby Tolemaida base were discovered for sale in local markets. In 2005, two US troops were detained by Colombian authorities for illegally trafficking weapons and ammunition in exchange for drugs with right wing paramilitary groups. The pair, Lieutenant Colonel Alan Norman Tanquary and Sergeant José Hernández, were released into US custody. They were deported and never tried.
Given that the Colombian Congress is dominated by the governing Partido de la U to which both Uribe and Santos belong, it is probable that an agreement of some sort will pass. However, the agreement is now open for debate and that debate will allow for a greater discussion of a failed war on drugs both in Colombia and here in the United States. And at the very least, it will afford the Colombian center-left the opportunity to strike down the immunity clauses that protect sexual predators and other criminals.
And just for the record, $32 billion dollars have been spent on fighting the drug trade at home and abroad this year alone. After 40 years, the United States' war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and claimed tens of thousands of lives. In México, since President Calderón took office three years ago 28,000 people have been killed in gun-related violence.