Uribe seeks to halt growing isolation

Original source:

Isolated Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has embarked off on a south American tour to defend his unpopular plans to expand the US military's presence in his country.

Mr Uribe's decision to allow the Pentagon to boost the number of US troops in Colombia from 300 to 1,500, ostensibly to crack down on drug traffickers, has antagonised not only Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador but also the centre-left Brazilian and Chilean governments as well.

Mr Uribe will visit Paraguay, Peru, Brazil and Chile and is scheduled to meet the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay.

Mr Uribe's whirlwind tour coincides with a two-day visit to Brazil by US National Security Adviser James Jones, who failed to convince Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's foreign affairs adviser Marco Aurelio Garcia that the bases would facilitate 'humanitarian activities.'

Mr Garcia said: 'No matter how many explanations there are, foreign bases in the region do not appear to be a factor that contributes to a relaxation' of tensions.

He stressed that Brazil's objection to the proposed US troop buildup 'is not related to any ideological position.'

Last week, Mr da Silva said: 'I don't like the idea of an American military base in Colombia.'

Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim explained that his country was worried about 'a strong military presence whose objective and capacity go a lot further than Colombia's internal needs.'

In Caracas, Mr Chavez has been typically forthright, saying that the impending deal with Washington 'is turning Colombia into an imperialist base of operations from which Venezuelan sovereignty is threatened.'

And Bolivian President Evo Morales has said that a decision by any Latin American leader to allow US bases would amount to a 'treasonable act.'

Observing that countries in the region are 'uneasy' about the eventuality, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet insisted that the the proper place for discussions on the bases proposal is at the August 10 meeting of the South American UNASUR group of states.

But Mr Uribe and his foreign minister do not plan to attend the summit.

While Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia and other progressive governments in the Americas are boosting economic relations with Russia, China and Iran, Mr Uribe appears to be dead set on strengthening his ties to the US.

Bogota-based security analyst Armando Borrero said: 'Colombia is increasingly isolated from its neighbours - this has a snowball effect in that it makes the government even more reliant on Washington.'