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Monday, September 21, 2009

Ecuador Marks U.S. Departure from Airbase

LAHT, 19/9/09

MANTA, Ecuador – Ecuador formally resumed complete control over a Pacific coast airbase from which the United States carried out regional anti-drug operations for a decade.

In a brief ceremony at the Manta base, Foreign Minister Fander Falconi said that the departure of the U.S. military is a “victory for national sovereignty.”

He recalled that the 1999 accord giving the U.S. military access to the base was never ratified by the full congress, only by the legislative International Affairs Committee and the then-foreign minister, Heinz Moeller.

They “were unscrupulous in subordinating Ecuadorian sovereignty,” Falconi said.

Now “the time has come for the great homeland, for deep changes and for the new vision of Latin America,” he said in a short speech in the presence of Defense Minister Javier Ponce and National Security Minister Miguel Carvajal.

In his address, Falconi called for “deep reflection” to “avoid relations based on subordination” and the presence of foreign bases on national territory, almost certainly alluding to Bogota’s plan to give the U.S. Armed Forces access to seven bases in Colombia.

“Only strategic thinking that is truly South American will allow the strengthening of confidence and the creation of trust among nations,” he said.

The official departure comes two months after the United States’ last anti-drug flight from the Forward Operating Location at Manta.

The accord allowing the United States to use this base expired this year.

Presidente Rafael Correa announced in 2007 that he would not renew the pact with Washington for the use of the base, and the new Constitution of Ecuador, approved last year, bans foreign military bases on Ecuadorian soil.

Ecuador’s air force commander, Alfonso Espinoza, said that Manta will provide support for combat forces on the conflictive northern border with Colombia and from there will continue the war on drugs.

Defense chief Ponce said that Quito has bought radar and speedboats to control drug trafficking, fuel smuggling and piracy at sea.

After the ceremony, the ministers toured the facilities that were officially vacated Friday by the U.S. military, whose activities are also being investigated for reported human-rights violations.

Ponce recalled that projects for the future of the Manta base include making it an international airport.

Domingo Paredes, director of Ecuador’s counter-narcotics agency, said in July that his country had obtained no technological benefits from a decade of U.S. operations at Manta and stood to lose nothing from the departure of the Americans.

“The base,” he said, “was linked to a geopolitical vision, whose basic aim was to involve us in the war in Colombia.”

Many in Ecuador viewed the Manta accord as aimed at involving their country in Plan Colombia, Bogota’s U.S.-financed multibillion-dollar campaign against drug traffickers and leftist rebels.

Suspicions have also been voiced that U.S. personnel at Manta played some role in Bogota’s March 1, 2008, attack on a clandestine Colombian rebel camp inside Ecuador, which left 25 dead. EFE

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