Ecuador’s leader vows to oust U.S. from base

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Abra­ham Mahshie

MANTA, Ecuador — Pres­i­den­t­elect Rafael Cor­rea has promised to oust the United States from an Ecuado­ran air base in the coastal city of Manta as soon as an agree­ment ex­pires in 2009.

The United States’ “for­ward op­er­at­ing lo­ca­tion” has been in use since 2000 to fly anti-drug mis­sions that helped to seize about 249 met­ric tons of co­caine this year.

Mr. Cor­rea, a left­ist ally of Venezuela’s Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez, says he will keep his pop­u­lar cam­paign pledge de­spite strong base sup­port from the lo­cal com­mu­nity, which re­ceives about $6.5 mil­lion an­nu­ally from the Amer­i­can pres­ence.

“If the U.S. has troops in Ecuador then we should be al­lowed to have an Ecuado­ran base in Mi­ami,” Mr. Cor­rea said through­out his cam­paign.

Mr. Cor­rea, 43, hand­ily won Ecuador’s Nov. 27 elec­tion, join­ing Latin Amer­ica’s grow­ing list of left­ist lead­ers in Ar­gentina, Bo­livia, Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The Amer­i­can pres­ence in Ecuador con­sists of fewer than 250 troops and about six planes, all used to find and in­ter­dict drug traf­fick­ers.

Nev­er­the­less, Mr. Cor­rea says the pres­ence of Amer­i­cans on Ecuado­ran soil is an in­fringe­ment on na­tional sovereignty.

The fu­ture pres­i­dent has taken great pains to dis­tance Ecuador from in­volve­ment in neigh­bor­ing Colom­bia’s 30-year guer­rilla war. Many in Ecuador be­lieve the United States is us­ing the base to track Colom­bia’s guer­rilla Revo­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom- bia when it flies mis­sions over Colom­bia.

“There is a sense that Ecuador is be­ing dragged into a con­flict with Colom­bia and it puts Ecuador in a much more vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion,” said Michael Shifter, an an­a­lyst at the In­ter-Amer­i­can Di­a­logue. “It’s not just a view held by Cor­rea and his con­stituents, but a more wide­spread be­lief.”

The U.S. mil­i­tary con­tin­gent in Ecuador, along with sim­i­lar de­ploy­ments in El Sal­vador and the Caribbean is­land of Cu­ra­cao, use high-tech Amer­i­can air­craft to spot small planes and fast boats fa­vored by drug smug­glers.

“In the early ’90s ev­ery­thing was done by air,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Javier Delucca at the Manta base. “Now we only run mar­itime mis­sions.”

In an ef­fort to avoid de­tec­tion, the traf­fick­ers have pushed farther out to sea on a 4,000-mile arc that starts on the west coast of South Amer­ica, re­fu­el­ing en route to south­ern Mex­ico.

“Manta is very valu­able,” said Steve Lu­cas, pub­lic af­fairs of­fi­cer at South­ern Com­mand in Mi­ami. “If we lose Ecuador, it will de­crease our abil­ity to ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently look into our source zone.”

De­spite the U.S. train­ing Ecuado­ran fire­fight­ers across the coun­try, con­tribut­ing to lo­cal com­mu­nity pro­grams and re­build­ing the Manta air­field to han­dle large mil­i­tary plans at a cost of $71 mil­lion, Manta’s mayor said the city’s econ­omy will be just fine with­out the Amer­i­cans.

“No­body can think we are de­pen­dent on the base,” said Jorge Zam­brano, mayor of the city of 200,000, “but we want the pres­i­dent-elect to re­spond to lo­cal pres­sure.”

Cor­rea sup­port­ers say Manta will grow based on fish­ing, tourism and a new port be­ing built by a Chi­nese com­pany that hopes to re­place Guayaquil as the most ac­tive ship­ping cen­ter in the coun­try.

“The con­flict is on ide­o­log­i­cal grounds,” said Lt. Col. Domingo Bruz­zone, lead Ecuado­ran com­man­der at the Manta air base. Col. Bruz­zone de­scribes the Amer­i­can pres­ence as “in­valu­able.”

U.S. ties were al­ready in ques­tion af­ter Mr. Cor­rea’s heated an­tiAmer­i­can rhetoric. He pledged not to sign a free-trade agree­ment and backed Ecuador’s de­ci­sion in May to ban­ish the Los An­ge­les­based Oc­ci­den­tal Pe­tro­leum Corp.

U.S. Em­bassy

Air­borne Warn­ing and Con­trol Sys­tem planes such as th­ese are used by the U.S. mil­i­tary to search for drug traf­fick­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.