Ecuador revives agreement with the US, no military base involved

07 de Mayo de 2018 - 09:00
Ecuador allowed a US military base in Manta from 1999 to 2009.
Photo: Eielson Air Force Base

Quito and Washington have ruled out the implementation of a military installation.

Guayaquil, May 7 (Andes).- Following violent clashes in the border with Colombia since January this year, political actors in Ecuador raised the possibility of reviving an agreement that allows having a US military base in Ecuadorian territory as well as a measure to tackle the situation caused by armed groups linked to illegal transnational activities.

A car bomb explosion at a police department in San Lorenzo on January 27, the death of seven people in violent clashes in the border area, and bomb threats mainly in Quito and Guayaquil triggered debate in society.

Politicians including Guayaquil’s Mayor Jaime Nebot, Quito’s former Mayor and former Commander of the Armed Forces, Paco Moncayo; former president Lucio Gutierrez, among others have affirmed that they agree with having new North American troops as it occurred between 1999 and 2009 in the port city of Manta.

Other actors identified with human rights organizations and social organizations have expressed their opposition to having foreign troops since they consider it a violation to national sovereignty.

Given this scenario, minister of Defense Oswaldo Jarrin recently ruled out the possibility of having a foreign military base in Ecuador because the Constitution of the Republic, approved in 2008, prohibits it.

“There will be no military base in national territory,” said the former Commander of the Ecuadorian Army and added that the military forces’ responsibility is to ensure sovereignty’s protection.

Lenin Moreno had announced last March that there will be no military base in the country because it harms national sovereignty.

For his part, Thomas Shannon, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said his country is not interested in having their troops in Ecuadorian territory.

Article 5 of the Ecuadorian Constitution reads: “Ecuador is a territory of peace. No foreign military bases or foreign installations with military purposes are allowed. It is prohibited to hand over national military bases to foreign armed or security forces.”

However, Guayaquil’s Mayor thinks the Constitution can be reformed in order to cede territory to forces of other countries with security purposes.

“Men can reform the Constitution and laws. Constitutions and laws cannot reform men or even worse kill its progress and prosperity,” said Nebot during his weekly radio addresses and added that he was willing to analyze with his political party colleagues the possibility of promoting an initiative on this matter at the Parliament.

Due to tensions and disputes in the border area, the governments of Ecuador and the United States recently signed an agreement focused on security cooperation which implies sharing information, intelligence topics and experiences in the fight against illegal drug trafficking and fighting transnational organized crime.

However, social groups have also expressed in social media their concern about the rapprochement of that country and the Ecuadorian government under the current circumstances.

What was Manta’s base and what were the consequences in Ecuador?   

Manta’s military base, located in the province of Manabi, also known as Eloy Alfaro military base, was inaugurated by the Ecuadorian Air Force on October 28 1978 in an area close to the international airport of the same name.

In 1999, during the administration of Jamil Mahuad and during ten years, the use and access to the runway and part of Manta’s Base was ceded to the US Air Force through intergovernmental agreement with the aim of fighting against drug trafficking in the region.

According to analysts, Manta was a key element for the operation of the Colombia Plan, an agreement signed between Colombia and the United States, presented in 1998 by Colombian President Andres Pastrana as an economic development program without drugs.

The agreement between Ecuador and the United States, signed by the then foreign minister Benjamin Ortiz came into force on November 12 1999. After Mahuad was removed from office in 2000, President Gustavo Noboa (2000-2003) not only ratified the agreement but he also expanded the facilities for US troops to have access to the Naval port and nearby facilities at no cost.

In addition, the agreement authorized aircrafts operated by the United States to overfly the territory. It also admitted the establishment of a satellite station for telecommunications reception and emission, with no supervision, license or taxes.

But one of the most controversial aspects was the immunity granted to staff involved in the agreement and their family members who had to be turned over to US officers if arrested by Ecuadorian authorities.

Ecuadorian human rights organizations and citizens’ committees from Manta reported that cases of fishing vessels destroyed and violence against women went unpunished because of US soldiers’ immunity.

Billy Navarrete, director of the Permanent Committee for Human Rights Defense in Ecuador, told Andes Agency that the effects of the militaristic plan brought environmental and health problems for the population in the border with Colombia where glyphosate spraying wreaked havoc.

The activist considers important to act prudently privileging a policy of peace with strong social and institutional content but also firmly to counteract the drug trafficking phenomenon and crimes related in the country.

For his part, Commander of Naval Operations, Rear Admiral Darwin Jarrin, considered necessary to take advantage of any type of assistance in the fight against drug trafficking.

“Any cooperation, regardless of where it comes from and political ideologies, is welcomed in order to ensure peace for our fellow citizens and maintain normality in the border,” he said.

The naval leader recalled that during the period of Manta’s Forward Operating Location (FOL), Ecuadorian soldiers had the opportunity to share knowledge, strategies and monitor operations against criminal activities such as drug trafficking, smuggling, among others. “This was something that yielded results at a specific moment,” said Jarrin.

A report from Ecuador’s Commission of International Matters says FOL executed more than 7.726 missions since 1999 to 2009, seizing a total of 1.758 tons of drugs in the Pacific Coast.

In the case of Ecuador, during the administration of President Rafael Correa, the Interior Ministry informed that drug seizures during 2007 to 2016 reached 519 tons of drugs, amount that exceeded the 81 tons seized in ten years of FOL’s operation under the US control.

Such work was even acknowledged by the US government and the United Nations Organization (UN).

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