US military deployment to Colombia condemned by Congress members

Colombian opposition politicians have strongly condemned the Iván Duque government’s agreement with the United States for the deployment of hundreds of US military personnel to Colombia. Soldiers arrived on Monday 1 June.

According to government officials, the US soldiers will assist in anti-drugs trafficking operations and will be based in the drugs-producing regions of Nariño (in the southwest), Meta (south) and Norte de Santander (Northeast). However, their arrival has fuelled speculation that the true purpose is to increase pressure on the government of neighbouring Venezuela. Colombian senator Aida Avella said ‘we reject that the country be used for wars and invasions of other countries. There is no justification for 800 American soldiers to be in Colombia.’

Politicians argue that any decision about permitting foreign troops into the country must be approved in the Congress and cannot be unilaterally granted by the government. The president of the Congress, Lidio Garcia, said ‘with all due respect, President Iván Duque, I would like to remind you that Article 173 of our Political Charter establishes that “allowing the transit of foreign troops” in Colombian territory is a constitutional attribution of the Senate of the Republic.’

In a letter to Duque, 50 congress members expressed concern that the announcement of the military deployment came from the US embassy rather than the Colombian government. The letter also asked why the government had allowed a foreign military onto Colombian territory without gaining congressional approval. ‘Intervention is an open attack on our sovereignty, the peace process in the territories and a threat of transnational war,’ said Senator Iván Cepeda of the Democratic Pole party.

Colombia and the US have a long history of military partnership. In 1999, the two countries signed the Plan Colombia agreement which saw a massive rise in US military aid to the South American country, while the number of staff at the US embassy in Bogota rose to 5,000, making it the largest US embassy in the world. The funding continued despite widespread human rights violations committed by the army and state-backed paramilitaries against civilians.