Ecuador’s coastal airbase at Manta is undergoing an overhaul aimed at making it the center of US military operations in the region. At the same time
funds are being poured into the country to shore up its border with Colombia. Once again, though, Plan Colombia shows itself to really be about oil, not eliminating cocaine production.
MANTA, ECUADOR – As Plan Colombia/The Andean Initiative continues to expand, so does the role of Ecuador. The tiny country in South America’s northwest is gearing up to play a pivotal part not only in containing FARC rebels at the Ecuadorian/Colombian border, but also to become the hub of US military operations for the region.
The coastal airbase at Manta in the midst of being refurbished and outfitted, with $18.4 million in new hangars, housing for American military
troops and advisors, and maintenance facilities and an operations building to oversee the aerial-surveillance hardware which will be utilized there.
Additionally, plans are underway to lengthen Manta’s runway in September to accommodate two large Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes and two KC-135 refueling aircraft simultaneously.
The US Southern Command, which operates out of Miami and runs American military operations in Latin America, said it would also deploy two giant
C-130 transport planes, two US Coast Guard P-3’s, and one or two Navy P-3 aircraft-outfitted like the one that made an emergency landing in China-at
Manta as well.
The State Department has promised that despite the expansion, the US will not exceed the number of military and adjunct personnel agreed on in the 1999 agreement for the use of Manta, which was put at a maximum of
In addition to the expansion at Manta, the US is providing $20 million to Ecuador to bolster the security on its border with Colombia, a figure that
is expected to rise to $76 million in 2002.
Although the monies have been given to Ecuador ostensibly to prevent Colombian rebels or coca growers from crossing into Ecuador-as well as to provide development seed money to the locals living there-it probably has more to do with a new oil pipeline being constructed there.
The pipeline’s construction is planned to begin in August, and is expected to more than double Ecuador’s oil production within three years, according to Ecuadorean Energy Minister Pablo Teran. The pipeline will carry heavy crude oil about 300 miles from oil wells in the Amazon jungle to the port of Balao, near the Colombian border. It will have a capacity of 450,000 barrels
Perez Companc of Argentina has already contracted to use part of it, and the US-based Occidental has said it will spend more than $1 billion to expand its jungle oilfields once the pipeline is in place.
Environmentalists have objected to the pipeline, but Ecuador President Gustavo Noboa has told them, “I’m not going to allow it [pipeline
interference]. No one is going to screw the country.”
As luck would have it, the pipeline is expected to traverse regions which include traditional lands of indigenous peoples.
When Plan Colombia gets into full swing, expect that the pipeline area will be suddenly thought to be under threat by Colombian FARC or ELN rebels, and become a key region to be cleared of “undesirables,” which would eliminate opposition to both the pipeline and Occidental’s oilfield expansion.
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Author: Peter Gorman
News Service: HighWitness News