To no one's surprise, greater U.S. military access in Colombia is prompting concern among its neighbors. Latin American countries have become rattled by any U.S. presence in the region, given a history of efforts at regime change in Chile, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere.
Against that backdrop more U.S. military activity in Colombia is sparking anger by Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela. Given his problems with Washington, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sees himself as a particular target for Iraq-style regime change.
Brazil's president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, expressed his concerns to President Barack Obama last week. It has been years since the United States meddled in Brazilian politics. Brazil sees itself as the natural leader of Latin America, based on its size and wealth, and it wonders what Washington is doing in strengthening its military position on the continent.
In the name of drug eradication and helping Colombia's government oppose the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the United States struck a new agreement Aug. 14 that will provide access to seven military bases. Years ago, Congress capped U.S. military troops in Colombia at 800 and defense contractors at 600. Today 268 U.S. military personnel are there, providing training and intelligence support for the Colombian armed forces.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the new agreement will mean no "significant" increase in U.S. military presence in Colombia. Some Colombian legislators have expressed reservations, claiming that the government and the United Sates have kept the details secret.
The U.S. step-up is also questionable from its own perspective. No one thinks the drug war can be won by beefing up the U.S. role. Nor is the Colombian government's 45-year war against FARC likely to end by anything other than a political accord.
With more troops going to Afghanistan; Iraq withdrawal scarcely begun; U.S. troop commitments in Germany, Japan and South Korea holding steady and smaller U.S. military components active elsewhere, it is worth asking why the United States is increasing military activity in Colombia.