U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Colombia on Monday as part of a regional trip that includes Brazil and Chile. Panetta’s visit came exactly one week after Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak also visited Colombia and agreed on security and military contracts. The Director of the CIA, David Petraeus; retired U.S. general Stanley McChrystal; and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Martin Dempsey, have all also visited Colombia recently (see my blog The Increasing 'Americanization' of the Colombian Conflict).
What is going on?
In at least three previous blog posts, I have highlighted the increasing importance of Colombia’s role in the U.S. regional security regime, thanks to the impressive expansion of the Colombian military that has become the largest in the region. The $7 billion Plan Colombia alongside close to $70 billion spent by the Colombian state over the last decade on the military has made it a formidable force and potentially destabilizing to the region. This militarization of Colombia has acquired a dynamic of its own, and far exceeds the country’s needs to fight the insurgency.
During his tenure as Secretary of Defense in the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010), Juan Manuel Santos cultivated cozy relations with the Israelis. This collaboration centered on the areas of security and intelligence, which included, according to one source, a permanent office in the Ministry of Defense, to assist Colombia in its counterinsurgency war. Santos expanded this relationship after his presidential victory in 2010 by inviting the weapons manufacturer Israel Military Industries to invest and help Colombia expand beyond the production of Galil Rifles, which the country has been producing for some time. More importantly, the country is seeking to obtain pilotless drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles), and other high tech military hardware. The United States, of course, has to approve these deals, particularly the pilotless drones, which were also requested from the United States a few weeks ago.
What is the end game?
According to Colombian Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzón, Colombia wants to position itself as a “major exporter of security” in the region, and believes that Israel can help it to achieve these goals.
“We want to establish strategic relations, and share information and military doctrine,” said Pinzón last week. “We want a permanent relationship that transcends simple commercial ties.”
In other words, Santos and the Colombian government are seeking to emulate the Israeli example in the Middle East, except that the latter is believed to possess nuclear weapons.
In the end Panetta may have traveled to Colombia to bless the growing Colombian-Israeli collaboration, since both form important parts of the United States’s geostrategic regions: Latin America and the Middle East.
For more from Nazih Richani's blog, Colombian Cuadernos, visit nacla.org/blog/cuadernos-colombianos, or see the NACLA Report July/August 2009, "Coercion Incorporated: Paramilitary Colombia." Subscribe to NACLA