Colombian Court Stands Tall on US Military Base Issue

Yesterday, at least one Colombian agency enacted what seems to be an atypical act of political bravery against the United States. The Colombian Constitutional Court, not particularly known for its audacious moves, has suspended the defense agreement Colombia signed with the United States in 2009 on grounds that the measure was never approved by the congress and was thus unconstitutional. Washington’s 2009 defense agreement with Colombia was a cooperative act in which the US was allowed to operate out of seven Colombian military bases. Now the US military forces present at those locations situated across Colombia, must withdraw to other Colombian bases until the Colombian Congress approves the agreement in a democratic manner.

On the record, the Obama administration said it has been looking to improve relationships with Latin American countries through cooperation and respect rather than emulating the imperative attitude of the Bush administration. The latter saw the construction of the inter-American relationship by providing an open faucet for the flow of military policies, some of which proved destructive of regional goals and a sense of balance. The 2009 agreement was not in any way invasive but rather states that Colombia remains the sovereign owner of the bases in exchange for US cooperation with equipment and through the provision of funding for both military and social programs.

However, the problem was the manner through which this agreement was enacted. It was undemocratic and significantly weakened the already feeble democratic institutions, not only of Colombia, but also elsewhere in Latin America, by setting a precedent that the US ambassador and several Colombian ministers could achieve international agreements through means that skirt the legislative process.

The Colombian Constitutional Court has acted in the name of democracy and in the spirit of the separation of powers, has demonstrated that it can be an institution worthy of the respect of others as well as serve as an inspiration for other Latin America judiciaries that are better known for their venality than sense of honor. However, many speculate that newly elected President Santos, who brings with him a congressional majority, will have no problem in passing the necessary legislature through Congress that will restore status quo with the Pentagon. Nonetheless, the Colombian Constitutional Court has appropriately pointed to the basic principles of democracy and legal rectitude. Although, the US and Colombia are likely to resume the defense agreement, within days, this event should bring great distinction to the court and will hopefully set a precedent to uphold democratic values across Latin America, no matter how much pressure that the US might apply.