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Colombia court rules against U.S. military agreement

August 19, 2010 | 12:17 pm

Juan manuel santos hugo chavez

A high court in Colombia has voided an accord with the United States that would allow an increased U.S. presence on seven Colombian military bases. The ruling on Tuesday by the Constitutional Court declared the agreement signed by outgoing President Alvaro Uribe unconstitutional because it bypassed approval of the Congress.

The agreement was signed in October and faced intense criticism from Colombia's more left-leaning neighbors, including Venezuela and Bolivia. President Juan Manuel Santos (pictured above right), who was inaugurated on Aug. 7, enjoys a wide political majority in Colombia's Congress and told reporters Wednesday that the ruling would have no effect on cooperation between the U.S. and its closest ally in Latin America.

It remains unclear whether Santos will seek ratification of the pact by lawmakers, says the website Colombia Reports.

"What's important is the cooperation is going to continue. The fight against drug runners, the fight against terrorism does not let up," Santos said, according to Reuters. "And this decision by the court is not going to affect what we've been receiving from the United States."

Colombia has received more than $7.3 billion in U.S. aid since former President Clinton signed the Plan Colombia pact in 2000. The funds have helped Colombia disrupt the FARC rebel group and narco-trafficking operations, primarily cocaine production. But there have also been increasing human rights claims against Colombia's military and 21,000 combat-related deaths since Uribe took office in 2002, according to a recent report by the Washington Office on Latin America.

The entire report is here. It cites human rights groups' estimates of an additional 14,000 deaths of non-combatants and a rise in so-called "parapolitics," or the elections of leaders with known or alleged ties to paramilitaries or drug traffickers.

Santos, a former defense minister, was elected in a vote for continuity after eight years of Uribe's get-tough approach against the FARC and other rebel groups. The new president is seeking to restore deeply strained ties with Venezuela while also maintaining Uribe's strategy for the country's security challenges, Times special correspondent Chris Kraul reports from Bogota, the Colombian capital.

Uribe's government frequently accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of harboring FARC rebels in his country's territory, a charge Venezuela's government has denied. Colombia remains the world's biggest supplier of cocaine, but Peru may soon overtake the distinction as coca leaf production rises in the neighboring Andean nation.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez meets Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos days after Santos assumed office. Credit: Reuters via The Christian Science Monitor.

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