US Paramilitaries in Colombia: Now Twice as Illegal

Remember that Jeremy Scahill report that listed Colombia among the 75 places where JSOC has deployed?

The Nation has learned from well-placed special operations sources that among the countries where elite special forces teams working for the Joint Special Operations Command have been deployed under the Obama administration are: Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan (including in Balochistan) and the Philippines. These teams have also at times deployed in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. JSOC has also supported US Drug Enforcement Agency operations in Colombia and Mexico. The frontline for these forces at the moment, sources say, are Yemen and Somalia. “In both those places, there are ongoing unilateral actions,” said a special operations source. “JSOC does a lot in Pakistan too.”

In my post on it, I noted that we’re engaging in belligerent activities without apparent legal approval to do so. But that was because this program seemed to use the legal approval to fight al Qaeda to fight other entities, like Latin American leftist terrorist or drug cartels.

Wednesday, the Colombian aspect of our paramilitary activities became even more illegal, because a Colombian court struck down that country’s cooperation agreement with the US because it lacked Congressional approval. (h/t Max Fisher who has a bunch of interesting links on this development)

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 may well be that Uribe’s successor, Santos, simply gets Congressional approval for this. But until that happens, this decision serves to heighten questions about US involvement in Latin American, not least with regards to incursions into populist Venezuela and Ecuador.

As Adam Isacson explains, this won’t prevent US paramilitaries from doing what they have already been doing.

U.S. military and contractor personnel were still acting under the authorities laid out in a series of old accords (1952, 1962, 1974, 2004, 2007), whose validity the Colombian court did not challenge.Under these old accords, U.S. personnel have already been frequently present at the seven bases listed in the DCA, as well as several others. The difference is that today, there is no “free entry”: each U.S. deployment is subject to a series of Colombian government approvals that would be unnecessary under the DCA. It also means that construction of new facilities at the Palanquero airbase in Puerto Salgar, Cundinamarca – for which Congress appropriated $46 million in 2010 – cannot yet begin.

But it may result in more scrutiny–in Latin America, at least–at what our troops and contractors are doing. (It also may increase pressure on the Administration to pass the free trade accord with Colombia.)

  1. BayStateLibrul says:



    Boston Globe cites EW on VoxOp

    to wit…

    “[T]he lesson I take from the Rod Blagojevich verdict . . . is that it’s OK to sell a Senate seat, so long as you don’t lie about it . . . [I]n spite of the fact that Blago appears to be headed for jail, this is not a big victory against corruption.’’ –


  2. Leen says:


    Just read in the Wall Street Journal that the “State Department said it will double the number of private security contractors it uses in Iraq as U.S. troops leave”

    Wondering what the numbers of private contractors are now? And what doubling those contractors will add up to

    • fatster says:

      Leen, please see my response on the previous thread, which contains the link. It’s 7,000, apparently.

  3. Leen says:


    just read that the U.s. is upping its funds to Pakistan based on the victims of the flooding to 150 million. Somehow this does not sound like a great deal to me. How much does one drone sent to kill alleged terrorist in Pakistan cost?

  4. Mary says:

    It may well be that Uribe’s successor, Santos, simply gets Congressional approval for this.

    Oh boy – this one will be interesting to watch. Keep in mind that all Obama and Santos/Uribe are admitting to is US presence and how that presence will be allowed on Columbian bases – not operating off base or using the base to launch into neighbors. They can do that as long as everything is between the two of them and just have Santos look the other way for the extra-action.

    Once you start putting the agreement in a form to submit to the Columbian Congress, though, you can’t put in offbase authorizations (no matter how popular Santos is, that is just not likely to fly and would send Columbia’s neighbors into full fledged belligerancy as well as open up Columbia and the US for diplomatic attacks everywhere). On the other hand, at the point you put it before Congress, you make anything not authorized by Congress very clearly UNauthorized activity by non-sovereign military forces.

    It gets better/worser. A vote by Columbia’s Congress doesn’t actually resolve anything, bc the vote by Columbia’s Congress doesn’t *count* unless and until the US Congress also votes on and accepts the agreement. OK – now you have the US military having the US Congress vote on and accept an agreement that only authorizes certain kinds of actions/activities – so the basis for your “boss” Obama to tell you to go out and assassinate begins to lose any military law support as being clearly unauthorized by Columbian law and by the US Congress and as actions being ordered in a country with which we are not at war and have no AUMF.

    On top of all that, the Columbian court is saying that, whatever the Columbian Congress passes, the court might have to look at it again, anyway, as the agreement on its face (if not altered when submitted to Congress) seems to raise significant sovereignty issues.

    Meanwhile (and yeah, this isn’t likely to work but it does hold some fire near the feet) a Columbian NGO is submitting allegations of treason against Uribe to the Congress, based on the Court’s ruling.

    The NGO is a legal collective and according to them, not only is there a problem with unconstitutionally plotting agreeing behind the backs of Congress, but they focus on what the court also seemed to identify as issues with the agreement itself even if ratified by Congress:

    According to the lawyers’ collective, the pact “compromises national sovereignty by ceding considerable portions of strategic territory, of airspace, maritime space, and the electromagnetic spectrum to the U.S., as well as granting them a set of unrestricted privileges not granted to the national population.”

    That’s a hail mary I would think, but the fact that you have to have not just Columbia, but also the US, signing off on an agreement with respect to our military presence in COlumbia – that’s a more significant obstacle, IMO.

      • Mary says:

        I’ve seen several Columbian sourced articles that say it is a requirement under Columbian procedure.

        Here’s one:

        By law, if the pact is to be ratified by the Andean nation’s Congress, then it must also be ratified by U.S. Congress


        This basically makes sense, bc it keeps them from being stuck with a one-sided obligation.

        This is still from columbia reports but it touches on both the fact that the Columbian passage won’t be valid without a US passage and that the Court still would have to look at it again

        “If Colombia sends the agreement to Congress, the U.S. will have to send it to theirs as well and what they told us is that … due to their foreign policy circumstances, they wouldn’t be prepared to pass it,” Padilla said.

        Gonzalez said that if Colombian Congress passes the treaty, the Constitutional Court will have to study the approved bill as well.

        I think what you may have is Obama arguing its just an agreement like a SOFA and not like a treaty and as such, from a US standpoing, the US Congress doesn’t have to do anything, but it looks like Columbian procedure is set up to keep them from getting tattooed with an agreement that has no reciprocity other than an execs say so.

  5. fatster says:

    US interventions in Latin America have been numerous, costly and deadly to the people of Latin America. As Latin America rises, and El Norte weakens, you’d think there would be interest in avoiding the pay-back resulting from those interventions. But, then, apparently, you’d be wrong.

  6. nomolos says:

    Now that Venezuela and Columbia are “normalizing” relationships the US will be desperate to find ways to keep their forces there after all it is a good source of drug revenue for the CIA and for other illegal US operations. Jeeze this country is for shit.

    • hackworth1 says:

      Good Point. The greedy connected American multinational bastards want the whole pie. Drug money and MIC money. Is Rupert Murdoch in on this?

  7. hackworth1 says:

    It’s all about the bribery – greasing the right palms. Is Santos Obama’s puppet like Uribe was Dubya’s puppet?

  8. Bluetoe2 says:

    Why should the U.S. limit it’s wars to the Middle East theater of operations. Isn’t it time for the military/industrial/media complex to open another front in Central/South America? Plenty of oil and natural resources and loads of socialists to demonize.

  9. onitgoes says:

    Is Rupert Murdoch in on this?

    Isn’t that why Murdoch moved here and became a citizen? That’s like the old joke: does the bear poop in the woods?

  10. dagoril says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that the MIC are more interested in bases from which to destabilize Venezuela, than in any drug war actions.

  11. billyc says:

    EW – You & Mary raise some fascinating legal questions. May I make a suggestion? Try to contact Prof. Bruce Ackerman, a great Constitutional law scholar, at Yale University. I think he would be as fascinated as I am with the points you have raised with this really fine post of yours.