US officials have been left frustrated by news that Ecuador intends to kick the US Air Force off Manta airbase on the country’s Pacific coast, according to Inter Press Service (www.ipsnews.net). The US has used the base since 1999 ostensibly to house eight surveillance planes monitoring cocaine going out of Colombia.
The 10-year lease on the base expires in November 2009 and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa announced during a recent trip to Italy – itself facing the thorny issue of whether to allow the US to use the old Dal Molin airfield in Vicenza – that the lease will not be renewed.
Many Ecuadoreans feel that their country has been taken advantage of by the US, and that the terms of the Manta lease have been violated because the US Air Force has used the base to assist anti-guerrilla fighting in southern Colombia, rather than just for surveillance. Others argue that the lease itself is unconstitutional, as it was never ratified by Ecuador’s Congress – a step required by law.
Washington analysts are concerned that Correa is moving towards an alliance with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez to create an anti-US bloc. Correa was elected early in 2007 and famously referred to US President Bush as ‘tremendously dim-witted’. However, the US is likely to swallow its pride in order to retain Ecuador as an ally in its ongoing ‘war on drugs’. US officials have already stated that they will respect Correa’s decision, leading to speculation that Manta could be replaced with a facility in either Colombia or Peru.