The Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, ministerial meeting in Ecuador ended Tuesday with no consensus on regional military issues reported Colombia’s Foreign Affairs minister Jaime Bermúdez.
“We didn’t reach an agreement in all the subjects but we must continue to work with a ‘proposal-minded attitude’ so we can reach a final understanding”, said Bermudez during a brief meeting with journalists in Quito following hours of deliberations behind closed doors.
The Unasur meeting brought together Foreign Affairs and Defence ministers from all Unasur members.
Colombia has been seriously questioned by most South American countries for having agreed to the deployment of US forces in seven Colombian military bases.
But Bogotá argues the deployment and close military links with the US are to combat terrorism and the drug related cartels.
However the administration of President Alvaro Uribe has also indicated it is willing to talk and discuss all matters related to arms purchases and military alliances, and advisory agreements with third parties out of the region.
The initiative is directed to Venezuela which has gone on a shopping spree in Russia, China, Brazil among others and also has established strategic links with Russia and Iran.
“Colombia has expressed quite clearly that we are willing to advance in confidence building measures and guarantees in all other issues: cooperation agreements but also in weapons purchases, armaments, military exercises, nuclear initiatives, etc”, added Bermudez.
“We believe that we should advance and honour the mandate established by the presidents at the recent Bariloche summit, which is to ensure confidence building measures in all those aspects I have mentioned before”.
Colombian Defence minister Gabriel Silva went further: “here we need guarantees not only for one of Unasur members but for all members of the group”.
“It’s not real to ask guarantees from one side and leave aside the concerns of the rest”, he insisted in a clear reference to Venezuela which strongly rejects Colombia’s understanding with the US for deployment of forces, while Venezuela has recently announced huge purchases of tanks, missiles, helicopters, aircrafts and submarines from Russia.
“We’ve requested guarantees and confidence building for the whole security agenda and building on that agenda is difficult, it’s a slow process but we are progressing” said Silva.
The Colombian minister also insisted his government wants guarantees not only regarding military cooperation agreements but also “guarantees regarding international agreements on the manufacturing of weapons”.
“What we want to make sure is that there won’t be collaboration with or admitting the presence of terrorist groups in the territory of Unasur members”.
Silva finally said that Colombia wishes a “real commitment in fighting narcotics and the drug cartels, that information on illegal activities and drugs be shared with other countries, basically an integral cooperation; that is our objective”.
Venezuela Defence minister Ramon Carrizalez said in Quito his country was prepared to share information and transparency with other Unasur members regarding its arms purchases to Russia.
“We have the constitutional mandate to protect ourselves. We have purchased military hardware which is above all defensive”, he said to the ministerial meeting.
“We have no impediment in showing the information to Unasur with all details, because confidence building begins with transparency”, said Carrizalez.
The issue of military hardware purchase by Venezuela was mentioned by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez currently visiting Washington.
“We think the arms race is a reality. We are concerned with the advance of armamentism and we reject it as inconvenient for the region. Resources could be better used for development and combating poverty”, said President Vazquez at the State Department next to Mrs. Clinton.
“We are concerned with the level of arms purchases by Venezuela which we consider overtakes the rest of the region. We are concerned with possible deviation of those weapons to armed groups or terrorists in the region”, said Mrs. Clinton.
“We urge transparency from Venezuela as to the purpose of such purchases; we expect a change of attitude”, she added.
The State Department would not confirm or dismiss if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had sent a letter to the Unasaur meeting in Quito expressing concern about arms purchases in the region.