President Juan Manuel Santos announcement over the weekend that Colombia will look for a cooperation understanding with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) on their invitation, has irked the so called Latinamerican group of ‘anti-imperialist countries’, at a moment when relations between neighbouring Colombia and Venezuela have hit a new low.
Bolivian president Evo Morales took as a fact that Colombia is planning to join NATO, --something which Santos did not say--, and claimed the move was a ‘threat’, a ‘provocation’ and a conspiracy against the “anti-imperialist Bolivarian countries” of the continent.
Morales added that the threat was geared against Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Venezuela, the country with which Colombia has had a serious diplomatic clash following the meeting of President Santos at the Government house, Palacio Nariño, with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
The opposition leader does not consider President Nicolas Maduro and his government as legitimate since he argues there was “a notorious ballot fraud in the recent disputed election”.
In June, NATO will sign an agreement with the Colombian government, with the Defense Ministry, to start a process of rapprochement and cooperation, with an eye toward also joining that organization, Santos said at a military promotion ceremony.
Santos said the army could become an international player if his government can bring off a peace deal as it is trying to do, with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It is Latin America's longest-running insurgency.
If we can achieve peace, the army will be in a place where it will be able to distinguish itself internationally as well. We are already doing it on many fronts, he said.
Defence minister Juan Carlos Pinzón confirmed that the decision to approach NATO was clearly because the Colombian Armed Forces are respectful of International Law.
“The same way that in other fields we are thinking big, so we are in security matters” added Pinzón.
But from Brussels a reliable source explained that Colombia does not comply with the “geographic criteria” for membership. However a NATO spokesperson said that they are working on a draft agreement that would allow “the exchange of classified information between Colombia and the alliance”, but underlined “there are no plans to establish a formal association”.
So far the two sides are exploring “the possibility of going ahead with joint specific activities”.
But despite NATO’s comments on the issue, Morales insisted that it was “a threat for the region” and called on UNASUR Secretary General Ali Rodriguez from Venezuela to call an “emergency meeting” of the block’s Security Council.
“How is it possible that Colombia wants to be a member of NATO? What for? To have NATO commit aggression against Latinamerica, so they can invade us, as they have done in Europe, Africa and Asia?, said Morales.
In a similar reaction Venezuelan president Maduro said that “we can’t ally ourselves to war projects in the world, to nuclear weapons; we must be a territory free of nuclear weapons and dedicated to peace”.
Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua was more emphatic: “that a Latinamerican country wants to join NATO; it will only be an instrument for a policy to debilitate and try to destroy the current union process that the region is undergoing”.
“Latinamerica can’t open itself to governments and armed forces from other continents. I would be madness and treason to Bolivar and the liberators of our peoples”, added Ortega.
However Santos is not the first Latam president that has flirted with NATO and with the idea of close links. Argentina’s Carlos Menem did something similar back in 1999, the last year of his second mandate, and which meant Argentina would be accepted as an “associate member” of NATO, which finally never occurred.