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Colombian court: U.S. base agreement unconstitutional

Colombian court: U.S. base agreement unconstitutional

Colombia’s top court may have just put new President Juan Manuel Santos in something of a tough spot:

The Colombian constitutional court ruled yesterday that last year’s agreement giving the US military access to more bases in the country is unconstitutional because it was not approved by legislators.

The court’s decision, reached by a 6-3 majority, said however that the ruling does not affect US military personnel and contractors working from Colombian bases covered by earlier accords.

This means any US personnel at the seven bases included in the 2009 pact could shift to bases permitted by previous agreements while the government decides whether to put the latest accord before congress, where new President Juan Manuel Santos has a big majority.

Santos has defended the deal, which was inked by his predecessor Alvaro Uribe, but has also made a point early in his presidency of trying to improve relations with neighboring Venezuela, which is strongly opposed to the construction of a new U.S. base in Colombia.

While Santos may be able to get the agreement through congress easily, doing so will require him to take political ownership of the issue and force him to choose between increasing tensions with Venezuela just when they were starting to ease and offending Colombia’s longtime backers in Washington.