An extraordinary summit of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) was held in Argentina on August 28, to discuss the proposed US military bases in Colombia.
The meeting was called in response to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's intervention at an August 10 ceremony in Quito that marked the transfer of the Unasur presidency to Ecuador. Chavez interrupted official proceedings to raise the issue of the US military bases. "Winds of war are blowing in the region", he warned.
His comments were in response to the July announcement by Colombia that it would allow the US access to five military bases on Colombian soil, complementing the two already established bases.
The debate at the Unasur summit was televised to millions. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was first to speak. He criticised the lack of support he had received from South American countries for his "war on drugs" and claimed that some had given support and comfort to "terrorists".
Only the US had supported Colombia, without requiring them to "renounce their sovereignty", he said.
After Uruguayan President Tabare Vasquez spoke against any foreign military bases in South America, Chavez spoke.
Producing a copy of the US military document "White Paper Air Mobility Command Global En Route Strategy", he explained how the proposed bases form part of the US's global military strategy.
Bolivian President Evo Morales said indigenous people had been "the victims of the US military presence in my country under the pretext of the fight against narcotrafficking". Behind this presence was the US empire's desire to control the region's natural resources, he added.
Peru's President Alan Garcia argued the bases "do not appear to be a threat" but suggested that Unasur investigate it further.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her Chilean counterpart, Michelle Bachelet, followed with a position essentially the same as Garcia. Unwilling to reject the bases outright, they requested for the US/Colombia agreement to be analysed before making a final decision.
Uribe added the caveat that the Organisation of American States, which includes the US, be involved.
"Until this is cleared up we have to reject the bases", said Chavez. He noted the US had been behind the unsuccessful coup against him in 2002, and the invasion in Iraq. "Who can trust this empire?"
As long as the bases exist in Colombia "the seeds of war remain sowed", he said.
Morales proposed a continental referendum on the US bases. "If there is no agreement to sign a document rejecting military bases, let's consult our people and let them decide."
Finally, it was the turn of Brazilian President Lula Ignacio da Silva. He said that the issue should be deferred to the meeting of defence ministers of Unasur.
In the end, the countries from the Bolivarian Alliance of Our Americas — Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador — ceded to the position of inspecting the bases before Unasur makes a final decision. But not before all the different positions had been publicly revealed.
In his weekly column published on August 30, Chavez said: "The time of hidden agendas and agreements signed behind the scenes is over … The discussion was frank and crude — sometimes tense — since there are obvious ideological core differences. But we have to deal with these differences in order to maintain and reinforce South American unity."
Now the US and Colombia will have to decide how they deal with the proposed team of inspectors before the meeting of defence ministers, which will be held in the first fortnight of September.
The ALBA countries once again intervened in a coordinated manner on the side of the people. They did away with secret diplomacy to denounce the role of US imperialism in the region.
Importantly, they put forward two clear positions: peace is impossible while US bases remain and the people should decide the future of the continent.