American President Barack Obama joined Friday a controversy boiling in South America by denying the United States is planning to set up military bases in Colombia as part of an upgraded security agreement with Bogotá. "There have been those in the region who have been trying to play this up as part of a traditional anti-Yankee rhetoric. This is not accurate," Obama told Hispanic media reporters.
Brazil has been opposed to the military presence of the United States in South American territory and proposed that drug traffic issues should be addressed by a special committee from the region itself.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez claims that the enhanced US-Colombian security plan could be a step toward war in South America. His accusation forced Colombian president Alvaro Uribe to a three day round of visits to talk with seven South American presidents.
"We have had a security agreement with Colombia for many years now. We have updated that agreement. We have no intent in establishing a US military base in Colombia," Obama said.
"This is continuation of assistance that we had been providing them. We have no intention of sending large numbers of additional troops into Colombia, and we have every interest in seeing Colombia and its neighbours operate peacefully."
The new security arrangement would allow the Pentagon to lease access to seven Colombian military bases for US support in fighting drug traffickers and guerrillas involved in the cocaine trade. The agreement would also increase the number of US troops in Colombia above the current total of less than 300 but not more than 800, the maximum permitted under the existing pact.
Colombia has accused Ecuador and Venezuela of assisting cocaine funded FARC rebels waging a four-decade-old guerrilla war against the Colombian state.
"I think Colombia has some legitimate concerns about the FARC operating from over the border. I hope that could be resolved in conversations with its neighbours," Obama said.
President Obama also talked about the Central American situation stating he has no quick way to resolve the political crisis in Honduras, where supporters of a coup are refusing to let ousted President Manuel Zelaya return to power.
Obama told reporters he still supports the reinstatement of Zelaya, who was overthrown in June, but that the United States would not take unilateral action.
"I can't press a button and suddenly reinstate Mr Zelaya," Obama said.
"We would like to see him be able to return peacefully to continue his term, but we are only one country among many and we are going to deal with this in an international context," Obama said.
Zelaya, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said the United States needs "only tighten its fist" to evict the de facto government.
"It is important to note the irony that the people that were complaining about the US interfering in Latin America are now complaining that we are not interfering enough," Obama said.
The Organization of American States stepped up its pressure Friday on Honduras' de facto government, announcing that it's sending six foreign ministers on Tuesday to press for the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
Carlos Sosa, who was Zelaya's ambassador to the OAS, called the visit "the last chance to negotiate a peaceful solution" to the five-week political crisis before widespread violence erupts in Honduras.
The ministers will come from Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
The visit will come at a time when Zelaya's only hope to return to power seems to depend on the OAS pressuring de facto president Roberto Micheletti to adopt a plan that he has thus far resisted.