It's official - Ecuador will not renew the United States's lease on the Manta air base

Latin America and the Caribbean

Ecuador's non-renewal of the U.S. presence at its Manta air base is not breaking news. President Rafael Correa has promised to close the U.S. counter-drug "Forward Operating Location" since he began his campaign for president in 2006, and its potential closing has been in the news for months. However, it was made official yesterday when Ecuador's Foreign Ministry formally notified the U.S Embassy of the decision to not renew the lease when it expires in 2009. The Manta air base has been used by the United States since a ten-year agreement was signed in 1999. U.S. personnel and contractors launch surveillance flights that have been responsible for about 60 percent of drug seizures in the eastern Pacific, reports the Associated Press. However, Ecuador has been concerned that not only does the U.S. military presence in its territory threaten the country's sovereignty, it also threatens to unwillingly entangle Ecuador in the conflict in Colombia and the regional war on drugs. According to the Foreign Ministry's statement yesterday, U.S. surveillance flights will end in August 2009 and all foreign personnel must withdrawal from the Manta air base by the end of November 2009, when the U.S. facilities there will be turned over to the Ecuadorian Air Force. While it has previously been reported that the United States hoped to move the base to a new location in either Colombia or Peru, U.S. military officials have recently said that they do not plan to set up an alternative base. Without the Manta air base, it will be interesting to see how the U.S. government arranges to host the AWACS, P-3 and other sophisticated aircraft that were carrying out surveillance from Manta. Rumors continue about a new base or other hosting arrangement in Colombia, while there is some possibility that surveillance flights may simply increase at the two other existing Forward Operating Locations in El Salvador and the Netherlands Antilles.