February 8, 2007 [LINK / comment]

U.S. base in Ecuador is at risk

During his campaign last year, Rafael Correa vowed not to renew the lease on the U.S. air base next year, and it appears that he will indeed follow through on that pledge. The base is located in the coastal city of Manta, and the AWACS planes and other surveillance aircraft take pains to avoid flying over Ecuador as they conduct their anti-narcotics patrols. Correa claims the presence of foreign soldiers is affront to national sovereignty. Well, it's their country, and they don't have to take our money. What about the alternatives? The only really friendly government in the region is in Colombia, and the establishment of a military base in that country would constitute an escalation of the civil war there, exposing Americans to increased kidnapping and terror attacks. The change in Ecuador's foreign policy comes in the context of declining mutual trust between the U.S. government and countries in the Andean region, which is putting existing special trade agreements in grave jeopardy. See CNN.com. When you combine Correa's position on that issue with his harsh criticism of Colombia's coca eradication aerial spraying along the border region, and with his close ties to pro-coca Bolivian president Evo Morales, suspicions grow that his intention is to make life easier for narcotics traffickers.

U.S., Brazil cooperate on ethanol

Today's Washington Post reports that the United States and Brazil are holding talks this week about sharing ethanol production technology, as a first step toward other countries in Latin America reduce their dependence on imported petroleum. The U.S. imports about on fourth of the ethanol it consumes, but those imports are subject to a 54% tariff, which Brazil regards as hypocritical. Brazil is energy poor and was forced by the energy shortages of the 1970s to develop an ethanol program based on distilling sugar cane, which is locally plentiful. About 70% of the cars and trucks in Brazil nowadays can run on various mixtures of gasoline and ethanol. This is a fascinating case of shared national interests, and it further highlights the question of whether future U.S. energy policy will be geared more toward market incentives, via consistent across-the-board taxes, or on subsidies and preferential agreements with other countries.

In Mexico, meanwhile, poor people are protesting more strenuously to the recent hikes in prices for corn, which is largely the result of increased ethanol production over the past year. Mexico and Venezuela are major crude oil exporters, of course, which further accentuates the clash of interests with alternative energy sources. Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru also have substantial oil and gas production. This draws attention to a major geopolitical irony: The countries of MERCOSUR -- Brazil and Argentina, primarily -- have the most in common with U.S. interests in terms of being net energy importers, even though they have come to regard themselves in recent years as a bloc rivaling perceived U.S. hegemony in the hemisphere. Chile is a major energy importer that is mostly friendly to the United States.