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Eloy Alfaro Air Base / FOL Manta, Ecuador

In the early 1970s, governments in Latin America and the Caribbean increased their efforts to control the production and illicit ?ow of narcotics. In many countries some progress had been made. At the least, governments have been made aware and concerned, mainly through the efforts of the US, that their countries played significant roles in the drug abuse problem in the US. Still, the production and smuggling of heroin and cocaine from the area continued to flourish. The Latin American connection almost certainly accounted for the largest amount of illicit narcotics entering the US. The key trouble spots in attempting to halt the illicit drug flow into the US from Latin America were Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Mexico was the major source of heroin. Colombia and Ecuador were the key cocaine processing and trafficking countries. Peru and Bolivia were the world’s largest producers of coca.

Ecuador and the US agreed in 1999 to a 10-year arrangement whereby U.S. military surveillance aircraft could use the airbase at Manta, Ecuador, as a Forward Operating Location (FOL) to detect drug-trafficking flights and drug-laden fishing vessels in the region. Manta Military Base (or Eloy Alfaro Military Base) was inaugurated by the Ecuadorean Air Force on October 28, 1978, in an area next to ??the international airport in the city of Manta. Between 1999 and 2009, an intergovernmental agreement allowed the U.S. Air Force to use and access the runway and part of the Manta military base—for free—on the premise of fighting drug trafficking in South America. Manta served as a base for Plan Colombia, an agreement signed between Colombia and the United States in 1998 by Colombian President Andres Pastrana as a program to boost economic alternatives to the drug trade. The real aim, however, was to install U.S. forces in the country. The agreement between Ecuador and the United States, dubbed the Ortiz Agreement after then-Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Benjamin Ortiz, who signed the agreement, came into force on Nov. 12, 1999 despite opposition from social movements which considered the presence of foreign military a threat to the country’s sovereignty. Under the agreement, ratified by the government of Gustavo Noboa (2000-2003), Ecuador allowed U.S. forces use of the airbase, as well as the naval port of Manta and facilities connected to the base, free of charge.

This agreement also gave the United States:

  • The right to fly over the country and receive the same treatment as the aircraft of the navy of Ecuador in the seaports of the country;
  • The right to receive and transmit telecommunications without inspections, licenses, regulations, rights, direct or indirect taxes, charges and fees levied by Ecuador;
  • Immunity for personnel involved with the agreement as well their families, who in the case they were detained by Ecuadorean authorities would be delivered immediately to U.S. officials; and
  • The right for Americans who worked at the base to enter and leave Ecuador with U.S. identification without having to pay taxes—much less taxes on income or the ownership, possession, use or transfer of the goods they brought into Ecuador.

The US military presence in Manta remained controversial, and President Correa repeatedly vowed that he would not renew the agreement when it expired. The Ecuadorian Government informed the United States in July 2008 that it would not renew the lease for the Forward Operating Location when it expired in November 2009. In July 2009, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Manta military base after the 10-year agreement signed in 1999 by then-President Jamil Mahuad expired and the new constitution prohibiting the presence of foreign troops kicked in. The presence of US troops was also criticized by political and social organizations which accused the U.S. forces of violating human rights. President Rafael Correa said he would not allow foreign military bases to be set up in his country. "As long as I am president, I will not allow foreign bases in our homeland, I will not allow interference in our affairs, I will not negotiate our sovereignty and I will not accept guardians of our democracy".

The US ceased these counternarcotics flights in July and departed the FOL in September 2009.

On July 17, 2009, the Forward Operating Location (FOL) in Manta held a ceremony to commemorate ten successful years of cooperation in counterdrug operations at the FOL. Although many Ecuadorian government officials had been invited to the ceremony, the government chose not to send any government or high-level military official and instructed its Air Base Commander not to speak at the ceremony. More than 40 media representatives attended the ceremony, which was well-covered in the press. Among other successes highlighted during the ceremony, the Ambassador pointed out that the FOL supported 5,750 counternarcotics flights, contributing to the seizure of 1,800 metric tons of illegal narcotics valued at $36 billion. In a subsequent surprise move, the Civil Aviation Directorate forcibly removed employees of the private Manta Airport Corporation by presidential decree, including the Corporation's firefighters, and replaced them with temporary employees from neighboring airports.

Eloy Alfaro Air Base in Manta is one of five primary Ecuadorean Air Force air bases. The "source zone" (SZ) -- Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia -- is USCINCSO's number one counterdrug (CD) priority and several steps are being taken to increase the US presence there. The detection and monitoring coverage shortfall is mainly driven by the physical condition of FOL Manta, Ecuador, which restricts US forces to single plane, Day Visual Flight Rules operations. The result has been fewer hours flown over southern Colombia and the rest of the SZ than desired. USCINCSO has directed the Air Force component commander to develop a plan to increase the capability of the airfield as soon as possible. By 31 March 2000 the year the US achieved the capability to fly 3 aircraft from Manta at night and in any weather. This went a long way toward overcoming the current coverage shortfall. Longer-term, the US is addressing some other infrastructure deficiencies at the FOLs, such as ramp space and support, operations, and maintenance facilities.

The F-15 and F-16 fighters that protect the AWACs - known as Coronet Nighthawk - flew from three forward operating locations: the Dutch Caribbean islands of Curacao and Aruba, and Ecuador. The three bases are closer to South American drug-producing centers and Caribbean trafficking routes.

The Department of State (DOS), which has the lead on securing long-term access agreements, concluded a 10-year agreement with Ecuador in November 1999. In 1999 the 12th US Air Force was tasked with providing support, literally overnight, to the Forward Operating Location (FOL) at Manta, Ecuador but had no assets available to complete the mission. They called for LOGCAP to provide two Spanish speaking FAA qualified Air Traffic Controllers to support flight operations out of this remote Ecuadorian Air Force Base.

LOGCAP is a US Army initiative for peacetime planning for the use of civilian contractors in wartime and other contingencies. These contractors performed selected services to support US forces in support of Department of Defense (DoD) missions. Use of contractors in a theater of operations allows the release of military units for other missions or to fill support shortfalls. This program provides the Army with additional means to adequately support the current and programmed forces. LOGCAP is primarily designed for use in areas where no bilateral or multilateral agreements exist. While happy with LOGCAP, the Air Force transitioned the program to their own AFCAP program as soon as it was available.

The US spent $62 million to expand and improve the Manta runway and build hangars, dormitories and a dining hall. The number of US servicemen assigned to Manta rose to 125 and that figure reached 400 after construction work was completed in October 2001. At that point, AWACS surveillance planes and tankers to refuel them replaced smaller Navy aircraft, allowing the US to monitor air and marine activity far into the Caribbean. That allowed resumption of US anti-drug surveillance flights which were cut by two-thirds when US forces evacuated Howard Air Force Base in Panama in 1999.

In February 2000 the Mobile District, US Army Corps of Engineers completed a major design review conference on an Air Force Forward Operating Logistics base (FOL) which they constructed in Manta, Ecuador. This project included horizontal and vertical construction projects to support US Counterdrug operations in the region. This multimillion-dollar project lasted a couple of years.

On August 17, 2000 Abba Susa-Cegaz, a joint venture, North Brunswick, N.J. was awarded a $30,797,499 firm-fixed-price contract for milling the existing runway, constructing a concrete aircraft turn around, a concrete touchdown at each end of the airfield and replacing the milled asphalt. The work consisted of overlaying the taxiways and one existing apron, in addition, two additional asphalt surface layers will be added above original grade. A new concrete aircraft apron was constructed to handle four large frame aircraft and four medium frame aircraft. The work will also include storm drainage, grading sub-grade work, runway/taxiway lighting, generators and electrical power distribution. Work was performed at Manta Air Base, Ecuador, and was expected to be completed by Feb. 28, 2002. There were 187 bids solicited on April 4, 2000, and eight bids were received. The US Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile, Ala., was the contracting activity, (DACA01-00-C-0025).

On December 21, 2000 ABBA SUSA-CEGAZ, a joint venture, North Brunswick, N.J., was awarded an $18,394,514 firm-fixed-price contract to design/build a Visiting Airmens' Quarters/dining facility, Visiting Officers Quarters, Maintenance Hangar/nose dock/apron expeditionary fire/crash rescue station, Expeditionary Squadron Operations/AMU Storage and expeditionary maintenance facilities to be located in Manta, Ecuador. Work was performed at the Manta Air Base, Ecuador, and was expected to be completed by Feb. 28, 2002. There were 187 bids solicited on May 12, 2000, and four bids were received. The US Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile, Ala., is the contracting activity (DACA01-01-C-0003).



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