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Ecuador Giving U.S. Air Base the Boot

But Ecuadoran officials say there is little benefit in the base. For one, their country is a minor player in the Andean world of coca and cocaine production. And the U.S. surveillance flights do nothing to help them uncover drug labs hidden under vast stretches of forest canopy.

"This is a problem for us of sovereignty," Larrea said. "It's as if we had a base in New York. This would be incomprehensible for North Americans."

The original agreement was signed by President Jamil Mahuad shortly before street protests and a military revolt forced him from office in 2000. Many Ecuadorans say the terms heavily favored the Americans. The United States, for instance, does not pay rent for the base.

The agreement was negotiated "in a moment of anguish" by a government that needed a loan from the International Monetary Fund but did not get it, said Adrián Bonilla, director of FLACSO, a think tank in Quito, the Ecuadoran capital.

"The political cost of a foreign base is very high. And the national need is very low," he said. "The political culture of Ecuador is very nationalistic. And it is mistrusting of the United States. . . . It's very popular to throw out the gringos from the Manta base."

U.S. officials don't yet know where they might move after Manta. Colombia is often mentioned. In other neighboring countries, such as Panama, officials have publicly ruled out letting the Americans move in. The loss of Manta, according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, would leave a "serious gap" in the U.S. drug fight.

But other officials, such as Leonard, say the U.S. planes could operate out of an existing base on the Caribbean island of Curacao for the time being and cover the same territory.

"The success will be slightly less. But I still think we'll have the coverage out there," Leonard said. "It's not like it will just disappear."

In Bolivia, the decision by the coca growers federation, still led by President Morales, to stop working with USAID in the Chapare region, was also motivated by a growing desire for self-determination. That part of Bolivia is home of the slogan "Long live coca, death to the Yankees." Residents express long-standing frustrations with U.S. efforts to eradicate the crop or persuade farmers to plant often-unviable alternatives.

"The famous macadamia nut? The cardamom? These were very expensive projects that resulted in what? In nothing," said Felipe Cáceres, Bolivia's vice minister of social defense and a former coca grower.

The USAID contingent, about 100 employees and contractors, whom Cáceres described as "all right-wingers," have left the Chapare. Morales has accused USAID of funding opposition groups to foment protests against him, allegations U.S. officials have denied.

Cáceres said last month that the Bolivian government plans to "nationalize" the war on drugs in Bolivia by controlling for itself how the aid money is spent. While Cáceres praised the cooperation between his government and the DEA, he ridiculed USAID projects as wasteful spending that often came with burdensome conditions.


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