The story of the Manta air base is one in which soft balancing and hard cash come together. Among other things, a joint $6 billion Venezuelan-Ecuadoran oil refinery announced by Hugo Chavez and Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa means that the money injected by the U.S. base in Manta is no longer so important to Ecuador.
In the waning days of the Bush administration, governments in Latin America are rejecting many U.S.-funded programs, particularly anti-narcotics efforts.... In Venezuela, anti-drug officials say, cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has deteriorated sharply. In Bolivia, coca farmers decided in June to expel the U.S. Agency for International Development from part of the country amid accusations that it was conspiring against President Evo Morales. The pushback resonates well politically in many parts of Latin America, where U.S. policies are often seen as security-obsessed Cold War vestiges or bitter economic pills forced down the throats of unwilling governments.
The Manta air base, which employs 450 U.S. Air Force personnel and contractors, will close in November 2009. Its main mission has been to conduct surveillance flights aiming to interdict seaborne drug trafficking. The closing of the base, on balance, seems to be a good thing. My impression is that, generally speaking, the U.S. military/drug-war footprint in Latin America has cost more than it's worth. The U.S. does not need and should not have more than 700 military bases scattered over the world. Some of them no doubt perform essential strategic missions, but the majority probably should be closed. They perpetuate the image and reality of American 'empire'. Alexander Cooley has argued that the U.S. should maintain bases in "mature democracies" but not in non-democratic countries (see A. Cooley, "Base Politics," Foreign Affairs, November/December 2005; he also has a recent book on the subject). However, one should also ask whether a given base is really serving a valuable purpose, regardless of where it is located.