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The Manta Airbase

Since its inception, Manta's Eloy Alfaro Air Base and the presence of U.S. military forces there have been the focus of dispute and controversy. In 1999, when Ecuadorean President Jamil Mahuad announced that he would allow the United States to operate at the base, some Ecuadoreans argued that it would be an enormous affront to their country's sovereignty. Despite those protests, a 10-year lease agreement was finalized between the United States and Ecuador.

Today, the Manta base is one of five primary Ecuadorean Air Force air bases. Since opening, the base been used by the U.S. Air Force for operations against illegal drug trafficking in northwestern South America. Some 300 U.S. soldiers and airmen have been stationed at the base at any one time. The effects of the base are felt in the bars, restaurants, shops, and casinos of Manta. Some complain that the base has led to an increase in local crime, prostitution, and drug use; others point to an economic boom and well-paved roads that it brought.

All of this controversy is about to be moot. Following his 2006 election, incoming President Rafael Correa stated that Ecuador would not renew the agreement for use of the base by the U.S. military. The 10-year lease expires in 2009, and the Ecuadorean Foreign Ministry has said it wants all U.S. troops out of the country by November 2009.

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