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Forward Operating Location
During the Carter administration, an agreement was reached with General Omar Torrijos of Panama to negotiate a new treaty which would define the future control of the Panama Canal.
In 1978 the Senate approved the first treaty agreeing to turn over the Canal to Panama by December 31, 1999 and withdraw all U.S. military forces. With some exceptions the United States-Panama partnership for the management operation and defense of the Canal ceased to exist.
At the end of 1998 Mr. J. van Aartsen, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands met with his counterpart Mrs. M. Albright, Secretary of State, in Washington D.C. U.S. officials began negotiating arrangements to use existing airfield in Central America, Caribbean and Latin America.
Mrs. Albright requested Minister van Aartsen to study the possibility to have Aruba and Curacao as future platforms for the so called Forward Operating Location (F.O.L.)
Other countries that were considered were: Ecuador and El Salvador.
Special arrangements existed already with President Pastrana of Colombia.
Minister van Aartsen agreed to consult with the Governments of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles. Any agreement would proceed according to the national and international laws.
All partners of the Kingdom of the Netherlands are aware of the importance of the continuation of the existing cooperation in different areas with the U.S. and particular on international counter narcotics efforts.
Since the early eighties the Royal Dutch Marines worked together with the United States by intercepting drugs deliveries by air and sea in the Caribbean area. Diplomatic clearance was given for the use of the airports and seaports.
In 1991 on request of the Governments of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, the Royal Dutch Marines extended their operations of surveillance at land and sea and became a partner of the U.S. Joint Task Forces.
In 1996 this cooperation was further intensified by the introduction of the Coastguard for the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba.
After extensive consultations and negotiations with all Kingdom partners, a one-year interim-agreement of cooperation was reached between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Government of the United States of America on April 13, 1999, concerning access to and use of facilities in the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba for aerial counter narcotics activities. U.S. Customs Air Operations conducted a phased withdrawal of their assets from Howard Air Force Base to Aruba on April 19, 1999. The Forward Operating Location Aruba (F.O.L.) became fully operational on April 30, 1999.
After more than half year of experience, the United States and the Kingdom partners confirmed the importance of the cooperation and the necessity of continuation of the F.O.L. Operations.
Using the interim-agreement as a basic legal document, the parties held extensive negotiations in The Hague, Willemstad, Oranjestad and Washington for a long-term agreement of ten years.
On January 18, 2000, a draft treaty was signed in Miami, Florida and was sent for approval to the different Parliaments of The Kingdom. In October 2001 the F.O.L. treaty was approved for the Kingdom by the First Chamber of the Parliament of the Netherlands.
The concept of the F.O.L. does not entail a U.S. military base as in Europe. The personnel is well aware of its task and responsibilities and also limited in numbers.
The United States personnel is authorized to wear uniforms and carry weapons while on duty but limited to the airfield and only for the security of the personnel, equipment and facilities. The F.O.L. cooperation has to be considered completely separate from the so called "Plan Colombia".
The operations which take place from Curacao and Aruba are ordered by the Joint Interagency Task Force-East. The Kingdom Commander for the Caribbean area, stationed in Curaçao, Commander of the Coastguard, has the responsibilities as the Task Group Commander.
Aruba as part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands will continue its efforts to combat international crime. As a tourist destination we will continue to promote safety for our visitors and be a one happy and safe island.