Kolumbien — Gates Praises Colombia as ‘Exporter of Security’

BOGOTA — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates offered high praise to Colom­bia today as an “exporter of secu­ri­ty” that, by shar­ing lessons learned in its crack­down against a left­ist insur­gency and drug-traf­fick­ing car­tels, pro­vides a mod­el for the region.

Gates offered con­grat­u­la­tions to Pres­i­dent Alvaro Uribe and Defense Min­is­ter Gabriel Sil­va Luján dur­ing his meet­ings with them today, call­ing their lead­er­ship in Colombia’s offen­sive against the left­ist Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colum­bia, known as FARC, and oth­er para­mil­i­tary groups “hero­ic.”

“In just a few years, Colom­bia has achieved a remark­able, indeed his­toric, trans­for­ma­tion in the secu­ri­ty are­na that few would have thought pos­si­ble,” Gates said dur­ing a joint news con­fer­ence with Sil­va, dur­ing which Uribe offered open­ing remarks.

Gates praised progress in tak­ing Colom­bia “from a nation under siege from drug traf­fick­ing orga­ni­za­tions and mil­i­tary groups to a coun­try quick­ly becom­ing a lynch­pin of secu­ri­ty and pros­per­i­ty in South Amer­i­ca.” He also rec­og­nized the skill and brav­ery Colombia’s mil­i­tary and secu­ri­ty forces have demon­strat­ed in this effort. “Colombia’s men and women in uni­form have made great sac­ri­fices to dra­mat­i­cal­ly degrade the FARC and oth­er ter­ror­ist groups, mak­ing Colom­bia a unique source of expe­ri­ence and exper­tise in com­bat­ing these threats,” he said.

Gates com­mend­ed Colom­bia for shar­ing its knowl­edge and skills in coun­terin­sur­gency, law enforce­ment and anti-kid­nap­ping train­ing. “We believe these efforts are enhanc­ing sta­bil­i­ty in the Amer­i­c­as,” he said.

Mean­while, Colom­bia has helped its neigh­bors cope with nat­ur­al dis­as­ters, he said, includ­ing send­ing per­son­nel and sup­plies to both Haiti and Chile after their dev­as­tat­ing earth­quakes. These human­i­tar­i­an mis­sions are indica­tive of Colombia’s lead­er­ship in pro­mot­ing region­al coop­er­a­tion to con­front region­al threats and chal­lenges, he said. Gates also acknowl­edged Colombia’s role as an exporter of secu­ri­ty beyond its imme­di­ate neigh­bor­hood, not­ing its plans to send troops to Afghanistan to sup­port oper­a­tions there. “The Unit­ed States is com­mit­ted to pro­vide the sup­port nec­es­sary to help expe­dite this deploy­ment,” he said.

Look­ing to the future, the Unit­ed States hopes to build on this momen­tum, Gates said, call­ing the two coun­tries’ con­tin­ued bilat­er­al defense coop­er­a­tion “vital to both of our nations.”

Uribe thanked Gates and the Unit­ed States for its staunch sup­port in help­ing Colom­bia con­front the “long­stand­ing scourge” of its inter­nal threats. Colom­bia has not com­plete­ly emerged from “the long night of nar­co-ter­ror­ism,” he con­ced­ed, but he expressed opti­mism about what will be achieved through con­tin­ued part­ner­ship with the Unit­ed States. Asked why the Unit­ed States’ new defense coop­er­a­tion agree­ment with Brazil has drawn much less out­cry than the U.S.-Colombia accord did when it was signed in Octo­ber, Sil­va said the Unit­ed States and Colom­bia estab­lished a ground-break­ing mod­el that oth­ers in the region now hope to emu­late.

The U.S.-Colombian Defense Coop­er­a­tion Agree­ment for­mal­ized the mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship between the two coun­tries to bet­ter address nar­cotics pro­duc­tion and traf­fick­ing, ter­ror­ism, illic­it smug­gling and human­i­tar­i­an and nat­ur­al dis­as­ters.

Gates called the agree­ments “an impor­tant step for­ward” and said he hopes peo­ple come to real­ize they are focused only on pro­mot­ing bilat­er­al secu­ri­ty rela­tion­ships, not in pro­vid­ing a venue for the Unit­ed States to inter­fere in oth­er coun­tries’ mat­ters.

“I think these are oppor­tu­ni­ties for coop­er­a­tion,” he said. “The terms of these agree­ments are very explic­it, that include adher­ence to the prin­ci­ples of non-inter­fer­ence in the inter­nal affairs of oth­er coun­tries.”

The sec­re­tary said his talks here also extend­ed to the impor­tance of a get­ting a free trade agree­ment rat­i­fied, not­ing that he talked with Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor James L. Jones Jr. before his trip here about renew­ing that effort. Gates ref­er­enced an op-ed piece he co-wrote with for­mer Colom­bian Defense Min­is­ter Juan Manuel San­tos in July 2008 press­ing for move­ment on the U.S.-Colombia Trade Pro­mo­tion Agree­ment and said his views haven’t changed.

“It’s a good deal for Colom­bia, and it’s a good deal for the Unit­ed States,” he said.

In his op-ed, the sec­re­tary laud­ed tremen­dous gains Colom­bia had made against its inter­nal threats and called eco­nom­ic progress essen­tial for these gains to stick. “Colombia’s hard-won free­dom from vio­lence can be sus­tained only through eco­nom­ic pros­per­i­ty,” he wrote.

Gates said a trade pro­mo­tion agree­ment would estab­lish a com­mit­ment to open mar­kets that would increase this essen­tial growth and invest­ment in Colom­bia. “To achieve last­ing peace and sta­bil­i­ty, Colom­bia must have more for­eign invest­ment and free trade,” Gates wrote.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)