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)