ABOARD A MILIRARY AIRCRAFT, April 23, 2012 — Latin America figures prominently in the Pentagon’s new defense strategy as an increasingly capable region that shares common challenges with the United States, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
Panetta is on his first trip to South America as defense secretary with visits planned in Colombia, Brazil and Chile. He has visited the region before as CIA director, as a member of Congress and as chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton.
One goal of the defense strategy, Panetta said, is to build innovative partnerships and alliances that will strengthen relationships in places like Europe, Africa and Latin America.
“The purpose of this trip is to engage in consultations with a number of our partners in this part of the world, trying to promote innovative security partnerships in the region,” he told reporters traveling with him.
Latin America is a key region, the secretary added. Its countries are neighbors in this hemisphere “and we face some common challenges,” he said.
Among those challenges are narcotics trafficking and its spread to Africa, terrorism, cyber security, and the ability to provide humanitarian assistance, he said.
“One of the things these countries are doing is developing their own regional security [as well as] doing outreach with their security development,” Panetta said. “So that’s something we want to review and try to help them with.”
Partnerships in the region will include joint training, exercises, technology sharing and other kinds of assistance.
On this trip, the secretary said, the focus will be on old and new partners.
“I will be in Colombia where we have worked for a long period of time, even since I was in the Congress, trying to provide assistance to them, particularly with regard to narcotrafficking,” Panetta said, going after the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, called the FARC.
“Colombia, to its credit, has done a tremendous job in going after the FARC,” he added, which at one point numbered 20,000, but now has about 8,000 members.
Many countries in the region look to Colombia for lessons learned over a decade, he said.
In the emerging power of Brazil, Panetta said, “I want to build on the U.S.-Brazil Defense Cooperative Dialog” that President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff agreed this month to commence.
There, he said, “We’ll be looking at defense trade, scientific research, technology sharing, logistics cooperation and cyber security.”
The secretary then will visit Chile, which Panetta said is “doing a great job in developing regional security. We’ll get a chance to see some of their exercises up close and their developing capabilities.”
During this trip, Panetta added, “we’ll really try to develop a key part of our new defense strategy, which is to … reinforce some very innovative partnerships in a very important region of the world that represents a key security interest for the United States.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)