Panetta: U.S., Latin America Face Common Challenges

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)