USA — Gates to Foster Cooperation With Latin America

WASHINGTON — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates will focus next week on Latin Amer­i­ca, sign­ing a defense agree­ment with Brazil, then vis­it­ing Peru, Colom­bia and the Caribbean to reaf­firm U.S. com­mit­ment to the region and pro­mote clos­er defense coop­er­a­tion.

Gates will kick off the week host­ing Brazil­ian Defense Min­is­ter Nel­son Jobim at the Pen­ta­gon on April 12, where Brazil and the Unit­ed States will sign a defense coop­er­a­tion agree­ment aimed at deep­en­ing and broad­en­ing their mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ships, a senior defense offi­cial told reporters.

The accord, the two coun­tries’ first for­mal defense arrange­ment since 1977, is more “aspi­ra­tional” than spe­cif­ic, the offi­cial said. But he called it “a big deal” that estab­lish­es a for­mal frame­work for more mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary engage­ment and exchanges, infor­ma­tion-shar­ing and coop­er­a­tion in defense-relat­ed research and devel­op­ment.

In Peru, Gates’ meet­ings with Pres­i­dent Alan Gar­cia and Defense Min­is­ter Rafael Rey are expect­ed to focus on its fight against illic­it drug traf­fick­ing and the Shin­ing Path ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion. The Shin­ing Path had been all but neu­tral­ized in Peru, but has begun to sur­face in recent years through spo­radic vio­lent attacks fund­ed large­ly through cocaine traf­fick­ing, the offi­cial said.

Gates, who host­ed Rey at the Pen­ta­gon in Feb­ru­ary, will reaf­firm the U.S. com­mit­ment to help­ing the Lima gov­ern­ment con­front what it has declared its top secu­ri­ty chal­lenge, the offi­cial said.

In Colom­bia, Gates will offer con­grat­u­la­tions and sup­port for that country’s fight against its own inter­nal threat, the left­ist Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colum­bia, known as FARC, and oth­er para­mil­i­tary groups.

The sec­re­tary is slat­ed to meet with Pres­i­dent Alvaro Uribe and Defense Min­is­ter Gabriel Sil­va Luján to dis­cuss progress in that offen­sive, with sup­port from the U.S.-funded Plan Colom­bia and a new defense coop­er­a­tion agree­ment.

The U.S.-Colombian Defense Coop­er­a­tion Agree­ment, signed in Octo­ber, 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.

The meet­ing is expect­ed to be Gates’ last with Uribe before the Colom­bian pres­i­dent leaves office in August. As Gates acknowl­edges Uribe’s accom­plish­ments dur­ing the past eight years, Gates will offer assur­ance of con­tin­ued U.S. sup­port for the next Colom­bian admin­is­tra­tion, the offi­cial said.

“He will make clear that our com­mit­ment to Colom­bia is not to a gov­ern­ment or pres­i­dent. It is a state-to-state com­mit­ment,” he said. Gates will wrap up his Latin Amer­i­ca trip in Bar­ba­dos, express­ing sup­port for the Caribbean Basin Secu­ri­ty Ini­tia­tive aimed at curb­ing drug traf­fick­ing and oth­er trans-bor­der threats.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma announced the ini­tia­tive at the Sum­mit of the Amer­i­c­as in April 2009 to pro­mote region­al coop­er­a­tion in con­fronting secu­ri­ty chal­lenges that extend beyond any one country’s bor­der. His fis­cal 2011 bud­get request includes almost $73 mil­lion in mil­i­tary and eco­nom­ic aid for the pro­gram.

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