Panetta Visit to Expand South American Defense Ties
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 23, 2012 During his first visit to South America as defense secretary, which starts today, Leon E. Panetta will meet over the next week with military officials in Colombia, Brazil and Chile, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta briefs the press en route to Bogota, Colombia, April 23, 2012. Panetta is on a five-day trip to the region to meet with counterparts and military officials in Colombia, Brazil and Chile to discuss an expansion of defense and security cooperations. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The secretary “is looking to expand defense and security cooperation with three important countries in the region and, increasingly, in the world,” Little added.
Panetta will travel to Bogota in Colombia, Brasilia and Rio de Janiero in Brazil, and Santiago in Chile.
This trip follows a late-March visit by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Fla., and then to Brazil and Colombia.
In Brazil Dempsey met with Defense Minister Antonio Celoso Amorim and top-ranking military official Gen. Jose Carlos de Nardi in Brasilia, and in Bogota with Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon Bueno and Gen. Alejandro Navas, commander of the Colombian Armed Forces.
For Panetta, one set of discussions in South America will focus on partnering with Brazil, Chile and Colombia to help build capacity for the military to assist civil authorities in such Central American nations as Guatemala, El Salvador and Belize, a senior defense official told reporters in a background briefing on Friday.
“The challenges these countries face are towering compared to their own capacity to deal with them,” he said, adding that Brazil, Chile and Colombia already are significant contributors to building partner capacity.
Colombia, for example, offers capacity-building assistance in 16 countries inside and outside the region, including Africa.
Colombian service members have trained more than two dozen Mexican helicopter pilots and now train police in Honduras and Guatemala. The nation also provides assistance in nondefense areas like justice reform, the official said.
Also in the region, in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Haiti, thousands of U.S. and Brazilian military personnel worked together to provide life-saving relief to the Haitian people. It was the largest combined operation of U.S. and Brazilian military forces since they fought together as allies in World War II.
“We could have done better in Haiti if we had glued together the system in advance to provide for more effective defense support to civil authorities,” the official said.
“By collaborating with [all three countries],” he added, “the United States can get down to specifics about which country will be conducting specific initiatives and what kinds of initiatives, so together we can ensure the investment we’re making … is as efficient and effective as possible.”
During an April 9 meeting in Washington, President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff established the U.S.-Brazil Defense Cooperation Dialogue and announced that Panetta and Amorim would hold the first meeting this week in Brazil.
The DCD will help bolster cooperation between DOD and Brazil’s Ministry of National Defense, and between the nations’ militaries, the White House said in a statement.
Beyond the Western Hemisphere, the Defense Department is looking to Colombia and Brazil, both of which already have deep ties to Africa and now provide assistance there, to help U.S. Africa Command with peacekeeping and other efforts there.
“Africa typifies the situation we’re in, where the United States has limited capacity to help build partner capabilities,” the defense official said.
“Brazil and Colombia … are stepping up to the plate. Let’s collaborate with them, establish a dialogue between their militaries and Africom so we’re working in mutual support in an informed, cooperative way,” he added.
Panetta will also seek to expand the range of defense collaborations, including traditional military efforts such as training, exchanges and joint exercises.
“Clearly we still have plenty to talk about in continuing to support the Colombians in their efforts against [the narcoterrorist group FARC, for Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia]to talk about counternarcotics,” the official said.
Panetta also will discuss new challenges like cyber security and defense support to civil authorities that offer opportunities for collaboration.
In 2014 Brazil will host the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, World Cup tournament in Rio de Janeiro, and two years later that city will host the 2016 Olympic Games.
“We know in the United States how to provide defense support to civil authorities, to law enforcement or to help prepare for the kinds of challenges these world-class sporting events can attract,” he said, “so we’re going to share expertise [and] talk about the kind of dialogue that will help nations get prepared.”
He added, “In the context of limited resources of the United States for defense … we have an opportunity to partner together with other nations so they become security exporters.”
Panetta, Little said, sees Brazil, Chile and Colombia “as increasingly important players on the regional stage and also in terms of their leadership roles internationally.”
All have made progress in terms of their economies, their militaries and their political situations over the last several years, he added.
“These three countries are on the upswing in many areas and it’s time for us to enhance our already strong cooperation with all three,” Little said.