Rumsfeld, Peruvian President Share Defense Goals
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
LIMA, Peru, Aug. 19, 2005 Peru has become a leader in confronting terrorism and narcoterrorism, but it's critical that the region's countries all work together to deal with the common threats they face, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said here Aug. 18 during a joint press conference with Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, left of flag, and
Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, share their
interest in stemming terrorism and drug trafficking in
South America during an Aug. 18 press conference in
Lima, Peru. Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"The problems that our respective countries face of terrorism, ... narcotrafficking, hostage-taking (and) crime are problems that no one country can deal with alone," the secretary said in the Peruvian presidential palace. "It requires regional cooperation."
Toledo called these challenges a "shared responsibility" among the South American community that extends to how they respond to growing interference in the region by Cuba and Venezuela, promote economic reforms and fight poverty, all factors that affect regional security. "It is also a shared responsibility to foster democracy and the respect for human rights and freedom of expression in order to have a stable environment," he said.
The secretary praised Toledo for his leadership on the security, political and economic fronts that's having a direct impact on Peru's stability. Since taking office in 2001, Toledo has actively promoted democratic reforms in a country that was long plagued by authoritarian rule and instituted measures that have made Peru's economy one of the strongest in the region.
The Peruvian president urged the United States to pass a free trade agreement with Peru similar to those in effect in North and Central America to further accelerate the country's counterdrug and counterterrorism efforts. Such an agreement would provide a viable economic alternative to drug trafficking and other illicit activities, he said. "If we have a market for alternative products, then we will produce more alternative crops, and this will contribute to the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism," Toledo said.
A free trade agreement would also spur foreign investment, which Toledo has made one of his government's key priorities.
He insisted there's no connection between lack of a free-trade agreement and Peru's failure so far to enter into a bilateral agreement with the United States allowing it to maintain jurisdiction over any U.S. servicemember charged with a crime in Peru. More than 100 nations have entered into similar agreements that allow the U.S. military to handle the cases in accordance with the Uniformed Code of Military Justice rather than the International Criminal Court.
Toledo said he and Rumsfeld discussed the possibility of an agreement and "share the spirit of it," but offered no more details except to say Peru's not basing any decision on the passage of a free-trade agreement. "There has never been any condition on behalf of the United States government or of Mr. Rumsfeld concerning the signing of an agreement ... with regard to the International Criminal Court," he said.
In response to a reporter's question, Rumsfeld said the United States considers the jurisdiction issue "a matter for each country to decide on its own, in its own way, in its own time."
After meetings with Toledo and Peru's new defense minister, Marciano Rengifo, Rumsfeld said it's clear that North America has to work closely with both Central and South America "to do everything possible to reduce the very serious problem of drug trafficking."
Peru, in cooperation with the United States, has made steady progress in interdicting the flow of narcotics, particularly cocaine, to the United States. The two countries also cooperate in encouraging alternative development in coca-growing regions.
Toledo suggested a meeting between drug-producer countries like Peru and consumer countries like the United States to work out "a common strategy to deal with the problem" of drug trafficking and narcoterrorism.
"It is on one hand a question of reducing the areas planted with coca leaves, and on the other hand, it is a question of interdiction (of the drug trade) by air, by sea, by rivers, or by land," he said. The possibility of resuming air interdictions is being discussed, he said, without further elaboration.
Peru was showing solid progress in cracking down on drug trafficking in the mid-1990s with its "airbridge denial interdiction program," but the program was suspected in April 2001 after the Peruvian Air Force misidentified a U.S. aircraft as a drug trafficker and shot it down. A U.S. Embassy official in Lima said discussions between the U.S. and Peruvian governments are focusing on resuming the program, but only if specific control measures are instituted, including a possible requirement to use only nonlethal weapons.
Meanwhile, Peru, with $112 million in backing by the United States, is focusing its counterdrug efforts on land and river routes and continues to arrest drug traffickers, seize drugs and related chemicals, destroy coca labs, disable clandestine airstrips and prosecute officials involved in narcotics corruption, officials said.
Rumsfeld acknowledged the importance of U.S. support to the mission, but made no promises about future support He noted that the topic is reviewed and discussed regularly by the executive and legislative branches of government. "And I am not in a position to predict what the outcome of that interaction between the executive and legislative branch might produce in any given year," he said.
The secretary thanked Toledo for Peru's contribution to the U.N. Mission in Haiti, where more than 200 of its troops are deployed to help stabilize Haiti. "Your troops and forces there have conducted themselves, I am told, with great skill and success and it is an important contribution by Peru and the people of Peru to ... the goal of having stability dealt with in peaceful ways as we are seeing take place there," the Rumsfeld said.
Peru also has troops and observers supporting peacekeeping operations in the Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Burundi, Liberia, the Ivory Coast and Sudan.
Rumsfeld's meetings represented a strong show of support for Toledo, whose popularity ratings have plummeted to the single digits since taking office in 2001 and whose Cabinet underwent a major shakeup this week after his prime minister resigned. Toledo swore in his new cabinet members, including Rengifo, Aug. 16.
Despite Toledo's sagging popularity at home, a senior defense official traveling with Rumsfeld told reporters the one-time shoeshine boy who rose to become the nation's leader has ushered in the warmest defense relationship between the two countries in 40 years.
During the flight here, the official described Peru as "a good friend in an important region," the third-largest country in South America and the fifth most-populated in Latin America.
U.S. troops assigned to the U.S. Embassy here joined Peruvian soldiers and a military band in giving Rumsfeld a send-off for his return flight to Washington. Among them was Marine Corps Cpl. Orlando Jiles from Command Detachment Lima, Peru, who called the opportunity to meet and pose for photos with the secretary "amazing."
"It's very motivating," agreed Marine Cpl. Rudy Vaughn.