Rumsfeld Wraps Up Paraguayan Visit
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
ASUNCION, Paraguay, Aug. 17, 2005 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wrapped up his whirlwind visit to this capital city today, meeting with Paraguayan Defense Minister Roberto Gonzalez Segovia, touring the Defense Ministry's military museum and paying homage to fallen Paraguayans at the Pantheon of Heroes.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (right) meets with Paraguayan Minister of Defense Roberto Gonzalez Segovia and other Paraguayan officials Aug. 17. Rumsfeld is touring parts of Latin America to discuss bilateral military cooperation in the region. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The secretary met with Segovia and his top officials to build on talks started last night at President Nicanor Duarte Frutos' residence here. Those discussions centered on the United States' and Paraguay's mutual interest in promoting cooperation within the hemisphere to confront problems ranging from hostage taking and drug trafficking to gangs and corruption.
The talks also addressed Paraguay's efforts to modernize its military forces -- consisting of 7,000 soldiers, 1,200 airmen and 2,000 sailors -- so it can become a bigger player in peacekeeping, counterterrorism and counternarcotics missions.
U.S. Army Maj. Marvin Loera, from the U.S. Embassy's Office of Defense Cooperation here, said he's impressed by Paraguay's interest in boosting its peacekeeping capabilities. Loera works closely with the Paraguayan military, which plans to establish a peacekeeping center, or "cecpaz," similar to those already operating in Chile, Argentina and Brazil.
Ultimately, Paraguay hopes to train two companies of peacekeeping troops, Loera said, and the country's leaders have expressed interest in contributing more members to the U.N. Mission in Haiti.
Paraguay currently has about 50 servicemembers supporting peacekeeping operations in several missions: Republic of the Congo, the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Liberia, Burundi, Ethiopia and Eritrea and Haiti.
After 25 years in the Paraguayan army, Col. Hugo Mendoza said he's happy to see the modernization under way throughout his country's armed forces and credits the United States for making such changes possible.
The changing world situation demands that Paraguay's military change, too, Mendoza said. "It opens new parameters for us to be concerned with," he said.
Among those concerns is the menace Cuba and Venezuela pose to the region, and most immediately, to Paraguay's neighbor Bolivia. A senior defense official told reporters traveling with Rumsfeld that Cuban ideology, backed by Nicaraguan financing, is targeting nations like Bolivia that are teetering between democracy and leftist governments and could go either way.
"There are countries like Paraguay and others, their neighboring countries, they're all interested in being able to grow and function in a manner that's free of external influence and to do things in ways that fit their history and their circumstance," Rumsfeld told reporters Aug. 16 after meeting with the president.
Paraguay also faces challenges along the tri-border region where its borders converge with those of Argentina and Brazil. A senior defense official traveling with Rumsfeld described this area as a center not only for trade, but also for smuggling and other illicit activities.
Mendoza, director of the Defense Ministry's military museum, said he's thankful for the U.S. military's efforts to help Paraguay meet these threats through cooperative exercises, exchanges and technical assistance. "We're learning new things and working with new equipment and latest technology that we would not be able to afford otherwise," he told American Forces Press Service through an interpreter.
This exposure is professionalizing Paraguay's military and improving its capabilities, he said. "We have really well-trained people in the armed forces who are very competent," Mendoza said. "But we don't have the modern weaponry and training we would like."
U.S. assistance is helping address that need, Mendoza said. "It's very important support," he said.
Rumsfeld concluded his trip to Paraguay today with a stop at the Pantheon of Heroes, Paraguay's tomb of the unknown soldier. A group of protestors chanted anti-U.S. slogans but remained orderly as Paraguyan Col. Jose Caceres gave the secretary a tour of the facility and a ceremonial guard laid a wreath within the site, which houses the remains of the late President Carlos Antonio Lopez.
The secretary will wrap up his three-day Latin American visit in Lima, Peru. This trip is Rumsfeld's first to both Paraguay and Peru, and his fifth to Latin America since becoming defense secretary in January 2001.