Rumsfeld, Panama's New Leaders Uphold Security Commitments
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
PANAMA CITY, Panama, Nov. 14, 2004 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Panamanian Minister of Justice Hector Aleman reaffirmed their countries' continued commitment to working together to ensure the security of the region, including the strategic Panama Canal.
Following a meeting with newly elected Panamanian President Martin Torrijos and his senior staff Nov. 13, Rumsfeld told reporters the United States applauds Panama's "laudable efforts to address the nexus of terrorism, drugs and organized crime" that threatens the region.
The secretary praised the 14,000-member Panamanian National Police Force and the National Maritime Service for its successful interceptions of illicit drug and weapons shipments.
"Better coordination and cooperation are the keys to dealing with narcoterrorists, and Panama is playing an important role," he said.
Aleman said last year alone, the Republic of Panama seized more than 10,700 kilograms of narcotics 9,700 of it cocaine. "This is evidence that Panama is being tenacious" in tracking this threat, he said.
Rumsfeld said many threats facing the world are global in nature, not limited to a single country and unable to be countered by any single country alone.
He pointed to increased cooperation taking place among Latin American and Caribbean countries as an example of countries standing together to face these threats collectively.
"This collaboration will bolster the security of the Western Hemisphere," Rumsfeld said. "The United States looks forward to working with Panama and other nations in these efforts."
A key example of that cooperation, the secretary said, is Panama's and other nations' participation in maritime security operations. This includes the Enduring Freedom naval cooperation initiative focused on security of the Panama Canal.
The plan, which Rumsfeld proposed two years ago during the Defense Ministerial of the Americas conference in Santiago, Chile, brings countries together in a team effort to counter security threats.
Panama joined naval forces from eight other countries last August to conduct PANAMAX, a maritime exercise in which the participants responded to a notional security threat against the canal.
Officials said the exercises support two objectives: freedom of navigation and increased interoperability among nations with critical interest in the Panama Canal.
Torrijos called these exercises important steps toward protecting the canal. In addition, he said, Panama has made "appropriate investments" from radars to industrial and general security measures to increase its security. "It is improving over time," he added.
The Panamanian minister said his government is committed to ensure the security of the canal, considered critical to the flow of goods and commerce in the Western Hemisphere.
"The Panama Canal is the property of humanity," Torrijos said. "Our responsibility as Panamanians is to guarantee that the transit of shipping will be safe and secure."