Myers Says U.S., Latin American Cooperation Growing
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 13, 2005 The military-to-military relationships between the United States and countries of Latin America continue to improve, said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff following meetings in the region April 10-12.
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, receives a plaque from his Mexican counterpart Gen. Gerardo Clemente Vega at military parade grounds in Mexico City on April 12. Photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers visited Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico during a three-day tour to the region. Myers put the trip and the progress in the region in perspective during an interview on the way back to Washington.
In all three nations, Myers stressed the need for regional and global cooperation against terrorism. "It's like computer network defense," Myers said. "(Hackers) go for the weakest link. If someone can get in through a weak link, then they get everybody.
"The same is true with narcoterrorism and terrorism. They want to infiltrate and they will look for the place with the weakest defenses."
The chairman is clearly pleased with the progress in Colombia. "They have been doing well," Myers said. "(The government has) to stay the course and it's a tough course. They have troops deployed in the jungle going after the FARC where they live.
"When I first came to Colombia in 2001, that was unheard of. Now they are doing it. It is taking a toll, but they have to stay the course, and we have to continue providing the support we have been providing."
Myers said FARC - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - is the very definition of a narcoterrorist organization. The group started in 1964 as a Marxist-oriented anti-government group. In the intervening years, it turned to drug trafficking as a way to fund the revolution. But it has been years since the group had any ideological underpinning. It now works solely to make certain members rich.
And FARC is adaptable. Nations crack down in one area, and that forces the narcoterrorists to move to another means or route to get drugs to "buyer nations." Narcoterrorists also go to areas where central governments have little or no control.
The group has money, and in a region where an average of 55 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, money talks. Those people they cannot intimidate, they buy. "I think the drug money, just by itself, creates instabilities in these governments," he said. "This is because they have enough money to throw around to turn honest people into corrupt people."
In Ecuador, officials spoke about tightening security on the northern border of the country where it joins with Colombia. FARC has people on both sides of the border, and Ecuadorian officials are afraid that the troubles in Colombia may spill over to them. Already there are thousands of Colombian refugees seeking safety in Ecuador, defense officials said.
Ecuador is working to have better relations with Colombia to control the border region, Myers said.
In Mexico, Myers met with Gen. Gerardo Clemente Vega, the secretary of national defense. The men discussed a wide range of bilateral issues and regional challenges. The Mexicans understand the regional aspect of the security situation, Myers said.
He said he was pleased with the steady progress being made in U.S.-Mexican military-to-military relations, although he said it is "still not where it needs to be."
The current security environment is challenging, the chairman said. Mexico and the United States must work closely together to combat the threats of drugs, terrorism and trafficking in human beings.
"We're making progress," he said. "I hope we can keep pushing things along."
Geography alone means that U.S. and Mexican security interests converge - both countries want safety and security for their citizens. "And in this day and age, no one can do that alone," he said. "We've got a 2,100-mile long border with Mexico, and we can't think we can protect that border just on our side. We need their help on their side."
With Mexico, common goals and backgrounds cement the ties with the United States. And both governments understand the transnational threats facing them.
"It defines the new security situation we find ourselves in," Myers said. "We didn't view it the same way pre-September 11th.