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Rumsfeld Meets with Six Latin-American Presidents

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2005 – Six presidents of Latin American nations met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other senior officials at the Pentagon today.

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (right) and the presidents of six Central American countries watch a full military honors pass-in-review arrival ceremony at the Pentagon May 11. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby, USAF

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Rumsfeld greeted Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos, Honduran President Ricardo Maduro, Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco, Guatemalan President Oscar Berger, President Antonio Saca from El Salvador, and President Leonel Fernandez from the Dominican Republic, when their motorcades arrived at the Pentagon.

Protocol officials said they could not remember the last time so many presidents visited the Pentagon at the same time.

Rumsfeld escorted the six presidents to an Armed Forces Honor Review on the Pentagon's parade field.

The presidents are in the United States to press for the U.S. adoption of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The U.S. Congress will debate the measure soon, said officials on Capitol Hill.

Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic sent troops to Iraq in 2003 as part of the Multinational Division Central-South. El Salvador still has special operations forces in Iraq.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers visited the region in August 2003 to thank the nations for their cooperation and sacrifices. "The significant event is these countries, dealing so long with instability, are now exporting stability to Iraq," he said at the time.

Following today's ceremony, Rumsfeld and the presidents discussed economic development and security, as well as what effect the Central American Free Trade Agreement would have on those issues. The six presidents will meet with President Bush on May 12 to press the case for ratifying the free-trade agreement.

"Economic progress and security are interdependent," Rumsfeld said in a Pentagon written release. "Today, the threat to Central American and Caribbean security comes from an anti-social combination of gangs, drug traffickers, smugglers, hostage takers and terrorists. It is increasingly clear that they can be effectively combated -- and are being combated -- only by close cooperation among nations.

"This trade agreement could help usher in a new era of cooperation between our countries and enhanced prosperity in the region," Rumsfeld said.

President Bush has pushed for CAFTA as a centerpiece to continued economic improvements in the region and to help strengthen the still fragile democracies. U.S. officials are working to deepen relations with Latin America and the nations of the Caribbean. Many of these nations have made transitions from dictatorships to democracies and continue to strive to improve economically and politically.

Many members of the construction crew at the Pentagon come from Central American nations. After the ceremonies, several of the hard-hatted workers met with their presidents.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA full military honors pass-in-review arrival ceremony is held at the Pentagon May 11 to mark a visit by the presidents of six Central American countries. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby, USAF  
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