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Til They Meet Again

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 1996 – What first occurred more than a year ago, happened again this fall and is now slated to happen again next year.

The Defense Ministerial of the Americas, a U.S. initiative to create security ties among democracies of the Western Hemisphere, is becoming a selfperpetuating event, according to U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry.

Defense leaders from 34 nations attended the first defense ministerial in Williamsburg, Va., in July 1995. They traveled to Bariloche, Argentina, for a second ministerial Oct. 6 to 9. A third is now slated for next year in Colombia, DoD officials said.

"In the first one, people saw it as maybe a oneshot event, maybe even a fluke," Perry said. "Everyone was so impressed at how successful it was and it so impressed the Argentine minister, he offered to hold the second one. That was not planned or organized. It was just a spontaneous movement on his part."

While the first meeting brought the countries together for the first time, the second meeting helped promote ties among individual nations, Perry said.

"Everywhere I walked in that ministerial, I saw ministers standing in small groups talking with each other and sharing information," Perry said. "These are countries that five and 10 years ago had border disputes, threats of military conflict. It is just amazing what has happened in this region in the last 10 years."

The wave of democracy that swept through the region during the last decade was selfgenerated, Perry said. The first defense ministerial allowed the countries to start working together to improve their security.

"People from the defense ministries had never met, never talked with their neighboring defense ministers," he said. "The defense ministerial gave them that opportunity, and they really took advantage of it."

The ministerial's primary goal is to promote the idea democracy is the key to security in the hemisphere. "All you have to do today is look around the hemisphere and see the relative high degree of security, the lack of disputes between nations and to correlate that with the fact that 34 countries in this hemisphere are democracies," he said. Cuba, since it is not a democracy, was the only Western Hemisphere nation not invited to the first ministerial.

A second goal is to support the military's role in protecting democracy, Perry said. "In order to do that, the military must be under constitutional control, which has not always been [the case] in many of these countries in the past, and the military must respect human rights," he said.

All delegates the ministerials took a major step forward by pledging their support for constitutional control of the military and human rights, Perry said.

New democracies in Latin America as well as Eastern and Central Europe are sometimes fragile, Perry said. "When security problems occur, we want the military to be on the side of maintaining a democractic government, not using the problem as an excuse for a military coup," he said.

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