Gates Travels to Peru to Promote Regional Cooperation
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, April 13, 2010 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is traveling to Lima, Peru, for the first stop of a regional visit during which he plans to encourage continued multilateral cooperation in confronting common threats and to explore new ways the United States can help.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates talks with reporters while en route to Lima, Peru, as part of a four-day trip to South America, April 13, 2010. DoD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Gates, who also will make stops in Colombia and Barbados, told reporters he plans to recognize successes already made as the region faces insurgencies, drug trafficking crime and other challenges anmd that he hopes to “explore opportunities for more cooperation.”
“We very much support and are prepared to facilitate … the growing regional cooperation that is going on among these different countries, Peru and Colombia, and I might say, Mexico as well,” he said.
“This kind of cooperation is very important,” he continued. “They face similar types of problems with insurgents and narcotics and crime, and so figuring out how we can further help them in their own efforts and also in their cooperation with one another is an important opportunity.”
Tomorrow in Lima, Gates is slated to meet with President Alan Garcia and Defense Minister Rafael Rey to discuss Peru’s fight against illicit drug trafficking and the Shining Path terrorist organization.
Gates, who hosted Rey at the Pentagon in February, will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to help the Lima government confront what it has declared its top security challenge, a senior defense official told reporters.
While not expecting concrete “deliverables” during the visit, Gates said, he hopes to identify opportunities to expand the military-to-military relationship between the United States and Peru. He also said he will look for ways to support the Peruvian military’s efforts to “restructure themselves and be more focused on their internal challenges.”
Gates said he plans to bring up human rights during his visit and to encourage the Peruvian military leaders to take advantage of human rights training provided by the U.S. and Colombian militaries.
“There are a lot of allegations against the Peruvians,” Gates said, calling charges of human rights abuses used as “a political weapon to attack the military.”
“So [Peru’s military] can help protect themselves with the kind of training we offer,” he said.
Gates told reporters traveling here with him he’s been impressed by Peru’s willingness to take a stand against the increasingly emboldened Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, when appropriate.
“Peru has been a constructive influence, in our view, in South America in terms to trying to counter some of the propaganda and other things from Venezuela and in trying to represent what we are trying to do in a straightforward manner,” Gates said. “Peru has been a good friend to the United States.”
Gates said he doesn’t see Venezuela as a military challenge, and downplayed the threat Iran poses in the region through its close ties with Venezuela and Bolivia.
“It makes for interesting public relations,” he said, calling it a way to draw attention away from serious internal problems that include weak economies and high unemployment.
“I think there is an element of distracting their own populations from the difficulties that they have by … trying to strut around the world stage,” Gates said.
Gates’ visit to Peru is his second as defense secretary. He last visited in October 2007, when Peruvian defense officials presented him a plan for combating arms and drug trafficking up its rivers and coasts.
The secretary’s trip follows yesterday’s signing of a new defense cooperation agreement with Brazil. Gates called that accord “an important step forward in our bilateral relationship [and] our military-to-military relationship with Brazil.”