Press Conference Following the United States Central America Ministers Meeting
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Good morning.
Over the past two days we've had some excellent discussions on the challenges and the opportunities facing the people of Central America. We've had useful contributions by participants from Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Colombia. I want to give a special thanks to Minister Breve of Honduras for suggesting that this conference be held and the United States was happy to host it.
The working groups produced and presented today to the Ministers a series of recommendations which I found interesting and I know the Ministers have discussed it and intend to proceed and we talked about the sense of urgency that they merit.
Of immediate concern, relief and recovery operations are ongoing to help the people of the areas affected by Hurricane Stan. The people of the United States are grateful for the help that's been provided by our friends in this hemisphere when our own country was hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Our armed forces are continuing to work with others in the region to identify how additional U.S. military capabilities can be of assistance, particularly in Guatemala.
We concluded our conference this morning with the recognition of the critical relationship between security and economic opportunity. We've made useful progress towards increasing the cooperation of our armed force in important areas such as peacekeeping, planning and training together to better prepare for future natural disasters, and jointly combating transnational threats.
One cannot overstate the importance of the region's transition to democracy in making this progress possible. What a difference the past decade has made.
With the courageous and far-sighted leadership in Central America today there is a solid opportunity to achieve greater prosperity, security and freedom for the people of this important region.
I thank the Ministers and the observers for being here and for their contributions. I look forward to working with each of them in the months ahead as we work to build a more secure and a more prosperous hemisphere.
MINISTER BREVE: Thank you very much.
As the Secretary very well said, we have in a regional way addressed the threats that are faced by the Central American nations as well as Mexico. We agreed on a shared vision. The threats that we face will make us also [inaudible] combined response.
We've talked about the working threats such as illegal immigration, [inaudible], gangs, and trafficking in persons.
As I've said, we've addressed issues --
So we've addressed those problems that we have to face together. We know that we have great challenges to face. The threats in the region, in the Central America region are also threats to the United States. We have talked broadly about the third frontier of the United States, the third border, and the third border is the Caribbean.
So we Central Americans, Mexico and the Dominican Republic and Colombia together with the Central American region must work together.
We must thank the Secretary for the hospitality of the United States and we're ready to face those threats together. We know we can count on the help of the United States and other neighboring countries in the struggle today that we have defined as a common objective -- security and development that go together with progress. We also talked about CAFTA and the importance that it has for our region to have the opportunity to trade with the United States and among ourselves. This makes it greater to have our economies with this largest market in the world.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The Ministers would be happy to respond to some questions.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I wonder if I might ask for you to give us a couple of specifics on the recommendations that were made today among some of the countries.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I'm sure one of the Ministers would be happy to do that. Who would like to speak to the recommendations?
MINISTER ROMERO: Members of the press, I am Otto Romero. I'm the Minister of Defense of El Salvador.
The recommendations have been generally very fruitful in the working groups after the conferences. We could see some interesting common themes. For example we have recommendations with respect to how to make efforts to unite systems of intelligence, operations systems, combined and joint operations, and the realities that exist in our countries in the sense of having institutions that obey the laws of each country and the constitutions of each country, but we have to all understand that we have common threats and we must develop projects that will take us to eliminate the regional vulnerability. That is the sensible way to achieve acceptable levels of development with the cooperation of our own countries and also the cooperation with strategic allies such as the United States.
We believe that this meeting has been a first meeting on this issue and the Republic of Nicaragua as the President of SICA (Central American Integration System) also has offered to host a second meeting with which the ideas and the proposals that were given here will have a mechanism to continue this effort and that's very important to be able to add to whatever else already exists at SICA and other Central American institutions.
In general we're very pleased. We believe we're on the road to improving the culture of security which will take us to a culture of peace which is extremely important for our countries, and we're sure that our effort has been very fruitful for everyone.
QUESTION: For the Minister of Guatemala, I wanted to know if there was anything concrete about the proposal, the issue of regional peacekeeping operations.
GENERAL ALDANA: Thank you for your question, all of you members of the media.
The truth is that one of the points we reviewed in this meeting was this issue of natural disasters, and especially addressed to the humanitarian response units that should exist in Central America which in fact each Central American country already has a specialized unit for natural disasters.
Of course this is an issue that together was addressed and we must of course thank once again the help and the immediate response that we got from the international community. And third [inaudible] of the United States, Mexico and other Central America countries who came immediately to the humanitarian response and rescue.
I would also like to comment that one of the commitments that we have as Central Americans is to strengthen that response unit which today more than ever because of those threats we cannot set it aside, we cannot neglect the Possibility that everyday this type of situation can increase.
And what about the peacekeeping? Of course the armed forces and the law enforcement have a special role and I want to say that the armed forces, particularly on the issue of Hurricane Stan, I can tell you that we were able to see the effects of the preparation that we've been cultivating and strengthening throughout the work that we've been developing within the Central American Conference of Armed Forces.
One of the objectives has been to strengthen this unit within the Central American region.
And third, once again, in these tests and these recent occurrences we have shown the future importance of this type of unit.
QUESTION: If you could tell us in detail what were the recommendations for the formation of a regional force for peacekeeping or for responding to natural disasters.
GENERAL ALDANA: One of the commitments that I believe is going to be evident in the future work after this meeting is in fact to aim our effort at the organization, equipment and the most important is the doctrinaire aspect of a response force with humanitarian issues as also to responses to [inaudible] and [inaudible] to persistent threats [inaudible]. And on the issues [inaudible] operational [inaudible] apparent this is an issue that we need to work on and we have committed to addressing it and this is something we agreed on as part of the recommendations to follow up on this type of issue within the context of security which is obviously part of the natural disasters. It must be addressed and analyzed for the future.
In terms of the [inaudible] in terms of peacekeeping and [inaudible] disasters, what [inaudible] aspect of law and order? What commitment [inaudible] that every country has some particular difference in terms of our laws. So those commitments [inaudible]. The legislation of each country in order to [inaudible] standards and address this need. The need is the combined joint task force which we believe is the most adequate to take us towards appropriate response to this type of disaster.
QUESTION: a question for the Secretary of Defense. Do you -- My first question is the participation of the United States in the intelligence operations is going to increase in Central America and in Colombia in the next few days. Are you going to increase in manpower and resources [inaudible]?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I'm afraid the reception for these things is very poor and it's breaking up terribly, and I didn't understand your question at all.
The people with the microphones, if you could give them to people -- Do you still have your microphone? They've taken it away. Think of that.
Here's a man with a microphone, if someone wants it you should take it from him so you'll have a chance to ask a question.
Now go ahead.
QUESTION: I have two main questions but my first one is for example. Do you think today there is Latin American culture that could put the Latin American [stability] in danger? I mean the link between Cuba or Venezuela could be a little dangerous for Latin American stability? Or what is your opinion about it?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I'm afraid I just don't understand the question. I apologize. I don't get it.
QUESTION: When, talking about the Latin American -- I'm asking about the Latin American --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: You're asking about Latin American stability. Okay.
QUESTION: My question is do you believe there is a country that could put the Latin American stability in danger? The links between Cuba or Venezuela could be dangerous for Latin American stability, or what is your opinion about it?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, it seems to me that all of us who are interested in this region believe that democracy is the form of government that gives the people of this region the greatest opportunity for economic advancement, that provides the greatest opportunity for them to help guide and direct the course of their countries. They believe in free political systems and free economic systems, and believe that those who oppose those systems in other countries have the effect of making the lives of the people in the free countries more difficult.
The people of Central America all have their separate relationships with each other and with the other countries in the region and that's what sovereign nations do.
QUESTION: Have you cleared up the role of the joint military force on the issue of the gains in the region? We understand that there is a force that is going to address the issue of peacekeeping missions but people have also talked about the gang problem and the need for a joint effort. Are you talking about joint intelligence sharing information on the transnational links between [inaudible] or are you [inaudible] that force to combat the danger that [inaudible] represent?
GENERAL ROMERO: [Inaudible] a series of [inaudible]. For example, we have had a greater presence in our countries, [inaudible] to organized crime. Lately they have established relationships with [inaudible] and this has allowed them to arm themselves and be better equipped, turning into a [inaudible] larger force than we had some years ago. There is no doubt that this is due to the presence of drugs passing through for Central America. Before [inaudible], and now [inaudible] payment in kind which is part of the [inaudible] stays in our countries and strengthen the gangs or maras, as they call them in the area.
The effort that we're doing as a Central American region in trying to create a rapid response force to combat the threat, there is no doubt that it takes into account the presence of the maras or gangs as part of this problem. We cannot influence [inaudible] that in order to achieve stability in the region we need to [inaudible] as part of [inaudible] Central American stability.
QUESTION: Sir, I have a question about the missiles in Nicaragua. It is my understanding that you perhaps thought about this [inaudible] for Nicaragua. What you can tell us about that?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well I'm sure I can't tell you as much as the Minister from Nicaragua can, but the situation as I understand it is that progress has been made with respect to missiles in Nicaragua, that the cooperation of the government, the Minister, the armed forces has been excellent. There have been obstacles put in the way of completing the program for the destruction of those missiles, and at the present time the obstacles have slowed that process but that I've been assured that the existing missiles are being maintained in a secure manner which is reassuring.
Is that roughly what our discussion was?
MINISTER RAMIREZ: The missiles that are in the hands of the Nicaraguan Army are well guarded with extreme security measures. We have ensured that the warehouses are safe and we are also thankful for the trust that the U.S. government has shown our armed forces, the Ministry of Defense and the government of the republic, and we're sure that we will soon have excellent news in the matter of bilateral cooperation in military aspects. We are very thankful for that understanding from the government and the President [inaudible].
QUESTION: Could you just clarify, are we talking about one regional force that has three missions -- peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and then the emerging threat? Or is, since the peacekeeping training center in Guatemala is already up and running and being discussed in a regional context, is that a separate force, a separate mission? And have you requested equipment or training assistance from the U.S. to support these regional efforts?
MINISTER RAMIREZ: A couple of comments and then let Minister Breve say some comments. [Inaudible]. There are some legal impediments in some countries which prohibit the use of armed forces in operations outside of our borders but we are looking for the mechanism that will help us overcome legal obstacles. That is to say where the armed forces of our country do not have the jurisdiction for interdiction of [inaudible]. So we're trying to work on the legal mechanisms to find a solution, find a formula that will respect the legislation [inaudible].
MINISTER BREVE: rapid response forces to confront the emerging threats, specifically drug trafficking, terrorism, illegal trafficking and arms [rehearsals]. In this [inaudible] we have already regulated the units to be made up within each of the countries. [inaudible] and we have achieved a consensus in the past couple of days we have been working on it to get these forces to interact to get the right judicial framework so that they can move against specific operations related to the new threats and operate in several countries [inaudible]. The legal framework is being reviewed to see how we can find that quickness of action so we can respond adequately.
As far as peacekeeping operations, that's another independent mission, separate from this one, because we believe that we need trained personnel to be able to do this and also we have the humanitarian and rescue units which precisely are supposed to address natural disasters. That was the first unit that was created some years back through the Conference of Central American Armed Forces.
MINISTER ALDANA: Because Guatemala was mentioned and the peacekeeping operations I wanted to let our friends in the press here know that in fact as part of the broadening of the concept of peacekeeping operations and as an important support mechanism for the training of personnel that's going to participate in these operations by consensus and agreement as we always do in the Central American Armed Forces Conference, we approved the creation of a center in Guatemala, but only for peacekeeping operations. Only for that. Thank you.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Unless any of the Ministers here would like to make another statement we can probably make this the last question and then we'll thank you all for your attendance.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask the Ministers of Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize [inaudible] the creation of a transnational force on law and order and on natural disasters and emergencies?
MINISTER RAMOS: Thank you. I'm Rogelio Ramos, Minister of Public Security in Costa Rica. As you know in our country for the last 56 years has not had armed forces but we have come to this meeting because of the need to cooperate and coordinate with different countries, respecting their decisions and their institutions according to their constitutions.
We are facing these challenges in the legal framework and we're aware of the need to strengthen all of the legal systems. Obviously for Costa Rica it's impossible to participate in any type of this operation because of the constitutional prohibition on armed forces as a permanent institution. But we also advocate for in other organizations like SICA which is a political coordination body, that there is the possibility of being able to establish agreement and channels to act in order to confront these challenges.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Thank you very much, everybody. And thank you to the Ministers.