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More Militaries in Latin America Committing to Democratic Institutions

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

MANAGUA, Nicaragua, Oct. 3, 2006 – More countries in Latin America are accepting the concept of civilian control of the military and committing themselves to supporting democratic institutions.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, here for a meeting of Western Hemisphere defense ministers, said he believes the concept of civilian control is “rather well-ingrained in the region.”

“If you think back not too many years ago, many of the nations in this hemisphere were not democratic. We’ve seen a strong movement towards democratic institutions in the hemisphere,” Rumsfeld said today during a news conference at Nicaragua’s presidential palace. “Many, many nations have moved from where they were to a situation where they do have civilian control of the military, just as we happen to in the United States.”

Rumsfeld said there are many differences among countries in this region and that countries devise the system that works best for them. “No one can predict the future, I would say, but there are clear advantages to a country that’s democratic to have an arrangement with their military that involves civilian control,” he said.

Civilian leadership of militaries is generally very strong throughout Latin America, Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of U.S. Southern Command, said. SOUTHCOM is responsible for military operations throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Craddock noted that Honduras’s government recently changed hands from one party to another after an election, yet the chief of defense stayed on through the transition -- a first in this region.

“These are indicators that the militaries here are apolitical to the extent that they’re not pulled into the politics of the day,” Craddock told reporters. “I think that’s very positive, and we need to support that.”

In an interview with reporters traveling with Rumsfeld, Maj. Gen. Omar Halleslevens, chief of the Nicaraguan army, said he was absolutely sure his military would follow the orders of Nicaragua’s elected leaders, regardless of who wins national elections here in early November.

“We have said, we say, and we will say that politics is for politicians, and the Nicaraguan army is for what the constitution says and what the law says,” he said through an interpreter.

He said the Nicaraguan army has undergone a sea change since the late 1980s, when a political party controlled the military. Now, top military officials are embracing democratic institutions, he said.

In response to a reporter’s question, Halleslevens said he is as sure that his army will remain under civilian control as he is sure that two plus two equals four.

“I can guarantee that while Omar Halleslevens is part of the army, the army is going to be apolitical,” he said.

Thirty-three ministers of defense and security from Western Hemisphere nations -- all countries in the Americas except Cuba -- are meeting here this week to discuss issues of common concern. Most discussions revolved around counternarcotics, gangs, and other transnational and non-traditional threats. This is the seventh such conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas; Rumsfeld has attended three.

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Biographies:
Donald H. Rumsfeld
Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, USA

Related Sites:
U.S. Southern Command

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