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Cohen Renews Ties in South America

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRASILIA, Brazil, Nov. 12, 1999 – In Argentina, Brazil and Chile, democracy has triumphed where military dictators once ruled. Civilian control of the military, unheard of in the past, is now the way of the future.

"We have witnessed a dramatic transformation in recent years toward democracy," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said Nov. 11, at the start of a visit to South America. "This is an opportunity for me to reinforce the very positive developments we've had in recent years."

Argentina, Brazil and Chile -- geographically referred to as the continent's southern cone -- have gone through a tough period economically, Cohen told reporters enroute to Brazil's capital, Brasilia. The three nations are still in the process of realizing the benefits of democratic systems and open markets, he said.

Brazil, the world's fifth largest country in both size and population, became a democracy in 1985. Argentina became a democracy in 1983, and Chile in 1990.

Cohen, who last visited the three nations in May 1998, praised senior government leaders for having established "impressive relationships" with other South American countries and with the United States. "We have very good relations with all three countries," he said. "We hope to build upon them."

"Brazil, where I will visit first, has been very instrumental as far as their peacekeeping efforts," Cohen said, particularly the peace operations on Ecuador-Peru border. "They have also contributed to the peacekeeping effort in East Timor, showing that they have certainly international and global interests in promoting peace."

In 2000, Brazilian leaders plan to host the fourth Defense Ministerial of the Americas, a conference designed to advance regional cooperation throughout the Western Hemisphere. Although the agenda has not yet been finalized, Cohen said, defense ministers will most likely discuss regional peacekeeping, multinational engagement and greater transparency in defense relationships.

In June, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso swore in Elcio Alvarez, a former senator, as the nation's first civilian defense minister. This put Brazil's armed forces under civilian control for the first time. "This represents a very major step on the part of the Brazilian government," Cohen remarked.

In what would be Cohen's first meeting with Alvarez, the secretary said he planned to address ways to promote greater cooperation between U.S. and Brazilian forces. U.S. defense officials have proposed that Brazil participate more actively in the Center for Ministry of Defense Studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. This would allow U.S. officials to share lessons learned in shaping, reforming and modernizing DoD.

"We think it would be beneficial for them to have their chiefs of staff share in a seminar-type environment," Cohen said. "We have found it beneficial with Chile, Argentina and elsewhere to promote that kind of a seminar experience whereby you can have an exchange of ideas."

Military ties between U.S. and Brazilian forces date back to the 25,000-man WWII Brazilian Expeditionary Force that fought as part of the U.S. 5th army in the Italian Campaign. DoD now plans to establish a bilateral working group with Brazil that will meet annually. Cohen said an executive committee will meet more often to discuss ways to share information and promote greater bilateral relations.

Cohen said he expected Colombia's counter narcotics effort to be a topic of discussion. In all his meetings, he said these neighboring nations are genuinly concerned about the corrupting influence narco-trafficking and organized crime have on the region. Cohen's intention was to learn what local leaders think should be done to combat the scourge of drugs in the region.

"Everyone has an interest in Colombia dealing effectively with its counter narcotics program," Cohen said, but "that's an issue that Colombia must resolve for itself it must come from within and not externally."

The United States has tried to be supportive but can only provide assistance in a limited fashion, he said. "We do not in any way purport to have an interventionist policy."

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