Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Andres Oppenheimer, Miami Herald
QUESTION: Secretary Rumsfeld, thank you very much for your time, I appreciate it.
RUMSFELD: You bet. Happy to do it.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you've made two visits to Latin America over the past five months. Do you feel the U.S. military is losing influence in the region or what's the reason why you're going, you have been going so often to Latin America recently?
RUMSFELD: Well, certainly not to your specific question. We have excellent military to military relationships in the hemisphere and have for a good many years.
I suppose the answer to your question as to why I go to Latin America is that I've been doing it for decades. As a government official over the years, and also as a businessman, I used to visit there. We had a number of businesses that I would meet with our leaders there.
And it's important to the United States and certainly to the hemisphere that we have countries that are democratic, that are developing economically, and where we have good security relationships.
I suppose one of the things that concerns me, besides just a general desire to strengthen the inter-American system to the extent we can, is that there are some problems. Certainly the problems of crime and gangs and narcotics and weapon trafficking and hostage taking: all of these antisocial activities that we see not just in this hemisphere but elsewhere in the world are things that need attention. They also have a unique aspect to them. They tend to be things that can't be solved by any one country.
QUESTION: But Mr. Secretary you mentioned crime, gangs, weapons, trafficking, aren't you concerned about the possibility of an arms race in Latin America? Venezuela is buying Russian, Spanish, Brazilian weapons; Chile and Brazil are buying new fighter jets. Is that something that concerns you?
RUMSFELD: It seems to me that if you have a peaceful democratic country that for whatever reason desires to have certain kinds of capabilities, that's one thing. If you have a country that ends up buying 100,000 AK-47s you have to ask the question: What are they going to do with them all? One has to worry about the proliferation of these weapons that end up getting brought into the region from elsewhere.
But I think that it's a fair question that I posed in answer to a question I received during one of my press conferences.
QUESTION: Mr. Rumsfeld, you say you talk about Venezuela's 100,000 AK-47s, have you talked to the Russians about it? And what evidence do we have that Venezuela may actually not use them for its armed forces and give it away to the FARC or to somebody else?
RUMSFELD: I don't have any evidence, and I indicated that. All I said was, I asked the question, what in the world, what threat does Venezuela see that makes them want to have all those weapons for an army that's considerably smaller than that number?
The answer is yes, I did raise this with the Russians.
QUESTION: What did they say?
RUMSFELD: They indicated at the time that I discussed it with them, they indicated that they didn't know how many they would actually sell them and they didn't know whether or not Venezuela would actually buy them. And I just left it there.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, but the other weapons, the MiG jet fighters, the Spanish patrol boats, the aircraft that Venezuela is buying from Brazil, are those things that the U.S. is concerned about?
RUMSFELD: I guess the concern is what countries do with those capabilities. I personally think that Spain is making a mistake, but that's my personal opinion. And I guess time will tell. The problem is that if one waits until time tells it can be an unhappy story.
QUESTION: Is the United States planning to give or sell to Colombia equivalent weapons?
RUMSFELD: I don't have any plans to sell anything particularly. We obviously recognize the circumstance that the government of Colombia is in and we have been trying to be helpful to them in their effort against people that are trying to attack that democracy and engage in hostage-taking and drug trafficking and various types of crime and anti-governmental activities. We and other countries in the region are all hopeful that the government of Colombia will be successful and I must say I think they've made some good progress.
QUESTION: Secretary Rumsfeld, the Venezuela President, Chavez, has said that the Bush administration is planning to kill him and/or to invade Venezuela. What are the chances of any of that happening?
RUMSFELD: I think that's ridiculous.
QUESTION: That's it? I mean governments do contingency plans all the time. Is there any far-off possibility that the U.S. may be contemplating something along those lines?
RUMSFELD: No. I've told you what I've said and it's a perfect answer. It's ridiculous.
QUESTION: Secretary, one of the biggest issues when we talk about Venezuela is the claims and counter-claims that Chavez is supporting the FARC guerrillas in Colombia and the coca grower leader Evo Morales in Bolivia, and other groups in Peru and Ecuador. To what extent do you believe that that's true? I mean is this a fear or is this, is there reason to believe that that's the case or is there evidence that that's the case?
RUMSFELD: Well, --
QUESTION: If you want we can go one by one. The FARC guerrillas in Colombia.
RUMSFELD: Let me just answer it very simply. If you got up in the morning and you looked around the world and said: Which countries are helpful to Colombia in attempting to establish order and sovereignty over their geography, and in attempting to secure and promote a democratic country, and attempting to provide economic opportunity for their people, and attempting to provide security so the people of the country can go about their jobs and let their children go to school without the fear of being attacked, and where there's not hostage-taking. If you ask which countries are being helpful, you would not put Venezuela on that list.
QUESTION: But one thing is not being helpful and something very different is providing moral, political, financial or weapon support to guerrillas.
RUMSFELD: I'm well aware of the differences. I have answered you exactly the way I care to which is they have not been helpful. And other countries in the region have been helpful to Colombia and certainly the United States and the people of the United States are hopeful that the government of Colombia is successful in its very constructive, peaceful efforts.
QUESTION: Secretary, what about Venezuela's aid to Evo Morales in Bolivia? Is there any evidence of that?
RUMSFELD: You know, I'm not going to get into this discussion that you're trying to walk me into here.
I get up and I look at the world and I say to myself there are some very good things happening in Latin America. The overwhelming majority of the countries are democratic, and the overwhelming majority are developing constructive relationships with each other. If you take Central America, it's really a magic time where you have almost all of those countries leaning forward, working together, trying to develop stronger political and economic and security relationships to the benefit of the entire region there. So there's a lot good that's happening in that region, in the hemisphere, and my hope and prayer is that the forces for democracy and the forces for economic opportunity for the people of Latin America will prevail.
I look for countries that are leaning forward to help in that, to strengthen the inter-American system and to play a -- I think of the countries that are helping in Haiti, for example, and what a constructive thing that is that they are sending their troops into Haiti to try and be helpful and stabilize that part of the world.
Now, can you find places that are not being helpful? Sure. Do you wish that weren't the case? Sure. But it's never been perfect in life. But I must say I think the hemisphere is generally moving very much in the right direction.
QUESTION: Secretary, when you mention that the countries are helpful and others are not helpful, in your recent visit to Argentina and Brazil, what was the reaction to, when you raised the issue of Venezuela and U.S. concerns, that Chavez may try to destabilize the region? Did you find them helpful or neutral or unhelpful?
RUMSFELD: I didn't raise that issue in the way you phrased it, so the discussion didn't happen that way.
QUESTION: Could you tell us what did you raise and how you raised it?
RUMSFELD: We talked about the entire hemisphere. We talked about their cooperation with other countries. We talked about our bilateral relationship and how we could strengthen that. We talked about our military to military relationships. We talked about the importance of countries asserting sovereignty as Brazil is, for example, with the SIVAM activity among other things. And the subject came up of Venezuela and its behavior, but certainly nothing that I'd want to describe for you. I let other countries describe their own circumstances and their own bilateral relationships.
QUESTION: One of the things that has led to a decrease in U.S. military presence of military aid to Latin America is the whole issue of the International Criminal Court. Is there a lessening of military ties with Latin America because of that? And is there a concern on your side that sort of China could be filling that gap?
RUMSFELD: Well, as you know the International Criminal Court is not something that the United States is supporting. Within the International Criminal Court treaty is a provision where countries can sign an Article 98 agreement and have it not apply in certain circumstances. We now have something like 98 countries that have signed those with us. Our Congress has put some stipulations down that affect certain aspects of our bilateral relationships with countries that have not yet signed and ratified an Article 98 agreement. But I think it's the kind of thing that we'll work our way through as we have been and we seem to be doing so.
I've got to run to another meeting. I do want to --
QUESTION: Let me ask you one last question on the Minutemen on the Mexican border. What is your position on these civilians trying to patrol the border and keep migrants from coming in?
RUMSFELD: The Department of Defense of the United States has no role with respect to borders, and it's not something that we're involved with, and the President of the United States has commented on it. It’s not within the jurisdiction of --
QUESTION: The last thing, Secretary. China. You haven't responded to my question on China.
RUMSFELD: What about China?
QUESTION: Whether China is sort of filling the gap of the decrease in military cooperation between the U.S. and Latin American countries as a result of the International Criminal Court issue.
RUMSFELD: I wouldn't think so, no.
QUESTION: Okay, Mr. Secretary.
RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
RUMSFELD: You bet. Good to talk to you.
QUESTION: Thanks, bye.