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Secretary Mattis Delivers Remarks at the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas


Fellow ministers, members of the delegations, I am grateful to join you here today and have an opportunity to pay my respects – my ‘respeto,’ my ‘respeito’ – to you and your armed forces.

General Cienfuegos, Admiral Soberon, my friends, thank you for hosting us at this beautiful oasis on the sea. Not even a little rain can hide the beauty of your country. In bringing us together, Mexico continues to show important strategic leadership building trusted relationships between us based on respect, cooperation, and mutual understanding.

Thank you as well for Mexico’s leadership in support of Central American and Caribbean security and defense, particularly your activities to address humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and instability that is resulting from drug trafficking organizations. We share our respects with you for your leadership.

In August, I traveled to South America, visiting our colleagues in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. And Mr. President, I came back convinced that ours is a fortunate hemisphere, for all the real problems we face – one that is imbued with great opportunity. From Ottawa to Buenos Aires to Santiago, from south to north and from east to west, our nations increasingly represent an island of democratic stability amidst a global sea of instability due to malign influence.

Opportunities for continued defense partnerships, like this Conference, are critical for realizing our shared vision of a collaborative, prosperous, and secure regional order, one that benefits all our nations, no matter their size.

The few exceptions to this shared view, the sad and unresponsive leadership of Cuba, and the disasters of Nicaragua and Venezuela, cannot hide from the reality they face as the world recognizes that the Cuba model no longer works for anyone, even Cuba.

But democracy is working.  Our democratic nations send a message as we uphold our shared values, including respect for human rights, the rule of law, and sovereignty.

And that message reverberates around the globe. 

It does so in nations like China and Russia who do not ascribe to our shared vision for a peaceful and prosperous region, who instead threaten sovereignty with predatory investments, piling up massive debt and seeking undue influence over other countries’ diplomatic, political, and economic decisions.

In response to the defense and security challenges we face, we should remain steadfast in our commitment to foster greater understanding and cooperation among us.

We see the positive impact our growing partnerships have for ensuring peace and stability in this region and beyond.  We see it in this very room as we listen with respect to each other and the vision we have so we can collaborate better together.

We reinforce these growing partnerships in our discussions as we explore avenues for enhancing our collective teamwork, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts, working problems that transcend politics and borders.

In tackling such difficult challenges together, we prove that like-minded nations are stronger when we collaborate, that we are then more responsive in serving our populations when disaster strikes.

So I express my support for making humanitarian assistance and disaster relief a permanent theme for the CDMA and for the Inter-American Defense Board to play a more intense role in strengthening regional HA/DR cooperation, and my Department will stand with you, will stand alongside you, when trouble looms.

Our decision to send the hospital ship U.S. Navy Ship Comfort to the region to help relieve strain on health care systems overloaded by an influx of hundreds of thousands – for Colombia, over a million – Venezuelans who have had to flee that crisis-racked nation represents our commitment to you in the interest of humanity. We note that in the midst of this disaster – this manmade disaster – in Venezuela that Russia is sending a bomber, while the U.S. Navy is sending a hospital ship with doctors.

I note your medical professionals will serve alongside U.S. personnel on the USNS comfort, and we will all be better for it.

As we share best practices and focus on building strong, transparent, and effective defense institutions, I want to highlight the work of the William J. Perry Center in assisting partners with defense institution building. I believe the Center might prove helpful as we discuss how best to leverage the immense talent that exists within our forces to build the most capable, the most ethical, and the most trusted forces possible.

I offer my congratulations to you, General Cienfuegos, and to Brazil’s Superior War College, General Silva e Luna, for recently receiving the Perry Center individual and institutional awards for their work in defense and security.

I regret the rainstorm is going to force me to leave early today, ladies and gentlemen, but before I close, I just want to note that as a sign of my personal commitment to building relationships –trusting relationships – and solidarity with you, I have with me my Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, as many of you know, Sergio de la Pena; I have my NORTHCOM Commander General O’Shaughnessy here, as well as our SOUTHCOM Commander Admiral Tidd; and should our Senate confirm him, I have our next Southern Command Commander, Admiral Faller. We come here to listen, take notes, and discuss how we can work more closely with you.

Ministers, we are committed to working alongside you to ensure that our hemisphere – from Baffin Island and Alaska in the north to Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn in the south – is the most calm, prosperous and respected region on earth.

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.