On April 9th, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that Defense Secretary Robert Gates would be traveling to Peru, Colombia and the Caribbean “to reaffirm U.S. commitment to the region and promote closer defense cooperation.”
As we wrote last week on this blog, Defense Secretary Gates began his Latin America-focused week by signing a defense cooperation agreement with Brazil’s Defense Minister Nelson Jobim at the Pentagon on Monday. This accord will be the first in effect with Brazil in more than 30 years. The last one dates back to 1977.
According to Secretary Gates, “this agreement will lead to a deepening of U.S.-Brazil defense cooperation at all levels and will demonstrate how much more effectively we can confront shared security challenges when we work in partnership.” Transcripts of the remarks by Secretary Gates and Brazilian Minister of Defense Jobim at the signing of the agreement are available here.
There has been much comparison between the U.S.-Brazil agreement and the agreement the United States signed with Colombia last year. However, according to El Espectador, aside from the name “Defense Cooperation Agreement”, there is not much in common between them. The U.S.-Brazil agreement “has three fundamental differences: it does not allow presence of U.S. military personnel in the country and it does not include an immunity clause. Instead, it provides a broad general framework for cooperation in multiple subjects, among them information exchange, military exercises, research and development, and professor and student exchanges, which will not involve a lot of real changes.” The U.S.-Brazil defense deal does not reference a new base, as the Brazilian release stated, and contrary to the U.S.-Colombia agreement, it does not allow the use of Brazilian bases by the United States.
On April 13th, Gates arrived in Peru looking to broaden relations between both countries’ militaries and to help the Peruvian military “restructure themselves and be more focused on their internal challenges.” Gates told reporters traveling with him he also planned on raising the issue of human rights abuses by the Peruvian military and would encourage them to take advantage of training provided by the U.S. and Colombian militaries in the subject.
The next day, Secretary Gates met with Peruvian Defense Minister Rafael Rey where they talked about the importance of a future bilateral security agreement. Gates told reporters at Peruvian Army headquarters that the United States. is engaged in helping Peru with illicit trafficking, narcotics and terrorism. The discussion did not include the possibility of a U.S. military base in Peru. In a joint press conference, Minister Rey said, “We haven’t talked about the presence of American troops in Peru and we talked only about the continued deepening and the ongoing relationship between the United States and Peru.”
After the meeting with Defense Minister Rey, Gates encountered Peruvian President Alan García at the presidential palace for over an hour. Following the meeting, Gates told reporters they “had very wide areas of agreement.” They also discussed the “positive development of relations between the U.S. and Peru and the opportunities for a greater growth of that relationship in the future.”
On April 14th, Defense Secretary Gates continued his Latin American tour with a visit to Colombia, where he planned to “offer congratulations and support for Colombia’s progress in the fight against its insurgency and the lessons it is sharing with its neighbors in the region,” according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The next day, Gates met with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and Defense Minister Gabriel Silva Luján where he congratulated them for their “heroic” efforts against both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and paramilitary groups, and called Colombia an “exporter of security” and a model in the region for its fight against narcotrafficking and insurgency.
Gates later held a press conference with Silva where the Defense Secretary referred toVenezuelan-Colombian relations, saying the warning issued by the Colombian government cautioning its citizens against traveling to Venezuela “is clearly an expression of concern by the Colombian government.”
In an interview given to El Tiempo, he continued to talk about Venezuela. Asked if he thought there is an arms race in Latin America, he said, “I don’t think so. In fact, if there is an arms race, it only has one runner,” clearly referring to Venezuela but without explicitly naming it. Gates also told the reporter that he thinks Venezuela is less destabilizing to the region than it was a few years ago: “I think Venezuela faces severe internal and economic problems. That makes it a less attractive model for others.”
Defense Secretary Gates started his Caribbean part of the tour by arriving in Barbados on April 16th where he met seven Caribbean Island member states of the Regional Security System. In the press conference held after the meeting, Barbadian Prime Minister David Thompson said the issue of most importance discussed was “stemming the flow of illegal drugs.” In the same conference, Secretary Gates recognized “Barbados’ strong partnership in the area of security cooperation, especially its consistent support of the Department of Defense’s regional training programs.”
Gates then addressed the Regional Security System member states saying, “I want all the ministers to know that the United States understands the enormous challenges that you face in combating illicit trafficking and violent crime in the Eastern Caribbean, challenges that touch our shores as well.” Gates also referred to the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), recently allocated with $45 million for Fiscal Year 2010 and with an estimated increase of $25 million for Fiscal Year 2011. “That money will help us all improve our maritime patrol and interdiction capabilities, as well as domain awareness. It will also allow for additional joint training and exercises” and it will provide “development assistance in hopes of addressing the root causes of regional problems.” Technical working groups are still discussing how the money will be allocated specifically.