SANTIAGO, Chile – Other Western Hemisphere nations must control their own territories better to combat drug trafficking, terrorism and other crime that thrives in ungoverned areas, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a regional security meeting Tuesday.
Hemisphere security depends on eliminating the havens that international criminals use, Rumsfeld said at the defense ministers' meeting. He left the meeting Tuesday and stopped Tuesday night in Washington on the way to a NATO summit in Prague, Czech Republic.
"In this hemisphere, narcoterrorists, hostage takers and arms smugglers operate in ungoverned areas, using them as bases from which to destabilize democratic governments," Rumsfeld said. "Elected governments have the responsibility to exercise sovereign authority, conferred at the ballot box, throughout their national territories."
Rumsfeld proposed that military forces in the Americas work together to coordinate regional naval operations and global peacekeeping functions.
His speech was part of a Pentagon strategy developed after the Sept. 11 terror attacks to strengthen military cooperation among countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Declarations of support from the Organization of American States and offers from individual countries to help in the war on terrorism showed U.S. officials the benefit of regional cooperation, a defense official traveling with Rumsfeld said.
Instead of focusing on single problems like drug trafficking, the Pentagon foresees new cooperation among regional countries to fight common roots of such problems: holes in the security umbrella, areas effectively beyond governments' control and the development of new, flexible and international networks that often combine the threats of drugs, terror, piracy and arms smuggling.
In a speech to the summit, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos urged regional leaders to work together to protect their territories.
"We have to be particularly careful in the isolated areas of our territory that could be targets for terrorism or drug trafficking," Lagos said. "We have to provide clear responses when our territories are invaded by these types of activities."
Lagos also said that Colombia's civil war is a regional problem that Latin American countries must work together to solve.
Rumsfeld, in an interview with the Chilean newspaper La Tercera, agreed and said that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe understands that his country's problems cannot be solved by one country alone.
The United States also would like to expand its military relations in the region, which largely have been based on direct country-to-country ties, to help coordinate and benefit from ties among all democracies in the region, the defense official said.
In the Caribbean, for example, other countries have had to step in to fill the gap left by the transfer of U.S. maritime resources to the war on terrorism. That area's economy depends almost exclusively on tourism and international trade, neither of which can flourish without the appearance and the reality of a secure environment.
Similarly, South American countries, such as Chile, that depend heavily on trade with Europe have a strong interest in protecting the Panama Canal.
Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials are trying vigorously to show wary countries in the region that the Pentagon wants to facilitate cooperation among Latin American nations, not impose its will on them.
"I'm not here to press Latin American countries to do anything," Rumsfeld said during a Monday news conference with Chilean Defense Minister Michelle Bachelet.
The United States is holding out the carrot of helping countries with equipment, information and expertise so they can cooperate better with each other.
Rumsfeld is committed to providing substantial money for such efforts, said a defense official traveling with him. The official commented on condition of anonymity and would not be more specific on the aid.
Colombia's defense minister, Marta Lucia Ramirez, said that Latin American countries should work together through the Organization of American States to exchange information on organized crime, which she called "a new modern form of slavery."
"After this conference we should have, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, a commitment to close our territory to criminal organizations," Ramirez said.