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Western defense chiefs strategize in Quito

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hailed cooperation in securing Haiti, while pressing Wednesday  for more help from Latin American governments in the war on terrorism.
/ Source: The Associated Press

American officials are praising the Brazil-led peacekeeping mission in Haiti as an example of beneficial security cooperation among Latin American countries, even as the U.N. operation faces criticism for not doing enough to secure Haiti.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld talked up the Haiti example in Quito, where he and other Western Hemisphere defense ministers are gathered for a conference starting Wednesday. As in Haiti, the hemisphere’s countries should be cooperating on a range of security issues including fighting terror and narcotics trafficking, Rumsfeld said.

“The coalition in Haiti demonstrates anew that Latin America has the potential to take on ever more significant global roles,” he told the conference in prepared remarks. Rumsfeld called the Haiti mission “unprecedented collaboration.”

Besides Brazil, the Haiti mission draws soldiers and police from Argentina, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia and several countries from outside Latin America.

Defense chiefs from several nations, meeting privately here Tuesday, voiced concern that the United Nations was not bringing in additional security forces quickly enough, said a U.S. defense official, describing the discussions on condition of anonymity. Countries represented at the meeting included the United States, Argentina and Brazil.

Call for more help in Haiti
Brazil’s defense minister, Jose Viegas Filho, called on other nations, particularly those in the Caribbean, to send security forces. Caribbean nations have been reluctant to assist in Haiti because of concerns of how the U.S.-backed administration is governing.

More than 8,300 soldiers and police are authorized for the force, but only 5,700 are in-country, according to U.N. figures.

Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina are considering sending more troops, the American official said. The U.S. government may also begin providing further humanitarian aid and surveillance information to the peacekeepers, the official said.

Political and criminal violence, coupled with natural disasters, left thousands of Haitians dead this year. Fighting has continued since the arrival of the U.N. force.

Rumsfeld seeks anti-terror, anti-drug deals
Rumsfeld discussed the Haiti situation with his counterparts and told reporters he hopes to strengthen regional security agreements aimed at stopping narcotics and terror organizations.

Despite Rumsfeld’s calls for cooperation across Latin America, significant differences exist between the policies of the United States and those of many of the largest countries in Latin America.

Many opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq and push a U.N.-based multilateral foreign policy. Only a few sent troops to Iraq, and just one Western Hemisphere country, El Salvador, still has troops with the United States in the coalition fighting the insurgency.

In other areas, though, U.S. officials say cooperation is strong, pointing to the sharing of intelligence and law enforcement information, joint naval exercises and efforts to track drug shipments.

“The complex challenges of this new era require that all elements of state and society work together,” Rumsfeld told the conference.

Still, his calls for cooperation are not universally celebrated, given the unpopularity of U.S. foreign policy in some quarters.

On Tuesday, he met with Ecuador’s embattled president, Lucio Gutierrez, and Defense Minister Nelson Herrera.

Rumsfeld reiterated U.S. support for Gutierrez, who in recent months has faced repeated calls for his resignation amid corruption allegations. He also faces domestic criticism for fostering such close ties with the United States.

“I had a good meeting with the president and his foreign minister and his senior advisers,” Rumsfeld told reporters. “We expressed our strong support for constitutional democracy.”

Potential for cross-border terror
Herrera repeatedly emphasized Ecuador’s sovereignty in dealing with international terror, drug trafficking and other problems that trouble the region.

Asked about the civil war in neighboring Colombia, Herrera responded, “The problem of Colombia is the problem of Colombia. The problem of Ecuador is the problem of Ecuador.”

Colombia and Ecuador cooperate to some degree, and Rumsfeld praised their efforts. A senior Colombian rebel leader, Simon Trinidad, was captured in Quito in January and turned over to the Colombian government. Ecuador, fearful that Colombia’s civil war might spill over the border, patrols its frontier extensively with the aid of U.S.-supplied communications equipment and vehicles.

The problem of international terrorist organizations operating in the region also is also on the conference agenda.

Rumsfeld previously has acknowledged fears that international terrorist organizations would spirit operatives into the United States over the U.S. border. He also has said the Middle Eastern groups Hamas and Hezbollah raise money in parts of South America with significant Islamic populations.