by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) April 23, 2012
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta begins his first Latin America tour Monday, traveling to Colombia, Brazil and Chile to bolster bilateral military cooperation and regional security ties.
Panetta is "looking to expand the defense and security cooperation with three important countries in the world, increasingly important players on the regional stage but also in terms of their leadership internationally," press secretary George Little told reporters last week.
Panetta, who took as defense secretary last year, was due to make stops in Bogota, Rio de Janeiro and Santiago, Little said.
"These are three countries on the upswing in the recent years and it is time for us to increase our cooperation," he said.
The defense secretary's tour will begin in Bogota. He will be the first by a senior US official to visit Colombia after a scandal involving US Secret Service agents who used the services of prostitutes ahead of Summit of the Americas in Cartagena.
Colombia has helped train thousands of police officers in Mexico and Central America in recent years, and this assistance was expected to increase following the signing of a bilateral agreement with Washington during the summit.
"In the context of limited resources in the US for defense, we have an opportunity to partner together so they can become security exporters," a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
"Absent this kind of discussion, we could step on each others toes, we could be missing out opportunities."
The Pentagon is facing drastic budget cuts in the next five years.
Panetta will meet with his Colombian counterpart, Juan Carlos Pinzon and President Juan Manuel Santos in Bogota.
During the visit, there could an announcement about aid to the country, Pentagon sources said.
On Tuesday, Panetta will travel to Brazil for meetings with Defense Minister Celso Amorim and President Dilma Rousseff.
While the partnership with Bogota remains strong, the recent cancelation of a $380 million contract with Brazil to buy aircraft manufactured by Embraer for the Afghan army has clouded the relationship with the South American giant.
The Pentagon has called for a new round of bidding for the contract, but in any case, the equipment will not be delivered before 2014.
Panetta is willing to discuss the issue with his Brazilian counterpart, a senior official said, without offering further details.
But the case can affect a $5-billion megacontract considered by Brazil, which wants to buy 36 new fighters for its Air Force. The bidders for this piece of defense pie include Boeing, French Dassault and Swedish Saab.
Washington also wants to discuss with Brazilian officials cooperation in Africa on issues such as Peace Corps volunteer training and security arrangements for the upcoming World Cup and the Olympic Games.
"These world class sport events could be the focus of attacks," the senior official said. "We're grateful for being able to provide support to our partners."
After a stop in Rio de Janeiro to give a speech at a military academy, Panetta will travel to Chile, where Panetta wants to talk about the country's experience in using the military during natural disasters.
He will meet with Defense Minister Andres Allamand and President Sebastian Pinera.
The United States is also preparing for the next meeting of defense ministers of the Americas, which will be held in Montevideo in October.
At that meeting, as many as 14 countries could join an accord establishing a regional military cooperation mechanism in case of natural disasters, another official told reporters.
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China scandal exposes elite's impunity, need for change
Beijing (AFP) April 22, 2012
A sensational political scandal unfolding in China has exposed the high level of impunity enjoyed by elites at a time when social tensions are rising, highlighting the need for change, observers say. The affair - which toppled Bo Xilai, one of the Communist Party's stars, and prompted authorities to probe his wife for murder - has played out in an unusually public manner despite the best e ... read more
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