By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
April 9, 2010 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will focus next week on Latin America, signing a defense agreement with Brazil, then visiting Peru, Colombia and the Caribbean to reaffirm U.S. commitment to the region and promote closer defense cooperation. Gates will kick off the week hosting Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim at the Pentagon on April 12, where Brazil and the United States will sign a defense cooperation agreement aimed at deepening and broadening their military-to-military relationships, a senior defense official told reporters.
The accord, the two countries' first formal defense arrangement since 1977, is more "aspirational" than specific, the official said. But he called it "a big deal" that establishes a formal framework for more military-to-military engagement and exchanges, information-sharing and cooperation in defense-related research and development.
In Peru, Gates' meetings with President Alan Garcia and Defense Minister Rafael Rey are expected to focus on its fight against illicit drug trafficking and the Shining Path terrorist organization. The Shining Path had been all but neutralized in Peru, but has begun to surface in recent years through sporadic violent attacks funded largely through cocaine trafficking, the official said.
Gates, who hosted Rey at the Pentagon in February, will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to helping the Lima government confront what it has declared its top security challenge, the official said.
In Colombia, Gates will offer congratulations and support for that country's fight against its own internal threat, the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, known as FARC, and other paramilitary groups.
The secretary is slated to meet with President Alvaro Uribe and Defense Minister Gabriel Silva Luján to discuss progress in that offensive, with support from the U.S.-funded Plan Colombia and a new defense cooperation agreement.
The U.S.-Colombian Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed in October, formalized the military-to-military relationship between the two countries to better address narcotics production and trafficking, terrorism, illicit smuggling and humanitarian and natural disasters.
The meeting is expected to be Gates' last with Uribe before the Colombian president leaves office in August. As Gates acknowledges Uribe's accomplishments during the past eight years, Gates will offer assurance of continued U.S. support for the next Colombian administration, the official said.
"He will make clear that our commitment to Colombia is not to a government or president. It is a state-to-state commitment," he said.
Gates will wrap up his Latin America trip in Barbados, expressing support for the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative aimed at curbing drug trafficking and other trans-border threats.
President Barack Obama announced the initiative at the Summit of the Americas in April 2009 to promote regional cooperation in confronting security challenges that extend beyond any one country's border. His fiscal 2011 budget request includes almost $73 million in military and economic aid for the program.