By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
SANTIAGO, Chile – In talks here today with his Chilean counterpart and the nation’s head of government, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta discussed ongoing and emerging issues, from drug trafficking to cyber security, that the countries plan to address as partners.
During this first visit to the country as defense secretary, Panetta met with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and Defense Minister Andres Allamand at the Ministry of Defense in Chile’s capital and largest city, Santiago.
“The United States and Chile are neighbors, we are friends, and we have built a longstanding defense relationship founded on mutual respect, shared values and the goal of advancing peace and stability in this hemisphere and beyond,” Panetta said during a joint press conference this afternoon with Allamand.
“This shared goal has been the focus of my meetings throughout Latin America,” the secretary added, “and it was the focus of my meetings today with President Pinera and Minister Allamand.”
Chile is the third South American country Panetta has visited this week, after successful meetings with counterparts and officials in Colombia and Brazil.
In today’s meeting, Panetta said, he and Allamand continued a discussion that began last month in Washington, in which they considered how to enhance collaboration in areas of key interest to both nations.
The areas include enhancing the security capacity of nations in the hemisphere, countering illicit drug trafficking, meeting humanitarian needs, working together on issues like cyber security, confronting those who would undermine the stability of the nations, and examining defense institutional reform.
An example of the U.S.-Chile common effort to confront narcotics trafficking is called Operation Martillo, a multinational and interagency drug-interdiction effort to shut down illicit trafficking routes on both coasts of the Central American isthmus.
“Chile is making an important contribution to this effort,” Panetta said, “and earlier today the United States announced that, as part of Operation Martillo, our forces conducted a major drug bust off the coast of Panama, seizing $362 million worth of cocaine.”
The secretary commended the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service who were in the lead in that effort, with the support of the U.S. Southern Command.
“These are the kinds of results that strong partnerships can deliver,” he added.
“Today’s operation shows how important it is for countries in the region to cooperate and work together to confront these kinds of threats,” Panetta said, “and build even stronger mechanisms of regional security cooperation.”
Another example is the ongoing effort to strengthen regional security cooperation, the secretary said, “particularly as we look ahead to this year’s [October] Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas in Uruguay, which both the minister and I will be attending.”
Panetta and Allamand also discussed cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster response coordination.
“This initiative I believe will improve our ability to respond to natural disasters by creating a framework to share information, share expertise and deliver the capabilities that we absolutely need to help save lives for our people more quickly and more effectively,” Panetta said.
Chilean officials clearly understand what it means to respond to natural disasters, he added, and Chile’s critical lessons learned must be shared with the rest of the hemisphere.
“I commend Chile’s leadership in helping advance this proposal,” the secretary said, “and I look forward to working with them to try to make this a reality.
Panetta noted Chile’s success in helping those who suffered in Haiti’s 2010 earthquake and tsunami, and in December 2011 the hundreds evacuated from a massive forest fire that raged through Torres del Paine Park in Patagonia, one of the country's most popular national parks, destroying more than 21,000 acres.
“I commend the Chilean government and the Chilean people,” Panetta said, “because they are an inspiration to the United States and the world in overcoming adversity and emerging even stronger.”
Chile and the United States share more than a hemisphere, he said.
“We also share the Pacific Ocean, and we are both Pacific nations,” he said, adding that the security and prosperity of both nations depends on the Asia Pacific region.
“That’s where many of the key challenges and opportunities in the 21st century lie,” the secretary said.
Panetta detailed the Defense Department’s new defense strategy for 2020 and Chile’s important role.
Allamand said Chile was the first country in South America to sign a free-trade agreement with the United States, and that his nation is in the final stages of drafting its first national defense and security strategy.
Between Chile and the U.S., the defense minister said, “we share a lot of principles, in terms of what is the needed [for] a safer world.”
“ … We share concerns about the risks of what are called the new threats to security such as drug trafficking, organized crime, civil attacks, terrorism and arms proliferation,” he said.
“We agree on the importance of the Pacific and the need to safeguard the value of peace on regional and global levels,” Allamand added. “And we agree that in the future the global security of the world demands cooperation and innovative alliances among all countries.”
Panetta said the U.S.-Chile defense relationship in many ways is a fulfillment of the Defense Department’s new strategy.
“It is exactly the kind of partnership we need under the strategy to help advance global peace and global security,” the secretary said.
“So I’m very grateful to the minister and to the president and to the Chilean people for their friendship, for their shared commitment to building a safer world for the future,” he added.
“We are one family in this hemisphere, una famiglia, as we say in Italian,” Panetta said. “And like any family, we must work together to give our children a better life, a more secure life, and protect our people.”