U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spent this week in South America working to build relations with Colombia, Brazil and Chile. At a time when the U.S. military faces hundreds of billions of dollars in budget cuts, the Pentagon hopes to rely more on its Latin American partners to deal with growing drug trafficking and terrorist threats in the region.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stopped first in Colombia, where U.S. trained commandos welcomed him with a hostage rescue demonstration and other maneuvers at a base two hours from Bogota.
Colombian forces, with billions of dollars in U.S. training and equipment, have made major progress against drug traffickers and armed groups. The country is quickly shedding its violent image. Colombian troops now are passing on their experience by training security forces of other Latin American nations.
Handing off more responsibility to its regional partners is what the United States wants at a time when its defense budget is shrinking and the threats of drug trafficking and terrorism are growing as are other threats to regional stability.
Venezuela and its military buildup was not on the official agenda, but Panetta voiced concerns over what he said is that country's lack of transparency. "The United States does not object to the development of a strong military that provides security and that helps establish regional security. So, what Venezuela is doing in strengthening their military, we don't object to the fact that they are strengthening their military. What we would be concerned about is how they use that military in this part of the world," he said.
Panetta stopped next in Brazil, where the U.S. is seeking help in training the armed forces of African nations against a growing threat by terrorist groups.
The defense secretary spoke to officers at a war college in Rio de Janeiro.
"This is a relationship, the United States and Brazil, the relationship between two global powers, and we welcome Brazil's growing strength. We support Brazil as a global leader, and seek closer defense cooperation because we believe that a stronger and more globally engaged Brazil will help enhance international security for all of us," Penetta said.
Panetta is urging Brazil to buy advanced U.S. Super Hornet fighter jets, while Brazil wants the United States to purchase the Brazilian Super Tucano fighter aircraft for use by Afghan forces.
Panetta ended his tour in Chile, where he reinforced an already strong partnership with one of America's closest allies in the region.