U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is attending a meeting of defense ministers in Quito, said Tuesday countries in Latin America must cooperate in combating illegal drug trafficking and terrorism. Speaking to reporters in Quito, Ecuador, he said he hopes to strengthen regional security.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the United States, in its plans for regional cooperation, would take into account Colombia's struggle against drug traffickers, leftist guerrillas and rightist paramilitaries. The United States provides training and logistical support to Colombia's government, but Mr. Rumsfeld said Washington does not want to interfere with the country's own policy and strategies. "The plan is Colombia's plan. And to the extent that they decide that circumstances change and they want to adjust the plan, that's for Colombia to do in consultation with the countries that want to cooperate with them," he said.
In Ecuador, the regional "Plan Colombia" has stirred controversy as a rising numbers of Colombians cross the border to flee violence. The Congress's recent attempt to impeach President Lucio Gutierrez was, in part a protest against his backing of Ecuador's involvement in the U.S.-sponsored regional security plan. Opponents of the plan argue it compromises the country's sovereignty and national security.
But during President Gutierrez's meeting with Mr. Rumsfeld, crowds of people surrounded the government palace, shouting pro-government slogans. Several anti-Gutierrez protesters were removed by the police.
Mr. Rumsfeld is in Latin America for a conference of defense ministers from the Western Hemisphere, which is expected to address key regional concerns, including drug trafficking, terrorism and internal strife in several countries, including Colombia and Ecuador.
The defense secretary has said these problems are increasingly regional and can only be solved through regional cooperation.