U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said in Nicaragua he is eager to promote better military relationships in the Western Hemisphere. Rumsfeld is in Central America for two days of talks with his counterparts from more than 30 countries across the Americas.
Defense ministers from the Western Hemisphere gathered for a closed-door meeting in Nicaragua's capital, Managua, for talks on strengthening military cooperation. It is the first time the biennial summit is being held in a Central American country.
Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos opened the meeting Monday asking the conference to create an international center for humanitarian minesweeping in his country, which still suffering from years of civil war.
On the ministers' agenda for the day was the discussion of common threats their countries face, including terrorism, organized crime, drug-trafficking and gang violence.
As the summit got under way, Pentagon officials indicated that the United States is set to restore aid for military training programs for nine countries in the region, including Brazil and Uruguay, but not Venezuela.
Up until now, the Bush administration has linked aid for military training programs to agreements that would exempt U.S. service members from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. An announcement is expected soon that President Bush has signed a waiver to release military aid to those countries.
Professor Frank Mora, of the National War College, said restoring training programs will provide a tremendous boost to military relations.
"This provides an opportunity for the U.S. military to work with Latin American militaries for future missions, such as peacekeeping missions around the world," said Frank Mora. "You know Latin American militaries are perhaps the most engaged militaries in UN peacekeeping operations."
Guatemala has 218 soldiers in Congo, Haiti, Burundi and other countries on humanitarian missions. And El Salvador has troops participating in the U.S.-led forces in Iraq. Professor Mora said U.S. military training programs in Latin America also benefit political ties:
"This is an important program that has not just a security and defense dimension to it, but it has a diplomatic dimension to it, in which we establish relationships," he said. "They come over here and they visit and they go to school and they train. And they understand and they are exposed to civil-military relations in the US and so on and so forth."
Venezuela's Defense Minister General Raul Baduel said Monday his country's recent military buildup is not a threat to the region, but neighboring countries and the Organization of American States have expressed concern.