- - Monday, October 8, 2012

PUNTA DEL ESTE — Latin American nations must use their police and not their military forces to enforce the law, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Monday, telling defense ministers here that the U.S. will help them build their capabilities.

Speaking to a conference of defense ministers from the Americas, where militaries are often used to battle drug traffickers and other guerrilla groups, Mr. Panetta said the U.S. realizes it’s sometimes difficult to decide if a threat requires the use of the military or law enforcement.

“In some cases, countries have turned to their defense forces to support civilian authorities,” Mr. Panetta said in prepared remarks. “To be clear, the use of the military to perform civil law enforcement cannot be a long-term solution.”

Mr. Panetta’s comments were aimed at several Latin American countries that turn to their militaries to fight crime or help restore order, particularly for counterdrug operations or other instances to quell violent criminal cartels.

But countries here also have been critical, at times, of the U.S. for what they see as a similar blurring of the enforcement lines by America — particularly the detention center at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where suspected terrorists have been held since not long after the Afghanistan War began.

The U.S. can help countries ensure that they improve their abilities while still respecting human rights, laws and civilian authorities, Mr. Panetta said.

“We can and we will provide a helping hand, but ultimately civilian authorities must be able to shoulder this burden on their own,” he said.

In his remarks during the opening session of the 10th Conference of Ministers of Defense of the Americas, Mr. Panetta also encouraged the ministers to approve a new plan to set up a database that will allow the nations to better coordinate their responses to disasters.

This is Mr. Panetta’s second trip to South America this year as he works to expand U.S. military cooperation in the region and build on relationships that also can help shore up America’s interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

MEXICO

Magnitude-6 earthquake hits Gulf of California

MEXICO CITY — A magnitude-6 earthquake has shaken the Gulf of California coast in Mexico, but there were no reports of damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake hit at 11:26 p.m. Sunday local time and was centered 63 miles southwest of Los Mochis.

Local officials reported some panic but no known damage.

JAMAICA

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