QUITO, Ecuador — Latin American countries must work together to counter drug trafficking and international terrorism, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.
Mr. Rumsfeld, in South America for a conference of Western Hemisphere defense ministers beginning today, told reporters that he hopes to strengthen regional security agreements in the Americas aimed at stopping narcotics and terrorist organizations.
He met with Ecuadorean President Lucio Gutierrez and Defense Minister Nelson Herrera and was later to meet with his counterparts from Brazil, Argentina and several Central American countries.
It was not clear how much of a willing ear his pitch received from Mr. Herrera, who, in a press conference with Mr. Rumsfeld, repeatedly emphasized his country’s sovereignty in dealing with international terrorism, drug trafficking.
Asked about the civil war in Colombia, Mr. Herrera responded in Spanish, “The problem of Colombia is the problem of Colombia. The problem of Ecuador is the problem of Ecuador.”
In truth, Colombia and Ecuador cooperate to some degree, and Mr. Rumsfeld praised these efforts. A senior Colombian rebel leader, Simon Trinidad, was captured in Quito in January and turned over to the Colombian government.
The U.S. government provides training, intelligence and weapons to support Colombia’s government in its civil war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s main leftist rebel group known by its Spanish acronym FARC, and a smaller rebel group known as the ELN.
Mr. Rumsfeld didn’t address Mr. Herrera’s comments, but said of drugs, terrorism and organized crime: “In the 21st century, we are finding these problems are increasingly global and regional. They are not problems that affect only one country, and as such they cannot be solved by only one country.”
Despite Mr. Rumsfeld’s calls for cooperation, there are significant gaps between the policies of the United States and many of the largest countries in Latin America. Many opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq and push a U.N.-based multilateral foreign policy. Only a few sent troops to Iraq, and only one country in the Western Hemisphere other than the United States — El Salvador — still has troops there.
Also expected to be on the conference’s agenda is the ongoing peacekeeping effort in Haiti — which has drawn hundreds of troops from several Latin American countries, as are concerns about international terrorist organizations operating in the region.
In particular, U.S. defense officials say Hamas and Hezbollah conduct significant fund-raising activities in a few areas in South America with large Islamic populations.
“With respect to squeezing down on financing of terrorists, the only way that can be done is through extensive cooperation in the global war on terror,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Mr. Rumsfeld has previously acknowledged fears that international terrorist organizations would send operatives into the United States through holes in the U.S. border.
“These human smuggling routes into our country from this hemisphere could be used just as easily for terrorists,” he said.