For the first time since he assumed his position, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was on his way to South America on April 23, as part of a U.S. effort to build regional partnerships in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism. Panetta’s agenda includes visits to Colombia, Brazil, and Chile.
“This is a way of making contact and dealing with the region (…) to handle the threat posed by transnational crime and, specifically, drug trafficking organizations,” said Steve Johnson, a former Pentagon official specializing in Latin America, according to news site VOA.
In Bogotá, the U.S. representative met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón to further discuss the bilateral agreement signed a week earlier by the South American country and President Barack Obama regarding Plan Colombia.
Panetta then headed to Brazil on April 24 for similar meetings with his counterpart, Celso Amorim and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Among the topics of discussion is a pending large-scale contract to equip the Brazilian Air Force with 36 new jet fighters, for which U.S. firm Boeing is competing, reported AFP.
After giving a speech in a Military academy in Rio de Janeiro, Secretary Panetta will travel to Chile, where he is expected to meet with Chilean Defense Minister Andrés Allamand and President Sebastián Piñera.
The U.S. is interested in the Chilean Military’s response to natural disasters, a topic which will be on the agenda at the upcoming Defense Ministers of the Americas meeting slated for October in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, said AFP.