Penetta seeks Latin help as U.S. budget shrinks

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spent this week in South America working to build relations with Colombia, Brazil and Chile. At a time when the U.S. military faces hundreds of billions of dollars in budget cuts, the Pentagon hopes to rely more on its Latin American partners to deal with growing drug trafficking and terrorist threats in the region.

Panetta stopped first in Colombia, where U.S. trained commandos welcomed him with a hostage rescue demonstration and other maneuvers at a base two hours from Bogota.

Colombian forces, with billions of dollars in U.S. training and equipment, have made major progress against drug traffickers and armed groups. The country is quickly shedding its violent image. Colombian troops now are passing on their experience by training security forces of other Latin American nations.

Handing off more responsibility to its regional partners is what the United States wants at a time when its defense budget is shrinking and the threats of drug trafficking and terrorism are growing as are other threats to regional stability.

Panetta stopped next in Brazil, where the U.S. is seeking help in training the armed forces of African nations against a growing threat by terrorist groups.

The defense secretary spoke to officers at a war college in Rio de Janeiro.

“This is a relationship, the United States and Brazil, the relationship between two global powers, and we welcome Brazil’s growing strength. We support Brazil as a global leader, and seek closer defense cooperation because we believe that a stronger and more globally engaged Brazil will help enhance international security for all of us,” Penetta said.

Panetta ended his tour in Chile, where he reinforced an already strong partnership with one of America’s closest allies in the region.

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