D.C., Oct. 4, 2005
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will host a Central
American defense ministers conference at Key Biscayne, Fla.,
Oct. 12 and 13, Defense Department officials said today.
This is the first high-level
conference since the Senate ratified the Central American
Free Trade Agreement in July. The conference theme is
security and economic opportunity.
Ministers from Belize, Costa
Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama
and the United States will participate. Colombia and Mexico
will send observers to the meetings, officials said.
The ministers will talk about
long-term goals in building trade and security in the
region. The conference's purpose is to encourage Central
American countries to work more closely together. Defense
officials said the countries will discuss the possibility of
setting up a multinational peacekeeping battalion. Three of
the countries -- Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador -- have
provided troops to the coalition effort in Iraq. El Salvador
still has special operations forces deployed to Iraq.
Security is particularly
important because it directly affects economic growth and
job creation, officials said. The conference will look at
the relationship between security and development and ways
to strengthen "region-wide institutions. "
A number of topics are slated
for group discussions. One breakout group will examine
regional security mechanisms, including a combined
peacekeeping unit. A second group will examine emerging
non-traditional threats, to include the problems of gangs
and narcoterrorism in the region.
A third issue is increasing
cooperation between military and law-enforcement agencies. A
fourth will look at maritime safety and security, while yet
another group will examine rapid response to natural