GRANADA – The young relationshipof trust and cooperation between the militariesof the United States and Nicaraguastrengthened considerably this week whenGen. Richard Myers, U.S. Chairman of theJoint Chiefs of Staff, invited Nicaraguancounterpart Gen. Javier Carrión to thePentagon in Washington D.C. for a face-to facechat on security threats and bilateralcooperation.The meeting marks the first time thetop military brass from the two countrieshave sat together at the same table sincethe Nicaraguan Army was founded 25years ago by the Sandinista revolutionarygovernment.Nicaraguan defense experts are celebratingthe Pentagon invitation as animportant recognition of the professionalismof Nicaragua’s armed forces, and animportant first step toward securing much neededU.S. military assistance in the waron drugs.WEDNESDAY’S meeting at thePentagon came one week after theNicaraguan Army destroyed – at theUnited States’ behest – a second batch of333 surface-to-air missiles, know as SAM-7s. In destroying the shoulder-launch missiles,Nicaragua complied with its promiseto reduce its Soviet-era missile stockpileby 30%.President Enrique Bolaños firstannounced his administration’s plans todestroy the missiles last October, followinga request to do so by U.S. Secretary ofState Colin Powell.The U.S. government expressed concernthat the missiles could fall into the hands ofterrorists and be used against commercialjetliners. Critics in Nicaragua, meanwhile,argued that Nicaragua should not be forcedto give up its only defensive weapons whenother countries in the region were not goingto surrender their offensive weapons, such asHonduras’ fleet of F-5 fighter jets.Leading defense expert RobertoCajina, however, told The Tico Times thatmany of the missiles were old technologyand probably didn’t work anyway.The initiative passed congressionalvote, despite some opposition, and the firstbatch of 333 SAMs was destroyed during aprivate event last May (TT, May 14).In exchange for the missile destruction,Nicaragua hopes to secure new militarytechnology to fight the increasingly invasivethreat of drug trafficking on theAtlantic coast.The daily La Prensa quoted a militarysource last week saying Nicaragua wasprepared to ask the Pentagon for $80 millionin U.S. military aid to purchase radarequipment, drug patrol boats and severalBrazilian-made fighter jets to employ inthe drug war. The quote prompted U.S.Ambassador Barbara Moore to respond ina state radio address Monday – two daysbefore the meeting with Gen. Myers – thatthe U.S. was not prepared to give thatamount of financial aid at this time.But even if the Pentagon visit this weekdoes not translate immediately into a directdeposit into Nicaragua’s military coffers,defense experts here maintain that theSAM destruction was not in vain.“THE destruction of the missiles hadto be done independently of any agreementto increase U.S. aid in the war on drugs,”retired Gen. Joaquín Cuadra, former leaderof the Sandinista Revolutionary Army andhead of the Nicaraguan Military (1990-2000), told The Tico Times this week. “Wehad to destroy the missiles because of pressure(from the U.S.).”Gen. Cuadra noted that this week’smeeting in the Pentagon was to open aprocess of dialogue with the U.S. aboutNicaragua’s military needs, not to presentUncle Sam with an itemized shopping list.ACCORDING to the NicaraguanArmy, an average of two to three “go-fast”drug boats and 25-30 “drug planes” passthrough Nicaraguan waters and airspaceeach month. Cuadra, however, notes thatNicaragua does not have radar equipment,so the statistics are rough estimates at best.National security experts have evidenceto believe that Colombian drug cartelshave infiltrated the rural and impoverishedjungles of South Atlantic AutonomousRegion (RAAS), and possibly have armedindigenous populations to protect cocaine productionplants on Nicaraguan soil.“We share a maritime frontier withColombia (San Andres Island) and drug cartelsare invading our coast and manipulatingpart of the Indian population,” Cuadra said.Because the United States has focusedheavily on the drug war during the lastdecade, Cuadra said he doesn’t doubt thatthis week’s meeting in the Pentagon willbear some fruit in the near future.