San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Support Grows for Creation of Regional ‘Rapid Response Force’

MANAGUA – Central America’s various ministers of defense and the interior are preparing to discuss with U.S. counterpart Donald Rumsfeld next month the creation of a Central American military “Rapid Response Force” to combat transnational crimes in the region.“Regional security and emerging threats require a joint, coordinated, transparent and appropriate action,” said Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños during last Wednesday’s meeting in Managua of Central American ministers of defense and ministers of interior. “Terrorism, drug smuggling, trafficking in persons, border security and money laundering are all threats that have globalized, similar to our economies.“THIS requires us to work together in a coordinated way to guarantee our region continues to be an oasis of peace in a world where violence is breaking out in other regions,” Bolaños added.Though the operating details of the proposed Rapid Response Force have yet to be fully worked out, the basic idea would be for each country in Central America to have its own rapid response unit that would coordinate with counterpart units in neighboring countries.Gen. Omar Halleslevens, head of the Nicaraguan Army, said foreign military units are not allowed into Nicaragua uninvited. Other Central American countries have similar laws.AS a result, each country’s rapid response unit would have to coordinate and communicate closely to track suspected criminals as they dart across borders. The effect would be that of a “zone” defense in basketball, where each country’s unit protects its own borders.Halleslevens denied that the Rapid Response Force would be similar to the now-defunct Defense Council of Central America (Condeca), a U.S. initiative to support the right-wing dictatorships of the 1970s by bring together military and police forces in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.NICARAGUA’S Defense Minister, Avil Ramírez, also downplayed suggestions that the Rapid Response Force is a United States’ initiative. Ramírez told The Nica Times that the regional military response unit is in fact a Honduran proposal that has “nothing to do with the United States.”The defense minister did, however, say that he hopes the United States will help supply the Rapid Response Force with needed radars and other equipment.This request is expected to be one of the talking points brought up during the meeting in Miami next month with Rumsfeld.Other topics on the list will be arms control, establishing military codes of conduct for the various armies of Central America (similar to the one Nicaragua recently adopted), and establishing a reasonable balance of military force in the region.

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