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NEWS | Feb. 8, 2013

ARSOUTH, partner nations discuss solutions to regional threats

By Eric R. Lucero U.S. Army South Public Affairs

U.S. Army South hosted, on behalf of the U.S. Army, senior military and security forces leaders from five partner nations for the annual Central American Regional Leaders' Conference at ARSOUTH headquarters on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Jan. 28 to Feb. 1.

The meeting provided the respective armies and security forces' leaders a forum to engage in open dialogue, facilitate the understanding of mutual regional security issues and discuss potential collaborative solutions.

The overall objective of the conference is to promote peace and stability in Central America through mutual understanding, partnership and cooperation.

"This conference allowed us to have a frank and open discussion and interactive session with these [military leaders] and I think they have come away with a much better understanding of the common threats and challenges that we all face," said Maj. Gen. Frederick S. Rudesheim, ARSOUTH commanding general.

Attending the conference were Guatemalan Maj. Gen. Hellmut Rene Casados, the chief of staff for the Guatemalan national defense; Honduran Brig. Gen. Freddy Santiago Diaz, the commander of the Honduran army; Nicaraguan Maj. Gen. Oscar S. Balladares, the chief of staff for the Nicaraguan army; Panamanian Commissioner General Frank Abrego, the director general of the Panamanian Servicio Nacional de Fronteras (National Border Service); and Salvadoran Brig. Gen. Rafael Melara, the chief of staff for the Salvadoran army.

"This conference has helped us to better understand the challenges that our region faces," said Melara. "It has also helped us to build upon the relationships our region shares with the United States."

During the conference, each commander had the opportunity to provide a presentation on their respective country's challenges and unique solutions.

Through various forums, the leaders discussed commonalities to issues facing the region, which allowed them to explore reasonable approaches in the areas of security, countering transnational threats and building partner nation capacity.

"The presentations and discussions by the leaders here will be helpful in finding ways to counter transnational threats in our region," Diaz said. "One army alone cannot stop this threat. Instead, we need the support of the countries in our region to be able to be successful."

During the conference, the leaders traveled to Camp Mabry to receive a presentation on the mission and capabilities of the Texas Military Forces, and to learn how the units work with the U.S. Border Patrol to counter illicit trafficking.

The reciprocal nature of Army South's efforts in the region have led to increased interaction and participation of partner nations in humanitarian engagements like Beyond the Horizons, peacekeeping operations exercises like Peacekeeping Operations-Americas, and security exercises like Fuerzas Aliadas PANAMAX.

"This was a resounding success due to the willingness of the countries of Central America to come here and discuss the threats we all face together," Rudesheim said.
"This is just a stepping stone in what I hope to be a continuing effort to communicate, to share information and to meet in future sessions to discuss what we've been able to accomplish, so this is not just episodic, but rather an ongoing effort to build upon our progress in the region."

"Strengthening our relationships with the armies from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua and the security forces of Panama through this conference will have lasting effects on the peace and stability for the U.S. and in the region," said Maj. Jeff Lopez, the Army South Central America desk officer.

U.S. Army South, as a flexible, agile and responsible component command for U.S. Southern Command, executes several key leader and army-to-army engagements throughout the year.

Key leader visits, professional exchange programs, and conducting various multinational exercises all help to nurture trust and collaboration.

"This conference is a key mechanism in ensuring that our partnership in the region remains strong and enduring," Lopez said.

"Our countries, as well as those throughout Latin America, face several non-traditional challenges that threaten security and stability," Lopez added.

"By discussing common threats and potential solutions in a forum like this, we can learn valuable lessons from each other."