By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
SANTIAGO, Chile, Nov. 20, 2010 " The Chilean military can offer a wealth of experience in disaster relief operations to the United States and other nations, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
At a news conference with Chilean Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet following a 45-minute private meeting at the Gen. Bernardo O`Higgins Military Academy, Gates noted Chile`s fortitude and resilience " following natural disasters that interrupted celebration of the nation`s bicentennial year.
Americans were deeply impressed with the manner in which the Chilean government, military and people responded to the horrific earthquake and tsunami that struck in February, " he said. Losses were tragic, but would have been far worse without the swift and skillful response that saved many lives and rebuilt many communities.
And then, of course, we all witnessed and cheered the extraordinary rescue of 33 trapped miners -- a tribute to the spirit, courage and ingenuity not only of those men, but of Chile as a nation, " he added.
Noting that Ravinet visited him at the Pentagon in September, Gates said today`s meeting was a welcome opportunity to discuss what Western Hemisphere nations can learn from Chile`s experience and achievements in dealing with crises and natural disasters. The two defense leaders also discussed opportunities to further strengthen the bilateral military relationship between the two nations, he added.
The United States and Chile share common values, interests, and the overarching goal of peace and stability in this hemisphere, " Gates said. Our two militaries have collaborated on defense modernization, and Chile has forged a partnership with the National Guard of the state of Texas to share experience in building capabilities in areas such as crisis response. "
The secretary said he and Ravinet also discussed revitalizing multilateral institutions and spoke about the Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas, which they`ll both attend in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in the coming days.
I believe this forum has a vital role to play in fostering cooperation between the governments and militaries of this hemisphere, allowing us to address those challenges [that] we all face, -- whether the fight against drugs, arms and human trafficking or the need to improve disaster response capabilities, " Gates said.
The secretary said he`s especially looking forward to discussions at the upcoming conference about creating a framework among Western Hemisphere nations to share information and expertise and deliver lifesaving capabilities more quickly and effectively than was possible following a massive earthquake in Haiti early this year.
Chile can offer real experience and accomplishment in this area, " the secretary said. In addition to its domestic expertise, it`s long been an important contributor to the multinational peacekeeping force in Haiti, playing a critical role in the United Nations stabilization mission there before and in the aftermath of the devastation. "
Moving forward, the secretary said, the United States will continue to be grateful for the friendship and partnership of the Chilean people.
This afternoon, Gates and Ravinet visited Fort Lautaro, where they saw capabilities demonstrations of the Chilean military`s special operations brigade in a variety of missions.