Panetta cautions Latin America against using military as police force
During a meeting of Western Hemisphere defense ministers, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged Latin American countries to look for solutions other than using military as law enforcement.
Punta Del Este, Uruguay
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta cautioned Western Hemisphere countries on Monday against relying on the military to perform police duties, telling a meeting of the region's defense ministers that civilian authorities should be strengthened to deal with law enforcement on their own.Skip to next paragraph
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Addressing an issue faced by many Latin American countries as they grapple with insurgencies or drug trafficking, Panetta told the officials, "The use of the military to perform civil law enforcement cannot be a long-term solution."
He acknowledged it is sometimes difficult to tell whether transnational threats to peace and stability should be handled by the military or law enforcement, a debate that has divided the United States as it responded to the Sept. 11 attacks over the past decade.
"We are committed to do so in a manner respectful of human rights, the rule of law and civilian authority," he said. "We can and we will provide a helping hand, but ultimately civilian authorities must be able to shoulder this burden on their own."
Panetta spoke on the last day of a three-day visit to South America, where in meeting with fellow defense ministers he pressed for greater collaboration among militaries as part of the Pentagon's new defense strategy.