Union Tribune

March 5, 2002

Latin leaders feeling slighted as U.S. turns focus to war on terror


WASHINGTON The war on terrorism has some Latin American
leaders grumbling that their region is being ignored as the
United States concentrates on the Middle East and Asia.

Former Defense Secretary William Cohen recently cited the
six-month vacancy at the top of the U.S. military command
responsible for Latin America as one reason for the region's

The post of commander in chief for the U.S. Southern Command
has been vacant since Sept. 1, when Marine Corps Gen. Peter
Pace left to become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A
two-star Army major general has been filling in at the four-star

The Miami-based command is responsible for U.S. military
activities from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego in South

Cohen told a conference of news editors last week that failure to put another four-star officer in the job would send a message to Central and South America "that we don't treat them with the
same respect we do other regions."

Another national security expert said Bush's warm relations with
Mexican President Vicente Fox seem to have cooled because of
the focus on the war on terror.

But Bush will leave later this month for a tour of several Latin
American nations, including Mexico.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday that the
choice of a new commander has been slowed by his need to find
new leaders for six to eight key military posts. Those include the first head of a new command that would be responsible for the defense of the American homeland and Canada, and a
replacement for Adm. Dennis C. Blair, commander in chief of the
U.S. Pacific Command.

Rumsfeld said he would recommend a new Southern Command
leader "soon" and that it would be a four-star officer.

The new homeland security command, expected to be called
Northern Command, was conceived in reaction to the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks.

After those two vacancies, Rumsfeld must find a nominee to
replace Blair, who wants to retire in April.

Prospective replacements are said to include Adm. Robert
Natter, commander of the Atlantic Fleet; Adm. Thomas Fargo,
commander of the Pacific Fleet; and Marine Gen. Carlton
Fulford, deputy commander in chief of the U.S. European
Command and former commanding general of Marine Corps
Forces Pacific.