By Raimundo Urrechaga
CARACAS, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Latin America's armed forces are increasingly working together to ensure peace in the region and promote unity, Ecuadoran Defense Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said Thursday.
In an interview with Xinhua, Espinosa noted the region's various military corps are interconnected, and coordinate their work and constantly exchange information.
"It is essential to have a strategic partnership between our presidents and defense authorities to combat organized crime, and promote public peace and regional security," she said.
Espinosa, who was in the Venezuelan capital Caracas to attend the Second Meeting of Defense Ministers and Women Leaders, acknowledged that drug trafficking, arms smuggling and illegal mining grind down security in Latin America.
However, she said, "our armed forces are increasingly prepared and joined together to confront these scourges," she said.
The Ecuadorian minister said that there are several agreements and defense policies in Latin America to combat threats jointly.
To that end, the governments of South America will have a mandate to build a shared vision for defense through the South American Defense Council of Unasur (the Union of South American Nations).
Asked about defense cooperation accords between Ecuador and Venezuela, Espinosa said there is a broad exchange for the training and preparation of officers.
"We are working to mutually promote the defense industries, which is a critical issue, and are exploring cooperation between defense research institutes," said the minister.
Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina, for example, are working to build an aircraft for basic training in South America that will be called Unasur I.
Espinosa urged Venezuela to join this regional effort.
The minister said the Caracas meeting offered a space for reflection and exchange to analyze the role of women in the armed forces and generate a public policy of gender equality within the military.
Female authorities discussed the role of women in the military in building a culture of peace, a mandate of Latin America's heads of state following the last summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Cuba.
Gender equality in the armed forces involves a change of institutional culture and that was the commitment reaffirmed at the meeting, she said.
"It requires unlocking the traditional macho culture through strong public policies and clear mechanisms that give the ideal place to women in the armed forces. Women must have their own opportunities and possibilities and that is what we are doing in our countries," she said.