By Dialogo August 10, 2012 U.S. Army South along with armed and security forces from 17 nations are participating in the annual U.S. Southern Command-sponsored PANAMAX exercise, which is taking place simultaneously in several parts of the United States and Panama, from August 6-17. This multinational exercise brings together sea, air and land forces in a joint and combined operation focused on defending the Panama Canal from attacks by a fictitious violent extremist organization as well as responding to natural disasters and pandemic outbreaks in various locations. More than 50 Colombian military personnel travelled to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and are leading the land component portion of the exercise for the second year in a row. Army South led this portion every year prior to 2011. Brazilian military forces are leading the maritime component portion for the first time this year. In addition to the Brazil, Colombia, and the United States, hundreds of participants from Argentina, Belize, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru will take part in the exercise. The Panama Canal is considered one of the most strategic economical infrastructures in the world. It is critical to the free flow of trade worldwide and the region’s economic stability is largely dependent on the safe transport of several million tons of cargo through the canal each year.