Marco Rubio Presses Biden’s Nominees to Serve as Ambassadors in Latin America and Caribbean

Last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., questioned U.S. ambassador nominees for Latin America and the Caribbean at a U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing.

Witnesses:
Mr. William H. Duncan, to be U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador
Mr. Hugo F. Rodriguez, Jr., to be U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua
Ms. Candace A. Bond, to be U.S. Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago
Ms. Heide B. Fulton, to be U.S. Ambassador to the Uruguay
Mr. Robert J. Faucher, to be U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Suriname

RUBIO: Let me start with you, Mr. Faucher…. We’ve talked about energy, the role that it plays, its development when it comes to Suriname, its importance. And so I did want to ask: The President has an executive order and it tasks the Treasury and the State Department to develop a strategy to only support financing programs and stimulus packages and debt relief initiatives that are aligned with and support the goals of the Paris Agreement. It’s already had an impact on an [Inter-American Development Bank] decision with regards to Guyana, but I’m really concerned about how that would impact the ability of U.S. companies and us to continue to encourage the development [of Suriname], even if we want them to diversify in their economy and we want to support them in that. I mean, why are we here? Does that executive order hold the potential of being viewed as us telling the people of Suriname that they can’t develop an advanced and modern economy because it clashes with our support of the Paris Agreement?

FAUCHER: Thank you, Mr. Senator, for that question. It’s a very important issue that we talked a little bit about this morning. I would say if American companies come to me, if I’m confirmed as ambassador, and ask for assistance in dealing with the Surinamese government on oil kind of issues or oil commercial contracts, I will have to look at each case individually to make sure that the assistance I’m able to give them conforms with any executive order that’s delivered by the President. I am unaware of any kind of push at all or statements by us that we don’t want Suriname to develop its oil reserves or move forward and improve its economy. I think there’s a recognition that there will be a need for oil for the decades ahead, even though we’re trying to diversify energy resources throughout the world. Suriname, as I stated in my statement, is a carbon-negative country. It is meeting its requirements under the Paris Accord at this time, and I think it’s committed to continuing to do so. And so I will work with Suriname to make sure it also meets its environmental [standards].

RUBIO: Again, when you have an executive order that basically asks the Treasury and the State Department to structure financing programs and stimulus work and debt relief initiatives to be aligned to the climate agreement, there’s the real concern, the legitimate concern, that that would impact our ability to be of assistance in anything that has to do with oil and natural gas exploration. And we’ll see how that plays out. I hope that’s not the case, because I think that would negatively impact our relationship.

Ms. Fulton, on Uruguay, I think it’s the first in the ranking by Freedom House and the World Justice Project in terms of democracy and rule of law. And they’re looking to revise the trade and investment framework agreement with the US in the new trade protocols that mirror what we’ve done with Brazil and Ecuador. It’s clear that they’re eager to establish even more transparency measures and anti-corruption measures. So I’ve outlined a couple of things I think we can do to really strengthen this relationship. We have a willing partner in a stable country. There [is] a lot of good news coming out.

Unfortunately, they think we don’t care, [that] we’re not paying attention to them, and that we’re ignoring them. It’s one of those countries that we’re doing everything right…, but we’re not getting the attention we want. I’ve talked about a couple of things that we should do. The first is expanding the Development Finance Corporation’s role in facilitating investment there. The problem we have is they are classified by the World Bank as a high-tech country. And so the World Bank, it sort of prevents us [from using the DFC]. But I think it’s one of the things that requires us to go back and re-examine how that’s used. And I really hope that we will look for ways to restructure that program so that countries like this—the country that JPMorgan, by the way, says is the least risky country in Latin America for investment—that we’re not preventing the DFC’s facilitating programs there.

And then the other is I think there’s a real opportunity to expand cooperation on security, space, and counter narcotics. Cooperation with them on space and satellite data sharing, for example, would help us crack down on the black market that now exists in data. Are those two things that you would commit to exploring and perhaps pushing forward?

FULTON: Absolutely. Thank you, Senator. I agree with what you’re saying and would be, if confirmed, looking forward to finding opportunities to work with you and your team to see how we can rethink some of the impediments that currently prevent us from expanding our cooperation and seeking additional tools to enhance these areas of opportunity.

RUBIO: Mr. Rodriguez, the CAFTA [Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement] is a preferential trading arrangement among free nations. Is Nicaragua a free nation? And if they’re not, then should we continue to provide the preferential trade benefits that CAFTA provides to free nations? The point of it was to encourage the opposite of everything that Ortega and his crazy wife [are] doing.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you, Senator Rubio. Let me just say, if confirmed, I would support using all economic and diplomatic tools to bring about a change in direction in Nicaragua. Removing Nicaragua from CAFTA-DR is a potentially very powerful tool and something we have to seriously consider. I know we currently exclude Nicaragua from supporting functions under CAFTA-DR, trade development capacity-building activities and the like. But if confirmed, I commit to working with USTR [Office of the U.S. Trade Representative] and other agencies within the U.S. government to evaluate all possible means for bringing that pressure to bear on Nicaragua.

RUBIO: Mr. Duncan…, I did want to touch on El Salvador. It’s a difficult puzzle to unpack and certainly the trend lines there in terms of President Bukele’s view of the United States has deteriorated rapidly in the last couple of years to the point now where it’s a really troubling situation. I’m very troubled by it. He doesn’t seem to care a lot about what U.S. foreign policy is with regards to the country. [He] very openly criticizes and mocks the U.S. and other Western institutions.

The reality of it is that despite all this, we have to contend with the fact that his popularity remains pretty high and his party has enjoyed electoral gains as a result. For whatever reason, he is tapping into some populist sentiment in the country that’s converting itself into political support. And that, I think, gives him license, at least domestically, to continue down this trend line.

But there’s an interesting dynamic. On the one hand, we were carrying out this name and shame campaign from Washington where we are sanctioning individuals and calling them out for their alleged corruption, behavior, and the like. On the other hand, you see them negotiating with the IMF [International Monetary Fund], where we are the leading contributor. And it seems like the [Biden] Administration is holding open the possibility that there would still be an IMF arrangement…because [of] the understanding that if we didn’t [offer an agreement], there could be a mass migration event that would impact neighboring countries—or they could turn to alternative means of financing outside of the structured system that the United States has influence over.

How do we balance our national interest and desire to have not just stability there, but some relationship with this campaign that’s being carried out that I think has led to pretty open diplomatic and economic hostility?

DUNCAN: Thank you for the question, Senator. I think, first and foremost, we have to approach the Salvadoran government, as we should most governments, from a position of respect, and acknowledge, as you said, that they choose their own leaders. And it appears that their current president is indeed, at this point, very popular. That’s a reality, and we must recognize that.

However, I think it’s also true, as you indicated in your opening statement, that there have been some developments in El Salvador that don’t seem to be conducive to strengthening Salvadoran democracy. And there have also been some economic trends that are somewhat concerning.

With respect to the sanctions you referenced. I think it’s important for us to use the tools Congress has given us, whether that’s Global Magnitsky or the Section 353 list or Section 7031, to use those tools appropriately to target individuals who have been involved in acts of corruption or acts that undermine democracy or the rule of law. And I think we can do that while continuing to maintain a respectful relationship with the government of El Salvador. I don’t see any inconsistency there.

With respect to the IMF negotiations, which you mentioned, I’m not up to date on exactly where those negotiations are. I believe they are still talking to the IMF. I know the IMF has publicly expressed some concerns that they, as I understand it, want to see satisfied before they move forward with that loan. So as far as I know, no final decision on that has been made.

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