Last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., offered remarks during the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations nominations hearing for U.S. Ambassadorships in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Rubio said the following.
When I hear people talk about [how] we need to care more about the Western Hemisphere, it’s reminiscent of [how] they say you also need to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s a good thing for you, it’s good for your health, and you should really do it. But we, most of us, never get around to it. Speaking for myself anyway, I know I need to. So the point being is this is not just a nice thing to do. It’s critical to our national security and our national economic interest.
Geography matters. It matters for a lot of different reasons. But it matters because proximity matters. We see it firsthand. Look at the migrant crisis that we face on the border today. Those are all people coming from places where life is not good. And at the cornerstone of why life is not good in those countries—the violence, the economic deprivations, whatever it may be—is poor governance and bad decisions made over a sustained period of time. That alone is of national interest.
Not to mention we [also] have near-peer adversaries we didn’t 25 years ago. The United States lived in a unipolar world where we were the only show in town. Now there is at least one unprecedented near-peer adversary. The Chinese Communist Party is a challenge to the United States, greater even than what the Soviet Union was. Because they are a commercial rival, a technological rival, a geopolitical rival, a diplomatic rival, and a commercial one. And in addition to all of that, they are also a military threat to the country as they continue to develop.
And they have an interest in the region. They want to extract minerals and have mineral rights, certainly, but they also want leverage. They want control over countries so that they’ll vote with them in international fora and ultimately so they could potentially position themselves—either on a rotational basis or permanently—all over the world, militarily and the like. In essence, they would love nothing more than to encircle the United States and to have put themselves in a position in each of the countries, for example, that all of you have been nominated to serve in.
But more broadly in the region, they want to be in a position one day [in which] no matter who gets elected in those countries, [they] do whatever they want because that country owes them too much money and they own too many things in that country to break away from it. That’s the fundamental challenge that all of you are walking into. And in the context of that is how I think we need to guide our foreign policy. I hope we’ll have a chance to talk about that today….
In Uruguay, we have a president who has been trying to work with the United States on things like reducing barriers to trade. But unfortunately, because we don’t have a strategic approach to that relationship—it’s not a partisan attack, I think you can say that of virtually any administration in the last 30 years, because we don’t have a well thought-out and executed strategic approach to the region—you have someone who basically feels like his only options for development are to cut a deal with the Chinese Communist Party, do a deal with the devil in that regard.
In Suriname, you have a president who is struggling to manage more than $1,000,000,000 in Chinese debt that his predecessor took on. And we have this administration that has this single-minded focus on climate change, and therefore it doesn’t seem interested in helping them develop markets and or their capabilities because it happens to be oil and gas.
In El Salvador, we have a very interesting situation. On the one hand, we’ve seen some of the economic chaos, some of the internal political things. I’m not a big fan of everything that’s been done there. But I also think it’s a relationship that’s important for us to manage appropriately. Our chargé [d’affaires], I believe, has left post and sort of announced some strategic pause in efforts to reach out to them. As we talk about going there, Mr. Duncan, [it’s a] very, very challenging situation and one that I’d love to hear your thoughts as to what the road forward is, because I’m hoping that we can still have a relationship in El Salvador that’s pragmatic. We don’t have to clap or celebrate all the stuff people do that we don’t necessarily think is good. But I also think we have a national interest concern there that needs to be balanced.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the prime minister, unfortunately, continues to be a supporter of the Maduro regime and signing agreements to join the Belt and Road Initiative of the Communist Party.
Nicaragua is a horrific disaster. I think it’s the second poorest country in the hemisphere. Just as important, this is a country where [dictator Daniel Ortega] arrested every one of his political opponents. If you ran for president, you went to jail. Not even Putin arrests everybody. He at least has an official opposition. Here, it’s pretty stunning the direction that’s taken.
Even more troubling is that they have now rolled out the red carpet with this open invitation for both Chinese and Russian military stationing in the region. I think the Russians have their hands full right now, but you could see a presence there. But the Chinese may one day take them up on it. If we wake up in a world where the Chinese have a military-basing arrangement in our own hemisphere, it would be a very troubling turn in regional affairs and one that I think is a threat that we can’t overlook.
In all of these places, we’re facing some real challenges. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to talk about those today. Again, I am grateful for your willingness to serve. But we’ve got big problems on our hands in this region, and we better start taking it seriously or we’re going to wake up in less than a decade living in a very different world than the one we live in now and the one we grew up in.
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