Admiral SOUTHCOM: American security is linked to the stability of Latin America and the Caribbean

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Why should Americans, facing serious global challenges, care about Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that does not often make the headlines?

From the Arctic to the Antarctic, the Western Hemisphere is our common neighborhood. At the center of this hemisphere, Latin America and the Caribbean is a promising region defined by its geographic proximity, people sharing shared values, abundant resources and economic potential. It is a hemisphere of freedom.

Yet if we do not invest in its security wisely and quickly, we risk increased instability at home. From drug cartels to Chinese influence operations, to the damage and human toll of today’s super storms and pandemic, Latin America and the Caribbean face extraordinary challenges. that could easily threaten our own national security.

When I was growing up, my dad ran several small businesses in western Pennsylvania, and he always said – repeating three times to emphasize – that “location, location, location is the key to success.” Geographical proximity is important.

The Department of Defense United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) area of ​​responsibility includes key maritime lines of communication, such as the Panama Canal and the Strait of Magellan. In a global economy, these strategic waterways are essential to ensuring the security of our nation’s supply chains. Our shared neighborhood is also rich in resources. With only 8% of the world’s population, Latin America and the Caribbean have 31 percent of the world’s fresh water and will account for about 25 percent of world exports of agricultural and fishery products by 2028. The region is rich in timber, oil, gas, rare earths and other resources, all essential for global economic growth.

Our “neighborhood” is also linked by family, and these links run deep. Twenty percent of the US population has ties to the region, with our Spanish-speaking population ranking second in the world. Many families, including mine, have direct links; my stepfather immigrated to the United States from Brazil. These intimate interpersonal bonds are amplified by our common values ​​and our faith in democracy.

The combination of proximity, abundant resources and people-to-people connections has led to a strong economic bond and potential for strategic partnerships. Trade in the United States $ 1.9 trillion per year with the Western Hemisphere, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative – more than our trade with China.

Threats in the Western Hemisphere are persistent, real and pose a formidable risk to our national security. Transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) directly threaten our citizens, contribute tens of thousands of American deaths each year, and profit from a global cocaine industry worth more than $ 90 billion. TCOs create instability and violence, contributing to the terrible statistic that 43 of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world are in our hemisphere, which pushes the flow of migrants towards the American border. TCOs control the territory and are involved in all forms of illicit activity, fueling corruption, illicit financing and profiting from the trafficking of people, weapons and natural resources.

To make matters worse, the Americas is one of the regions hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Pan American Health Organization, the region has 22.1 million cases, with more than 700,000 reported deaths. The health, economic and social impacts of this pandemic will change the hemisphere for years to come. In the midst of this crisis, two consecutive Category 4 and 5 hurricanes devastated parts of Central America. The pandemic and these unprecedented storms have added to an already difficult vicious cycle of threats that endanger a secure, stable and democratic Western Hemisphere.

The US response to the pandemic and hurricanes Eta and Iota in the region has been swift and significant. For example, SOUTHCOM’s support for US government efforts saved more than 850 lives in the aftermath of hurricanes. In addition, the U.S. government has pledged $ 4 billion in aid to Central America over four years to address the root causes of human insecurity and irregular migration, including poverty, violence and violence. corruption that open the doors to competitors like China, Russia and Iran, who seek to take advantage of the democracies in this region.

China, in particular, builds critical infrastructure projects, negotiates port deals and install high-tech surveillance technology from Argentina to Jamaica to Mexico. Countries whose economies are failing due to the pandemic are increasingly sensitive to China’s influence: 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are participating in the China Belt and Road Initiative, with at minus $ 150 billion in pledged loans. But China’s aid often comes with little transparency, exposing countries to unmanageable debt and, ultimately, loss of sovereignty.

As the Interim Strategic Directions on National Security and Secretary of Defense Message to the Force suggest, we must compete with China both globally and in our Western Hemisphere with a sense of urgency.

We cannot face such daunting challenges alone. The only way to counter these threats is to build a strong team – a team that includes our regional partners, allies closely linked to the hemisphere, international institutions, NGOs and the private sector – to win this strategic competition. The military brings to the table capabilities that are essential to building our neighbors’ institutions and resilience in the face of the threats they face. We have programs in place to help our partners develop diverse and inclusive armies that respect the rule of law and human rights – professional forces needed to secure and stabilize our common home.

Ultimately, if our neighbors are stronger, we are all stronger.

US Navy Admiral Craig Faller will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday March 16. He became the commander of United States Southern Command in November 2018. His naval career includes commanding the USS Stethem, USS Shiloh and Carrier Strike Group 3, as senior military assistant to the Secretary of Defense and as Deputy Head of Naval Operations.

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