WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman attended the February 28 hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere Subcommittee entitled "Overview of U.S. Interests in the Western Hemisphere: Opportunities and Challenges." This was the first hearing to be led by a new subcommittee chairman, Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Arizona). Here are her notes.
House Committee on Foreign Relations: Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere
February 28, 2013
Rep. Salmon (R. Arizona. Headed Hearing)
Rep. Sires (D. New Jersey)
Rep. Meeks (D. New York)
Rep. Faleomavaega (D. American Samoa)
Rep. Deutch (D. Florida)
Rep. Duncan (R. South Carolina)
Rep. DeSantis (R. Florida)
Rep. Radel (R. Florida)
The Honorable Roberta S. Jacobson Assistant Secretary Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs U.S. Department of State [full text of opening statement]
The Honorable Mark Feierstein Assistant Administrator Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean U.S. Agency for International Development [full text of opening statement]
I. Opening Statements
· Sees neighbors as critical to US security and economy
· US has job to combat criminal and terrorist organizations, promote democratic values and free enterprise
· Alluded to the successes of the Merida Initiative, the US’s interests in promoting security
· Importance of US-Mexican trade relations
· Thinks US should re-assert its role in trade and investment in the region, especially in places like Brazil
· Placed an interesting emphasis on the importance of tourism throughout the region and the damaging effects of terrorism and narco-trafficking on the tourism industry
· US needs a sound policy with regards to Cuba
· US needs to watch out for Venezuela and the possible ties it is developing with Iran and Hezbollah
o We should also try to strengthen democratic institutions in Venezuela
o Promote free and fair elections
· Latin America deserves more attention and focus in US Foreign Policy, current policy is too narrow
· Our reactive responses are insufficient, and the current patchwork of initiatives is also insufficient
· Concerned about Iran’s influence in the region (mentioned the recent development of the joint truth commission in Argentina regarding bombing against Israeli embassy)
· We should pressure Cuba’s authoritarian regime
· Must be ready in case Chavez dies in order to secure a democratic and peaceful transition of power
· We should continue to support Colombia
· Peña Nieto – how much will he work to combat drugs? Will he build off of the Merida initiative?
· Very eager
· Previous journalist who traveled throughout Latin America
· Sees Colombia as an example of our US foreign aid has played a huge positive role
· Cuba, Venezuela and Chavez
· Concerned about Iran, drugs, laundry list of problems
· Concerned mostly about the plight of afro descendants throughout the region
· US objectives are strongly linked to afro descendants and indigenous communities
· Impact of narco-trafficking on these groups
· Entered OAS report into the official record on the situation of Afro Americans
· Also primarily concerned with the indigenous community and the lack of autonomy that they have due to colonial and modern state practices
Roberta Jacobson –
· Under Obama administration, State has focused on the 4 goals presented at the summit of the Americas
· Free trade = prosperity and economic expansion in the region
· US has helped with contributing to security in Colombia
· Mexico is a similar situation
· Partnering important in both Colombia and Mexico
· Purpose of development aid is so that eventually the countries can graduate out of foreign assistance programs
· We should strengthen the economic capacities of countries
· The nature of development work automatically presents challenges – violence and criminality impede progress
· Colombians - Training with Latin American and Central American Police has been a big advancement for regional security and development efforts
· In Peru, lots of progress on helping coca farmers transition to legal products
· Lots of talk about Alan Gross in Cuba
II. Question and Answer
· Q: about corruption in Latin American governments and private sector investment.
· A from Jacobson: State Dep. Is working with governments to reduce corruption.
· Q: Colombia as a great example for US in the region in combatting drug trafficking and terrorism. Sees a reduction in kidnapping in the last 12 years by 90%, less poverty, lots of improvements. What lessons can we take from Colombia to apply to other countries in Latin America, like Mexico?
· A from Jacobson: have to remember that the two countries are structurally different but there are still many similarities. Looking to training that has occurred for police and helicopter pilots that they have done without our encouragement. Colombia is having more influence on Central America. They are better at training other domestic forces than we are sometimes. Our cooperation with Colombia is helping the region.
· A from F: Colombia is also a model for USAID. Bilateral cooperation from USAID and military cooperation.
· Q: About Plan Colombia and its shift to social change. Where are we with that? Mostly concerned about the human rights components of afro-indigenous programs
· Q: who is overseeing the Iran monitoring program in the Western hemisphere at the State department?
· A from Jacobson: She is overseeing it. In response to Iranian activities in the region, the US is working with other partners in the hemisphere. They help other countries to protect and monitor themselves and Iran’s activities within their own countries.
· Q: ICE just release a huge number of illegal aliens, aren’t Central American governments upset about that?
· A from Jacobson: those illegal aliens were not criminal detainees to her knowledge, and there has been no response from those countries as of yet. She doubts that they will have a strong reaction though.
· Just really only cares about indigenous populations and the development of indigenous rights, education, poverty, and economy.
· Q: Concerned about Florida and Cuba. What will happen with Cuba over the next 5 years?
· A from Jacobson: she hopes that there will be changes in political rights just as much as in economic rights. There has been increased contact with Americans (church and education groups, etc…) Hopes that will help in promoting ideals for democracy and human rights.
· Q: concerned with Cuba and Allen Gross. Also concerned with deforestation in the Amazon. What can the US do to protect environmental sustainability?
· Wanted more information
· Q: asked state to submit budget priorities and embassy security priorities
· A from Jacobson: we are focusing a lot now post Benghazi on embassy security. We have to recognize that the western hemisphere doesn’t face the same kinds of threats as the Middle East does. We are reviewing all embassies with all embassy staff.
· Q: when will the western hemisphere report on 2012 on Iran come out. Iran is training Hezbollah in the Middle East
· A: the report will come out in June; they want to make sure all of the credible information is reviewed before it goes out. A good section of the report will be classified.
· Q: Venezuela and Chavez in failing health. Post-Chavez Venezuela is there a role that the US can, should, or could play in ensuring free and fair elections?
· A: yes, with a small amount of foreign assistance they believe they can make an impact on elections. There are programs that support civil society, election programs, and human rights group programs
- Q: will CBSI have a social impact? Also asked about the FARC Colombian peace process
- A from Jacobson: a lot of work to be done on CBSI. State is currently implementing programs through CBSI. There has been an increase in information sharing and cooperation. Donor coordination has had success too and the UK and Canada have meant more in terms of contributions.
- Made a comment on the general number of people who have been killed by Cartels in Mexico due to guns and violence.
Salmon Closing remarks
- Believes that crop transitions for current coca farmers are good.
- Sees Colombia as an enormous success story.
- Thinks Brazil is doing the right thing in terms of economic development and growth.
- The US should work to eradicate the drug cartels in Mexico.
- Wonders what the US can do to keep Mexicans in their own country. Are they afraid to stay there? How can we work on that?
III. What Was Left Out
- There was no mention, apart from Colombia’s role as a training country, of bi-lateral or regional military involvement or strategy.
- Other than Salmon’s closing remarks, nothing was said about the border or border security.
- Nothing was said about immigration reform.
- There was nothing said about Central American immigrants, it was as if the committee members present believed that everyone in this country who is a Hispanic immigrant has come from either Mexico out of fear of the drug cartels, or from Cuba, out of fear of being repressed.
- Although violence caused by narco-trafficking and organized criminal activity was mentioned, nothing was said about US domestic gun reform and the potential impact that could have on violence in Central America.
- While crop-transitions were mentioned for current farmers of coca, nothing was mentioned about the UN’s recent decriminalization of traditional uses of the coca leaf in Bolivia.