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Remarks: U.S. Representative Connie Mack

January 24, 2011

Tuesday, January 18th, Congressman Connie Mack--Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee--appeared before the Council of the Americas where he discussed the shared values of the United States and Latin America, his plan to reengage the region, and the negative influence of Hugo Chávez.

Overview:

  • Freedom defines the future prosperity of our nations and is the principle that should serve as the foundation of the United States’ relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Our nations have shared values and interests, making us natural partners
  • China and autocratic leader Hugo Chavez are visibly filling a void left by the lack of a U.S. agenda to work with our allies in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Actions such as passing the Panama and Colombia Free Trade Agreements and collaborating with allies to counter the destructive force of narco-traffickers and terrorists are vital to improving the standards of freedom, security and prosperity in our Hemisphere

Thank you for the introduction and to all of you for coming today, I see this as a bipartisan issue on both the lack of engagement and also the solutions. I will also add that the former chair, Elliot Engel, and I are good friends and I would say that we agree on a lot of things. I think you’ll see an opportunity in this subcommittee for us to work together on solutions and a way to move forward.

Freedom is the core of all human progress

I wanted to start with this, and hopefully this will be something you remember about me - I believe that freedom is the core of all human progress. You will hear me say this over and over and over again. Foreign policy in Latin America, at least through my vision, has to start with freedom. There will be more opportunities for businesses to grow with freedom. There are a lot of things that need to take place for freedom to expand and grow in Latin America; whether it is the rule of law, respect for the rights of individuals, or even property rights. There are a whole host of issues that may not be the ones you hear on CNN, Fox News, or NBC, but are the fabric of what will make Latin America increasingly successful.

The people of Latin America and the United States have the same hopes and dreams for their future

I always believe that whether you live in Fort Myers, Florida, where I live, or somewhere else in the United States, or if you are a family in Latin America, we want the same things for our children. You want hope and opportunity. You want to see that your children have a better way of life than you had. As parents, we want to give that to our children. So I think that is what really will tie us together if we can remember that what we want here in the United States is exactly what people in Latin America want.

China’s influence in Latin America is due to the lack of U.S. engagement

The reason that China has a growing opportunity in the region is because of the void left by the United States. If we want to have an impact like China in Latin America, we need to engage Latin America at a much higher level. We can no longer think of Latin America as just our neighbors. There are a lot of these terms that we use sometimes that are very derogatory in Latin America; they don’t want to be the backyard of the United States. They don’t want to be seen as just the neighbor. We have created a void in Latin America that China, Iran, and others are exploiting. We need to show our commitment to engage with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Hugo Chavez is a destabilizing force in the region

I believe that Hugo Chavez’s influence in Latin America is destructive and counter to the idea of freedom. He believes in intimidation and manipulation. He does not believe in opportunity, even for his own people. So I see Chavez and the influence that Chavez has as one of the major challenges we face in seeing the expansion of freedom in Latin America and the Caribbean. I will not focus solely on Chavez, but I will tell you this: the negative influences of Hugo Chavez will be highlighted and outlined in all of the hearings and areas that we do hold.

Supporting friends and allies through mutually beneficial relationships

I think we need a paradigm shift in our attitude and relationship with Latin America. What we need to do is to show our friends and our allies that we support them. We need to say to our friends and allies that we appreciate them for standing by when times are tough, which means things like the Panama and Colombia Free Trade agreements. This legislation is good not only for the countries involved, whether it is Panama, Colombia, or the United States, but also for the idea that if you are a friend or ally of the United States, we are going to treat you with respect and we are going to work as hard as we can to foster those relationships like free trade agreements.

The President and Secretary Clinton have both publically said that they support the Free Trade Agreements, and that they must be passed. Now what we need is the President to send the Free Trade Agreements to Congress and we will show him that we can pass them. With approximately ninety new members, and around 87 of them Republicans, it is my guess that a large majority of those will be in support. It is important that we follow through on these.

Narco-trafficking is a huge threat to freedom, security, and prosperity

The second challenge I see in Latin America is narco-trafficking. It’s a destructive force to society, businesses, democracy, and freedom, and we cannot pretend like it’s going to go away on its own. We cannot pretend, frankly, that there will be a military solution to narco-trafficking. It’s a very big problem. It’s what connects terrorism to Latin America and here again we go back to Venezuela - Hugo Chavez is allowing Venezuela to be a narco-trafficking safe haven and the entry point for terrorism in our hemisphere. Make no mistake about it, there are glaring similarities to the relationship that Russia had with Cuba and what we see with Iran and Venezuela. The difference is Venezuela has resources that it is willing to spend on foreign policy and influence while Castro didn’t have those resources.

I could go on but I would really like to hear thoughts and feedback on the issues at hand so we can move forward and I hope, over these next two years, to continue these discussions.

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