Ros-Lehtinen Calls for A Coherent Strategy to Advance U.S. Interests in the Region, Promote Democracy, and Hold Accountable Regimes that Oppress Their Own People

May 23, 2013

(WASHINGTON) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, made the following statement today at a Western Hemisphere Subcommittee hearing entitled “U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation: An Overview of the Merida Initiative 2008-Present.”

Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing regarding one of the most critical partnerships that our nation enjoys - that with Mexico, our ally to the south.

In a speech in 1984, President Ronald Reagan said “Closer to home, there remains a struggle for survival for free Latin American States, allies of ours. They valiantly struggle to prevent Communist takeovers fueled massively by the Soviet Union and Cuba. Our policy is simple: We are not going to betray our friends, reward the enemies of freedom, or permit fear and retreat to become American policies -- especially in this hemisphere.”

Years later, we are still seeking a coherent strategy on how to advance U.S. interests in the region, promote democracy, and hold accountable those regimes that oppress their own people.

This is why I would like to thank my friend Albio Sires for joining me in introducing bipartisan legislation - HR 1687 - Countering ALBA Act of 2013 - which urges the President to sanction persons who are officials of or acting on behalf of ALBA Governments, who are responsible for or complicit in the commission of serious human rights abuses against citizens of ALBA countries.

Although other regions often dominate the headlines, Latin America remains central to our country’s security and prosperity.

Mexico is a vital ally in the region that is instrumental to the economic and security outlook of our country.

Given the strong ties and interests that bind our two nations together, it is important to reexamine the Merida Initiative to ensure that it is living up to its promise of bringing a greater measure of human rights and rule of law in Mexico as it struggles to address these challenges.

According to reports, the new Mexican government has called for an end to direct access by U.S. law enforcement officials with their Mexican counterparts on security matters.

I’m concerned that this shift by the Peña Nieto government could impact our national security and hinder mutual security operations regarding narco-trafficking and terrorism.

In addition, I am also concerned that Mexico is not doing enough to protect its southern border.

Just like the Colombians are training law enforcement and military personnel in the region, Mexican authorities should be doing the same.

With that in mind, we must also reexamine our own approach to the violent crisis in Central America.

Last year, joint operations with our allies in Central America were crucial in disrupting illicit networks and eliminating drug smuggling cells.

I’m concerned about the growing destabilizing threat of violence in Central America.

However, these programs have been frozen for more than a year due to a hold from the Senate. This undermines our national security and lets our friends in the region out to dry.

  • Mr. Feeley, can you give this subcommittee a status update on the hold?
  • Also, what is the strategy of the administration regarding this money given the fact that the reprogramming deadline for Honduras funds is the beginning of June?

Ambassador Brownfield, I would like to turn our attention to Bolivia for a moment.

In 2008, Bolivia expelled our U.S. Ambassador and the DEA.

In 2011, I urged Secretary Clinton to oppose the Framework Agreement between the U.S. and Bolivia citing that Morales does not want to be a partner of the U.S. and undermines our interests in the region.

And just this month, Morales violated the Constitution by seeking a third term and expelled USAID from Bolivia.

However, despite all these expulsions, the State department continues to fund counter-narcotics operations in Bolivia.

The FY11 INCLE request for Bolivia was $15 million, FY 12 was $7.5 million, and the Administration’s request for FY14 is $5 million.

  • Ambassador Brownfield, when will the Administration realize that our taxpayer dollars can better spent elsewhere and is there a plan to change our current footprint?

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