Counter-narcotic successes in Colombia have shifted the threat of transnational criminal organizations to Mexico and Central America, and there is growing concern that security efforts in these countries will shift the threat into the Caribbean and increase reliance on sea routes for smuggling while adding pressure to the governments of Jamaica and the Dominican Republic among others. In response, Southcom should look at increased military-to-military cooperation through training and equipment programs in Honduras to expand their coastal patrol capability, and other countries in the region willing to accept this type of U.S. support.
Otherwise, we should enable partners like the Colombians to export security training and assistance. Providing simple items — like night vision goggles — can make a big difference.
Finally, there are larger geo-strategic concerns within Latin America. The Chinese government continues to out-maneuver the U.S. on trade deals and is aggressively buying resources for export across the Pacific, all while cultivating ties with Latin American governments. Due to Latin America’s proximity to the U.S., our enemies have not let up on establishing a foothold in the region.
Working with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his Bolivarian alliance of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and the Castros in Cuba, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has worked aggressively to cultivate friendships, open “cultural offices,” and place his operatives in nations that welcome them. Fortunately, Iran has a spotty track record of delivering on its promises. But we know their intentions are not benign.
I welcome Gen. Kelly and his family to South Florida, and to this challenging assignment. I look forward to working with him and the men and women from all the services and their families who serve our nation at U.S. Southern Command at this important time.