With challenges from drug, arms and people trafficking, corruption, poverty and potential terrorism threatening the countries of the Americas, the military deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command said Thursday that the nations of the region can’t go it alone and need to help each other.
Speaking at Florida International University’s Hemispheric Security Conference, Lt. Gen. Joseph P. DiSalvo said that over the last two years “partner nations are realizing they can’t do it alone. We can’t do it alone.”
That potentially could include military relations with Cuba when the timing and environment is right, he said. “We are waiting on word from the president and the secretary of defense to say when.” Since the rapprochement with Cuba, no U.S. military delegations have visited the island, but DiSalvo said “the Coast Guard has a very good relationship with their Cuban counterparts.”
The Southern Command is open to establishing new relationships with militaries in the Americas, he said. With the Argentine government now more receptive to the United States under President Mauricio Macri, for example, that made it “fairly easy” to renew military ties with the South American country, he said.
Panels at the day-long conference examined topics ranging from terrorist financing, cybersecurity and street gangs to energy security that have an impact on hemispheric security. They also looked at the influence of both China and Russia in the region as well as the current crises in Venezuela and Brazil.
DiSalvo said economics seem to be the primary motivation for China’s engagement with the region and the South Command is “not too concerned” about security competition with China in the Americas.
China has invested heavily in the Americas, particularly in infrastructure, energy and natural resources projects.
But Evan Ellis, a professor of Latin American Studies at the U.S. Army War College, said such investments are in a sense strategic because they are tied to Chinese economic expansion and the continuity of China’s Communist Party.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, Russia showed minimal interest in Latin America, said Vladimir Rouvinski, director of the politics department at Icesi University in Cali, Colombia. But that began to change in the mid-1990s with Russia first cultivating Latin American countries “who might have difficulties in their relations with the United States,” he said.
The budding relationships are not so much because of shared ideologies, he said, as because Russia views Latin America as the United States’ “near abroad.” Russia uses the term “near abroad” to refer to the former republics of the old Soviet Union where it still wants to maintain influence and doesn’t want the United States to meddle.
Engaging with the United States’ “near abroad” is a form of reciprocity and is part of Russian President Vladimir Putin building a case for his “making Russia great again,” said Rouvinski.
“Russia is not prepared to leave Latin America,” he said. In fact, it is diversifying its relations with Latin America, including a huge regional build-up of Russian media that is highly critical of the United States, Rouvinski said.
In order to degrade illicit networks that threaten regional security a three-prong approach that includes defense, diplomacy and development is needed, said DiSalvo.
“You can’t have security without prosperity,” said Celina Realuyo, a professor at the National Defense University.
She discussed following money flows as a way of combating arms, people and drug trafficking as well as the convergence of crime and terrorism. But, she said, “The fight cannot be done alone. The flows do not respect borders.”
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