Rubio: U.S. should seize the new opportunity to strengthen ties with Chile

Last spring, the people of Chile democratically elected President

Sebastián Piñera to lead one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. The Piñera government presents an opportunity for the United States to strengthen relations with our democratic ally and solve problems in the region.

The Western Hemisphere faces many challenges, including growing coca production, illegal trafficking, and expanding criminal organizations. Solving these and other problems will require the United States to cooperate more closely with Chile and other regional partners on security and economic matters.

To begin with, the U.S.-Chile partnership is already strong. Our two countries signed a free trade agreement in 2004 and, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, our trade in goods and services totals more than $27 billion, supporting more than 90,000 jobs in the United States and thousands more in Chile. Moreover, the United States invests roughly $26 billion annually in Chile, and our Latin American ally correspondingly invests more than $2 billion per year in the U.S. economy.

My hope is that a robust relationship with the Piñera Administration will further strengthen our economic ties and lead to greater prosperity for both of our countries. Toward that end, the United States should also work with Chile to develop better intellectual property protection laws and less onerous tax and regulatory regimes.

Cybersecurity is another emerging area where the United States and Chile have powerful incentives to work together. Last May, hackers launched a massive cyberattack to steal $10 million dollars from the Banco de Chile, the country’s second-largest bank. Two weeks reportedly passed before the bank could resume normal operations.

The United States has formidable cybersecurity capabilities in government and private sectors that could benefit Chile. That’s why I strongly support Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ decision to visit Santiago last August and to sign a new bilateral agreement with Chilean Defense Minister Alberto Espina for closer cybersecurity cooperation. This bilateral pact paves the way for our nation to do more to help Chile better defend its information networks and financial institutions from cyber threats. Moreover, our two nations should pursue other avenues for security cooperation, including more military exercises focused on science and technology collaboration.

The United States and Chile also have mutual interests in preventing revisionist nations outside the Western Hemisphere from interfering or exerting malign influence on the region. I remain gravely concerned about the Chinese government’s use of debt traps, economic exploitation, and other means to pressure countries, especially young democracies, towards its authoritarian will.

China’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” a predatory investment scheme to promote massive infrastructure projects around the globe, is a major example of the communist nation’s coercive economic strategy. As Ray Washburne, who heads the U.S. government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), recently warned, China is “not in it to help countries out, they’re in it to grab their assets.”

I urge Chile to use their trade relationship with China to level the playing field and demand transparent investment practices from China. In contrast to American and other Western financial engagement, Chinese investment often comes with political strings, shoddy production, and even Chinese workers who displace local workers at cutthroat prices. At the same time, the United States must continue to deepen its economic ties with Chile, not only to roll back China’s foothold in Latin America, but also to ensure Chile does not become beholden to China.

As the region grapples with the crisis in Venezuela, Chile has emerged as a constructive and responsible leader, and responded constructively to the migratory crisis created by the Maduro regime. Like other countries in the region, Chile is dealing with hundreds of thousands displaced Venezuelans who have been forced to flee their country.

The Piñera government has opened its doors, welcomed displaced Venezuelans, and provided a safe haven for those escaping Maduro’s oppression. China, in contrast, is now propping up the Maduro regime with loan guarantees and thus actively perpetuating the very crisis in Venezuela that’s destabilizing the region.

While Chile deserves credit for its work to press the Maduro regime to face international justice and accountability, more can be done. I urge the Piñera government to join the U.S. in imposing stronger financial and economic sanctions, including asset restrictions, against officials in the Venezuelan regime and security forces.

Given the many international challenges facing both the United States and Chile, I was pleased that President Trump recently met with President Piñera in the White House, and I see the meeting as a sign of the importance that our nation places on Chile and the Western Hemisphere. I look forward to working with both leaders to continue strengthening the U.S.- Chile relationship.