In Speech at UM's Latin America Conference, Ros-Lehtinen Discusses Regional Security Threats, Economic Opportunities

Friday, May 11, 2012

MIAMI – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered a speech titled “Security Threats and Economic Opportunities in the Hemisphere” earlier today at the Seventh Annual Latin America Conference, hosted by the University of Miami’s Center for Hemispheric Policy. Ros-Lehtinen discussed the need to continue to work with our allies in the region to enhance security, protect and promote democracy, and grow our economy. Excerpts from Ros-Lehtinen’s speech follow. For full text, please click here


“Although other regions often dominate the headlines, Latin America remains central to our country’s security and prosperity. But as everyone in this room knows, that relationship is too often taken for granted and, as a result, our interests are in danger of being undermined by complacency. For example, our economic interdependence often seems to be a well-kept secret. Of the top 25 markets for U.S. exports in 2011, five are in this Hemisphere.

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“But I am happy to say that when Congress was finally allowed to vote on [the Colombia, Panama, and South Korea Free Trade Agreements] last October, both agreements passed overwhelmingly and on a bipartisan basis, demonstrating the broad consensus regarding the importance of enhanced ties with our neighbors to the south. Although I must point out that only 31 Democrats voted for the Colombia FTA, which is dismal, considering that within hours, the FTA with South Korea captured 59 Democratic votes. When the Colombia Free Trade Agreement finally enters into force next week, over 80 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial exports to Colombia will become duty-free. As a result, American businesses will receive a much-needed boost in a time of economic difficulty that will allow them to expand their exports and hire more workers.

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“In itself, the threat from illegal drug trafficking is evident, from the ruined lives of countless numbers to the violence and corruption that undermines entire societies. But the drug traffickers are allied with many other dangerous actors, such as the FARC in Colombia, which is largely funded by the proceeds from producing and distributing narcotics to international drug traffickers, which also provide it with weapons and equipment. Although the influence of the FARC in the region has diminished greatly due to joint U.S. – Colombia counter narcotics operations, the threat posed by the drug trade has expanded by the increasing involvement of foreign terrorist organizations. According to General Fraser at SOUTHCOM, Hezbollah and Hamas continue to use the Hemisphere as a source of funds, much of it from the drug trade, to support their illicit activities worldwide. And the threat from foreign terrorist organizations is increasing.

But even more dangerous is Iran. General Fraser has also testified that in the last 7 years, Iran has doubled the number of its embassies in the region and has launched 40 so-called cultural centers in 17 different countries. In January, Iran’s Ahmadinejad traveled through the region on a ‘Tour of Tyrants’ to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador, trying to form an alliance based on hatred of the U.S. and a commitment to authoritarian rule. We should not be surprised that the leaders of these countries welcomed him with open arms and reaffirmed their support of the Iranian regime. As the U.S. and its allies tighten sanctions against Iran, Ahmadinejad is trying to identify countries that will help him evade their impact.

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“The countries of Latin America are of enormous importance to our prosperity and security, and yet both the promise and the dangers receive far too little attention. But far more remains to be done, not only in Washington but around the country. That is why the work you are doing is of such importance, for South Florida is directly linked in a thousand ways to the countries of the Hemisphere, perhaps more than any other region in the United States. Our prosperity and security are interwoven with theirs. If we are to secure our many blessings and to avoid the dangers that threaten us all, we have no option but to recognize that we are but members of a single community and that our fates are forever tied together.”

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