WASHINGTON, March 13, 2014 – After 50 years of battling drug trafficking alongside the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, budget cuts are reversing hard-fought gains and forcing U.S. Southern Command to accept significant risks, the Southcom commander said today.
“Last year, we had to cancel more than 200 very effective engagement activities and numerous multilateral exercises, Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
And because of asset shortfalls, Southcom is unable to pursue 74 percent of suspected maritime drug trafficking, the general said.
“I simply sit and watch it go by,” he continued. “And because of service cuts, I don't expect to get any immediate relief, in terms of assets, to work with in this region of the world.”
Latin America and the Caribbean are home to some of the nation’s staunchest partners, ready and willing to work together on a broad range of issues, Kelly said. “Most nations in this part of the world want our partnership. They want our friendship. They want our support. They want to work with us. They want our engagement to address shared challenges and transnational threats,” he continued.
For more than 50 years, Southcom has done exactly that, Kelly said.
“We've engaged with our partners,” he added. “We've helped build strong, capable military and security forces that respect human rights and contribute to regional security. We've worked with the inter-agency international community to secure the southern approaches of the United States. And we've accomplished a lot, even in these days when I have very, very few forces assigned and very, very limited resources to work with.”
Ultimately, Kelly said, the cumulative impact of Southcom’s reduced engagement won't be measured in the number of canceled activities and reduced deployments. Rather, he explained, it will be measured in terms of lost U.S. influence, leadership and relationships in a part of the world where U.S. engagement has made a real and lasting difference over the decades.