Despite terrorist groups, narcoterrorism and the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, South America remains "the largest, free and peaceful ... most prosperous democracy region in the world," the commander of U.S. Southern Command said.
Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller said he has plans to help allies and partner nations in the region not only maintain that prosperity, but also improve upon it.
During a May 22 presentation before the 4th Annual Hemispheric Security Conference at Florida International University in Miami, Faller said key to Southcom's strategy is recognition of the commonalities the United States already shares with South American nations.
"We're a neighborhood," he said. "We are connected, not only in the traditional domains that we think about when we talk about military operations — those domains being land, sea, air, space and cyber. But we're connected, importantly, by values and democracy."
While the U.S. already has great presence in South America, the admiral noted, China, Russia and Cuba are making inroads there as well.
"Russia, China and Cuba, of course, [are] problematic and involved deeply in protecting Maduro," Faller said, adding that democracies are fragile and must be protected from interlopers.
"Corruption is a national security concern in this hemisphere, and these great powers take advantage of that," he said. "When you don't adhere to the rule of law, you use corruption as an advantageous tool for your autocratic goals."
China is working now on as many as 56 port deals in Latin America and the Caribbean, he said, "to lock up in terms that are favorable to 'One Belt, One Road' — with the emphasis being on one." One Belt, One Road is the name of China's global development strategy.
Russia, he said, is involved in the spread of disinformation in South America. Faller said Russian television reported he was on the border of Venezuela "and that we were getting ready to launch an invasion, complete with b-roll footage of Marine amphibious landings, and you can't make this stuff up."
Countering malign influence in South America involves strong partnerships in the region, Faller said. That involves education, key leader engagements, exercises, and other things "that don't get a lot of news, but create lasting relationships."
One example of that is the presence of the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship providing assistance in South America.
"Comfort was providing help to migrants, people devastated by the travesty in Venezuela," he said. "We saw 8-year-old, 7-year-old children that were emaciated, that never had medical care. We saw mothers crying because they recognize that their children were getting the attention they needed."
Faller also said the professionalism of U.S. forces helps to create better partners in South America. "Professionalism equals legitimacy," he said. "And legitimacy includes respect for the rule of law, and human rights, and those things that we find dear and fundamental. And we see that in our partners. They value that, too."