Illegal fishing, transnational criminal activities and malign foreign influence meddling in South and Central America, and the importance of counterbalancing those threats with effective partnerships in that region was discussed today by the leaders of the U.S. Southern Command.
Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, the commander of U.S. Southcom; and Jean Manes, the civilian deputy commander of U.S. Southcom, joined an Americas Society/Council of the Americas roundtable conversation.
The main mission of U.S. Southcom is to defend the United States. That's primarily accomplished through working with partners, said Faller. "We have some really strong, capable partners in this hemisphere."
The admiral mentioned Brazil, Colombia and Chile as being particularly stalwart partners, as well as many others, like El Salvador, which currently has peacekeeping troops in Mali and has contributed similarly in the past to other places.
Working with partners often involves enhancing their military capabilities, he said. The return on investment for doing that results in a more secure, stable and prosperous hemisphere.
Enhancing military capabilities in the region can take various forms, including bilateral and multilateral exercises, which increase interoperability, sharing intelligence and inviting military members to share in military education opportunities, he said.
Faller mentioned the top threats the hemisphere faces.
Most illegal fishing in this hemisphere comes from China. "This has us focused with a sense of urgency day in and day out," he said, mentioning that the U.S. Coast Guard has been taking an active role in enforcement.
China is also working on port and other infrastructure deals, as well as information technology to leverage their own influence in the region, he said, adding that they're also building military partnerships in the area, along with Russia and Iran.
The three nations most receptive to malign influence, he noted, are Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Faller said that in addition to foreign meddling, the other area of concern is the $90 billion a year enterprise run by transnational criminal organizations, who traffic in people, guns, drugs, cyber, money laundering and other activities.
In some cases, they even control territory, he added.
In April, the Defense Department, in concert with the State Department, stepped up intelligence sharing of criminal organizations and activities with partner nations, Faller said, with productive results.
Manes said DOD works closely with inter-agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, particularly when it comes to natural disaster and humanitarian assistance.
In March, the department and its American partners began a large-scale campaign to deliver supplies needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. Delivering demonstrates U.S. commitment to these nations.
The U.S. is the largest aid donor in the hemisphere, she added, noting that the DOD has been involved in 330 such projects in the last six months.
Manes also mentioned China as being an economic threat to the hemisphere. China overfished their own waters so now they're coming here and decimating local fishing communities. Every nation with a coastline should be worried, she added.