Adm. Faller on external state actors in Latin America, Caribbean
“Most disturbing insight, the ‘A-Ha’ for me, however, has been the degree to which the external state actors, China, Russia, and Iran have expanded their access and influenced right here in our neighborhood, or as General Neller put it, inside our interior lines. The National Defense Strategy makes clear great power competition has reemerged as the number one security challenge using our nation.
China, Russia, and others want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian models. They are blurring the lines of what constitutes military threat through economic coercion, the systematic stealing of technology, influence campaigns, and malicious cyber activity. They are contesting our military advantage in all the traditional domains we fight around the globe, land, air, sea, space, cyber, and information, plus one more very important domain, values like democracy, sovereignty, the rule of law, and human rights.”
Adm. Faller on role of external state actors in Venezuela
“Competition is happening globally and right here in our neighborhood, the Western Hemisphere. We see this most acutely in Venezuela where the security crisis created by Maduro has compounded every single security crisis we face in this hemisphere. Where Russia, in their own words, is protecting their loyal friend, to quote, by propping up the corrupt, illegitimate Maduro regime with loans and technical and military support. Where China, as Venezuela was largest single state creditor has saddled the Venezuelan people with more than 60 billion in debt, and it is exporting surveillance technology used in to monitor and repress the Venezuelan people.
Iran has restarted direct flights through Tehran to Caracas and reinvigorated diplomatic ties. Along with Cuba, these actors engage in activities that are profoundly on unhelpful to democracy and regional stability and counter to U.S. interests.”
Adm. Faller on U.S. military’s role in countering external state actors in the region
“We focus on partnerships, and that's the best way to outcompete China. Our partners want to work with us. They want the advantage of the United States education, training, exercises and military equipment. It's the best in the world. And so it's up to us to deliver that in a way that's relevant and also provides a return on investment for American taxpayer. So that is our focus.
Colombia and Brazil are two very good examples where we spend a lot of time. We've traveled to Colombia on multiple occasions, we've been to Brazil, their chiefs of defense have been to see us. It begins with intelligence sharing and education, frankly, at a person-to-person level and a mill to mill level. We enhance each other's situational awareness, strengthen our understanding of the opportunities and challenges, and work on education both in their schools and in ours, and I've had the opportunity to go down and speak at their institutions.
And so that's the foundation. That counters Russia and China best because, frankly, they can't compete with our system. They're trying. They are in the area.”
Adm. Faller on Russian misinformation in the region
“We've consistently seen the way Russia manipulates media around the world. At one point in February for my full Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, about a week before the hearing, I was here doing pre-hearing office calls and I came out of Senator Rubio's office to the news that Russian state TV was reporting my presence on the Colombian-Venezuela border including a picture of someone who wasn't me and B roll footage of tanks and planes poised to conduct an invasion.
I think that sort of states Russia's approach overall to accuracy.”
Adm. Faller on what he thinks are Russia’s and China’s objectives in the region
“I think for Russia that I would characterize as almost wounded bear wanting power. Their principal objective is to make the U.S. look bad at whatever turn they can do and do anything that would blunt a U.S. advantage, even if that advantage is for the international good of the people as it is in Venezuela.
China has global aims that are--that extended beyond economic, and I think we've got to continue to outcompete China globally, including in this neighborhood, this hemisphere.”
Adm. Faller on Iranian influence in region
“Iran continues to be the number one state sponsor of terror around the world and their long arm of malfeasance is everywhere. And we've see that recently in their attacks on tankers, and they have attributable to--at least two attributable terror attacks here in this hemisphere. Right here in Washington DC where they attempted to kill the Saudi Ambassador of the United States within, you know, really within blocks of where we're sitting, and their state sponsored terror attack in Argentina.
And there are active connections between Iranian regime and Lebanese Hezbollah fundraising activities throughout the region. We watch these closely. There's also Iranian sponsorship of Islamic centers with very dubious and questionable purposes throughout the hemisphere that has considerable ties to known terror activities in Iran and we keep our eye on this and we work closely with our capable partners such as Brazil and Argentina to share information about these threats.”
Adm. Faller on SOUTHCOM’s counter-narcotics efforts
“It's a significant focus of ours. And as I mentioned in a previous question, there are insufficient resources dedicated. We're working as hard as we can with the Coast Guard. It's a premier agency and they're working hard. They've dedicated twice the number of cutters to the effort than what they commit in their annual global plan, which shows the level of commitment. And our Navy stepped up to commit more.
Joint Interagency Task Force South in Key West, as you know, is the premier center, and with about 1.5 percent of the budget, it gets about 90 percent of the drugs headed into the country. Cocaine, which is principally coming from Colombia. So we are working as hard as we can with our partners across the U.S. interagency, and principally in the Joint Interagency Task Force South and in the committees here and Washington D.C. to look at ways to be more effective and to put more resources and intelligence and thought into the interdiction problem.
It's also a supply problem and a demand problem. And in that regard, I have to say that Colombia has stepped up in a significant way. And while the statistics that you cite don't reflect that because of the time lag, what will be--what has been published and made public for 2018 since President Duque has taken over is a significant increase in eradication, manual eradication, a significant increase in Colombian partner interdiction, a significant increase in the Colombian forces contact with the narco-traffickers and the terrorist groups that deal in this.
And so working with our partners both in the U.S. interagency and our other host nation partners, 40 percent of our interdictions right now are by these partner nations that we train and work with, Colombia, and I mentioned already the very capable forces of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. I would have to add in there Panama and Costa Rica have stepped up. But more can be done, and when we are certainly dedicated to that because there is--there is still way too much drugs that are getting through and getting to this country.”