Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Thornberry, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today with my shipmates General O’Shaughnessy, Assistant Secretary of Defense Rapuano, and Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Wheelbarger. I also thank this Committee for the steadfast support you provide our men and women every day.
The Western Hemisphere is our shared home – our neighborhood. We are connected to the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean by shared democratic traditions, culture, and geography – from my HQs in Doral, FL it takes me longer to travel to DC than it does to many of the countries in my area of responsibility. We are connected to our neighbors in every domain—sea, air, land, space, and cyber and most importantly shared values. Only by working together can we meet current and future global challenges. Ultimately, we want enemies to fear us, friends to partner with us, and the Western Hemisphere to shine as a beacon of peace, democracy, and prosperity.
To ensure the security of our Homeland, SOUTHCOM works closely with our interagency teammates from the Department of State, USAID, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Justice, just to name a few. This teamwork, especially with NORTHERN Command and the US Coast Guard, is critical to mission accomplishment.
Over the past five months, I have traveled throughout Central America, South America, and the Caribbean to get a firsthand view of the opportunities and challenges that directly impact the security of our hemisphere. Criminal organizations, narco-trafficking, illegal immigration, violent extremists, corruption, all enabled by weak governance, are principal among those challenges.
The most disturbing insight I’ve garnered in my time in command, however, has been the degree to which External State Actors, have been rapidly expanding their presence and influence in the Western Hemisphere. Across the world, to include in our neighborhood, democratic values are under assault by China, Russia, and Iran.
So how do we counter these threats in our neighborhood? Security cooperation is our best tool to continue building on the strong partnerships in this region and turn the challenges of our hemisphere into opportunities. Our partners are doing this every day. In this hemisphere (our neighborhood), a little goes a long way. We need the right, focused and consistent military presence. We cannot achieve positive results and influence outcomes without being on the playing field.
Every security challenge and threat in our hemisphere is compounded by the crisis in Venezuela.
Russia provides lifelines through loans, technical and military support, and rhetoric. China is Venezuela’s single largest state creditor, saddling the Venezuelan people with more than $50 billion in debt, and exporting surveillance technology used to monitor and repress the Venezuelan people. Iran has restarted direct flights from Tehran and reinvigorated diplomatic ties. Ever-present Cuba provides critical personnel and resources to prop up a corrupt dictator. In the face of this malign influence, the rest of the world unites in support of Venezuela’s legitimate leader, interim President Guaido.
A transition to legitimate democracy is underway led by Interim President Juan Guaido.
I have a message for the professionals in the Venezuelan military and security forces. The brutal dictatorship of Maduro has led to this man–made crisis. Cuba and Russia have invaded your country and disgraced your sovereignty. You have a chance to do the right thing and alleviate the suffering of your people, your families -- those you have sworn an oath to protect. When a legitimate democracy has been restored, we look forward to having you return to the brotherhood of professional arms including attendance at United States military training and education.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Thornberry, thank you again for the opportunity to testify before this committee. The SOUTHCOM team—our civilian and military members, and our families—appreciate the support Congress has provided us. We will continue to honor the trust you, and our fellow citizens have placed in us. I look forward to your questions.