Washington D.C. – Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, gave the following statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s Western Hemisphere Subcommittee hearing “Advancing U.S. Interests in the Western Hemisphere: The FY 2015 Foreign Affairs Budget.”

“I want to thank Chairman Salmon and Ranking Member Sires for holding today’s hearing. As the former Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, I feel very much at home coming back here.

“Let me first thank Secretary Jacobson for her continued, excellent work in promoting an active U.S. policy in the Americas. The Obama Administration has set a new tone of partnership in the region, and I am particularly appreciative of Vice President Biden’s important new role on Western Hemisphere issues.

“While U.S. attention has understandably been on Ukraine in recent weeks, we cannot ignore the brave student protesters in Venezuela who have been unjustly repressed by President Nicolas Maduro. I am grateful for President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s strong statements condemning the Maduro government’s actions. At the same time, I am disappointed by the silence of OAS member states, many of which suffered domestic repression in the recent past.

“As this subcommittee is well-aware, our actions at home have a major impact on our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is particularly true with regard to the massive U.S. demand for illegal drugs and the continued flow of firearms from the U.S. to Mexico. Today, I sent a letter to President Obama, signed by 81 of my colleagues, asking him to stop the import of military-style firearms into the United States, as provided under the Gun Control Act of 1968. Enforcing this ban, as did Presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton, would serve the dual purpose of improving public safety in the United States and reducing drug-related violence in Mexico, where there have been approximately 70,000 organized-crime related deaths since December 2006.

“In addition, it has been 43 years since President Nixon declared a ‘War on Drugs.’ Our programs have recorded a mixed record of success, and I think the time has come for an unbiased, expert review of America’s counter-narcotics policies in our hemisphere. I, therefore, plan to re-introduce legislation which passed our Committee and the House in 2009 to create an independent commission to evaluate U.S. drug policy in the Americas. I believe this Commission will help us to better understand which counter-narcotics policies work, which do not work and how we can have a better counter-narcotics policy moving forward.

“Thank you again to the witnesses for being here today and for your continued commitment to these important issues.”