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Washington, D.C. – Today, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul questioned Biden administration State Department officials on their failure to ensure that the U.S. remains the leading superpower in the Western Hemisphere. During his questioning, Chairman McCaul emphasized the importance of establishing working partnerships in our hemisphere to deter the unholy alliance of China, Russia, and Iran from spreading their malign influence and promote greater prosperity in the region. 


— As delivered — 

Chairman McCaul: “Since this administration took power, we’ve lost to our adversaries: Brazil, October 2022; Columbia, May 2022;  Chile, December 2021; [and] Honduras, November 2021. And if you look at the map, there aren’t many friends down there. [We have] got Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and now with the recent election in Argentina. We need moral clarity and authority in our hemisphere. When you lose that, you lose to your foreign adversaries, like China particularly. Illegal immigration gets worse, not better. Fentanyl [is] coming into this country  it’s worse  not better. China’s malign influence gets worse, not better. Cartels and their operations have gotten worse not better. And it’s all tied together. Our adversaries are all working against us. We don’t choose them, they choose us. We have this debate on Ukraine, but now we have it in our own backyard – in our hemisphere. More countries recognize China than Taiwan, in our hemisphere and the Belt and Road projects keep coming and expanding. I think we need a new doctrine for our hemisphere. One that protects our interests, combats our enemies, and promotes shared prosperity between us and our allies. And I’m not saying this to score political points. I just want to know: what is the plan? That’s reality. What is our plan to address these threats in our own backyard, Mr. Secretary Nichols?”

Hon. Brian Nichols: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We work with countries across the political spectrum as long as they respect democracy, the right of voters to choose their own governments. The characterization that you make on some of the governments I would disagree with, respectfully. In Chile, President Boric has repeatedly condemned human rights violations, and the lack of democracy in Venezuela, and continues to speak out boldly against the repression in Nicaragua. [In] Peru, President Boluarte and her government have been very supportive of our efforts to bring greater democracy to Venezuela [and] to address the challenges in Nicaragua. They have raised deep concerns about the presence of Chinese investments in infrastructure, and I think we’ll probably talk about that more today.”

Chairman McCaul: Like the Panama Canal is a good example. I mean, you know, [President Theodore] Roosevelt created it and [President] Jimmy Carter gave it back and now you have to Chinese ports on both sides of the Panama Canal.”
Hon. Brian Nichols: Panama is a strong US ally.”

Chairman McCaul: And they are and that’s good. Right?”

Hon. Brian Nichols: “We look forward to an excellent relationship with incoming President José Raúl Mulino, and we think he will be an excellent partner. And he’s already stressed – in his conversations with our embassy – his commitment to working with us.”

Chairman McCaul: “Mr. Meeks and I will be having a delegation to Latin America and I look forward to working with you before we do that. Ambassador Robinson, two points. I was in Mexico with the Secretary of the Navy. We passed this year, there is new screening that can detect fentanyl and precursors technology. And I talked to the Secretary of the Navy down in Mexico they’re very interested in getting this technology deployed, especially to the two ports on the Pacific side, where all the precursors are coming in from China. Can you give me an update on that?”
Hon. Todd Robinson: “Thank you for that question. We are working regularly with our Mexican counterparts particularly the Navy at the port of Manzanillo and I can’t remember the name of the other port. We regularly have contact with them. We regularly review the type of equipment and training they need, including canines, which have been incredible.”

Chairman McCaul: “That’s great. I brought up canines with them. They said they would need thousands of canines to do this. The technology is now available and I think we need to get it to them right?”

Hon. Todd Robinson: “Well, absolutely. What I would say though is, you know, unlike some of our competitors, we can’t direct American companies to go to point X or point Y. They are going to go where they can make money. We can certainly expose them to our partners in Mexico and allow them to have conversations with the government and themselves.”

Chairman McCaul: “Well, I talked to the Secretary of the Navy in Mexico and they’re very interested in – if this is a matter of cost, they certainly would want to buy it, but I think we can also assist them in that effort. And I would appreciate if you could update me on this because our appropriations process is going forward. I think that would be a really wise investment if we’re going to protect our children from the scourge of fentanyl. Lastly, Ambassador Robinson, you know I talked to [Andrés Manuel López Obrador], thePresident Mexico, there’s a choke point and it’s between Guatemala and Mexico. There’s also the Darién Gap. It would make a lot of sense to me and I’ve been doing this for a long time, this border stuff. I think “Remain in Mexico” [was] working, but your administration did away with that. But you know, I think, there’s interest on Mexico’s part. I think Panama has an interest in the Darién Gap to close this choke point off. You’re not talking about 2,000 miles of border, you’re talking about a very finite number of miles that we could secure to stop this illegal immigration that’s happening. And then that sends a message of deterrence that the cartels understand. I mean do you have any thoughts on those two ideas?” 

Hon. Todd Robinson: “Absolutely, and I completely agree with you. In fact, we are working very closely on both sides of the Darién with Colombia and Panama, both getting them to work together and allowing us to assist them in monitoring the area, getting their forces to the area. Our [inside mold line] airframes are assisting in getting their officers to the area. We would welcome Mexican support in this effort. I think you’re absolutely right that making sure that we’re working with all of our partners in the region closely – and we are – can go a long way towards addressing this issue.”

Chairman McCaul: “I look forward to working with you. And I’m going to talk to our appropriators because we talk a lot about border security around here. But you know, when you [have] got two obvious chokepoints, from a geographical standpoint, to me, it’s just common sense.”

Hon. Todd Robinson: “I would add Guatemala as well, in that group.”

Chairman McCaul: “Guatemala and Mexico and the Darién Gap. I think those two combined would make a whole lot of sense. I think that would be bipartisan.”