The USSOUTHCOM chief's appearance on Capitol Hill raises the annual Degree alert to Chinese influence and US pushback.
° In his latest appearance, Admiral Craig Faller warned that the US "is losing its positional advantage' and called for "immediate action to reverse this trend".
° In recent years the Southern Command's speech at congress has highlighted the penetration of China, Russia and Iran, hand in hand with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
° Analysis of the Pentagon chief's interventions in the region sample the growing involvement of the Maduro regime in criminal activities.
► visit of the head of the US Southern Command to Montevideo in April 2021 [SouthCom].
report SRA 2021 / Diego Diamanti [ PDF version] [PDF version
The US Southern Command - the military structure within the US Armed Forces responsible for Latin America and the Caribbean - has been progressively raising the alarm about the growing influence of Russia and especially China in the Western Hemisphere, to the detriment of the US position. This, combined with the threat posed by organised crime organisations, especially those involved in drug trafficking, led USSOUTHCOM chief Admiral Craig Faller to confess in March to feeling "an incredible sense of urgency": "the hemisphere we live in is under attack", he said in his annual appearance before the US congress , dedicated to analysing the threats and opportunities the region presents in terms of security.
In his third "posture statement" to the congress since heading Southern Command, Faller warned that the US is losing its "edge" in the hemisphere and argued that "immediate action is needed to reverse the trend". Analysing his 2019 and 2020 speeches, as well as that of his predecessor, Admiral Kurt Tidd, in 2018, there is a worsening perception of the rivalry with China. Increasingly, the reference letter to the Chinese threat is more explicit and occupies more space. What was first seen as economic leverage, through increased trade and credit allocation, is now presented as more global and strategically more dangerous. According to Faller, China is seeking to 'establish a global logistics and infrastructure base in our hemisphere to project and sustain military power over greater distances'.
The change of Administration has not brought about any change in this worsening perception of the risks being generated in Latin America. Although Joe Biden's presidency has meant a change in tone from that of his predecessor, hostility towards Beijing and the desire to closely monitor other authoritarian regimes such as Russia and Venezuela have been maintained. Hence, the "posture statement" presented this year by the head of the Southern Command is consistent with previous ones in pointing to the growing activity of Russia and China in the region (and of Iran, in coordination with Hezbollah), as well as its partnership with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, countries that Faller called "malign regional state actors".
The use of Cuba
One of the constant and recurring threats that is gradually increasing is China's economic diplomacy strategy in several countries in the region: through loans and investments, Beijing incorporates these countries into its international trade network , sometimes integrating them into the New Silk Road initiative. The 2018 statement did not mention the issue number of Latin American nations participating in the initiative; the 2019 statement counted 16, and the 2020 statement spoke of 19, indicating a clear trend that China is gradually increasing its activities and influence in the hemisphere. The 2020 strategy also stated that 25 of the 31 countries in the region have Chinese infrastructure projects, which, as the head of the Southern Command expressly points out, could be used in the future to support Chinese military interests. Added to all this is the COVID-19 crisis, which China has used to increase its regional influence through its potential for medical supplies and vaccines.
Venezuela features prominently in the last four statements. Over the years, the situation progressively worsens and the Southern Command's stance towards Maduro's regime hardens: it goes from not calling him illegitimate to calling him illegitimate, and then openly accuses him of involvement in drug trafficking activities. It underlines its close military collaboration with Russia and with Colombian narco-terrorist groups - the ELN and FARC dissidents - which it hosts on its territory.
Another aspect that is reiterated is the emphasis on Cuba's destabilising role: how Havana interferes in internal affairs in Venezuela and Nicaragua, instructing these oppressive regimes on how to repress opposition movements and demonstrations, sometimes sending its own agents to fulfil this repressive function. In addition, the strategy also addresses the fact that Russia uses Cuba as a base for its intelligence operations towards the US and to project its power in the region.
The Southern Command's statements are in line with the concerns expressed in the document framework Strategic for the Western Hemisphere, produced by the National Security committee in 2020. Although the Trump Administration will have to formulate its own strategic plan for the region, no substantial changes can be expected, given that there is the same interest in restoring democracy for Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba; in promote transparency and fighting corruption; in combating illicit activities, such as drug trafficking and human smuggling; and in addressing China's growing presence in the region.