Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, is headed for Cartagena, Colombia today for this weekend’s Summit of the Americas.
The Summit is an opportunity for Rubio to discuss the importance of democracy and trade with leaders from around the region, and help strengthen America’s relationships in this important part of the world.
Before departing, he appeared on the radio show, “From Washington Al Mundo”, and talked to host Mauricio Claver-Carone to discuss issues in Latin America including Iran’s influence, Venezuela’s upcoming elections and the importance of embracing democracy & free enterprise.
Excerpts from that interview:
Rubio on Iran’s Influence in the Western Hemisphere
Mauricio Claver-Carone: “You’ve expressed concern about Iran’s influence in the Western Hemisphere. And this has actually gone from, in the last few years, from speculation to fact as there’s been intelligence plots that have unfolded in Mexico with Iranian officials and Venezuelan officials and Cuban intelligence officials. We see that there are investments and transactions and perhaps even that Iran is trying to launder money to kind of deviate from its sanctions through Latin America. Are you comfortable that enough consideration is given to this potential threat?”
Senator Marco Rubio: “Well, it’s an evolving one that we need to keep an eye on. Right now, the way I would characterize the threat of the Iran presence in the Western hemisphere is three-fold. First and foremost, it has remained a diplomatic one. Basically, they’re just looking to show the world, ‘Hey we’re not isolated, we have friends and our friends are in Nicaragua, you know, Venezuela, Cuba,’ things of that nature. So I think that’s still their primary presence in the region. I mean, they’re always looking at how to avoid sanctions by funneling things through a Venezuelan bank or a Nicaraguan bank or something like that.
“And then the third, which I think is the one that will grow in importance in the next few years, is their intelligence platform. Their Quds Force presence in the region, as they continue to invest in what they call ‘cultural centers’ and as they begin to train intelligence officers in the region and so forth. Again, I’m not sure that we’re at the emergency stage yet, but it is a growing problem and one that we need to keep an eye on. I think certainly if you look at the way Iran throws its weight around the world, one of the things that it hopes to be able to do is punch above its weight by being able to wage asymmetrical warfare, which basically means they’re not going to try to match us aircraft carrier to aircraft carrier. What they’re going to try to do is be able to attack us using third-party terrorists. They use terrorism as a part of their stagecraft, as a part of their foreign policy. The ability to stage those kinds of attacks from the Western Hemisphere against our own interests is something that I think they’re interested in building up the capability to do. We’ve got to keep an eye on that and be willing to counter it, and also send a very clear message to leaders in the Western Hemisphere that the United States is not going to tolerate terrorist threats emerging from our own hemisphere. Luckily, it’s contained to a handful of rogue countries and rogue leaders I should say, like Hugo Chavez and others, who continue to embarrass themselves and their countries by aligning themselves with people like Gaddafi and Assad and now Iran as well.”
Rubio on Upcoming Elections in Venezuela
Claver-Carone: “Obviously in November we have elections here in the United States and the impact of the elections will be felt not only in Latin America but in the rest of the world. But also, in Latin America, this fall there are elections in Venezuela, which you previously alluded to. This could possibly be a game changing election for the hemisphere. What do you think the United States and the hemispheric community can do to ensure, or to try and ensure, that there is not wide spread fraud in the elections as we’ve seen in the past?”
Rubio: “Well, first and foremost is to work with our partners in the region to call it for what it is. There is fraud and there are abuses. It’s one of the things I was really upset about when it came to Nicaragua. We didn’t prioritize it. I don’t think there is anyone that would dispute that the elections in Nicaragua that were just carried out were fraudulent. Everyone says that. But the U.S. was very slow in saying that, in being forceful about it. We spoke very forcefully the day after fraudulent elections in Russia. It took us forever to put any sort of strong pronouncement out when it came to the issue of Nicaragua.
“I hope we are not as slow in doing that in Venezuela. I hope that if indeed there are irregularities that we would join the Western Hemisphere and the community of democratic nations in the hemisphere in condemning that. Ultimately the election and the decision belongs to the people of Venezuela. It’s a sovereign nation. They have the right to choose who their leaders are, even if it is someone we don’t agree with. Our job as their neighbor and their friend is to ensure that we will not turn our back on their democratic aspirations and that if in fact their democratic rights are being undermined, we will be very forceful and clear in speaking out against that.”
Rubio On Embracing Democracy and Free Enterprise
Claver-Carone: “The last couple of decades there’s almost been like a pendulum in Latin America. You saw in the 1990s democracy sweep in and it was the great hope of democracy. And then after Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998, we saw that there was almost like a counterattack on democracy. Where do you think that pendulum lies today? Are Hugo Chavez and his allies on the retreat?
Rubio: “I think so, because if you look at those nations and what they’ve experienced. Compare what’s happening in Colombia to what’s happening in Venezuela. I mean compare the nations that have embraced democracy and free enterprise to the nations that have embraced what Venezuela is doing.
“Venezuela is a rich country. It has energy resources. It has an educated business class. This is a country that should be doing very well and by all accounts it has an increasing amount of income inequality. The more they embrace Chavez’s policies, or the more Chavez’s policies are kicked in, the more income inequality exists.
“For example, pair the economic growth and income inequality in Chile to Venezuela’s. Venezuela started out ahead of Chile on all these factors. And in a decade, Chile has surpassed them on everything, and it hasn’t been by embracing Chavez-style policies. I think what big government socialism has led to in Venezuela is what it’s led to everywhere in the world it’s been tried: corruption, income inequality, poverty and democratic instability.”
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