Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I also want to thank our witnesses for appearing today to provide an update on the security situation and U.S. military activities in your respective areas of responsibility. Both of you are leading commands during very challenging times and we thank you for your continued service. Please also extend our gratitude to the service men and women under your command for their outstanding service and dedication.
I am very concerned about the growing Chinese and Russian influence in both Latin America and Africa. China is leveraging its economic might and influence to gain access to ports and loaning large sums of money for infrastructure projects, many of which are not economically viable and will leave these countries beholden to Beijing. Russia is engaging in massive disinformation campaigns to undermine U.S. influence and propping up authoritarian regimes in both regions. Both of you are tasked to counter Russian and Chinese influence with limited funds, equipment, and people, as many of the department’s resources are being diverted to the INDO-PACOM and EUCOM AORs. I would like to hear how the implementation of the National Defense Strategy has affected the resources you have to counter Russian and Chinese influence in these critical regions, as well as any additional resources you might need for this vital task.
In Africa, as in South and Central America, we are working with local and international partners to advance our shared security goals. However, the complex and often interlocking challenges to stability will not be solved by military means alone. Indeed, many significant issues – including rapid population growth, demographic changes, famine, and migration – are long-term and multidimensional in nature, and require whole-of-government policies that take an equally long-term view of investment and engagement in the region.
In December, the Administration announced a new U.S. Strategy for Africa that highlighted the importance of the region to U.S. economic interests and the growing competition with China and Russia throughout the continent. However, the Administration has repeatedly submitted budgets that slashed critical aid dollars and reduced engagement across the AOR. General Waldhauser, I hope you will discuss the importance of long-term engagement in Africa and the types of investments we should be prioritizing to best position ourselves for strategic competition in the AOR.
Admiral Faller, you also have a difficult problem set – narco-trafficking has flooded Central and South America with illicit funds that exacerbate rampant corruption, especially among police forces. Poor economic conditions and a lack of citizen security has led to a humanitarian crisis that forces families to flee to look for better living conditions. Authoritarian governments, propped up with Russian and Chinese support are undermining democratic values and destabilizing the region. Despite all of these problems, I do want to note that there are some bright spots – we have several capable partners in the region, such as Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Argentina, who are willing to work with us, and are now net exporters of peace and security.
On a final note, Venezuela is an unfolding crisis. I am hopeful that there will be a peaceful and democratic transition in Venezuela, led by the Venezuelan people, and supported by the international community. It has been terrible to watch the starvation of the Venezuelan people and the destruction of the Venezuelan economy by the Maduro regime. Current efforts to support interim president Juan Guaido are being led by the State Department and Treasury. Congress must be consulted if there is any military action beyond the current planning for the evacuation of U.S. citizens and embassy personnel. I know the events on the ground are changing day by day and it is impossible to tell what event or set of events will trigger Maduro’s departure. I would like to hear any updates you might have and what you expect in the weeks to come.
Thanks again to our witnesses, and thank you, Mr. Chairman.