Two leading voices in Congress on Latin America have introduced bipartisan legislation to spur closer US security cooperation in the region and turn back what they see as the growing, malign influence of China and Russia.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the ranking member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez introduced what they dubbed the “Western Hemisphere Security Strategy Act” on Monday.
The bill seeks to counter what the senators, both sons of Cuban immigrants, consider the “harmful and malign influence” in Latin America of China and Russia, arguing that the “destabilizing” influence of authoritarian governments in Beijing and Moscow pose unique risks to US national security interests as well as the region’s welfare.
If approved, the bill would require the Secretaries of State and Defense to jointly submit within 180 days a strategy to enhance diplomatic engagement and security assistance in the Western Hemisphere on issues ranging from drug trafficking to transnational crime. Concrete steps would include increasing military training exercises with partner nations and efforts to improve their capacity to conduct disaster relief operations.
“There is no greater threat in our region than the growing meddling of Russia and China in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Rubio said in a statement.
“It is imperative for the US to be strategic and proactive in strengthening security partnerships with democracies throughout the Americas,” Menendez added. “This bill recognizes the geopolitical significance of Latin America.”
China in recent years has replaced the US as the main trading partner of several countries in Latin America while at the same time financing major investments in infrastructure, including the building out of the region’s cellular network, which the US considers a security risk.
Meanwhile, Russia is a major supplier of military support and weapons to Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — the three top US adversaries in the region that generations of US policy makers had referred to as Washington’s backyard.