Monday, October 05, 2020

SOUTHCOM and Latin America in the Covid Era

I watched the Council of the Americas webinar with SOUTHCOM Commander Craig Faller and Civilian Deputy Commander Jean Manes, with Eric Farnsworth moderating. Some interesting discussion, with the kind of emphasis you would expect from SOUTHCOM. Here are my quick thoughts:

  • Major issue is Chinese illegal fishing around Ecuador and Peru (see here for background). I have to wonder how much that could sour Latin American views of China. On Twitter, Tracy North notes that it also affects Nicaragua, which they did not mention. I don't know if that was intentional (because of politics) or not.
  • Manes: the U.S. role in providing aid for Covid "hasn't been covered in the news much" but they keep careful track to make sure no other outside government (esp. China) does more. It's quite the cold way of looking at it--give more aid only if China does so first. The U.S. does not want other countries to "take advantage." I imagine Latin American leaders would not tend to view any Covid aid as "taking advantage." As for the news comment, it sounds in line with Trump but it's a constant in U.S. policy toward Latin America--the news is never quite positive enough of U.S. actions.
  • Faller: can we even call the Maduro regime a "regime" because it's a small group of criminals. Well, they control the government, so yes, it's a regime. That was a surprising and uninformed offhand comment intended as an insult, I guess.
  • Manes: the Colombia peace process is "on pause" because of Covid, at least until a vaccine, like other initiatives around the region. I get this, but one could argue it was already on pause before Covid because the Duque government is not committed to it, and the pandemic is just an excuse.
  • Faller: U.S. training of Latin Americans has actually increased because of technology. That actually makes sense, because at the university we find larger meeting participation.
  • Both Faller and Manes: U.S.-Brazilian relations at the military-military level are very good. I have not followed this, but it also makes sense--at that level it can transcend the politics of the particular government in power.
  • Faller had a not-so-veiled threat to countries pursuing agreements with China: "Our ability to have a trusting relationship will be jeopardized." Such a threat really suggests weakness--China is making inroads and the U.S. cannot figure out how to address it.
  • Manes: once someone decides to emigrate, you've already lost. You need to improve things at home. The big question, though, is how to deal with migrants when they reach the U.S. Her logic would suggest that just sending them home is a bad idea, though obviously that's not the Trump logic.
  • Venezuela: not much new. Faller: the external actors there are the "intricate weave of a Persian rug." Weird way to put it, but whatever.
  • No questions or discussion of Mexico. That surprised me. Mexico as a partner is more important than China as an adversary, I'd say. Update: I've been reminded via email that Mexico does not fall under SOUTHCOM. So this is worth mentioning. But it's weird to hear Central American migration kind of ending there.


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