Yesterday, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues held a budget authorization hearing to review the budget requests of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and the Office of Global Women’s Issues.
In his opening remarks, Rubio addressed the importance of these issues for the Department of State and for America’s role in the world, and reviewed some of the challenges facing the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere and around the world.
In his exchanges with Obama Administration officials, Rubio expressed his concerns regarding the security of our Interests Section in Cuba and the possibility of the Interests Section in Havana being infiltrated by Cuban intelligence agents , and asked about the impact of these concerns on the transition of the Interests Section into an embassy (20:40). Rubio also touched on the Cuban military’s smuggling of weapons from China and to North Korea (31:30).
Rubio also inquired whether the U.S. had received a request from the Colombian government to release narco-terrorist Simón Trinidad, who is currently in U. S. custody, as part of its peace negotiations with the FARC (15:50), to which the administration replied that at the present time there were no discussions about his release.
Rubio’s other questions focused on “The Girls Count Act” (7:15), The National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security (9:26), religious freedom around the world (10:44), and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East (12:56).
A video of Rubio’s opening statement and the full exchanges is available here.
A transcript of Rubio’s full opening remarks is available below.
Senator Marco Rubio: “Today’s hearing is to review the resources, priorities, and programs in FY 2016 State Department budget request focused on our work here in the Western Hemisphere as well as transnational crime, civilian security, democracy, human rights, and global women’s issues.
“Our witnesses today from the administration are the Honorable Catherine Russell, the Ambassador-At-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Dr. John Feeley, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Ms. Virginia Bennett, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
“The hearing is going to focus on a review of resources, priorities, and programs in the FY 2016 budget request in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs and the Office of Global Women Issues.
“I want to thank all of you for being a part of this today.
“These are important issues for the Department of State and for America’s role in the world. Just as ensuring that our military is adequately funded to deter our enemies, the international affairs budget, of which the State Department budget is one component, is an essential element of our national security. The programs we will review today help advance U.S. national security interests in key regions, and help us ensure that our foreign policy reflects our values.
“I want to take this opportunity to briefly review some of the challenges facing us in the Western Hemisphere as well as across the globe:
“In Central America, the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which are collectively known as the Northern Triangle Countries (NTC), have been mired in economic stagnation, rocked by violent crime brought on by the proliferation of Narco traffickers and hobbled by entrenched corruption that inhibits economic growth and safety. I am cautiously optimistic about the desire of these countries to move themselves forward and the attention that the Administration is now giving to this particular region. While there cannot be a blank check and no accountability, Central American governments must look within and stamp out corruption to restore public confidence in public institutions.
“In Colombia, I remain supportive of the Government of Colombia and the Colombian people’s right to seek what is in their best interest with regards to the ongoing peace talks with the FARC. However, the FARC’s most recent deadly attack violated a ceasefire that had been in place since December and resulted in the death of 10 soldiers. This is not the first time that FARC has violated a ceasefire agreement, and the attack highlighted how deadly FARC continues to be. Our assistance to Colombia has been instrumental to the success in bringing the FARC to the negotiating table. The U.S. and Colombia must make sure that the FARC knows they’ve been defeated on the battlefield.
“In Haiti, the suspension of the October 26 elections last year were very startling, and the announcement by the president that he would rule by decree was even more disturbing. Haiti, unfortunately, has a history of turbulent elections and the recent suppression of political protestors cannot continue. We are hopeful that the upcoming August election will go forward as planned and that a new democratically elected government will be installed that will be responsive to the people of Haiti.
“In Cuba, despite all efforts by the Obama Administration to fast track and reestablish relations with that government, the Castro Dictatorship has used this opportunity to ridicule and attack American interests. The Cuban government has made no concessions, nor attempts to open a society that has been in darkness for 55 years. A darkness, make no mistake, that has been inflicted by the Castro brothers due to their ineffective and failed ideology.
“In fact, since December 17, the regime has increased its repression and beatings of dissidents, and has shown every intent of making US overtures a one-sided deal. In particular, the consistent attacks on the Ladies in White show this brutal regime’s true nature.
“In Venezuela, we continue to be concerned with the increasing authoritarian rule by Nicolás Maduro over Venezuela. The recently announced nationalization of privately owned commercial companies through the use of his decree powers is an affront to a free society. He also continues to lash out at the United States as the cause of Venezuela’s problems, never acknowledging that he is the one who has imposed restrictions on currency, travel, and trade. The Venezuelan people deserve better.
“In Argentina we continue to mourn the death of Argentine Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, a courageous man, who relentlessly pursued those who were responsible for the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, that killed 85 people and wounded more than 300. I am concerned with the slow pace of the investigation into his death and with that in mind I introduced a resolution today regarding his courageous work and life, and a call for a swift and transparent investigation into his tragic death.
“Nicaragua continues to reestablish its close ties with Russia, rekindling memories of Soviet presence in Central America during the 80s. New military cooperation agreements between Vladimir Putin and Daniel Ortega, serves as further expansion of Russian reach into the hemisphere.
“Mexico– which we join today in commemorating its army’s defeat of the French army in Puebla on Cinco de Mayo – continues to be a strong partner of the United States both economically through trade and security. I continue, of course, to be concerned about the violence that proliferates across the country, driven by drug cartels that seek to terrorize the communities they operate in. I am particularly concerned about the massacre of 43 students in the city of Iguala.
“On democracy and human rights, we are seeing a deterioration of democracy and human rights across the globe. In particular, freedom of press and freedom of religion is being challenged in every corner of the globe. In 2015 Freedom House Freedom of the World Report identified that global press freedom declined in 2014 to its lowest point in more than 10 years. A 2013 Pew Research Study, found that Christians were harassed, either by government or social groups, in 102 of the 198 countries included in the study. There are also serious questions about whether the U.S. government is structured adequately to make human rights and democracy a priority of foreign policy.
“Women and girls face numerous challenges across the globe. From China’s One-Child policy which places a preference on boys over girls, to Saudi Arabia where the state of women’s rights is so abysmal that they aren’t even allowed to drive. Gender-based violence cuts across ethnicity, race, class, religion, education level, and international borders. An estimated one in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex or experienced some other form of abuse in their lifetime.
“While this list of challenges seems daunting, the U.S. government is dedicated to improving the status of democracy, human rights, and women’s rights. Today we are exploring how we can best dedicate our resources to improve ongoing U.S. efforts. With that, I will recognize Ranking Member Senator Boxer.”