U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), and Ambassador Jean Manes, SOUTHCOM civilian deputy to the commander, joined an Americas Society/Council of the Americas roundtable conversation on October 5.
“The main mission of SOUTHCOM is to defend the United States. That’s primarily accomplished through working with partners,” said Adm. Faller. “We have some really strong, capable partners in this hemisphere.”
Adm. Faller mentioned Brazil, Colombia, and Chile as being particularly stalwart partners, as well as many others, like El Salvador, which currently has peacekeeping troops in Mali and has contributed similarly in the past in other peacekeeping missions.
Enhancing military capabilities in the region can take various forms, including bilateral and multilateral exercises, which increase interoperability, sharing intelligence and inviting military members to share in military education opportunities, he said.
Adm. Faller mentioned the top threats the hemisphere faces.
Most illegal fishing in this hemisphere comes from China. “This has us focused with a sense of urgency day in and day out,” he said, adding that the U.S. Coast Guard has been taking an active role in enforcement.
China is also working on port and other infrastructure deals, as well as information technology to leverage their own influence in the region, he said, adding that they’re also building military partnerships in the area, along with Russia and Iran.
The three nations most receptive to malign influence, he noted, are Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.
Adm. Faller said that in addition to foreign meddling, the other area of concern is the $90 billion a year enterprise run by transnational criminal organizations, who traffic in people, guns, drugs, cyber, money laundering, and other activities.
In April, the U.S. Defense Department, in concert with the U.S. State Department, stepped up intelligence sharing of criminal organizations and activities with partner nations, Adm. Faller said, with productive results.
Ambassador Manes said the U.S. Department of Defense works closely with interagencies, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector, particularly when it comes to natural disaster and humanitarian assistance.
In March, the department and its American partners began a large-scale campaign to deliver supplies needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
The U.S. is the largest aid donor in the hemisphere, she added, noting that the U.S. Department of Defense has been involved in 330 such projects in the last six months.
Ambassador Manes also mentioned China as being an economic threat to the hemisphere. China overfished their own waters so now they’re coming to the region and decimating local fishing communities. Every nation with a coastline should be worried, she added.