The U.S. government remains vigilant to the movements of Russia and China in the southern part of the American continent. On March 24, during a hearing before the U.S. Senate, General Laura J. Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), warned about the “aggressive expansion” of both countries in the region.
“I’ve been in command for almost five months and the biggest eye-opener for me was the extent to which China and Russia are aggressively expanding their influence in our neighborhood, in Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Gen. Richardson emphasizing that this area “is experiencing insecurity and instability.”
China’s “relentless march”
Regarding the Asian giant, which the White House considers as its “long-term strategic competitor,”, she warned that the Xi Jinping government “continues its relentless march to expand economic, diplomatic, technological, information technology, and military influence.”
All in all, she believes that “the negative influence of the People’s Republic of China in this region could soon resemble the predatory and selfish influence it now has in Africa,” but insisted that the Asian country’s interest is not to invest but to “extract” all the resources that are suitable to China.
“Let’s be clear, the People’s Republic of China does not invest. They extract,” she said.
Russia’s visits to Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua
Regarding Russia, Gen. Richardson noted that President Vladimir Putin “seeks to keep his options open and maintain relations” with South American countries at a particularly sensitive time for world peace following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“In January, the Russian deputy foreign minister said that he could neither affirm nor deny that Russia would send military assets to Cuba and Venezuela a few days before the invasion of Ukraine,” she said. Gen. Richardson also recalled that “the Russian deputy prime minister visited Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela” a few weeks ago, just before the launch of military operations in Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s ties with Latin America
About those three countries, Gen. Richardson said they “maintain close ties with Russia and offer Putin a foothold in our hemisphere.”
She also referred to the meetings of the presidents of Brazil and Argentina with Putin in Russia, asserting that they “demonstrate a potentially worrisome expansion of Russia’s ties in the southern region” of the American continent.
This scenario, warned Gen. Richardson, has opened the door for criminal organizations to operate virtually “unchallenged” in the region, creating a climate of instability and insecurity that will be difficult to quell in the short term if, in addition, it is supported by China and Russia.
A free hand for criminal organizations
“Transnational criminal organizations operate almost unchallenged and open a path of corruption and violence that creates a breach and allows the People’s Republic of China and Russia to exploit these countries,” Gen. Richardson said.
All of this, the SOUTHCOM commander said, represents “a threat to the security of citizens, undermines public trust and government institutions, and drives irregular migration to our homeland.”
Joint strategies with partners and allies
That is why Gen. Richardson advocated the need to continue to address these issues with partners and allies in the region to strategize and address these threats effectively.
“In my initial travels to Latin America and the Caribbean it became obvious to me that our partners are our best defense as we work together to counter our shared threats,” she said convinced that all available levers must be “used to strengthen our alliances with like-minded democracies in this hemisphere.”
“We must maximize tools, such as security cooperation programs, to train and equip the militaries of our partners,” she added.
One of the examples she highlighted was Colombia, “a strong partner in the region” that “exports security by training other Latin American militaries to counter transnational threats.”
“U.S. Southern Command is putting integrated deterrence into action every day, using innovative methods to work seamlessly with all domains,” she said.
In closing, Gen. Richardson insisted that “now more than ever, the United States must lead in this hemisphere” and that “requires a steady focus and sustained investment to help build a shared neighborhood that is free, secure, and prosperous for our generations to come.”