WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) says Cuba plays a major role in Latin America’s growing security challenges in an increasingly globalized world.
Ros-Lehtinen also called for the United States and its western, democratic allies to ramp up their efforts against other nations in Latin America that are corrupt and being influenced by the radical ideologies of countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies, in order to help save and secure western civilization.
“When we talk about security challenges in Latin America it is hard not to begin with Cuba,” Ros-Lehtinen, who is of Cuban descent, said while speaking at the 2017 Western Hemisphere Security Forum on Thursday. The annual event was hosted by the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) and the Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security (DMGS). SFS was established in 2004 and is part of the Atlas network of think tanks. It is focused on countering transnational threats in the western world.
“Like so many Cubans who came to Miami, my family and I were fortunate to escape the brutal Castro regime,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “A regime that, as we’ve seen over the years, will do whatever it takes – murder, espionage, propaganda, repression – to stay in power. Just yesterday I met with Cuban dissidents and former political prisoners who described the crimes against humanity that are still happening on the island.”
Ros-Lehtinen received the Manwaring Award, which was created to honor policymakers and public officials who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and dedication to securing and protecting freedom in the Americas, and specifically in the western hemisphere.
“Dr. Manwaring has been at the forefront of fighting Western Hemisphere security challenges over his distinguished career and it is an honor to receive an award in his name,” she said.
Ros-Lehtinen announced she is retiring next year after serving in Congress for over three decades.
During her speech on Thursday, she said the former Obama administration made “concession after concession without demanding anything in return,” which emboldened the Cuban regime.
Defining a stark contrast between the former administration and President Donald Trump’s administration, Ros-Lehtinen said:
The current administration is attempting to right that wrong. The President has made the right choice by withdrawing many of our diplomats as a result of the regime’s role in the sonic attack against our personnel that have impacted dozens – many likely with lifelong damage. He has also expelled regime officials from the U.S., rolled back some regulations, and more importantly, his administration has expressed solidarity with the people of Cuba, and not their oppressors. Let me be clear: Castro is an avowed enemy of our nation; Cuba has not done anything to protect our diplomats; and Cuba’s military and intelligence apparatus has exported its abusive tactics and espionage activities throughout the Hemisphere.
Ros-Lehtinen noted that this very corruption can be seen in Venezuela, where Cuban authorities are aiding and abetting Nicolas Maduro and his regime, enabling him to continue the practice of trafficking drugs, with “drug kingpins” running the country.
“This is absurd and must not be tolerated,” she said. She noted that while the United States has stepped up to increase pressure on Venezuela through sanctions, with support from Canada and the European Union, “more needs to be done.” Ros-Lehtinen suggested the U.S. impose sanctions on individuals, corporations and countries that are helping Maduro and listed Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega as:
First on the list… Legislation I authored with Senator Ted Cruz seeks to hold Ortega accountable for his human rights abuses. The NICA Act has passed the House already and it’s time for the Senate to act on this legislation. The Ortega family is running the country with an iron fist, controlling the electoral council, judiciary, and every other institution, in order to prevent the Nicaraguan people from determining their own future.
Another key issue and cause of instability in the region is Iran’s invasion of Latin America; Russia and China have done the same.
“Iran and its proxy Hezbollah also have a presence in the Hemisphere, taking advantage of weak institutions and corrupt governments to set up shop and expand their narco-terror networks,” Ros-Lehtinen said. She noted that every since the eighties, Iran has been working to gain a foothold in Latin America in order to undermine U.S. interests there. Through its proxy Hezbollah, the Islamic Republic of Iran has achieved this.
“Hezbollah engages in widespread drug trafficking throughout the region in order to fund its terror activities and has close ties to the Venezuelan Vice President,” she said. “Iran is also making diplomatic inroads in the Hemisphere, staffing up their embassies and sharing intelligence with other anti-U.S. regimes.”
She closed her remarks by stating that “the transnational nature of these threats should not be underestimated: These countries protect each other at international fora.” Ros-Lehtinen expressed that the United States and its democratic allies have in the past been too slow to respond to these pariah states. “It is time we start giving the Western Hemisphere the attention it deserves.”