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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today delivered the keynote address at the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Human Rights Initiative Conference.    

Earlier this year, Rubio toured SOUTHCOM’s headquarters in Miami to receive briefings on regional challenges and SOUTHCOM's efforts to enhance U.S. national security interests in Latin America. Rubio has long been a champion and leader on human rights issues in Congress.

A partial transcript of his remarks is below:

This past Sunday we just commemorated Human Rights Day.
 
In addition to keeping our borders safe and protecting the homeland, the Department of Defense plays such a critical role in building capacity with our foreign partners in Central and South America throughout the Hemisphere, as well as our counternarcotic operations that threaten all of us in this hemisphere.
 
Just last year, for example, personnel from the Florida Army National Guard worked together with military and police forces with our partners in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in a focused effort on Combating Transnational Organized Crime.
 
I am proud of the role our military plays in Central America. U.S. Special Operations Command 7th Group which is based at Eglin Air Force Base … Special Operations Command South which is in Homestead near my home, and the Florida National Guard are all working symbiotically to better Central and South American forces – our partners, helping build capacity. And that’s going to have a direct impact on not just the security of our partner nations, but also our own nation.
 
You also have another important focus and that is protection of the universal values that I believe guide not just our nation but all civilized people.
 
You are the only Geographic Combatant Command with a dedicated Human Rights office. SOUTHCOM is truly leading by example. It’s truly the leading example of how our militaries – I say militaries, not just in the U.S. but our partners throughout the world –  can work to promote the protection and respect for universal human rights in our Hemisphere as an example to the world.
 
SOUTHCOM’s Human Rights Office was established in 1995 and currently supports ongoing programming in 11 partner countries. It also has one regional organization called the Conference of Central American Armed Forces (CFAC), which works to implement a program called the Human Rights Initiative within the armed forces of these 11 Latin American countries.
 
I cannot stress enough how critical and important this work is. You are on the front lines of ensuring we honor our human rights commitments in this hemisphere.
 
So this year, I had the privilege of once again being able to chair the Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere. But within the purview of that committee, it also covers transnational crime, civilian security, democracy, human rights and global women’s issues.
 
On this committee, we examine many of the pressing issues that face our Hemisphere—along with global issues involving transnational crime, civilian security, democracy, human rights and global women’s issues.  And among those things, sadly, that we’ve had to focus on over the last couple of years is the declining state of democracy in a number of countries, particularly now in Venezuela, where the ongoing human rights abuses against the citizens of that proud nation.
 
During my time here in the Senate, I am about to complete my seventh year, I have witnessed the impact that many events throughout the Western Hemisphere have on the United States, especially on my own state. And throughout my 46 years of life, I have seen the impact the Western Hemisphere can have on the community that I grew up in. In fact, the history of Southern Florida, Miami-Dade County was inextricably linked to the events of the last 50 years in the Western Hemisphere.
 

 
We now have an opportunity before us – and I say we, it’s not just Southern Command but our partners in the region – to renew our commitment to advancing of human rights in the region, by standing with those who are fighting for it in the political realm, and beyond in the human rights realm – for  freedom and for democracy and for the respect of all people.
 
We must also make clear to leaders who oppress their people and deny them their most fundamental rights that their actions do not go unnoticed by their neighbors, do not go unnoticed by the United States and our partners. And those actions must have real consequences.
 
Vibrant democratic societies with respect for human rights are in the national security interests of all the nations of this Hemisphere, and ultimately the world. It is critical for the stability of our region that we have nations that are free and prosperous. Countries who become strong trading partners for one another, reliable allies, and countries in which their people no longer feel like they must undertake dangerous migrations, sometimes violating the laws of other nations, in order to flee from oppression, violence, narco-trafficking, and gangs.
 

 
We must remain committed to ensuring that democracy and human rights remain at the core of our policy here in the United States and that the United States assistance reflects that priority in this region and frankly throughout the world. Building upon, improving, growing, reinforcing the alliances that we now have with so many of you here, who represent the free and democratic countries of the Americas, has been of the utmost importance to me during my time of serving in the United States Senate. And it will continue to be a priority for as long as the people of Florida and God allow me to serve.