At Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Rubio also highlights challenges of replicating Plan Colombia-like success in Central America
Apr 19 2016
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today questioned State Department officials from the Obama Administration regarding the Cuban migratory crisis currently unfolding in Central America. Rubio also addressed security challenges in Central American countries. Rubio made his comments during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on “Central America and the Alliance for Prosperity: Identifying U.S. Priorities and Assessing Progress.”
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
April 19, 2016
Senator Marco Rubio: “One of the new complications many of these countries in Central America are facing now is this surge in Cuban migrants who have figured out you can take an airplane to Central America, and now some of these countries are basically demanding that they be allowed to continue their transit here.
“The argument they’re making is ‘these people don’t really want to live here, they’re just coming through here to get to the United States from Cuba.’ Can you describe, first of all, the strains that this is placing on these countries, beyond just the Northern Triangle countries, the strains this is placing on Central America; is this not a very serious and growing problem that shows no signs of abatement?”
Mr. Francisco Palmieri, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at U.S. Department of State: “I think it is a very serious problem. It is most acutely felt in Costa Rica and Panama, and in addition to people flying directly, people are flying to Ecuador and making their way north through Colombia into Panama and Cuba.
“It is putting a significant stress on the migration officials in these countries and our concern is that this has to be done in a safe, legal and orderly way and we are working with the region’s partners to develop those responses.”
Rubio: “Many of their goals was just to hopscotch through the countries in Central America until they got to the southern border. They would just cross, and as soon as a Cuban crosses the border, they just turn themselves in and they’re legally here.”
Palmieri: “That’s exactly right, Senator. “
Rubio: “And this is a growing problem. And, we’ve seen this grow over the last year and a half. And, this route is becoming a well-developed one. And, I would imagine for these countries, especially the ones we’re talking about today that are already facing significant challenges internally, this additional strain is not helpful, to say the least.”
Palmieri: “It is putting a strain, as I said, more acutely in Costa Rica and Panama where the back-up is occurring because Nicaragua has closed its border somewhat more effectively to some of that hopscotch that has been taking place.”
Rubio: “Now, switching back to this particular topic, there’s been a lot of comparison between what we’re trying to do here and Plan Colombia. It was nearly a failed state when the United States got involved, but I would argue there are some very significant differences between Plan Colombia and the challenges we’re facing here now.
“When Plan Colombia came about, it was successful, because it had the full support of the entire political spectrum in that nation. They knew absolutely that it needed to be done. And unfortunately, we don’t have that yet in the northern triangle, or in Mexico for that matter. Plan Colombia also started out with security. It was the number one obligation there. They knew that they needed to deal with security first. Without security, none of these other things would matter if you didn’t have a secure environment first.”
Rubio: “My only question is whether enough emphasis is still on the security aspect of [the Alliance for Prosperity Plan] because the truth of the matter is, I understand there’s a prosperity crisis in that region that needs to be addressed, but my argument is, you’re not really going to be able to address it as long as you have the amount of money being spent and invested by these criminal organizations, which in many cases, are much better funded, better paid, better equipped, better armed, than the police agencies we’re trying to empower.
“When you talk about security, are you saying we’re only working with police departments? Have there been investments made in the military? Because these countries don’t have luxury of picking or choosing which agencies are going to get involved in confronting.
“In the case of Colombia, their military played a significant role in taking on these trafficking rings. They do so, in fact, some of the most effective anti-drug initiatives, anti-criminality initiatives in Mexico were being conducted, for example, by the Mexican navy, even inland.
“So, where are we investing the security funds? Are we prohibited from investing funds in their military apparatus?”