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Rubio Delivers Remarks at Hearing on Countering Transnational Criminal Networks in our Hemisphere

Apr 11, 2024 | Press Releases

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Ranking Member Marco Rubio (R-FL), gave opening remarks at a hearing on countering transnational criminal networks and corruption in our region. 

  • “A new entity, which is transnational now, unfortunately, is the gang Tren de Aragua. This is a vicious gang. They established themselves initially in the prisons of Venezuela, but then became endemic in Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Bolivia, and Brazil. Now we are seeing evidence that they have made it into the United States. Every single day, we’re seeing reports from Chicago, South Florida, and New York that these gang members are here.” – Senator Rubio

Click here for video and read a transcript below:

RUBIO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for holding this hearing, and thank you all for coming in to talk about this, as it continues to grow and metastasize as a problem in the region. We can take a trip through it real quick. 

In Colombia, they’ve made tremendous progress over the years. It’s a nation that lived through cartel wars in the 90s, during a time when bombings were going on. They’ve had to confront all these groups. But after that, there were the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC] and the National Liberation Army [ELN] and all these other criminal and terrorist organizations that have operated there for a long time. Now they face the Clan del Golfo, which is an heir to some of the cartels of the 90s. 

As [these groups] continue to link up, Colombia remains the largest producer and exporter of cocaine in the world. They’ve now created these lucrative markets, and they have linked up with these Mexican cartels with a cooperation, unfortunately, with the Venezuelan regime, which itself has been caught in cooperating with the transport of cocaine out of Colombia. It’s part of Maduro’s revenue sources for the regime. In fact, I believe, just a few days ago, there was another conviction of a high-ranking official who had been a member of that cartel. He was convicted, I believe, in Manhattan for the work they’ve done. 

A new entity, which is transnational now, unfortunately, is the gang Tren de Aragua. This is a vicious gang. They established themselves initially in the prisons of Venezuela, but then became endemic in Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Bolivia, and Brazil. Now we are seeing evidence that they have made it into the United States. Every single day, we’re seeing reports from Chicago, South Florida, and New York that these gang members are here. This is a particularly vicious gang that specializes in extortion, kidnapping, rape, murder for hire, and everything else you can imagine. 

It’s important to note that Ecuador, which was a place we didn’t normally associate with problematic [transnational crime], has become a transit point. These localized gangs start killing each other, but also start attacking the state, as they become the middlemen between the cocaine that comes across that border from Colombia and the Mexican cartels. They’ve threatened the state. You saw very recently, it came to a point of crisis. I believe they’re still operating under a state of emergency as a result of that. 

Nicaragua is interesting and dynamic. It’s a transit country for cocaine trafficking. We know that. In addition, there’s a strong Mexican cartel presence in Nicaragua. It’s become a human trafficking hub, particularly when they lifted all their visa requirements. People know: “If I fly into Nicaragua from anywhere in the world, I can go there. There won’t be a visa requirement. From there, I can be trafficked into the United States.” That becomes a problem. 

I think the challenges we face in Mexico, where both the cartel Sinaloa and Jalisco honestly control a significant amount of territory, [are well known]. 

I know it’s not transnational, but I think it’s important to mention what the Chairman already mentioned, and that is that today, 80 percent of Port au Prince, maybe more at this point, is controlled by a combination of criminal gangs. There’s not a single elected official in Haiti. There’s this transitional commission that’s coming together. There are now rumors that a couple of them who are on it may actually end up leaving the country because of how unsafe it’s become. 

I think it’s important to note that both the small armed forces of Haiti and their police department, despite limited resources and inability to be resupplied, have shown extraordinary courage and bravery in confronting these gangs. That’s not being reported enough. But they’ve got no weapons, they’ve got no ammunition, they’ve got no body armor, they’ve got no way to resupply them. I hope we’re looking at ways to do that, because no matter what Kenya or other countries decide to do, they better have somebody to link up with on the ground. They better have an airport that’s open. 

I know there’s a prohibition right now on exporting weaponry and equipment to the Haitian army. I understand the history armies have played out in the history of Haiti. But they have been a quite capable force over the last few weeks. Without them, I don’t know if the police could have withstood some of the challenges that they have faced. I hope we’ll reconsider that [prohibition], because there are countries that I believe are willing to step forward and provide them some of the equipment they need, but are scared off by the U.S. prohibition. 

There’s a lot to cover. I’m not sure we can cover it all today. But, the bottom line is that all this becomes endemic in our national security, because ultimately, whatever happens in the region, it finds itself here. It finds itself here in our banking system. It finds itself here in our streets, both in the presence of drugs and these criminal organizations that migrate towards here. It’s a driver of a migratory crisis. One of the reasons people leave these countries is because they feel threatened by these criminal groups. It’s a growing problem. 

25 years ago, we could pinpoint one or two places where we had these [groups]. Now, they are in multiple countries, and they are operating in some cases, like cocaine trafficking, like a vertically integrated industry. The Mexican cartels have basically vertically integrated the business. They were once just the traffickers over the border. They are now basically everything but the producer of the actual cocaine. In the case of fentanyl and meth, they are the producer…. 

I did want to note, we did ask the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] to be a part of this. They were not allowed to come. I don’t know if that’s a jurisdictional thing because we don’t have oversight, but I think it’s impossible to really focus on any of this [without the DEA]. Travel anywhere in the region, and they hold meetings for us. There’s DEA officials there, because they are at the front lines. I think it’s pretty difficult for us to really confront this challenge without having testimony from the DEA. I hope in the future they’ll reconsider that prohibition on coming before us.