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Engel on Trump Administration's Western Hemisphere Policy

Jul 11, 2018
Press Release

- As Delivered -

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks at a hearing on the Trump Administration’s policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling today’s hearing. This region is particularly important to me as former Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Chair.

“Ambassador Merten, Assistant [Administrator] Lynch: welcome and thank you both for your service. You’re both doing great work, but again, I must say the White House’s failure to fill key positions in a timely manner means we cannot hear from those setting the course for foreign policy. That’s too bad, because in my view, the Administration has put us on a very dangerous course when it comes to the Western Hemisphere.

“The way the President talks about this region says it all: falsely insisting Mexico will pay for a border wall we don’t need, the ugly language calling Mexicans “drug dealers” and “rapists,” the dehumanizing language about immigrants, and characterization of Haiti and El Salvador using a word I won’t repeat.

“Democrats and Republicans have worked for two decades together to improve a U.S.-Mexico relationship long characterized by mistrust. Bilateral cooperation on counter-narcotics was once unimaginable. Amazingly, it became the norm, with the Mexican government extraditing the world’s most dangerous drug kingpin, Chapo Guzman, to the United States in the last hours of the Obama Administration.

“On July 1st, Mexicans elected a new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. I worry that if President Trump continues along the same lines, President-elect López Obrador may pull the plug on security cooperation.

“Where would that leave us the next time we’re seeking an extradition? Or if terrorists sought to cross the U.S.-Mexican border? Too much is at stake in our bilateral relationship, and we simply don’t know if the President will continue to do this, take to Twitter and do damage.

“And looking south, Mexico is just the start.

“For months, the families have been torn apart and Central American children essentially have been held ransom to a radical, anti-immigrant agenda. The President created this policy. He then said only Congress could fix it, which wasn’t true—made clear by the fact that he then signed an executive order trying to end the policy.

“But the damage was done. Children to this day remain apart from their parents. That has to change.

“The Organization of American States unanimously adopted a resolution on June 29th criticizing the inhumane family-separation policy. It’s hard to remember a time in recent memory when the OAS Permanent Council has so forcefully condemned the United States.

“And that’s just the start. The Administration is making it harder for victims of abuse to come to the United States, saying domestic violence shouldn’t be grounds for asylum, that women and children who have endured rape and other forms of violence should look elsewhere for sanctuary. The United States also just opposed a UN resolution promoting breastfeeding.

“I mean, it’s unbelievable. And I fear the worst is yet to come. Temporary protected status will soon end for 262,000 Salvadorans, 86,000 Hondurans and 58,000 Haitians. As Mark Schneider of CSIS pointed out in the Washington Post this week, this move may result in 273,000 American-born children being separated from their parents.

“This is a deeply troubling pattern dealing with the treatment of women, of families, of immigrants. Is this what we’re becoming as a country? I hope not. I won’t accept it. And I’ll fight tooth and nail against these policies that betray our values and make it harder to advance our interests abroad.

“After all, we’re facing very real and urgent crises in the region.

“President Maduro has turned Venezuela into a full-fledged dictatorship and rejected humanitarian aid. State Department sanctions against human rights violators were a step forward. But instead of working with regional partners, we have, again, bellicose rhetoric and threatening to invade Venezuela. The result? Maduro is empowered and alienated key allies at the same time.

“In Nicaragua, the Global Magnitsky Act has allowed us to crack down on thugs tied to President Ortega who are killing innocent people in the streets. Yet the Administration zeroed out democracy assistance to Nicaragua in its 2019 budget.

“And in Guatemala, absurd and unfounded attacks on the U.N. International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala—what we call CICIG—threaten the institution’s ability to fight corruption and support the rule of law. Most recently, I was disturbed by the Guatemalan government’s decision to put CICIG personnel at risk, removing a large portion of their security detail. President Morales should immediately reverse this decision. And I must say, since I’ve been critical of the White House, this time I was pleased that the White House came out in strong support of CICIG just this week.

“I congratulate Ivan Duque on his recent election, victory election in Colombia. Outgoing U.S. assistance is essential for implementing the peace process and supporting smart drug policies that go after kingpins while not harming small farmers or the environment.

“And in Argentina, I was glad to join Mr. McCaul in founding the Argentina Caucus to focus on a relationship that has improved a great deal since President Macri took office.

“Finally, the Caribbean. In 2016, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen and I authored the U.S.-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act, which President Obama signed into law in his last few days in office. Last June, the State Department released the strategy mandated by our law. It is an ambitious and impressive strategy. But unfortunately, one year later, it still has not been implemented.

“With hurricane season underway, the parts of the strategy related to disaster preparedness and resilience are especially urgent. I implore our witnesses to put some meat on the bones of what on paper is an excellent strategy.

“And I’d be remiss not to mention that Haiti is very much on my mind this week. Haiti has suffered far more than any country should, and I stand with the Haitian people at this difficult moment.

“So I thank you again, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses. And I yield back.”

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