U.S. Southern Command’s Adm. Craig Faller Was Speaking Before The Senate Armed Services Committee To ‘Sound The Alarm’ Over Russian And Chinese Influence In Latin America.
During testimony today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Navy Adm. Craig Faller said the military is ready to protect American diplomatic personnel and facilities in Venezuela, if needed.
He did not, however, provide any details about how his forces might respond, if called upon. The commanding officer of the U.S. Southern Command was providing his annual posture statement to Congress, which emphasized the growing influence of both Russia and China in Latin America:
“China has accelerated expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative at a pace that may one day overshadow its expansion in Southeast Asia and Africa. Russia supports multiple information outlets spreading its false narrative of world events and U.S. intentions. Iran has deepened its anti-U.S. Spanish language media coverage and has exported its state support for terrorism into our hemisphere. Russia and China also support the autocratic regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, which are counter to democracy and U.S. interests. We are monitoring the latest events in Venezuela and look forward to welcoming that country back into the hemisphere’s community of democracies. Where threats are transregional, multi-domain, and global, the United States must renew focus on our neighbors and our shared Western Hemisphere neighborhood …
“Russia and China are expanding their influence in the Western Hemisphere, often at the expense of U.S. interests. Both enable —and are enabled by—actions in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba that threaten hemispheric security and prosperity, and the actions of those three states in turn damage the stability and democratic progress across the region. As the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world, Iran’s activities in the region are also concerning.”
The mainstream media, however, kept their focus on his Faller’s about Venezuela, particularly his answers to senators’ questions. During the Q&A, the admiral said President Nicolas Maduro has about 2,000 generals, the majority of which are loyal to the dictator in large part due to the wealth they have accumulated through drug trafficking, oil revenue, and other business ventures.
Rank-and-file soldiers, however, are “starving, just like the population,” he added. He then claimed the Venezuelan military has been deeply degraded:
“The legitimate government of President [Juan] Guaido has offered amnesty, and a place for the military forces—most of which we think would be loyal to the Constitution, not to a dictator—a place to go.”
Bloomberg reported today that documents it has obtained from the Venezuelan military document the extent to which the military was already abandoning Maduro prior to the current struggle for power with Guaido. The report states, in part:
“Two documents illustrate the erosion of the armed forces. One lists about 4,300 national-guard officers who deserted since 2014, giving their ranks and serial numbers. Signed by the guard’s commander, Major General Jesus Lopez Vargas, the Dec. 21 order removes them from rolls. All are non-commissioned officers or enlisted men and women and represented about 6 percent of the guard.
“Current and former members of the military familiar with official papers examined the documents and said they are authentic. Spokesmen from Venezuela’s defense ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment on the desertions or restrictions on soldiers’ travel.”
Analysts have noted that Venezuela’s military is its most powerful institution, but that it has become top-heavy as more officers are given higher ranks to buy their loyalty, while the lower ranks desert as a result of the nation’s hyperinflation and endemic poverty. Maduro never served in the military, instead working as a bus driver before becoming a government minister under his presidential predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
Several Latin American and European nations’ representatives met today in Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital, ostensibly to find a political solution to the current Venezuealn crisis. But, Uruguayan politician Daniel Caggiani—who is president of Mercosur, a regional bloc, similar to the European Union, that includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Bolivia—didn’t hold out much hope for success:
“If this meeting fails, it could be followed by clashes, primarily a military clash with very serious consequences at the international level. No one amongst the Latin American democrats can wish for that. Therefore, of course, we must think in this direction.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the decision to use military force against Maduro had already been made in Washington:
“There are still signs coming from Washington about the possibility of using force in order to overthrow the legal authorities, including through direct military invasion. This is actually being spoken about openly in the White House. I would like to recall that this kind of statement from the mouth of American officials is a direct violation of Article 2 Paragraph 4 of the UN Charter, ordering all UN members to refrain from the threat or use of force in international relations …
“Washington has turned to direct threats of sanctions to the Venezuelan military, who remain loyal to the legitimate government. That is just a different, new reading of the ‘carrot and stick’ approach. On the one hand, they threaten a potential punishment. On the other hand, they promise a potential reward.”
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