Lee travels to Latin America to support bilateral ties, counter growing Chinese influence

On Friday, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and a bipartisan congressional delegation (CODEL) led by U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) returned to the U.S. after visiting Panama, a principal partner, and major non-NATO allies Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil. The delegation, which also included Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Roger Marshall (R-KS), and Ted Budd (R-NC), investigated the People’s Republic of China (PRC) growing influence in the region and supported U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)’s mission to strengthen U.S.-Latin America bilateral ties, security cooperation, and intergovernmental collaboration.

Sen. Lee said, “Along with fellow Senate colleagues of both parties, I was privileged to travel and observe the challenges of illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and the constant expansion of the People’s Republic of China in Latin America. These threats are serious and require the collective efforts of our allies in the Western Hemisphere to stabilize. Especially concerning is the ever-increasing presence and impact of China in the region. It is clear that these issues cannot be taken lightly.”

Sen. Cornyn said”The economic and cultural ties between the U.S. and Latin America are strong, and we are making great progress in our efforts to address migration, combat narcotics, and confront China’s growing influence. Our delegation saw firsthand the opportunities and challenges facing this crucial region, and I’m grateful to our host nations and service members stationed there for having us.”

The delegation began their travels in Panama, where they met with U.S. Ambassador to Panama Mari Carmen Aponte and received briefings from U.S. officials on growing PRC influence in the country. They also met with Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo and members of his administration to discuss the historically strong relationship between the U.S. and Panama. Their visit concluded with a tour of the Panama Canal with Panama Canal Authority Administrator Ricaurte Vásquez to discuss the crucial role it plays in international trade, shipping, and commerce. Administrator Vásquez also shared updates on the canal’s growth, infrastructure projects, and desalinization technology.

To learn more about bilateral counternarcotic efforts, the delegation then traveled to Columbia. In Bogota, they joined members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Columbian law enforcement to tour a seized drug lab and discuss policies to curtail the drug trade in the region. In Cartagena, they met with American crewmembers aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) TAMPA and received briefings about migration in the maritime area, which spans the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean, from Rear Admiral Mark Fedor, Joint Interagency Task Force South Director.

After landing in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the delegation joined U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Marc Stanley and embassy officials for discussions with Argentine cabinet members, including Minister of Economy Sergio Massa, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship Santiago Cafiero, and Minister of Defense Jorge Taiana, on bilateral trade relations and the potential for increased energy investment and economic growth in the country. 

The group also joined the Tripartite Command, an interagency security taskforce created by Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, to see trafficking routes along the tri-border area and discuss their efforts to combat transnational threats.

The delegation then traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to meet with senior Brazilian military leadership to discuss U.S.-Brazil security cooperation in the Atlantic Ocean, including addressing illegal fishing by the PRC.