U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) interviewed the candidate U.S. Ambassadors for Latin America and the Caribbean during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
Click here for the video and read a transcript below.
- Mr. William H. Duncanto be United States Ambassador to El Salvador
- Mr. Hugo F. Rodriguez, Jr.to be United States Ambassador to Nicaragua
- Mrs. Candace A. Bondto be United States Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago
- Mrs. Heide B. Fultonto be United States Ambassador to Uruguay
- Mr. Robert J. Faucherto be United States Ambassador to the Republic of Suriname
RUBIO: Let me start with you, Mr. Faucher…. We talked about energy, the role it plays, its development in relation to Suriname, its importance. And so I wanted to ask: the president has an executive order and he directs the Treasury and the State Department to develop a strategy to support only funding programs and stimulus packages and debt relief initiatives that are aligned with and supporting the Paris goals. OK. This has already had an impact on a [Inter-American Development Bank] decision on Guyana, but I’m really concerned about the impact it would have on the ability of American businesses and on us to continue to encourage development [of Suriname], even if we want them to diversify their economy and we want to support them. I mean, why are we here? Does this Executive Order have the potential to be seen as telling the people of Suriname that they cannot develop an advanced and modern economy because it contradicts our support for the Paris Agreement ?
FAUCHER: Thank you, Senator, for this question. This is a very important issue that we talked about a bit this morning. I would say that if American companies come to me, if I am confirmed as an ambassador, and ask for assistance in dealing with the Surinamese government on oil matters or oil commercial contracts, I will have to examine each case individually to ensure that the assistance I am able to provide complies with any executive orders issued by the President. I am not aware of any kind of push or statements from us that we do not want Suriname to develop its oil reserves or progress and improve its economy. I think there is a recognition that there will be a need for oil for decades to come, even as we try to diversify energy resources around the world. Suriname, as I said in my statement, is a carbon negative country. It currently meets the requirements of the Paris Agreement and I believe it is committed to continuing to do so. I will therefore work with Suriname to ensure that it also meets its environmental obligations. [standards].
RUBIO: Again, when you have an executive order that basically asks the Treasury and the State Department to structure the funding programs and the stimulus and debt relief initiatives to be aligned with the climate agreement, there is the real concern, the legitimate concern, that this will affect our ability to help in anything related to oil and gas exploration. And we’ll see how it goes. I hope it’s not, because I think it would have a negative impact on our relationship.
Ms. Fulton, regarding Uruguay, I think it ranks first in the rankings of Freedom House and the World Justice Project in terms of democracy and the rule of law. And they’re looking to revise the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States in new trade protocols that mirror what we’ve done with Brazil and Ecuador. It is clear that they are eager to establish even more transparency and anti-corruption measures. So I’ve outlined a few things that I think we can do to really strengthen that relationship. We have a willing partner in a stable country. The [is] a lot of good news is coming out.
Unfortunately, they think we don’t care, [that] we pay no attention to them and ignore them. It’s one of those countries where we do everything right…but we don’t get the attention we want. I talked about a few things we should do. The first is to expand the role of the Development Finance Corporation to facilitate investment in this country. The problem we have is that they are classified by the World Bank as a high-tech country. And so the World Bank, it kind of prevents us [from using the DFC]. But I think that’s one of the things that forces us to go back and re-examine how it’s used. And I really hope that we look at ways to restructure this program so that countries like this—the country that JPMorgan, by the way, says is the least risky country in Latin America for investment—that we are not preventing the DFC from facilitating programs there.
And then the other is that I think there is a real opportunity to expand cooperation on security, space and counter-narcotics. Cooperation with them on the sharing of space and satellite data, for example, would help us to combat the black market that currently exists in data. Are those two things that you would commit to exploring and maybe advancing?
FULTON: Absolutely. Thank you, senator. I agree with what you say and would, if confirmed, look forward to finding opportunities to work with you and your team to see how we can rethink some of the obstacles that currently prevent us from expanding our cooperation and seeking additional tools to enhance these areas of opportunity.
RUBIO: Mr. Rodriguez, the CAFTA [Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement] is a preferential trade agreement between free nations. Is Nicaragua a free nation? And if not, should we continue to offer the preferential trade benefits that CAFTA provides to free nations? The goal was to encourage the opposite of everything Ortega and his crazy wife [are] Do.
RODRIGUEZ: Thank you, Senator Rubio. Let me just say that if confirmed, I would support the use of all economic and diplomatic tools to bring about a change of direction in Nicaragua. Removing Nicaragua from CAFTA-DR is a potentially very powerful tool and something we need to seriously consider. I know that we currently exclude Nicaragua from support functions under CAFTA-DR, trade development capacity building activities, etc. But if confirmed, I agree to work with the USTR [Office of the U.S. Trade Representative] and other agencies within the US government to assess all possible means to exert this pressure on Nicaragua.
RUBIO: Mr. Duncan…, I wanted to address El Salvador. It’s a tough puzzle to unpack and certainly the trend lines there in terms of President Bukele’s view of the United States have deteriorated rapidly over the past two years to the point where it’s now a situation really disturbing. I’m very disturbed. He doesn’t seem to care much about US foreign policy towards the country. [He] very openly criticizes and mocks the United States and other Western institutions.
The reality is that despite all this, we have to face the fact that his popularity remains quite high and his party has enjoyed electoral gains as a result. For some reason, he taps into a populist sentiment in the country that converts into political support. And that, I think, gives him permission, at least on a national level, to continue on that trend line.
But there is an interesting dynamic. On the one hand, we were running this name-and-shame campaign from Washington where we sanction individuals and report them for their alleged corruption, behavior, and so on. On the other hand, you see them negotiating with the IMF [International Monetary Fund], of which we are the leading contributor. And it seems that the [Biden] The administration is keeping open the possibility that there will still be an agreement with the IMF…because [of] understand that if we didn’t [offer an agreement]there could be a mass migration event that impacts neighboring countries or they could turn to alternative means of financing outside of the structured system over which the United States has influence.
How do we balance our national interest and our desire to have not just stability there, but some relationship with this campaign that’s being waged that I think has led to quite open diplomatic and economic hostility?
DUNCAN: Thank you for the question, senator. I think first and foremost we need to approach the Salvadoran government, as we should approach most governments, from a position of respect and acknowledge, as you said, that they choose their own leaders. And it seems that their current president is indeed, at this point, very popular. It is a reality, and we must recognize it.
However, I think it is also true, as you indicated in your opening statement, that there have been certain developments in El Salvador that do not seem conducive to the strengthening of Salvadoran democracy. And there have also been some somewhat concerning economic trends.
Regarding the penalties you mentioned. I think it’s important for us to use the tools that Congress has given us, whether it’s Global Magnitsky or the Section 353 list or Section 7031, to use those tools appropriately to target individuals who have been involved in acts of corruption or acts that undermine democracy or the rule of law. And I think we can do that while continuing to maintain a respectful relationship with the government of El Salvador. I see no inconsistency there.
With regard to the negotiations with the IMF, which you mentioned, I do not know exactly where these negotiations are. I believe they are still in talks with the IMF. I know the IMF has publicly expressed some concerns that they want, as I understand it, to see addressed before granting this loan. So, as far as I know, no final decision on this has been made.