The arrival in the country of the head of the Pentagon body that focuses on Latin America and the Caribbean is part of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which Craig Faller does not hesitate to define how “the perfect Storm”.
Without avoiding any issue on the agenda, he praised the good relationship between Argentina and the United States and warned about the loopholes that organized crime finds in the midst of this emergency that we are experiencing. “In times of pandemic, transnational threats must be addressed together,” he said..
“Our program for Argentina is $ 3.5 million; another half a million is in the approval process, ”said Faller regarding assistance to our country. Donations included three field hospitals, oxygen generators and search and rescue teams.
In addition, the admiral recalled that the United States It is “the largest donor of supplies and support against COVID-19 in the entire region, with donations of $ 230 million.” “We have also committed 4 billion to the global Covax program,” he pointed out, referring to the initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) aimed at guaranteeing equitable access to the vaccine in Third World countries.
In fact, this was Faller’s fourth trip to the country, since in 2009 he had participated in a training course for admirals and generals in Argentina. Then, in 2018, he joined the delegation of the then Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, and, a year later, He returned to the country as the new head of the Southern Command. Finally, this new visit, in which he took time to talk exclusively with DEF, is part of a tour that also included a previous visit to Uruguay.
– Through what mechanisms were these donations made to Argentina?
-When the pandemic hit, Southern Command did a quick assessment of how we could do to help. We immediately deployed our Humanitarian Aid Program in Central America, the Caribbean and South America. We used friendship with our partners and our previous relationships to identify what the threats and needs were. We quickly processed all that information and met with our teams at each embassy to find out what the main requirements were. As we are authorized to work with civil authorities, we have made donations to hospitals and other entities that handle emergencies in disasters. In Argentina, in particular, our program is for 3.5 million dollars and another half million that is in the approval process. It includes relocatable hospitals, equipment for those hospitals and protection supplies for their professionals. I think it is an important gesture of our long-standing commitment to Argentina and the region.
-In your presentation to the United States Congress, you pointed out that with only around 8% of the world’s population, Latin America and the Caribbean are affected with almost a fifth of the world’s COVID cases. What challenges did this pandemic represent for the Southern Command?
-The pandemic really impacted, and continues to impact, in our hemisphere. Therefore, it is very important that we work together. In Southern Command, we do it with the State Department, with our ambassadors and the staff of our embassies. We focus on how to assist them to meet the needs of the countries of the region. And we had to do it while our country also had to attend to its own domestic needs. We knew that we had to do it quickly and that our projects had to be important to our partners.
ORGANIZED CRIME AND EXTRA-REGIONAL POWERS
-Beyond the health impact of the pandemic, what consequences did it have regarding the actions of transnational organized crime organizations and terrorist groups?
-The pandemic is and will continue to be a kind of “perfect storm”. If you think of it as the worst typhoon to hit the entire planet simultaneously, this phenomenon opens up opportunities for organizations that do not share our values. If we see the actions of transnational organized crime groups and groups that do not respect the rules of the rule of law, they take advantage of this situation and use it to expand their illicit activities, particularly in relation to drug trafficking and trafficking. illicit health supplies.
-Before the Senate Committee, you also mentioned that in a fragile region, such as Latin America, this created “fertile ground” for competitors from the United States. Talking specifically about China, what are your biggest concerns?
-If we go back to the consequences of COVID-19, the pandemic put stress on all our health and safety structures, and negatively affected our economies. As military men, we think about the national security and economic security of our countries. We know that the budget of our security agencies was negatively affected. I am not here to talk about third nations, but to talk about how we can move forward in a practical way, with tangible facts, in a deepening of relations with our military counterparts. The truth is that our National Defense Strategy considers China as a “competitor”. I gave my testimony before the US Congress and noted that, In the 21st century, China is a “threat” for us, which does not mean that this situation should lead to conflict. Our goal is to turn this “competition” into “cooperation”, but that it must necessarily be based on democratic values and respect for the rule of law, and not on the redefinition of the norms of International Law to undermine democracy.
-Would the same apply to other countries, such as Russia, which has a good letter to influence the region with its vaccine?
-When it comes to the pandemic, any contribution that saves lives is welcome, as long as that aid is not used to violate the norms of International Law and respect for human rights. However, the case of Russia is different from that of China. Russia routinely sows lies and misinformation.
BILATERAL AGENDA: FROM MILITARY EXCHANGE TO ILLEGAL FISHING
-Since your last visit, both Argentina and the US have changed governments. What is the current state of the bilateral relationship?
-I represent the Southern Command of the United States and my link with the Armed Forces of Argentina passes through the values that we all share and by which we swear to carry out our task. I believe that strong institutions can align and work together from a professional perspective. Education must be our priority: we have to prepare our officers for the future. From that point of view, our relationship is strong and we must understand what the mutual needs are. I have come to listen to the new command of the Argentine Armed Forces to learn from them and for you to learn from us.
– Was there some kind of disconnection last year?
-No, we’re still connected. Although we were unable to make visits in person, we remained connected through virtual channels and through our ongoing programs. I just mentioned education: we have a training program, the International Military Education & Training Program (IMET). On this trip, I had the opportunity to meet with Argentine officials who studied in the US, within the framework of the IMET program. We also discussed the role of women in preserving peace and security, because we have to understand that 50% of the population is made up of women and we must find the best way to integrate them into our teams. Argentina has been a leading country in this regard. From our institutions, we have solid bases to work with, we can learn from the past and project solid cooperation from now on.
-Argentina is particularly concerned about “illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing” activities in the South Atlantic. As a man of the sea, you know this subject very well. Is it a priority for the Southern Command and for the United States? What actions can be taken at the regional level?
–Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a global problem that affects the food security of countries that have exclusive economic zones (EEZ). There are a large number of fishing fleets, many of them sponsored by extra-regional powers that do not respect international standards. That is why we support the efforts of the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Coast Guard in their strategy to help countries in the region identify who operates in their territorial waters. It is about sharing information to face the challenges to our sovereignty. Too We are interested in involving the countries from which these fishing fleets come, including China, which has a fleet sponsored by the State itself and is involved in this type of illegal, undeclared and unregulated activities. A recent example is Ecuador, where the Chinese fleet turned off its georeferencing equipment for much of the day they operated in Pacific waters, very close to the Ecuadorian EEZ. There are two explanations: either the computer was damaged, or they were trying to hide their illegal activities. For this reason, we are prepared to work with the countries of the region in the defense of their sovereign waters.
PHOTOS: Fernando Calzada