Fresh from a trip to Central America, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made a stop on Friday at FIU to address a roomful of individuals with personal ties to Latin America. She was joined by the four Cuban-American members of South Florida’s congressional delegation in speaking to a largely immigrant crowd representative of the local population.
Haley had just visited Honduras and Guatemala for the stated purpose of underscoring the United States’ strong ties to the two countries. She met with their presidents and civil leaders to highlight U.S. partnerships in the region that focus on anti-corruption and counternarcotic efforts. Discussion during the campus event veered to changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba under the Trump administration as well as concerns for Venezuela, which continues to suffer a humanitarian crisis under what many consider dictatorial rule.
“This is the year of the Americas so you’re going to see the United States put a lot of emphasis on our relationship with these countries, how we can strengthen them, how we can do things better, and it’s the right time to be doing this,” the ambassador told an at-capacity group of about 300 in the Graham Center.
Among those in the audience: the family of two Brothers to the Rescue pilots shot down 22 years ago by Castro’s military, a Cuban dissident who happened to be visiting Miami from the island, the president of the grassroots Independent Venezuelan-American Citizens and FIU students.
Two-time FIU alumna Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen recognized the home crowd. “This is an audience of people who have, first, been victimized by the Castro regime, been victimized by the Maduro regime. They understand what it is to lose one’s homeland to authoritarian rule.”
Political science major Gabriella Gonzalez, a sophomore in the Honors College, had a chance to ask Haley and the panel about the so-called global gag rule that withholds American aid from health organizations worldwide that provide or even discuss abortion in family planning. She appreciated the opportunity to participate in the event but came away with mixed feelings.
“It was absolutely amazing to get the perspective not only from the members of Congress but a direct link to the administration,” said Gonzalez, a Cuban immigrant who arrived in the United States on a raft when she was 7 years old.
“I know there is a lot of emphasis on the military aspects, especially with the narco-trafficking that’s going on, and of course that’s important, but I generally feel that sometimes the humanitarian part gets a slide. If you want to stand up there and say you stand with the people, you can’t neglect the humanitarian aid.”
Professor Brian Fonseca, an expert on Latin America and director of FIU’s Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy, said he would have preferred a bipartisan conversation to the one-sided approach on display—all the panelists are Republicans—but he appreciated that Haley is placing attention on Latin America.
“The thing that stuck out to me, on the first-year anniversary of this administration, to see the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations take a serious interest in the region is a good thing.”