Top minds in regional security issues gathered at FIU for the fourth annual Hemispheric Security Conference to discuss how to combat some of the most pressing threats facing the Western Hemisphere.
The forum – hosted by the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy and the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC), both under the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs – featured academics, policymakers, senior military officials, former ambassadors, as well as FIU faculty and students.
The Green School’s founding dean John F. Stack Jr. kicked off the conference sending a message of hope to the Venezuelan people.
“The situation in Venezuela is dire and the impacts of the political and humanitarian crisis extend well beyond Venezuela,” he said. “FIU is committed to offering such venues to the open discussion of Venezuela’s future, and indeed, the future of the hemisphere.”
The opening keynote speaker, Admiral Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command, highlighted the importance of strategic partnerships and a peaceful neighborhood in the Western hemisphere.
Here are five key takeaways from the discussion:
- The possibility of military intervention in Venezuela is on the minds of many in the region.
Although Faller emphasized the importance of a peaceful transition of power, he said the United States has already begun “day after” planning to provide support to the security services of Venezuela. Meanwhile, the current focus of the United States is on education and intelligence exchanges to understand the complexity of the situation.
- The migration of Venezuelans is likely to continue.
“Migration is becoming a weapon that is used [by the Venezuelan administration] against democracy,” said Ambassador Otto Reich, who served as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela in the late 1980s. “And it’s becoming a strategy to break down the economic structure of the country.”
- Corruption is a national security concern in the hemisphere – and great powers are taking advantage of that.
Faller stressed that external actors – such as Cuba, China and Russia – are standing in the way of democracy and contributing to the misery of people in the hemisphere. Nevertheless, he said partnerships within the region have shifted the dynamic and created momentum for the common purpose of security.
- Combating the impact of anti-democratic disinformation is crucial.
“We are at war right now,” Faller said, “for ideas in cyberspace and in the information space.” The influence of Russia and China has exasperated the growing propaganda campaigns and fake news in the region. “We see Russia spreading disinformation day in and day out,” he added.
Roberta Braga, associate director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, assessed the effects of disinformation – putting democracy at risk in previous presidential elections in Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. She stressed the importance of strengthening digital resilience in the Western Hemisphere and facing the borderless phenomenon of disinformation.
- Unity is the way to tackle threats against regional security.
Despite regional differences, Faller insists nations must unite to fight threats that affect the security of their citizens. Transnational criminal organizations are operating in the hemisphere, trafficking in illicit arms and drugs and triggering new security challenges.
What does this mean for the Western hemisphere?
“There is not one nation that can face the challenges of the region alone,” Faller said. “Together, we can better confront them.”
Amid the regional concerns and diverse opinions, one theme was repeated throughout the conference. Cooperation and collaboration are crucial to ensuring prosperity and peace for the region.
As a frequent forum for dialogue on critical global issues, FIU is a logical place to host a discussion on hemispheric security, said Brian Fonseca, director of the Gordon Institute, who co-founded the conference with LACC Director Frank Mora in 2016, with funding support from the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Educating citizens on the threats to security and governance in the region was an important theme throughout the conference, and FIU’s geographic proximity to both Washington, D.C., and the region makes it a perfect venue for advancing the understanding of the evolving and complex political and security landscapes,” he said.
The Fifth Annual Hemispheric Security Conference will be held in Miami on May 20, 2020. Conference organizers may also host future hemispheric security events in Latin America and the Caribbean.
— By Maria Pinero