Fri | Nov 22, 2019

US officer fires missive over China’s role in region

Published:Thursday | November 7, 2019 | 12:29 AMCorey Robinson/Staff Reporter
Admiral Craig Faller (second left), commander of the United States Southern Command, chats with Lieutenant General Rocky Meade (second right), Major Basil Jarrett (right), and Colonel Amanda Azubuike during a press conference at Up Park Camp in Kingston on Wednesday.
Admiral Craig Faller (second left), commander of the United States Southern Command, chats with Lieutenant General Rocky Meade (second right), Major Basil Jarrett (right), and Colonel Amanda Azubuike during a press conference at Up Park Camp in Kingston on Wednesday.

Jamaica has been warned by a senior United States military commander to be wary of China’s campaign of “disinformation” in Latin America and the Caribbean, hinting that President Xi Jinping’s ties with Venezuela were part of a hemispheric axis, worsening security concerns in the region.

The riposte of Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), followed announcements yesterday by Lieutenant General Rocky Meade, chief of defence staff for the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), that the army has been preparing for possible security threats that could come from ongoing conflicts in Haiti and Venezuela.

“All the security challenges that the region faces today have been magnified by the crisis in Venezuela ... ,” said Faller. “The level of narco-trafficking through Venezuela and then out into the Caribbean has doubled in the past year ... . Venezuela is now a safe haven for terrorists,” said Faller.

“We see that other external actors, other regions of the world that do not share the same values, are operating in conjunction with [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro for their own good,” he said, listing Cuba as one such territory.

Disinformation campaign

“Russia is right there alongside contributing disinformation, and China is in there as well as part of the disinformation campaign,” Faller told a press conference marking his visit to Up Park Camp in Kingston.

The Jamaican Government has repeatedly come under scrutiny for its deepening alliance with China through grants, loans, and the engagement of billions of dollars worth of construction contracts with Chinese firms. The Holness administration has also inked a deal under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a strategic financing thrust aimed at deepening China’s footprint across the world, including in the Caribbean.

With Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness on a nine-day visit to China, Faller’s warning that Beijing’s agenda posed direct security challenges to the region will likely resonate with Washington’s rising concern about Jinping administration’s foray into its backyard.

“This plays out right here in this neighbourhood – global powers on a large scale that have sent now close to five million migrants spilling out around the region.

“That has had a direct impact on the security of all of us,” Faller said, pledging continued support from the United States through the provision of equipment, training, and education of local forces.

Looming threat on radar

Yesterday, Meade said that the looming threat of an inflow of illegal migrants from unstable countries to Jamaica was on his radar.

“We are concerned about stability in the region, even if we are not directly impacted at the moment. If the region is unstable, it makes things unsafe for us,” he said.

“In situations where countries that are closer to us have instability, we have to be concerned about how it could impact us with immigrants and asylum-seekers, and, certainly, we are prepared to treat with such situations as they arise,” he added.

High inflation, starvation, crime, disease, and high mortality rates continue to plague countries like Venezuela and Haiti, which are currently undergoing growing unrest.

The US SOUTHCOM is a joint command comprising more than 1,200 military and civilian personnel representing the Army, Navy, and Air Force, among others.

It is responsible for providing contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation in Central America, South America, and some Caribbean territories.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com