March 24, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Remarks at Hearing on the State of Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave remarks at a hearing on the state of democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean. The committee heard witness testimony from the Honorable Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, Ms. Deborah Ullmer, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Democratic Institute, and Dr. Ryan C. Berg, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

“Nearly twenty years ago, the members of the Organization of American States made a commitment through the Inter-American Democratic Charter to promote and defend democracy as a right of every citizen in our region.

“The peoples of the Americas have made great strides toward democratic governance. Today, nearly 90 percent of the governments in Latin America and the Caribbean are considered democracies.

“Still, as then-Governor Reagan reminded us, “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Widespread dissatisfaction with corruption and weak governance can lead to undemocratic and even despotic rulers.

“It is disheartening how quickly something like that can happen, even with just one or two leaders who are not committed to rule of law and democracy. We do not have to look very far for examples.

“Within a generation, Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro turned Venezuela from what it was, a democracy, into a failed state. Cuba and Nicaragua went through their own, awful descents into authoritarianism several decades ago.

“These regimes have some of the world’s worst human rights records, and certainly the worst in the Americas. They draw lessons from one another to sharpen state-sponsored repression, and they receive the support of malign state and non-state actors. This poses a unique challenge to the peace and stability of our hemisphere. These three outlier countries should be a warning sign in the hemisphere.

“A series of flawed elections and attempts at undermining electoral processes in Haiti, Honduras, Bolivia, and Guyana; endemic corruption; and the growing nexus between criminal organizations and government officials or institutions present serious threats to democracy in our region.

“The consolidation of power behind highly popular leaders with authoritarian tendencies requires the strengthening of independent judiciaries, robust civil society, and independent media to provide the necessary checks on power.

“Equally concerning is the negative effect of malign state actors, such as China, Russia, and Iran.

“While China has leveraged predatory lending practices throughout the region, they have provided a critical, direct financial lifeline to the authoritarian regimes in Venezuela and Cuba, which has helped the regimes secure their economic position and maintain control.

“Further, the adoption of Chinese technologies developed and controlled by companies vulnerable to pressure by the Chinese Communist Party can be a formidable threat to privacy and human rights.

“Russia has exported repressive laws and tendencies to its allies in the region, which in turn, have allowed authoritarian leaders to crack down and repress independent media, civil society, and political opposition.

“The United States has an enduring interest in a prosperous and stable Western Hemisphere, and democratic institutions are the best guarantors of prosperity and stability.

“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how we may be able to support those that seek to secure democratic governance for current and future generations in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.

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