By: Jasiel Lopez/Staff Writer
A combination of academics, policy advisers, and officials at the State Department and the Department of Defense discussed security issues affecting the western hemisphere in FIU’s GC ballrooms.
Focused on “assessing the 2018 security environment,” the third annual Hemispheric Security Conference, held on Monday, Apr. 30, was hosted by FIU’s School of International and Public Affairs, the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy, the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center and the U.S. Army War College.
The opening keynote address delivered by Juan Cruz, special assistant to the President and senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, discussed the challenges facing many Latin American countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, and the stance of the current U.S. presidential administration.
The discussions focused heavily on Venezuela and the Venezuelan people, of which there is a growing population in the U.S. and at FIU.
In 2016 there were 14,773 new asylum applications from Venezuelans, 161 percent increase from 4 years ago, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security.
“I make a call to Venezuelan civil servants, public servants, security officials and military personnel. Now is an opportunity to restore your self-dignity. Restore dignity in your institutions and restore democracy in Venezuela,” said Cruz.
Cruz’s remarks, addressing the Venezuelan people and urging change, were interpreted by some in the audience as a call for regime change in the form of a coup d’état.When asked to clarify if he was calling for a military led government overthrow in Venezuela, Cruz did not explicitly endorse the idea.
“We don’t necessarily advocate, but obviously we don’t dismiss – precisely because of the military’s role,” said Cruz.
On a panel subsequent panel discussion Roger Pardo-Maurer, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, was more explicit about expressing a desire for military intervention in Venezuela.
“It’s high time for the removal of the Venezuelan regime and whether it be by force or another way. A coup d’état would [put the Venezuelan] people on a legitimate path to sovereignty,” said Pardo-Maurer.
The full day event also included panel discussions on the impact of extra hemispheric actors, stabilization in Latin America, change and continuity in US security policy and the crisis in Venezuela.
When discussing change in U.S. security policy in Latin America, the experts on the panel agreed that, despite changes administrations, there has been more continuity than change in U.S. policy.
“We have clear interests in the region,” said Frank Mora, director of the Kimberly Green Latin America and Caribbean Center.
Mora said the current administration’s continuation of previous policies toward Latin America is good news.
Although briefly, the global threat of climate change and its security implications were discussed.
“Absolutely we should be playing a role in addressing [climate change], but always in support of the broader policies of the administration,” said Mora in reference to the part security agencies play in confronting climate change.
Desiree Gonzalez, a political science major in her freshman year, said it’s important for FIU to host events like this conference.
“It’s pretty cool that FIU is able to organize events like these and get experts from the fields from whatever area they may be,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, however, expressed discontent with the lack of diversity of opinion in the room, calling it one sided.
“When you hear the experts talking, you hear the same narrative over and over again. That the U.S. is the purveyor of democracy around the world. There’s no sense of accountability,” said Gonzalez. “Why are these nations in this scenario? How does American foreign policy come into play.”
Clara Barros, a sophomore majoring in sociology, was also critical of the conference’s U.S. centric focus.
“There was no dissent, everyone was onboard. It was a circle of imperialism discussing how to go about their business in Latin America,” said Barros.
Barros said future FIU events can be improved by including by more prominently including student viewpoints.
“There should have been a space for a student perspective. There should have been space for other people to voice their opinion,” added Barros.
Featured image courtesy of Elizabeth Soza/PantherNOW