Cook Holds Hearing on 2018 Elections in the Western Hemisphere
Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA-08), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, delivered the following opening statement at the Subcommittee hearing entitled, “Upcoming Elections in the Western Hemisphere: Implications for U.S. Policy”:
“I would like to begin this first Subcommittee hearing of the Second Session of the 115th Congress by extending a warm welcome to returning Members on the Subcommittee. I am especially grateful for Ranking Member Albio Sires and the bipartisan nature of this Subcommittee, and I am excited to work together with each of you this year to conduct oversight and craft policy to advance U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere. I also look forward to working with the Trump Administration to advance the new National Security Strategy in the days ahead, especially as it relates to addressing the many challenges facing Latin America and the Caribbean. This is an exciting year for the region: 12 elections will take place in nine countries, including presidential elections in Costa Rica, Paraguay, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, and Venezuela. Raul Castro has also announced he will step down as official leader in Cuba, although the next steps remain unclear.
Each of these events will test the state of democratic institutions, freedom, and rule of law in the region, and we must never take these principles for granted. Approximately 350 million voters across Latin American and the Caribbean will have an opportunity to elect new leaders and affect the political trajectory of many countries this year. The stakes are high for these citizens as well as for U.S. interests in the region. Jobs and economic growth depend on strong democratic institutions, mutually-beneficial bilateral relationships, and secure conditions that welcome business investments. However, the security situation remains tenuous throughout the region, as transnational criminal networks operate with impunity and illicit activities, including drug trafficking, continue affecting our country. Further, unresponsive governments and an endless sea of corruption scandals have eroded public trust in traditional democratic institutions and in leaders who do not face accountability for their actions. Consequently, many countries are facing an apathetic electorate ahead of their elections. A recent poll by Vanderbilt University found the lowest support for democracy among citizens in the region since 2004. Fewer than 55 percent of Mexicans and Brazilians believe democracy is the best political system.
Such views diverge sharply from what the United States and other freedom-minded countries in the region agreed to in 2001 with the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which states that “representative democracy is indispensable for the stability, peace, and development of the region.” The ability for citizens to have access to credible information about candidates and platforms, to vote freely and fairly without interference, and to have confidence that public institutions remain accessible and transparent when considering election results is vital to the success of democracy. Likewise, international electoral observation missions play a critical role in providing impartial verification of election results and strengthening confidence in democratic institutions. I applaud Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Paraguay for welcoming OAS observation missions and encourage all the countries holding elections this year to allow for robust international and domestic observations of their elections.
In addition, these elections have the potential to alter the political trajectory of the region and impact U.S. security and economic interests. Brazil’s elections could affect critical economic reforms; Colombia’s elections may influence the fate of the peace deal and the country’s approach to reducing coca production; and Mexico’s elections might impact its historic energy reforms and the approach to the country’s ongoing security issues. We also continue to deal with challenges from the authoritarian regimes in our hemisphere, as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has moved to disqualify the country’s main opposition parties from participating in presidential elections, and Cuba continues to deprive the Cuban people of any form of free and fair elections ahead of Raul Castro’s anticipated handover of power later this year. Regardless of whatever challenges these countries may be facing, the United States and other democratic countries in the region have a role to play in supporting democracy and citizens’ ability to choose their leaders freely. I look forward to hearing from our distinguished panel of experts who each has personal experience promoting democracy, increasing government accountability and transparency, and strengthening the capacity of democratic actors throughout the region. With that, I turn to Ranking Member Sires for his opening remarks.”