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A public policy blog from AEI
President Trump’s decision to appoint CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson at the State Department should be welcome news for those who care about the fate of Venezuela and believe in the importance of US leadership in Latin America. Pompeo’s experience and public statements indicate that he has developed a keen interest in national security challenges emanating from Latin America. Unlike his predecessor, he may assemble a team to confront the threat of a lawless regime in Venezuela and other key issues in the region.
Despite holding the post for more than a year, Tillerson failed to recognize that senior career diplomat Tom Shannon was out of step with President Trump’s marching orders to challenge the narco-state in Venezuela. For example, the State Department has slowed the implementation of targeted sanctions against regime leaders. The Trump team also is dissatisfied with a lax policy that produced an explosion of coca in Colombia and imperiled the achievements of the 10-year, $10 billion”Plan Colombia.”
Pompeo can reverse these shortcomings quickly by directing the State Department to cooperate with the efforts of Trump appointees in the National Security Council staff and in the Treasury Department to get tough on these South American hot spots.
Speaking at AEI earlier this year, Pompeo identified political risks in Latin America as a serious threat requiring more US attention. He also explained his key role in providing intelligence that produced a tougher strategy on Venezuela, working directly with President Trump and the National Security Council:
[Regarding Venezuela,] the president was dissatisfied with the description of the situation as we had laid it out for him. And so we kept coming back. It was some financial issues he wanted more clarity on: Who had the money, where was the debt, what was the timing of that? There were multiple pieces. The array of the Maduro and his forces. He wanted to really understand how they all came together so he could have a complete picture. And it wasn’t long thereafter that the . . . first or second set of sanctions that the administration put in place were enabled by the very intelligence that we had delivered and he had requested.
Pompeo also recognizes the threat posed by instability and transnational organized crime, including Hezbollah, in Latin America, as well as the importance of working with our allies to address these common challenges. Pompeo can make the State Department an important tool in the fight against the violence and corruption orchestrated by transnational organized criminal elements in the region.
Pompeo’s experience leading the CIA prepares him to manage one of the most complicated bureaucracies in the federal government. With the support of a capable team of advisers to challenge the foreign service to deliver results, Pompeo can produce a strategy for enlisting the support of natural allies in the Americas to confront common threats close to home. His energy and loyalty to the president’s priorities improve the chances for a purposeful Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, next month.
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