Congressman José Serrano's Speech on U.S. policy Towards Latin America

On Nov. 5, Democratic Congressman José Serrano (New York) lambasted the
U.S. House of Representatives for having passed a voice-vote resolution
that connects Iran's growing ties to Latin America with terrorism.

By José Serrano

serrano_3_0.jpg

U.S. Representative from New York, José Serrano
U.S. Representative from New York, José Serrano
Topics
Short URL

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about an issue that troubles me
quite a bit and I think should trouble a lot of the American people.
Certainly it should concern Members of Congress.

A resolution was passed this afternoon by voice vote dealing with
the alleged involvement and behavior of the President of Iran,
therefore, the Government of Iran, in Latin America and supporting,
according to this resolution, terrorist activities in Latin America.

Let me briefly read the opening statement of this resolution, the
title, if you will: expressing concern relating to the threatening
behavior of the Iranian regime and the activities of terrorist
organizations sponsored by that regime in Latin America.

Well, just to deal with language itself, we know that when our
government calls another government a regime, it is not saying anything
positive about it. It is, in fact, confronting it in some way. But I
think that as unnoticed as this went by, as I said it was passed on a
voice vote, as unnoticed that this went by, this puts us in a
situation, the Congress, the American people, our Nation, on a road, on
a path to a very dangerous situation in the future, perhaps in the near
future.

We all know how concerned the administration is and how concerned
some Members of Congress are about the possibility that Iran could be
involved in activities that would be hurtful to us. I want to correct
that. I think all Members of Congress are concerned about that
possibility.
But I think we are also concerned about the fact, many of us, that there seems to be a drumbeat towards war with ,
a drumbeat that says, basically, some of the same things that were said
when we were taken off to war against Iraq. Just about everything that
was told to us at that time happened not to be true. History will tell
whether, in fact, we were lied to, or whether the information was so
bad that the administration had no choice but to pass that on to us
thinking that it was correct.

But there are many who feel that we were lied to. Again, history will have to deal with that.
My concern is that this resolution today moves away from just a concern
about the behavior of the Government in Iran and begins to suggest that
there are neighbors of ours, and, yes, I say neighbors, because that’s
what the Latin American people are, neighbors of ours, that could be
involved in this behavior, behavior which would be dangerous to the
United States, behavior which we all should be concerned about,
behavior that, perhaps, would lead us to get involved in Latin America
in a way that we haven’t been involved for a long, long time.

But I think in order to understand where we are with this issue, we
also have to have, I think, an understanding of how history repeats
itself, how some things that we are hearing now we have heard before.
For close to 50 years now, we have had a very strong lobbying effort in
this country against a Cuban Government. The so-called anti-Castro
lobby has been very strong, and that lobby has been very influential in
getting many Members of Congress and Presidents, present and past, to
feel that the only path towards changes in Cuba is to continuously
attack and confront the Cuban Government. To the dismay of many people,
I am sure, and with all due respect to many people, it is no secret
that for the most part that lobby, this effort, has come out of
anti-Castro groups who, for the most part, live in the State of Florida.

Well, something very interesting has happened in the last few
years. As Latin America has elected leftist-leaning leaders, people who
propose to put forth a modern-day socialism, as they call it,
21st-century socialism, but people who have been elected and reelected
as they have emerged, they have decided that it would not be improper
for them as leaders of those countries to have a relationship with the
Cuban Government.

Well, that upsets the same people who have been upset with the
Cuban Government. The fact that some new governments in Latin America
would now be friendly to the Government in Cuba would upset these folks.

Our policy towards Cuba has been heavily influenced by this
anti-Castro movement. I can’t tell you how many times in the 17 years
that I have been in Congress and have tried to change that policy. I
have been told by Members of Congress on both sides, Democrats and
Republicans, liberals and conservatives, I have been told by them, I
agree with you, you are right with this policy having to change.

But I think we have to continue it, and most of them will tell you,
because the lobbying effort, out of a couple of communities in this
country is so strong, that I really don’t want to face that. Right on
the House floor they have told me, I don’t want to face that, I will
just go along with this policy, as outdated as this may be, as
inefficient as that may be, because it hasn’t changed anything in Cuba,
not that we should necessarily be changing things in another country.
But now we find that those same folks have now picked new targets.

Chief among those targets, top of the list, is the President of
Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, who has over and over again shown his
friendship to President Castro of Cuba, and that irritates the folks
who support ending Mr. Castro’s stay in Cuba. Those folks then have
started to say the same things that they have said for years about Mr.
Castro.

Now, the fact of life is that the Cuban Government, the system in
Cuba, and the system in Venezuela, for instance, are totally different,
totally different. But not to those folks who simply would want to get
rid of one. They now feel that they have a target which is the
President of Venezuela.

That target then, I think, leads us to situations like today, where
a resolution presented here speaks of putting together all these groups
who have one thing in common. They speak out against our government,
they say things we don’t like, and who happen to have been visited or
received telephone calls or offers of help from Iran.

Now, Communist China, and I use that title, that phrase, that word,
so we understand what we are talking about, are involved in the economy
of every country in Latin America; but you don’t see a resolution on
the House floor condemning Communist China for being involved in Latin
America.

Why? Because they’re a big trading partner of ours. And secondly,
let’s be honest, because there is no Chinese American lobby in this
country influencing how we behave in Congress. And so we could deal
with China every day and they could do whatever they want in their
country, and we will never say more than maybe say every so often,
behave yourself.

And there are countries in the Middle East who treat their folks in
ways that you could spend every day in Congress condemning them, but we
won’t do that because we have a relationship with them.

But nothing, and I say this with great admiration, nothing is as
strong as the anti-Castro lobby, which has made it clear that the
leadership in Latin America that is friendly to Mr. Castro must pay a
price, and one of the prices you pay is to lump them together as this
hate group that is now going to be involved in terrorist activities in
Latin America.

We have democratically elected leaders in Latin America that have
these friendly relations with the Cuban Government. That doesn’t matter
to us that these folks were elected and re-elected. As long as they are
friendly to Cuba, Miami hates them. And as long as Miami hates them,
then Congress must hate them too.

So when you hear comments about Chavez, when you hear comments
about Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, when you hear comments
about President Correa in Ecuador, understand, when you hear these
comments, or about any one of the other left-leaning presidents in
Latin America, that you’re basically hearing from the same playbook,
the comments that you heard about Cuba for all these years.

But please understand something, that you are not hearing direct
attacks on those governments; you’re still hearing an attack on the
Cuban Government. It is just being played out in this new scenario
called the other countries in Latin America.

Now, it is true that we have, or they have elected leaders in Latin
America that are not happy with the U.S. Government and that words have
been strong at times towards us. But some of this rhetoric has a
history behind it.

While our country paid a great deal of attention to Asia, Europe
and the Middle East, we neglected Latin America. That is a fact. That
is not Congressman Serrano from the Bronx, New York, just making those
comments to sound nice at this time of night. That’s a fact. We
neglected Latin America, and they suffered, and still do, through some
very difficult periods.
And during the Cold War, it was really
interesting. We would go to Latin America and we would say, General
So-and-So, Senor, do you support communism in the Soviet Union or do
you support our style of government? And those generals would say, oh,
no; we support your style. We would say, great, you’re our friend.
We’ll see you in a couple of years. And meanwhile, they mistreated
their folks; they ransacked the country. But it didn’t matter to us
because they were not for communism. They were not to the left of the
political spectrum. They were not for socialism.

During that time, however, we would say something very positive.
Every so often we would kind of knock them on the shoulder and say
democracy is the most important thing. Nothing is as important as
democracy.

Well, you know something? They’ve tried it all in Latin America.
They tried military dictatorships. The people didn’t try it. They were
the victims of it, and it didn’t work. Then they tried regular
dictatorships, if there’s such a thing different from a military
dictatorship. But it didn’t work either. The people suffered, but the
ones who tried it didn’t work. Then they tried something new for Latin
America in many cases, new to some countries, new to many countries.
They tried democracy. They elected folks. But they elected folks who
were very much tied to international corporate interests, who got
elected, many in questionable elections, and then neglected the people,
neglected the people. And the people found out that they had elected
people, they had done everything they were asked to do, and they were
getting poorer and poorer every day. So what have they done in the last
couple of years? They’ve elected left-of-center candidates in Chile, in
Argentina, in Ecuador, in Bolivia, in Venezuela. And these folks have
been, and are, revolutionaries. They, themselves, claim to be
revolutionaries, and that, again, we hear that word, that upsets us. We
forget that this great system we have here was created through a
revolution against the British. But we were the last ones to use that
word in a way that we liked it. Now anybody who calls himself a
revolutionary we get upset about. But these people are revolutionaries.
They’re trying something new in Latin America. Embarrassing as it may
seem, it is new to many countries in Latin America, this whole notion
that the person at the bottom, the person who’s been suffering for
years, the indigenous people, the darker skinned people, that they
would now have an opportunity to have something better.

Now, and this is important what I just mentioned about the fact
that in Latin America, the darker skinned folks are beginning to feel
that they have a stake in their system.

When Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of the greatest
Americans, left the administration at the last, the end of the last
term, he came before our Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, and
I was the ranking member at that time. And he said to us something very
important when he was talking about Latin America. He said, the big
change in Latin America, and what we Americans need to understand, now
he didn’t say it was good. He didn’t say it was bad. He didn’t say it
was a problem for us. He just said it was something that was happening
in Latin America, that we as Americans have to pay attention to. He
said, those folks are beginning to elect people who look like
themselves. Now, that’s a heck of a statement by a very intelligent man
who has a good understanding of the world. I don’t know if that upsets
some of us, but I think it does upset some folks in this country and
throughout the hemisphere, that countries that are composed primarily
mostly of indigenous people and people of color have now decided to
elect people who look like themself, people who come from them. And
when they decide to make changes that are very dramatic and, yes, very
revolutionary, we get upset because it doesn’t serve the corporate
interests of a lot of American corporations.

So Hugo Chavez in Venezuela decides that he’s going to
revolutionize the way Venezuela behaves. He came to the Bronx. He
visited the Bronx. He spoke to us and he said something very
interesting. He told us who he was. And you never hear about this in
this country. He told us he was a kid, very poor, who didn’t have shoes
until he was a teenager, walked barefoot, who wanted only one dream in
life, to become a major league baseball pitcher. And he was pretty
good. But from where he lived, to be seen by major league scouts, he
had to go to Caracas. And he was told that the only way to get to
Caracas was to join the Army. So he joined the Army. He jokes that it
was the worst mistake his country ever made, letting him join the Army,
because when he began to travel with the Army he noticed something very
interesting of Venezuela. He noticed that people who looked like him
were very poor, and other folks who didn’t look like him were living in
a country with a lot of oil and a lot of money. He also noticed that
not all neighborhoods were like his. He thought all of Venezuela was
like his neighborhood, and it wasn’t. It had serious pockets of serious
money. So he began to grow a conscience about that; became a military
leader, eventually led him into politics. He got elected. And when he
got elected he immediately set out to change the way Venezuela behaves.
And the opposition to him knows that. That’s why they all admit that
he’s so popular within his country, by the folks who are at the bottom.

But, you know, I get to watch Spanish television from Latin America
on my cable system in the Bronx, and you know, as tough as we are in
American politics, some of the stuff you hear about President Chavez
from the owners of these stations who open up their morning programming
by reminding people that their President has curly hair and is dark
skinned, as if that was a sin, but it’s such a revolutionary thing that
has happened in Latin America that some people still can’t get over it.
So he’s an idiot. He’s crazy. He’s corrupt.

But even the opposition, at times, in attempting to say something
against him, really says dumb things. I wish I had the name of the
person, although I wouldn’t use it on the House floor, but during the
last elections in Venezuela when the polls indicated that President
Chavez was at 62 percent of the vote, one of the New York Times
reporters, I think it was, asked this leader of the opposition, Why do
you think he’s so popular? And the gentleman said, and this has to be
the dumbest statement ever made by a politician in the history of the
world, the gentleman said, You would be popular too if you were always
building schools and hospitals for the poor. Well, to that I say, what
American teenagers taught us to say, duh. I mean, isn’t that the reason
why you elect people to take care of those in the society who need help
amongst others? Because you don’t play class warfare. So they’re saying
that because he’s building hospitals and because he’s building schools,
he’s very popular. Well, yeah, Mr. Opposition. Why didn’t you try that
when you were in power for the last couple of hundred years to do some
of that?

Now, these leaders in Latin America that we attack, it’s important
to know how they got to that point of being the leaders of these
countries. For instance, in this resolution, it says, whereas in
January of 2007, the President of Iran made his second visit to Central
and South America in 5 months to meet with Hugo Chavez, President of
Venezuela, to visit Daniel Ortega, President of Nicaragua, and to
attend the inauguration of Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador.
Well, if we’re going to be technical about this, the fact is he went
there for the President’s inauguration, something we all did. I mean,
every country in the world sent a representative. I imagine our
Ambassador was there. If he wasn’t, he should have been there because
this was an elected President of Ecuador.

When you make those visits, as our President does, and I commend
him for it, you go and you take the time that you’re in that country
and you visit neighboring countries if you don’t get a chance to meet
with everybody. That’s something you do.

But we attack these people in this resolution that we passed today,
this, in my opinion, dangerous resolution, and that’s why we’re here
today. We’re here today because Congress passed a resolution today
condemning Iran’s involvement in Latin America and suggesting that
these progressive leftist semi, if you want to call them, socialists in
Latin America have a bond going with the President of Iran to create
havoc for us and to fund terrorist organizations.

But there’s something we forget. Let’s look at Daniel Ortega of
Nicaragua. He was elected in a free and fair election, recognized by
world organizations. As part of the Central American peace plan,
Ortega’s Sandinista government agreed to internationally monitored
democratic elections in 1990.

Now, this guy we don’t like submitted himself to elections in 1990
and he lost, and peacefully, after having won a revolution, peacefully
turned his government over to Violetta Chamorro, who was the victor,
with our support, heavily with our support, because all the arguments
in those days about how much money we sent into her campaign.

Now, can you imagine if somebody from another country sent money to
one of our Presidential campaigns, another government, what we would do
with that candidate in this country? But we do that.

Ortega ran for President in 1996 and lost, ran for democratically
provided elections in 2001 and lost. Because he came in second place
both times, however, Nicaraguan law gave him a seat in the national
assembly where he has served as an opposition leader. Then he ran for
President again in 2006 and won. Now, shouldn’t that alone make us want
to go to Nicaragua or call him up and say, We asked you, we asked
everybody in Latin America, to get elected. You ran four times and
finally you got elected. Let’s at least talk. No? We are on his case.
In fact, we are linking him to terrorist organizations in this
resolution.

Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, elected in free and fair
elections January 15 of this year. He is a U.S.-trained economist. What
does that mean? That he learned what he knows about what he wants to
put in practice in Ecuador in American schools. So shouldn’t we be
applauding that? Shouldn’t we be applauding the fact that he got
elected democratically? He is Ecuador’s eighth President in 10 years.
The instability has been horrible. Maybe there could be stability now.
We should be supportive of that. He defeated Alvaro Noboa, a wealthy
banana magnate, in a run-off election held in 2006. Contrary to our
predictions, he got 57 percent of the vote.

Now, the one that we attack the most, of course, is President Hugo
Chavez of Venezuela. Well, let’s review this for a second. President
has won elections in 1998, in 2000, and in 2006. In other words, he got
elected in 1998. He then went out and had his coalition elect delegates
to a constitutional convention. Those delegates wrote a new
constitution that, and listen to this revolutionary idea, gave power to
the poor and to the indigenous people. They changed the constitution to
do that, and they put it before the people. The constitution was passed
by the people. So I’d say that that is another referendum on Chavez.
Then the new constitution said that he had to cut his 6-year term short
and run right away. So he ran in 1998; then he had to run again in 2000.

Then in 2006 in between the opposition again with support from
outside forces, a lot of them based right in the State of Florida, they
held a referendum. He submitted himself to that referendum to be
recalled as the President. He wins in 1998. He doesn’t finish his full
term. He goes again in 2000. But by 2004 they were ready to kick him
out, the opposition. They hold a referendum. And he wins it big. The
recall, he wins it big. In 1999, as I said, he won a referendum for a
new constitution. And in 2005 his coalition of parties won election for
the Parliament, for the Congress.

Now, here’s the question I have: Didn’t we tell Latin American
countries to use the democratic process? Isn’t that what we always said
was the bottom line? Everything else could be negotiable, we said at
times. But democracy was the bottom line. Even when we didn’t practice
it, as I said before, we did say this is what you must do. Now I just
read you three examples of people who have used the democratic system
to reach their positions. So why are we attacking them continuously on
the House floor? Once a month we get a resolution here attacking
somebody in Latin America instead of getting close.

Now, what we don’t understand is that this whole situation with
Latin America’s electing people who are left of center is because the
people are tired of the poverty, tired of the pain, and they now have
leaders who at least in what they have attempted to do up to now
indicates that they want to balance off the wealth of those countries.
Balance off.

We don’t celebrate the fact that Hugo Chavez comes from poverty,
reaches the presidency, and has been elected three times himself and
his government another five times totaling eight elections since 1998.
We don’t celebrate the fact that in over close to 500 years, the people
of Bolivia, a country mostly made up of indigenous people, what we call
Indians, elected for the first time an Indian, Evo Morales. We don’t
celebrate that.

I felt so good when I saw this man take the oath of the presidency
dressed in the native dress of his people. I thought it was a great
day. Our comments right away were, what is he going to do with the gas
industry? Well, he did what we expected. He told some of the gas
companies this is a very poor country. We have a lot of natural
resources here. We are going to start sharing some of those profits
with the people. Oh, he’s a communist. We have got to get rid of him.
He’s a problem. So now in this resolution we lump him together with the
President of Iran.

When you do that, you immediately make enemies of the American people and those people.
But you also make a very serious mistake, and this is perhaps the most
important thing that we have to pay attention to. When you reject the
electoral victories of these folks; when you don’t celebrate the fact
that people from the lower class, economic class, that people of darker
skin of indigenous people are being elected; when you as the American
Government, the greatest and largest government in the world, don’t
celebrate that and, in fact, spend a lot of time trying to bring them
down; when you don’t do that, it is natural that you drive them to
places where you don’t want them to be.

Now, when you are a Member of Congress and you stand up in front of
the House and people may watch you on TV, you are supposed to speak as
exactly that. My problem, or my strength, is that I so often remind
people that I grew up in a public housing project. And in the projects
you have certain rules of behavior. And one is that if somebody is
trying to do you in and that person is stronger and bigger than you,
you go find someone who can help you confront that person. That’s a
fact of life for survival. Most Members of Congress, most American
elected officials don’t talk about the rule of the projects because
they didn’t grow in the projects. I am not saying that makes them worse
than me, just different. So I use that as a point of understanding.
Again, I grew up in the South Bronx in a public housing project. If you
came after me, if you came after my mother, my sister, my cousin, you
were my enemy.

Well, when President Chavez came to the U.N., our country was
outraged. And I was not happy with what he said. He called President
Bush the devil, and that was enough for us to go to war. But let’s talk
about a little history now. There was a coup attempt on President
Chavez by members of the military and members of the elite. All of
Latin America, most of Europe, some folks in the Middle East all got up
and said you can’t do that. You can’t do that. That man was elected.
He’s got to serve his term. What did the United States say? Well, at
the White House some folks said publicly he brought it on himself. No,
you can’t say that, he brought it on himself. You don’t bring on a coup
against your government.

In Latin America they said that our fingerprints were all over that
attempted coup; that if we actually did not participate in it, we gave
aid to it through our comments and said it was okay. Now, when I met
President Chavez when he came to visit the Bronx, he spoke to us for a
couple of hours. He’s famous for speaking a couple of hours. He told us
about all the things I have mentioned here. But he said when they took
him out of the presidential palace, the “White House,” if you will,
took him up to the mountains, he knew he was going to die. He knew he
was going to get killed. And you can imagine what is going through his
head because he doesn’t know what is happening in Washington. He found
out later that what was happening to him and when he thought he was
going to get killed, he thought the whole world was outraged.

He found out later that Washington was basically saying we’ll
figure it out. And we didn’t say anything when the guy who took over
for him momentarily suspended the Congress, suspended the constitution,
and that’s when the people reacted to it. Of course, Chavez came back
because two things happened. One was the folks from the mountain side,
the poor folks, the dark-skin folks, the indigenous people found out
and they started running to the city and demanding to have their
President back. The people won, the power didn’t. But we didn’t say
anything.

And he tells us that when he goes there, a young soldier, he’s
sitting in a room and opens the door and he hears the rifle load up and
he thinks he’s going to get shot right there, and the soldier says, If
our President is killed, we will all be killed here. And that did a
turnaround where the young soldiers told the older soldiers, We’re not
going back to those days. This man was elected and he has to serve his
term.

Now, let’s go back a second to my focal point of growing up in the
projects. They tried to kill the man and he came back into power. He
thinks a few people were involved in it. He calls our President the
devil as a representative of the country that didn’t help him during
that time. We don’t appreciate having our President called the devil.
We don’t encourage that and we all denounced it. But in the projects if
you try to bump me off, the least I am going to call you is the devil.
In fact, the ramifications may be even more dangerous. So I think it
was really a light comment compared to what he felt was happening to
him.

Now, there is another issue here that has been discussed a lot. We
all heard about how recently President Chavez closed a TV station in
Venezuela, and we were outraged. Nobody likes to do that. But what we
were not told here is the history behind that. I’m not suggesting it
was a good move. If I had been his adviser, I would have said leave it
alone. But do you know who was on in the middle of the attempted coup
against President Chavez in the Venezuela equivalent of the White
House? The owner of the TV station that lost its license a few months
ago. He was there as part of the coup to overthrow this government.

Now, listen to me. I don’t support most of the policies of
President Bush. But if I heard that CBS, ABC, CNN, anyone tomorrow was
involved in a coup against President Bush, I would ask that their
license not be renewed because that is not freedom of speech. That is
violence against the government.

And you can’t treat them any differently than you would treat
someone. I would say we have to seriously consider not allowing them to
continue in that role because they just attempted to overthrow a
government by force.

Also, they refused to televise the coup. And when they did
televise, they only televised the opposition; they never televised the
people. The country never knew that Chavez was gone because they didn’t
want the people to know. And when he came back, they didn’t know that
either, although they had televised part in the middle of the coup
because they were supposedly playing cartoons and movies on TV because
they didn’t want to support the government in any way. That is the
truth behind that licensing situation.

Now, what is the danger in what we’ve done today? Today, we
committed the mistake of allowing our emotions on the issue of Cuba to
blind us into attacks on Latin American countries, blanket attacks on
many countries. And in this resolution we make claims on issues that in
no way can be proven.

We’re suggesting that Iran is going to fund terrorist organizations
in Latin America. These are some of the same folks that told us there
were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. How many of us have forgotten
those words, “weapons of mass destruction”? They also told us that Iraq
was tied to al Qaeda. They also told us that Iraq helped al Qaeda in
the 9/11 attacks. Even the White House has now admitted that most of
that, if not all, was not true. So, I can’t understand this desire to
lump this together with Iran, present bad information, if not outright
lies, and begin to move us towards a confrontation with Latin America
at the same time we have confrontation with Iran.

But look at some of the silly things that the resolution says. It
says, Whereas, at the Iranian Conference on Latin America, Iran
announced that it would reopen embassies in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador,
Nicaragua, Uruguay, and send a representative to Bolivia. And what is
wrong with that? Don’t we want people to talk to each other? Don’t we
have relations with most of the countries of the world? But when Iran
does it, just to reopen relations they had before, re-establish, we get
upset. Well, that’s an acceptable action for a sovereign state.

Now, I spoke about the various leaders, and I neglected to remind
us that the President of Bolivia was elected on December 18, 2005, with
a record 85 percent of the Bolivian people voting in the elections.
They were deemed by world organizations to be free and fair. He won a
convincing victory, getting 54 percent of the vote, compared to 29
percent for his opposition. Although a lot of people were predicting
that he would win, no one thought that he could win this big.

Now, here’s another part of the resolution. And I leave it to the
people watching or listening to this to try to figure out what this
means, because I don’t know what the crime is here. It says, Whereas,
routine civilian airline flights have been established from Tehran,
Iran directly into Caracas, Venezuela, and the Government of Venezuela
has been found to be indiscriminate in the issuance of Venezuelan
passports and other identifying documents to people coming on those
flights. So, they’re allowing people to fly directly to them, and they
are allowing Iran to fly direct flights. Well, we have direct flights
all over the world. What is the issue?

Now, here is the most dangerous one: Whereas, Iran and Hezbollah
were involved in the two deadliest terrorist attacks in Argentina, and
we all know that this is true, now they claim that Hezbollah is setting
up in Latin America with the support of Iran. Well, my God, if that is
true, why are we waiting until this particular resolution, which passed
in what one could call the quickness of the afternoon without a vote,
to bring up such a serious situation? If it’s true that Hezbollah is
involved in Latin America setting up bases, recruiting people,
shouldn’t we be outraged and really consider how to address that rather
than just as a throw-away line in a resolution? This is so much more of
this attempt to link Iran to Latin America.

And let me reach the last few minutes here by telling you why I think this is extremely dangerous.

It is pretty clear around here that we are beating the drum towards
war with Iran. That’s no longer an alarmed behavior. I’m not trying to
alarm people into feeling nervous, but I think most American people are
hearing a lot of what they heard before we went to Iraq. And you know
that Iraq has been a very, very difficult situation for us, and we
don’t know when we will be able to get out of Iraq. And now there is
this drumbeat, both inside and outside the Congress, throughout the
country, but coming from the government, from the White House, coming
out of the President’s office, coming out of the Vice President’s
office, that we have to somehow confront Iran. That’s a problem all by
itself. And it’s a horrible problem that we could be discussing here
for hours.

But my concern, and my reason for speaking on a resolution today, a
resolution which was introduced primarily by Democrats, and I know this
is not something we usually do, speak against members of our own party,
but we can all be nervous about a situation because on both sides of
the aisle people are marching forward to war with Iran.

So, now we link these other countries. What does that mean? Does
that mean that we now have an excuse to go and try military action
against Bolivia? against Argentina? against Ecuador? against Venezuela?
Is it because, indeed, they’ve earned the right, if you will, of having
us react that way, or is it because we’re using Iran as an excuse to
deal with other things we wanted to deal with in the first place, which
is getting at these folks.

And so, I go back to my initial statement, that the same lobby
group that has been directing our policy towards Cuba and preventing us
from making changes in that policy, that same group has been
intelligent enough, enabled enough to now direct our attention towards
Latin American leftist leaders because they’re friendly to Cuba, and
what best way to get at them? To link them to Iran, the ugly country
for us right now.

And I’m not suggesting, by the way, that we should not have some
concerns, if not serious concerns, about the behavior of Iran. That’s
not the issue here. I don’t want people tomorrow saying, oh, he was
defending Iran. No. I’m defending no one. What I’m defending is the
right of the Latin American people to make their own democratic
choices, if you will, and that we will respect that. But by linking
them, I have to ask the question, if we go after Iran, and we just
finished saying this afternoon that these Latin American countries are
tied into Iran’s behavior, aren’t we also giving ourselves the
opportunity, the reason, the power to go after these countries, too?
That’s my concern.

Let me conclude by speaking to a subject that I know well. You
don’t have to live in Latin America to know how Latin Americans feel
about the United States or about American people. This may sound like a
joke, it may even sound sarcastic, but it is honestly true. All you
have to live is in southern Maryland, in northern Virginia, in D.C., in
New York, in LA, in Houston, in Dallas, in any city, any suburb in this
country that has the growing number of immigrants from Latin America,
whether documented or not, they’re here for a reason. And if we were
discussing immigration, I would tell you that they’re here because they
like this country. They want to work. They want to feed their families.
But that is no different than how people in Latin America feel about
us. To link them with a group of folks in the Middle East who have
openly said, not all of them, but some, who have openly said that they
don’t like us, to link them to that is to make two horrible mistakes.
One is to have bad information again put forth about a people who
actually like us, and also, the worst mistake of all, to drive them
into the arms of people we don’t like. Because as I told you before,
when you pick on someone and you’re the toughest guy on the block, that
person is going to have to find someone to help them out.

So, instead of reaching out to Latin America, we say to them,
you’re as bad as the other guy. And we hate the other guy, and we’re
going to eventually take action against the other guy, so you know what
you can expect. And even if that’s not our intent, it will only make
them think that that is our intent, and they will have to try to drum
up new relationships. Because they’re not going to give into us,
they’re not going to leave office and say we’ll go back to the days
when the general ran the country.

Latin Americans, my friends, can be found in any city, any suburb,
any neighborhood. And so many of them have such a close relationship to
the people back home that they want to do nothing in this country to
jeopardize the ability to continue to deal with their family back home.
And their family back home will never allow any behavior in those
countries that can hurt us. They need us and we need them.

And so, when you speak to Latin Americans in our communities, you never
hear hatred of the United States as you do in some other countries.
They are materially poor, yes, suspicious of America’s intentions in
their hemisphere, yes, but interested in making common cause with
Hezbollah and other foreign movements to target American interests?
Never. Let me repeat that. They would never team up with a terrorist
organization against the United States. They don’t have anything
against us of that nature. They just don’t like our rhetoric and our
indifference to them, but they’re not going to team up with anybody to
hurt us, because most of those countries have so many of their people
living here that it would be like attacking another part of your
neighborhood. Because to hurt the American interests would almost
certainly hurt their own. Money that flows from here to there would be
cut off from relatives. Those family ties of people living and working
in the United States would be gone.

A broad cultural admiration for the U.S. have knit together places like
Caracas, Quito, and New York. One of the ironies of the current
immigration debate is how folks often evoke how immigration from Latin
America is changing this country. What they forget is how that same
phenomenon is changing Latin America, which, despite its general
political rejection of this administration, is growing ever closer in
its embrace of a Pan-American culture and a Pan-American economy.

For many thousands of people in Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua,
Americans are their cousins, their siblings and their children. They
can be our greatest allies in the world if we don’t continue to push
them into the embrace of hostile regimes with foolish resolutions like
this one.

Mr. Speaker, it wasn’t easy for me to decide to speak on this today. As
I said, this resolution was presented by many Democrats,
well-intentioned folks. I just see us going down a dangerous road here,
a very dangerous road. If we have a problem with Iran, deal with that
problem. Don’t link the poor people of Latin America who have nothing
against us.

We have tried to export democracy to Latin America, and I think
finally it is working. But we don’t like the results. We have tried to
export capitalism, and in many ways what they do with each other by
trading oil for doctors and oil for technology is capitalism at its
best. I often joke, but profoundly so, I think, that we exported
baseball to Latin America. I don’t have to tell you how well that is
doing in Latin America and doing right here. I am a Yankee fan. But
just ask the Boston Red Sox how they feel about Latin American
ballplayers and Latin American baseball.

So these folks don’t dislike us. But they are going to be troubled
tomorrow morning when they find out what we did here in Congress today.
They are going to be troubled that we are linking them with people we
hate and they don’t want to be hated by us.

So I hope we can spend some time reviewing this, thinking about it,
and perhaps understanding that in our desire to do what is right for us
and to protect our great country, this country I love, this country in
whose Army I served proudly, this country whose Congress I serve
proudly, this country that I would give my life for, that as you love
your country, you don’t love it different from a child. When that child
is not doing the right thing, you have to correct that child. And our
country is wrong right now in its desire to treat Latin America with
hate and disdain and to make of it something that it is not. They are
our neighbors and our friends. We should treat them as such. We should
extend our hand to them and tell them, you are our neighbor, you are
our friends, you are, in fact, members of this family in more ways than
one, and we are members of yours. Let’s work together. Let’s not show a
lack of respect for each other.