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Connie Mack Hammers Obama on Latin American Affairs

February 14, 2011 - 6:00pm

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, took aim at the Obama administrations handling of Latin American affairs Tuesday in his opening remarks to the subcommittee.

President Santos of Colombia, a longtime ally of the United States, recently referred to a quote by Henry Kissinger, saying: To be an enemy of the United States is bad, but to be a friend is fatal,' said Mack. Given that there is neither a strategic nor reliable policy coming from this administration toward the region, I can understand the frustration of President Santos and our allies in the region. It is my goal to show the entire Western Hemisphere that it is better to be a friend of the U.S. than to be an enemy.

Mack promised to focus on many issues through the subcommittee and pledged to fight for greater trade opportunities with Central and South American nations, including pushing for trade agreements with Panama and Colombia.

The administrations lack of action is killing U.S. jobs, insisted Mack. The failure to move forward on our promises is hurting important allies in the region. I want to know exact benchmarks for the Panama and Colombia FTAs and when the president will send them for a vote.

Mack also vowed to continue to support Honduras which, he insisted, was under pressure from Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Honduras has been a great ally of the United States, said Mack. Current U.S. policies are weakening Honduran governance and democracy, negatively impacting the Central American region, and harming U.S. interests.

Mack was just getting started on Chavez, who has been a frequent target of the congressmans criticisms.

Hugo Chavez is in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran, actively supporting terrorist organizations, working directly counter to democracy and freedom in Venezuela and the region, and aggressively opposing U.S. interests, said Mack. We need to stand with the Venezuelan people who are fighting daily for their freedom and make it clear to Chavez that, like other dictators around the world, he does not get a free ride.

One place to start is the Keystone XL pipeline, continued Mack. Exports of Venezuelan heavy crude to the U.S. are Chavezs main source of income. Without them, he may have to learn to be more responsive to the needs of Venezuelans. The State Department must approve the presidential permit for the pipeline as soon as possible to cut our reliance on Venezuelan oil.

Mack also hammered the Obama administrations handling of Cuban affairs.

Last month the administration further loosened travel and remittance restrictions on Cuba, allowing more money to flow to that country, said Mack. Shortly thereafter, Cuban officials announced they are seeking a 20-year sentence for USAID contractor Alan Gross. Case in point -- rewarding dictators only hurts U.S. interests.

Next on his hit list was the administrations Mexican policies.

While the administration has made trips to Mexico, and we have funded the Merida Initiative over the past three years, it isnt enough, said Mack.I will be concentrating the time and energy of this subcommittee on determining where a proactive approach from the U.S. can be most effective in fighting the deadly path of the drug trade. We must stop the drug trafficking organizations and illegal armed groups that threaten the security of Mexico, the United States and beyond.

Policies of shaking hands with our enemies while ignoring our friends is making us neither a force to be reckoned with nor a friend of value, concluded Mack. You can rely on me to engage the administration on a very regular basis to ensure we develop a strategic relationship toward Latin America. This is the only way to ensure the freedom, security and prosperity of the United States and our allies.

But Macks effectiveness in leading the subcommittee could be impacted by his potential challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012. Mack, whose father held the seat for two terms before Nelson defeated Republican Bill McCollum for it in 2000, did better in a poll sponsored by Ron Sachs Communications and conducted by Mason-Dixon than any potential Republican candidate besides former Gov. Jeb Bush, who is not expected to run. While Nelson led with 45 percent, Mack was right behind him with 40 percent. The poll of 625 registered voters was taken Feb. 9-10 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

Mack took steps Tuesday that indicate he is getting closer to launching a Senate bid. His campaign released a Top 10 Signs that You Are a Liberal list, all of which pointed to votes Nelson has cast in the Senate. Mack also hired Anne Ekern, an experienced fund-raiser who worked for the National Republican Senate Committee as well as McCollum in 2000 and Mel Martinezs 2004 Senate campaign.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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