U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a combat veteran and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, led a congressional delegation mission to Panama and Colombia over the past several days to meet with senior leaders in the countries to discuss challenges and opportunities in the region, particularly related to the United States’ southern border and other national security challenges. Ernst was joined by her fellow Iowan, Representative Randy Feenstra (R-Iowa), and Representative Lisa McClain (R-Mich.).
“As a former military commander and the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, I know how vitally important it is for the United States to maintain strong relationships with our allies and partners in Central and South America. Between the ongoing crisis at our southern border, which has exacerbated the drug trafficking challenges Iowa faces; the threat posed by a growing Chinese influence in the region; and, the economic partnership and cooperation, particularly regarding supply chain disruptions, this was a critical mission at this time,” said Senator Ernst. “I was glad to be joined by my fellow Iowan, Rep. Randy Feenstra, and our colleague Rep. McClain, on this mission as we work together in Congress and with our partners in Panama and Colombia to combat the challenges our countries face.”
“Maintaining a strong trade partnership with our allies in Central and South America is critical to preserving a resilient supply chain – especially at a time when disruptions are threatening a comprehensive global economic recovery. Enforcing national and border security laws that keep our products and people safe is essential to ensuring our supply chain continues running strong. That’s why I appreciated the opportunity to hear from key leaders in the region to learn more about the issues they are facing and how we can work together moving forward. It was an honor to join my colleagues Sen. Ernst and Rep. McClain on this mission, and I look forward to taking what I learned to my colleagues in Washington,” said Rep. Feenstra.
“The United States has important strategic partnerships with both Panama and Colombia. From strong partnerships in trade, to eradicating the production of illegal drugs and stemming the flow of illegal immigration, our relationships with Latin America are key to the safety and security of our nation. It was great to see the benefits of these partnerships firsthand and meet with Latin American leaders during our trip this week,” said Rep. McClain.
In Panama, Ernst, Feenstra, and McClain received an overview of U.S.-Panama relations and discussed Chinese influence in Panama, including maritime security and infrastructure investments. They also met with members of the National Assembly, as well as Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes and Director of Migration Samira Gozaine.
Ernst, Feenstra, and McClain depart for an overflight of the Panama Canal.
In addition, the delegation joined Panama’s Vice Minister of Public Security Ivor Pitti for an overflight of the Panama Canal, where they discussed economic impacts of the canal and Chinese attempts to purchase portions of the operation.
In Colombia, Ernst, Feenstra, and McClain met with the Colombian President, Members of the Colombian Congress, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Philip Goldberg, and other embassy and Department of Defense officials.
The members held a roundtable with Colombian Migration Agency Director Juan Francisco Espinosa on the challenges presented by the over 9,000 migrants stranded in the country amid a surge of people passing through on their way to the U.S. southern border.
Ernst, Feenstra, and Mclain with Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs Marta Lucía Ramírez.
Following the roundtable, the members met with President of Colombia, Iván Duque, and his Ministers, including Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs Marta Lucía Ramírez.
The delegation also flew to a coca field and discussed US-Colombian efforts to combat drug trafficking through eradication and efforts supporting economic development of rural Colombia, aiding transition away from a drug economy controlled by cartels into a rules-based model of economic development.