China will exploit the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn in Latin American and the Caribbean “to the hilt”, the Ranking Member of the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade Subcommittee said Wednesday during a hearing about the Trump Administration’s response to the pandemic in the region.
The hearing included details on U.S. aid to the region related to the coronavirus pandemic. Witnesses shared figures on the amount of funding and number of ventilators that have been sent by the U.S. government, but Republican committee members also raised questions about China’s influence and economic development in the region.
“I don’t trust China one bit.” said Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla.
In his testimony, Josh Hodges, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, referred to Chinese influence as malign.
“Beijing has intervened in sovereign nations’ internal affairs to engineer consent for its policies, attaching strings to our neighbors’ everyday wellbeing,” said Hodges.
Referring to China’s deal terms as “imperialist”, Michael G. Kozak, Acting Assistant Secretary of the State Department Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said his department was encouraging Latin American countries to partner with the country on their own terms.
“We’ve seen national governments throughout the region really shying away from these kinds of investments by China that turn into debt traps,” said Kozak.
Republican committee members Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Rep. Mike Guest, R-Miss., both used their allotted time asking the witnesses further questions about Chinese investment in Latin America.
Answers to those questions continued to detail “debt traps” in regards to Chinese developments and investments in the region.
Democrat committee members posed questions on a range of topics. Subcommittee Chairman Albio Sires, D-N.J., asked about sending Brazil aid despite COVID-19 information missteps by the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro.
Fellow Democrat committee members also focused on different countries in the region. Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., asked about the pandemic’s effect on Afro-Cubans and indigenous people, whereas Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., asked about the deportation of Haitians who tested positive for COVID-19.
The Pan American Health Organization, which is the American arm of the World Health Organization” tweeted Tuesday, “Our region is now the epicenter of the pandemic with many countries experiencing rapidly increasing # of cases.”
? Our region is now the epicenter of the pandemic with many countries experiencing rapidly increasing # of cases.
? PAHO’s COVID-19 response fund supports efforts to help countries detect, track, treat, & slow the spread of the disease.
— PAHO/WHO (@pahowho) July 1, 2020
According to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker, Brazil has the second most confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths after the U.S. Nearly 1.5 million Brazilians have tested positive for the virus and over 61,000 Brazilians have died from the virus.
Other countries in the region also hit hard by the virus include Peru, Chile, and Mexico. All of whom have over 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.