EXCLUSIVE: A top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee is warning of a growing Chinese Communist Party influence in Latin America – as he returns from a trip to the region, where he spoke to officials about the dangers of the geopolitical foe.
Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, led a congressional delegation to the region, which included Brazil, Colombia and Panama. Lawmakers spoke with government officials and representatives from the private sector. They also toured the Darien Gap region and had briefings from law enforcement officials in multiple countries.
Much attention has been focused on the flow of migrants to the U.S. through the gap, as migrants from countries such as Venezuela make their way north to try and enter the U.S. amid an ongoing border crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
But Pfluger is alert to a different threat that the U.S. needs to tackle – telling Fox News Digital in an interview that the Chinese Communist Party is “present in this region, they’re present in the trade relationships, they’re present with telecommunications, they’re present with a desire to build ports and use their own tactics.”
“And so we have to be working in this area because it’s not just about the issues that we see on our border. The homeland security of the United States depends on us engaging, and quite frankly, I think that we have ignored this region,” he said.
Last month, it was revealed that China has been seeking to build a listening post in Cuba, something the U.S. government has called an “ongoing issue.”
Meanwhile, other lawmakers have also highlighted the threat. Sen Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., has warned about the threat of Chinese influence where he said there was a “vacuum” left due to a lack of U.S. leadership.
In conversations with government officials, Pfluger, who is chairman of the Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence Subcommittee, said he brought the threat up repeatedly.
“My message to the foreign ministers in these countries was very simple. I basically said ‘You and your countries have to push back, and you have to be clear-eyed about what the objectives of the Chinese Communist Party are.’ And I think that they were somewhat surprised to hear such a strong message.”
Pfluger noted that Panama signed onto aspects of the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative in recent years and is trading with the regime. Pfluger said it was a key area where China is seeking greater control.
“The Panama Canal is a very strategic point and the Chinese have been desiring control of both the Pacific and the Atlantic side to build ports, to build projects that would give them a greater degree of control over the Panama Canal. So when you talk about the shipping – of course, if you control the shipping line that goes through there, then you can really move the needle and influence the region,” he said.
“I did not mince my words to the foreign minister of Colombia and the foreign minister of Panama, when I said, ‘We need you as a partner to push back against the Chinese Communist Party, especially in the area of ports and telecommunications, because they desire to undermine the Western world and freedom,’” he said.
Pfluger says the ongoing crisis of migrants and drugs up through the continent and into the U.S. is related to Chinese influence in the region.
“If the Chinese Communist Party can get a foothold in those countries, then think about the increases in narcotic trafficking and human trafficking that would exist,” he said.
He also said there are signs of an increase in specific routes set up by trafficking organizations to fly from China into South America and move north.
“We have seen Chinese high-value targets in my district that have been arrested and apprehended in the last couple of years, and the uptick has increased sharply. And so the malign activity, if they get influence in these countries, will continue to increase in a lot of other areas,” he said.
“We know that the Chinese Communist Party wants to undermine the United States in any and all areas that they possibly can. And it starts by gaining a foothold with partners. And, you know, maybe it starts economically and it doesn’t look like it’s that serious. But we know it’s serious because we’ve seen it all throughout the world.”