WASHINGTON — The US military is watching for "potential geopolitical turbulence" in Cuba, Haiti, Bolivia and Venezuela that could affect Americans, General Douglas Fraser said Tuesday.
Testifying before Congress, Fraser also said the armed forces of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador will continue playing a "key role" against organized crime in their countries given a rising murder rate.
"United States Southern Command is also watchful for potential geopolitical turbulence that could impact US citizens and military personnel in the region, particularly in Cuba, Haiti, Bolivia, and Venezuela," Fraser said.
The head of Southern Command, who was testifying to the House Armed Services Committee, did not elaborate on how internal unrest would affect Americans.
"In Venezuela, uncertainties about President (Hugo) Chavez's health, continued economic instability, and escalating levels of violence are placing increasing demands on the Venezuelan government," he said.
Chavez, 57, is recovering in Cuba, a week after a new malignant tumor was removed from the same area as one extracted in June last year, and he will soon undergo radiotherapy.
"Public demonstrations in Bolivia related to wages, food prices, and energy shortages are likely to continue until the government addresses the underlying causes of social turmoil," Fraser said.
In Cuba, "Fidel Castro's leadership transition to his brother Raul is complete, but the long-term effects of the government's market reforms remain to be seen," he said.
"Haiti, while making slow but steady progress, remains vulnerable to natural disasters and economic hardship," said the general.
During his testimony, Fraser also demonstrated concern for the lack of Venezuela's cooperation in counter-narcotics activities.
While Venezuelan authorities "are starting to increase some" of their own activities, "their efforts have not been enough," he said. "They continue to provide a basis on which narco organizations can continue to operate."
He also expressed concern for the security problem in Central America.
"We expect militaries in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador will continue to be called upon to play an important role in domestic security matters in the coming years, given the increasing threat to citizen security and the numerous challenges facing regional law enforcement institutions," he said.
The top military officer said that based on UN figures, Central America has become the most violent region in the world, and within the region, Honduras has played the worst role.
"In 2011, San Pedro Sula (Honduras) overtook Ciudad Juarez as the most violent city in the world, with 159 homicides per 100,000 residents," he said.
Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador "view their militaries as the only entities capable of responding to these threats," Fraser added.
"In the immediate future, we will focus our efforts on strengthening the security capacities of our partners in Central America," he said.
Fraser said that the United States has since January coordinated "Operation Martillo," where the United States as well as regional and European countries fight drug trafficking on the Central American coastline.
The operation "can be amplified by aligning our air and maritime focus with complementary land law enforcement activities conducted by partner nations," he added.
About 90 percent of the cocaine that reaches the United States passes through Central America and Mexico.
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