The commander of U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Navy Adm. Craig Faller, visits the CAECOPAZ Argentine peacekeeping training facility on June 25, 2019. Faller was in Argentina to meet with defense leaders to discuss security cooperation. (Photo by U.S. Embassy Argentina)

SOUTHCOM Admiral: Project to Accommodate Migrants at Gitmo Has Nothing to Do with Southwest Border

A contract focused building infrastructure at Guantanamo to accommodate mass migration has nothing to do with immigrants captured at the U.S.-Mexico border, lawmakers heard from a top military leader.

Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on Tuesday that “weak governance, corruption, transnational criminal organizations” are significant drivers of migration from the Northern Triangle countries: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador.

He said he considers the breakdown of governance “the number one security threat that we face here in this hemisphere because that same corruption breeds criminal activity, could breed terror activity, and certainly breeds the kind of dirty deals that other external state actors come in and thrive on.” The admiral specifically cited China, Iran and Russia, who have “expanded their access and influenced right here in our neighborhood, or as General Neller put it, inside our interior lines.”

“So you’re saying programs at USAID State Department programs in those countries are critically important for us in our work to stabilize those areas and hopefully prevent mass migration and some of the drug trafficking that comes out of those countries?” asked Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-Mich.).

“The integration of all elements of our power is key,” Faller replied.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked about a February 2018 contract award announcement from the Defense Logistics Agency that listed a $23,164,000 fixed-price contract for construction of a contingency mass migration complex at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. “It includes site shaping for tents, concrete pads for camp headquarters, it goes on to talk about mass notification system, various infrastructure requirements,” she said. “Are you aware of this contract, and have you been part of any discussions about what that mass migration complex is going to be used for? Is it going to be used for movement of migrants from our southern border to Guantanamo Bay?”

“Senator, one of our missions is to be able to handle any kind of mass migration event,” Faller replied. “That’s a SOUTHCOM mission, and we have experienced that in the past from migrants from Cuba and Haiti. Part of the naval station, there’s a field at the part of the naval station and Guantanamo Bay that is an unimproved field that could be subject to any kind of weather conditions, mud. And so to get that field to a standard so if we had a mass migration, as I mentioned, from Cuba or Haiti, we could keep the migrants on cement pads instead of in the mud and have power and water for sanitation ready to go. We didn’t currently have adequate facilities for the numbers that we would estimate in those worst kinds of migration.”

“So I’ve been down to look at the progress that was there at the start of the work,” the admiral continued. “Work is ongoing and we are supervising it. We also run an annual training drill. We actually send our Army South soldiers there to walk through the command and control and the intra or interagency coordination that may be required. So I’m very much involved in the details. That is for a projected future mass migration event. There has been no discussion, or no order given to me to prepare that site for any kind of Southwest border flow.”

Faller also clarified that “nobody’s had a discussion with me to that effect.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) countered, “I don’t think we are talking about Cuba or Haiti.”

“So any news reports that say that there is a potential for housing these people at Guantanamo Bay would be mistaken?” she asked.

Faller noted that there “could be a weather-related event” that “would call for a larger infrastructure footprint that could hold into the tens of thousands.”

“And so that’s what that’s based on. It’s based on electrical infrastructure, sewage, water, power, concrete pads, some sanitation buildings. It’s a very spartan camp though, Senator,” he said.

“The program money and the project we are overseeing and the mission we have is for mass migration, not  Southwest border,” Faller added, promising he would let the committee know if there were any discussions to that effect.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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