Washington Review, July 31, 2015
During my time in Washington this week, I attended several Foreign Affairs Committee hearings, met with a group representing 8th District residents, and spoke to future leaders.
The Foreign Affairs Committee held several important hearings this week regarding the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) cruelty to women, and threats to freedom of speech in the Americas. The Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Energy testified before the committee to review the proposed agreement and explain its implications. During this hearing, I asked about the deep divisions in Iran between Foreign Minister Zarif and the Supreme Leader and how these divisions may impact the implementation of the proposed agreement. I am concerned that if the proposed agreement is made official, hardliners within the Iranian regime may hinder its implementation.
Additionally, this week, the Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing to examine ISIL’s recruitment of women, use of sexual violence as a tool of war, and how to counter its violent extremism. Though many women join ISIL in the hopes of becoming fighters themselves, their primary role as part of ISIL is to serve the needs of men. Aside from recruiting women, ISIL also captures women and exploits them. I am sickened by reports of forced religious conversions, forced marriages, violence against, and enslavement of women captured by ISIL. During this hearing, I asked the witnesses about tactics that can be used to deter such harsh treatment towards women and about how this traumatic experience impacts the lives of women under ISIL.
The Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, which I serve as the Ranking Member, held a hearing this week to examine current threats to the right of freedom of speech in the Americas. Recently, international press rights organizations have noted concerns regarding the deterioration of press freedom in several Latin American countries. Governments have also been threatening press freedoms through the expansion of state-owned media outlets as a way to counter the privately-owned media environment. Freedom of speech is the number one mechanism to hold people and governments accountable for their actions. As a child in Cuba, I witnessed the deterioration of democracy as the Castro regime took over the island and systematically destroyed all aspects of freedom of speech and expression. There is a strong connection between a country’s democratic values and the freedoms afforded to their press. Working to preserve freedom of speech and pushing back against those who seek to quiet their dissenters should be a top priority when engaging with our neighbors in the region.
Continuing the process of reviewing the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran and hearing from those with different perspectives, I met with New Jersey members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) this week. AIPAC visited to highlight their views of the proposed agreement and to explain how they believe it will impact the stability of the region.
Finally, this week I spoke to students taking part in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Ready to Lead Next Generation Program. This program brings students in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade to Washington, D.C. to learn about the federal government. During my time with the students, I encouraged these young leaders to always seek the support of their families, teachers, and those in their community in order to succeed in school and in extracurricular activities. As a member of Congress, I remain committed to increasing access to affordable education for every student so that they may succeed and contribute their talents to their communities and to our country.