Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. (Pic by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr)

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., spoke at the Brookings Institution Wednesday, discussing foreign policy and American leadership around the world and in the western hemisphere.

According to The Miami Herald, Rubio’s speech “carries more weight now that he’s on Mitt Romney’s apparent shortlist for vice president.”

Rubio said during the speech that our “goal for our region should be pretty straightforward: a coalition of neighboring democratic nations that trade freely and live peacefully with one another.”

The Florida Republican added that the U.S. faces two challenges in the western hemisphere: the first is Venezuela and other ALBA countries “and their growing closeness to Iran.” Rubio’s words echo Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s recent comments in Colombia that equate Iranian efforts to expand in South America with terrorism.

“Washington has had a paranoia about Iranian infiltration of South America for a long time, despite scant evidence of any such threat. After GOP candidates expressed similar fear-mongering last November, Politfact gave it a rating of ‘mostly false,’”AntiWar.com wrote earlier this week.

According to Rubio, the second challenge the U.S. faces is “the effort of some nations to replace [American] influence with their influence and use protectionism and unfair practices to pursue that aim.”

The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) calls itslef the “meeting place of peoples and governments who understand that the Caribbean Latin America make up a great nation, that our countries must join together to face the challenges of today and tomorrow.”

Rubio said that “to be free is not just limited to elections,” adding that Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador “elected leaders who have used their power to undermine fundamental freedoms by attacking the press, the courts and their political opponents.”

“Mexico and Colombia, they need our continued commitment to win their respective wars against criminal organizations,” Rubio added.

But the senator said nothing about recent comments from Latin American presidents that call for a review to what many in Latin America have called failed drug war policies.

Rubio who also attended the recent Summit of the Americas, told Semana, a Colombian weekly news magazine that

the battle is against criminals who sell [illegal] drugs. If tomorrow they don’t sell drugs they’ll do something else. They’re criminals. People who are willing to kill and steal their whole life. There will always be a need to combat criminals.

Rubio said during Wednesday’s speech that the U.S. “must not tolerate Iran exporting violence and terrorism” to the western hemisphere. “We must embrace the ultimate goal of a Free Trade Area of the Americas,” he said. “The recently approved free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama is a good step.”

In the days before the Summit of the Americas, Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO; Leo W. Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers; and the Service Employees International Union called on President Obama to not certify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement during the Summit. The labor leaders argued that the South American nation has not done enough to cull anti-union violence.

Rubio also called for an energy partnership with Canda, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and a post-Chávez Venezuela.

The Washington Post wrote Wednesday that “rather than solidify his potential role as an attack dog, the speech appeared designed to bolster Rubio’s bipartisan credentials.”

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