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Democracy Service Medal Award to Nicaragua Pres.

Remarks at the Presentation of the National Endowment for Democracy s Democracy Service Medal Award to Enrique Bolanos, President of Nicaragua

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State

Washington, DC February 25, 2003

Good afternoon. Carl [Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy], thank you very much that was a very nice introduction. Mr. President, Mr. Ministers, Dr. [Jeane] Kirkpatrick, Ambassadors , colleagues and friends. Thanks so much for joining us. As Carl indicated, Secretary Powell is actually winding his way back. He s on the airplane I just spoke to him a few moments ago. He ll land here in a couple of hours. But I am delighted that he s gone because it gives me this opportunity to stand in his stead.

It comes as no surprise that you would be here, Carl, you and Vin [Weber, Chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy], to present this important award, given your lifelong commitment to good governance. When the National Endowment for Democracy was founded nearly two decades ago I don t think any of us anticipated that the end of the Cold War was only a few years away. Nor would we have expected that the Endowment s mission of promoting democracy would only take on more urgency in the 21st Century. Today, from the Balkans to Afghanistan, there are whole populations who have hope for peace and prosperity for the first time in generations with the return to democratic forms of government. At the same time, there are far too many people in this world who continue to suffer under the rule of autocratic and abusive regimes. Certainly, the nearly 45 million people who every day live in misery and fear in Iraq and North Korea deserve better. And of course, there are many other nations where democracy faces difficult challenges; unemployment and poor economic performance, corrupt and misguided leadership, civil unrest and brutal police and military action. In fact, democracy is today endangered across our own Hemisphere.

This event affords us an opportunity to recognize what it will take to revive the fortunes of freedom across the Americas. It will take clarity of vision. It will take tremendous conviction and courage. It will take the strength to stand up for what is right, no matter what the costs may be. In short, it will take leadership. It is my great privilege to be with all of you today as we honor a true leader, Enrique Bolanos, President of Nicaragua.

This is a man with that clarity of vision. President Bolanos came into office with the knowledge that a better Nicaragua was not only possible, it was predestined. But he knew that the only way to reach that destiny was through good governance and through the rule of law. So he set a forward course firmly guided by a policy of zero tolerance for corruption. He called for nothing less than the moral renewal of Nicaragua.

This is also a man with tremendous conviction and courage who not only took a stand against corruption, he also took the steps to prove to his people that no one no one is above the law. He showed them that he knows the truth. The truth is that democracy will only work if everyone is held to the same standards of accountability, no matter how rich or powerful and regardless of the bonds of affinity and friendship.

This is a man who has the strength to take his country down this course, regardless of the cost. Including the personal cost of holding people he has cherished responsible for their conduct. There is no question that this is not an easy transition for President Bolanos, or for Nicaragua. But the President s campaign against corruption must be won if the reforms this nation so urgently needs to strengthen the economy and bring all Nicaraguans back to work are to have any hope of lasting success.

My nation clearly has a vested interest in seeing Nicaragua stay the course to prosperity and peace. Our bilateral relationship is particularly close, fueled in part by the blood ties between our peoples. Hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans live here, and thousands more Americans live in Nicaragua. But we are also tied together by our mutual interests -- in trade and investment, which have great room for growth in the right conditions, as well as our commitment to security and stability. This includes our cooperation to fight terrorism and the trafficking of drugs and human beings through our territory. And, of course, our people share a baseline belief in democracy.

Indeed, this nation, the United States, has lessons to learn from Nicaragua about democracy. After all, 93 percent of the population voted in the election that brought Enrique Bolanos to the presidency. The people of Nicaragua were not only voting in such numbers to express their confidence in a candidate who promised them change, they were voting to express their faith sometimes battered but always stubborn in the enduring promise of democracy. In the short space of a year, President Bolanos has earned their confidence and restored their faith. And he will continue to receive the admiration of the international community and the full support of this nation.

Last year, President Bush said that By building governments that are more honest and fair, we will make freedom more meaningful for all of this Hemisphere s citizens. President Bolanos, by working every day to build a government that is more honest and is more fair, you are defining the meaning of freedom for your nation, for the citizens of our Hemisphere, and for people all over the world who continue to look to the bright light of democracy as the beacon to a better future.

You called on your own people to forge together a new Nicaragua, dignified, proud, and held in high regard. Today, as we recognize your courage and your commitment, I believe it is fair to say that we are honoring not just your own achievement, Mr. President, but that of all the people of this new Nicaragua. On behalf of President Bush and of Secretary Powell, it is my privilege to offer our congratulations. Congratultions, sir. [End]

Released on March 13, 2003

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