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Noriega Remarks to the Council of the Americas

Remarks to the Council of the Americas

Roger F. Noriega, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs

Washington, DC
May 3, 2005


Our policy in the Western Hemisphere rests upon a shared regional commitment to consolidate and extend the impressive democratic and economic gains of the past two decades. We recognize that we have come far, but we have a lot of ground to cover in order to consolidate our gains and secure our progress.

In the Americas, President Bush's freedom agenda means working with our neighbors to build an Inter-American community where all governments are not only democratic, but their people are truly free; where all economies are not only open, but all citizens have equal access to economic opportunity.

Just last week, Secretary Rice was in Santiago, Chile, where that country hosted over 130 new and consolidated democratic governments, NGOs, and others, for the third ministerial meeting of the Community of Democracies.

The dialogue at that international gathering reminded us of the accomplishments in this Hemisphere in terms of advancing human freedom and dignity. But it also reminded us of much unfinished business.

For instance, although we have -- by and large -- cast aside military dictatorships, we now face the very real challenge of making democracy serve the interests of all of our citizens.

For us, the consolidation of democracy does not mean holding the first election -- it is about holding elections that produce a genuine contest of ideas and, in turn, a national consensus for addressing a country's essential problems.

Here in the Americas, we are not merely concerned that governments be elected democratically but that they govern democratically. Our democracies face profound economic challenges, as well. While the statistics tell us that economies in the region grew at a healthy rate last year, most of these same economies are not growing fast enough to generate enough jobs to keep pace with population growth, let alone address chronic poverty.

The opportunities generated by growth are not being shared equitably: income distribution in this Hemisphere continues to be among the most skewed in the world. And, as we struggle to address these profound political and economic challenges, the Americas are losing ground to the rest of the developing world when it comes to competing for global capital.

Many of the region's citizens are restless for results, and anti-globalization charlatans and the false prophets of populism are trying -- and, in some cases, succeeding -- to undermine responsible policies and discredit responsible political leaders.

To respond to this set of impressive challenges, our policies and assistance are designed to help those countries that are making the difficult decisions to help themselves. Those countries that understand that sustainable economic growth and political stability are only possible if governments consciously extend political power and economic opportunity to everyone, especially the very poor.

Our goal is to help our partners to retool their economies to take advantage of the trade opportunities we are extending, and to reinforce their political institutions to encourage responsible policies and effective government. That transformation is the surest path toward strengthening democracy and creating prosperity.

We must also retool how we present our agenda, recognizing that we must convince the vast majority of the people of the Americas that the ultimate goal of our trade agenda is to help our partners overcome poverty through equitable economic growth and greater incomes.

Democracy

What is the challenge to democracy in the Americas? The region continues to be battered by too many political crises. That turmoil is a direct result of the weakness of political institutions that fail to adequately extend political power, ensure transparency, guarantee basic rights, or resolve disputes. If these unhealthy conditions persist, eventually only politicians will have any use for government.

Our answer is to support ambitious second-generation democratic reform agendas so that our neighbors can build systems capable of preventing and solving their own problems. Fundamentally, success entails working to provide all citizens with a voice in how their lives are governed.

In practical terms, we support programs that link citizens to their governments by decentralizing political power, by ensuring greater civic participation and better access to the political process, and by improving transparency, effectiveness, and accountability in government.

We are providing democracy-building support in the Hemisphere ranging from legal code reform and judicial training to anti-corruption projects and conflict resolution. But our assistance, in and of itself, cannot guarantee the deepening of the Hemisphere's democratic roots.

The Hemisphere's democratic agenda can only be advanced by the daily toil of governments and common citizens, by actions and behavior that support the rule of law and build a culture of lawfulness.

Prosperity

Of course, democracy does not amount to much if it fails to produce prosperity -- that is to say, equitable, sustained growth. Here, too, the United States can help -- up to a point. The mutually beneficial links between the U.S. economy and those of Latin America and the Caribbean are plentiful. Last year the we purchased $255 billion worth of goods from the region. There are another $20 billion in annual U.S. investment flows, and some $34 billion in remittances from the United States to the region. But despite this flood of resources, the region's economic growth is uneven and inequitable.

Clearly, unless Latin America and the Caribbean are able to make more effective use of this $300 billion in income to produce sustainable, equitable growth, then no amount of U.S. aid to the region is going to make a substantial difference in reducing poverty. Indeed, the key to sustained economic growth is a reform agenda that further opens economies, encourages investment, and expands free trade.

Poverty will disappear only when individuals are granted the opportunity to unleash their creative genius and profit from their labor. We are urging our partners, therefore, to remove impediments to business creation, improve access to capital, strengthen property rights, and revise their labor laws.

In conjunction with this effort, we will continue to pursue an ambitious trade agenda to prime the pump of prosperity. We have implemented with great success the Chilean Free Trade Agreement. We have signed a Central America and Dominican Republic agreement, which we are working with Congress to ratify soon. And we are negotiating similar pacts with Panama and our Andean partners. We remain committed to a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

These agreements will do much more than simply open markets. They will encourage political modernization, as well as economic reform. They will transform societies by allowing countries to market their comparative advantages and domestic resources, and to attract investment from abroad. They will encourage good governance, because few will invest in places where corruption is rampant and the rule of law is weak. Trade accords also advance sound workers' rights and better environmental standards.

Moreover, beyond those important gains, what is at stake in the CAFTA-DR vote is our ability to advance a broader trade agenda that will pay even bigger dividends for the region's citizens.

Investing in People

Achieving freedom and opportunity for all also requires that countries invest in people -- education, health care, and other basic social services --- to empower citizens to claim their fair share of economic opportunity, improve their lives, and build better futures for their children.

This is a crucial component of President Bush's Millennium Challenge Account, which rewards countries making the tough decisions to help themselves.

To be eligible for MCA funds -- amounting to $2.5 billion for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 -- nations must govern justly, uphold the rule of law, fight corruption, open their markets, remove barriers to entrepreneurship, and invest in their people.

Three countries from our own Hemisphere were among the first 16 to be declared eligible for MCA assistance: Bolivia, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Two additional countries have been selected as "MCA threshold countries" for FY05 -- Guyana and Paraguay. Threshold countries that maintain their core commitments will be eligible to receive assistance aimed at helping them achieve full MCA status.

By placing a premium on good governance and effective social investment, the MCA approach helps countries attract investment, compete for trade opportunities, and maximize the benefits of economic assistance funds.

Security

Our neighbors recognize that our security and theirs are inseparable and that we all share responsibility to protect ourselves from the illegal traffic of arms, people, and drugs.

This shared responsibility means working with Mexico and Canada to strengthen our respective borders; working with the Caribbean through our Third Border Initiative; and assisting President Uribe in his war against Colombian narco-terrorists.

It means all of us working together to thwart organized crime and its trafficking of persons, arms and illegal drugs. It means cutting the financial lifelines of terrorist organizations. It means dealing with those multinational threats that no country can successfully confront on its own.

Multilateral Engagement

We believe multilateral organizations in the region can and do deliver concrete results because they are made up of governments that share common values and interests: democracy, freedom, and respect for human dignity.

The work of the Bolivia Donor Support Group, the OAS demobilization mission in Colombia, the Secretary General's fact-finding mission to Ecuador, and the regional contributions to MINUSTAH in Haiti are but four recent examples of how multilateral engagement is helping to speed the progress of democracy. During this very busy year, there are three key multilateral events taking place in the Hemisphere.

I already mentioned the recent Community of Democracies meeting in Chile last week. In June, for the first time in 30 years, the United States will host the OAS General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That gathering will advance our agenda by focusing upon the need to deliver the benefits of democracy to ordinary citizens. We will also work with our OAS partners to develop new mechanisms to respond systematically to threats to democracy.

Indeed, yesterday was an important day for the Organization of American States, and the democracies of the Hemisphere. We saw, with the election of Jose Miguel Insulza as the new Secretary General, the culmination of a spirited, principled democratic process.

The election of Minister Insulza reflects the Hemisphere's accord on three principles:

First, we wanted to achieve unity -- democratic unity -- and not giving space to any facile claims that the Hemisphere is divided along regional or ideological lines;

Second, we sought to advance our shared values of democracy and human rights in all of the Americas, including Cuba; and

Third, we were to determined to strengthen democratic institutions, so that governments that are elected democratically govern democratically, and those that fail to do so are held accountable.

Finally, in November 2005, Argentina will host the Fourth Summit of the Americas, where the focus will be on creating sustainable jobs through policies that promote more competitive economies, attract investment, and foster private sector-led growth largely through small- and medium-enterprises.

A Look Around the Hemisphere

As the Secretary's recent trip made clear, we value our productive partnerships to address regional challenges. Our policy is not to "divide and conquer," but rather "unite and cooperate."

Secretary Rice's visit to Brazil highlighted our many similarities, as we are both large multi-ethnic democracies. We welcome Brazil's role as a regional leader and look to it as a valuable partner in the effort to promote security, stability and prosperity both in this hemisphere and beyond. We are enjoying the most positive and open relations with Brazil in recent memory, due in large part to President Bush's personal relationship with President Lula.

We applaud Chile's success as a result of sound economic policies, stable democracy and functioning, responsive democratic institutions, as well as Chile's leadership in hosting the successful Community of Democracies ministerial.

We appreciate El Salvador's willingness to support the growth of democracy in Iraq and look forward to an even closer economic partnership under CAFTA-DR.

U.S. assistance has made a crucial difference in Colombia's fight against terrorism and narco-trafficking. That nation is being transformed in dramatic fashion. In terms of eradication of illicit crops, interdiction, extraditions, and the reduction of violence, our policy is a solid success story.

We are committed to sustaining bipartisan support in Congress for our program to help President Uribe win the peace by defeating the narco-terrorists and demobilizing illegal groups, while also urging continued progress on human rights.

We seek to strengthen our already strong ties to NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico. In March, President Bush met with Prime Minister Martin and President Fox to announce the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (the SPP). The SPP will add to North America's security and promote economic growth and competitiveness.

We support the Mesa administration in Bolivia and hope that its people and institutions can reach a consensus on how to exploit the country's vast natural gas resources in a way that best supports the common good; on how to include the aspirations of indigenous people within the country's democratic framework; and, on how to address regional calls for autonomy. We can and will support a search for solutions to that country's ills, but Bolivians themselves must have the will to find them.

We support the presidency of Enrique Bolaños in Nicaragua and are pleased that his government has made significant efforts to combat corruption -- to the point that Nicaragua and the Millennium Challenge Corporation may conclude a compact in the near future.

Challenges remain, especially the dramatic politicization of that country's judiciary and the damage done to both the presidency and the National Assembly by the tug of war between two political dinosaurs who regard politics as a license to steal.

In the Caribbean, we are seeing growing cooperation among the countries of that sub-region. Forward looking initiatives such as the Caribbean Single Market Economy will enhance the region's competitiveness and ensure a more prosperous future for its citizens. We applaud the nations of the Caribbean working together in the areas of security, immigration, disaster preparedness and trade.

In Cuba, the President's message to democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile is clear: "When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." We are implementing the recommendations of the President's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba designed to hasten a democratic transition, and the regime is being pressured as never before.

We continue to seek a rapid, democratic transition and will continue assisting Cuba's democratic opposition and civil society as it seeks to organize itself for the coming transition. Moreover, we are organizing ourselves now to provide quick and decisive assistance to a democratic transition government when the inevitable change comes.

We support Haiti's slow ascent from decades of exploitation by a series of predatory governments. This is a daunting -- and sometimes demoralizing -- task, but we will stand by the Haitian people as they fashion the truly democratic government they so deserve by helping to instill security now and elections later this year.

We are encouraged that voter registration has begun for elections later this year, with UN and OAS support. Moreover, a broad-based dialogue is underway and former soldiers are entering a new demobilization program. Against all odds, we are making progress, but much remains to be done.

As it has recovered from its economic crisis, Argentina has remained an active and valued member of the regional and world community. While much remains to be done to ensure that Argentina's current level of economic growth is sustainable, we applaud the Argentine people's commitment to democracy even as that nation faced its greatest crisis in memory.

In Ecuador, we have been vocal in our support for constitutional democracy and its institutions and we are working with our OAS partners to help Ecuador restore the full exercise of democracy and to address the root causes of the current crisis.

In Peru, we were enormously encouraged that, during last New Year's Eve small police revolt, citizens from all political stripes stood firm and rejected any place for violence in the country's political discourse. That is the kind of political maturity that will be needed as they tackle poverty, hold elections in 2006, and fight off the encroachment of narcotraffickers in the nation's economy and political institutions.

Venezuela presents a different set of issues. We have no quarrel with the Venezuelan people. Indeed, the United States and Venezuela have historically enjoyed good relations, based on shared democratic values. When President Chavez was first elected in 1998, the U.S. Government sought constructive bilateral ties, and we are still open to a normal working relationship with his government. But we will not and must not let any solitary leader's very personal agenda distract us from pursuing our positive program in the region through the productive partnerships we have forged with many willing partners.

Throughout the region, the United States works with leaders from across the political spectrum in a respectful and mutually beneficial way to strengthen our democratic institutions, build stronger economies, and promote more equitable and just societies. Our neighbors know that we are good partners in fighting poverty and defending democracy.

We do more than respect each other's sovereignty: we work together to defend it by promoting democratic ideals and by fighting terrorism, drugs and corruption.

Conclusion

History has proven how nations can best expand prosperity and better lives for their citizens. Open economies and political systems, outward looking trade regimes, and respect for human rights are the indisputable requirements for a 21st century nation-state.

To their immense credit, most of the leaders of this region are committed to this path. They have found in the Bush Administration a creative and reliable partner.

This administration believes strongly that hemispheric progress requires continued American engagement in trade, in security, and in support for democracy.

This should be a time of hope for the Americas. Our objectives and those of our regional friends and allies are the same: a safer, more prosperous neighborhood -- where dictators, traffickers, and terrorists cannot thrive. We know it is within our reach, as we continue work together in a spirit of mutual respect and partnership. Thank you.

Released on May 3, 2005

ENDS

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