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Noriega Q&A - US Policy in the Western Hemisphere

Live Q&A Discussion on U.S. Policy in the Western Hemisphere

Roger F. Noriega, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Q & A live event on State alumni website answering questions on U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere
Washington, DC
July 6, 2005

11:03 A.M. EDT

Moderator: Hello and welcome to the Q&A Live with Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega. He is looking over the questions now and will begin shortly.

Roger Noriega: Welcome to our first Q&A Live. I look forward to answering your questions on the Western Hemisphere and U.S. policy in the region. I am typing for myself, so indulge any errors, please. Roger Noriega.

Sabino from Costa Rica: Dear Mr. Noriega: As a student of diplomacy in Costa Rica, I am particularly interested in knowing how the U.S. foreign policy toward Central America would change after CAFTA is passed and implemented by all the nations involved? Do you believe that this trade agreement will tend to homogenize U.S. policies toward Central America? If so, what are the priorities once trade relations are consolidated?

Thank you for your valuable insight.


Sabino Former Fulbrighter Professor, University of Costa Rica

Roger Noriega: Passage of CAFTA-DR will advance our policy of economic engagement in favor of helping build more open economies and more just political systems. This will produce stability and growth that will benefit all of our people. CAFTA-DR is but one building block toward a regional trade accord, which will break down barriers among nations and generate prosperity in the Americas as a whole.

Implementation of the accord is crucial of course. One obvious benefit is that the agreement will apply "rules of the game" without discrimination. Therefore, entrenched interests will be broken down, allowing people from all walks of life to take advantage of what the accord has to offer. To help realize its full potential, we will be contributing at least $20 million to CAFTA-DR countries with the specific aim of extending the accord's benefits in an open, transparent way.

Of course, there will be some growing pains associated with the accord. However, we predict that the benefits in terms of prosperity and stability will be profound for all of the parties in the agreement.

Victor from Mexico: To what extent can the "Memin Pinguin" (Mexican cartoon) affair affect the bilateral relations between Mexico and USA? Victor Monterrey City, Mexico

Roger Noriega: I doubt that it will have much effect on our bilateral relations. Every country has its own experiences and sensitivities when it comes to race relations. Here in the United States, we acknowledge that racism still exists even in the subtlest ways. But I believe there is a recognition that we need to break down racial barriers and stereotypes so that every citizen is welcomed fully into our economic and political lives -- which is healthy for our society as a whole. That may seem idealistic, but idealism is the essence of this country, in my view.

Pablo from Peru: Democracy in Latin America is being twisted and misused in our region by some unscrupulous governments for their own benefit. Law is rewritten or misinterpreted, judges are appointed and constitutions are bent. There is political instability in countries like Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and a lack of credibility in the classical political parties in countries like mine, Peru. Isn't it time now to start rethinking democracy? Or to strengthen some watchdog organization like the OAS to avoid the appearance of new types of dictatorial democracies?

Roger Noriega: Good question, but it is not time to rethink democracy -- it is time to get democracy right. In some of the countries in the Americas politicians have discovered that its too hard to solve the people's problems, so they've settled on solving politicians' problems -- that results in immunity laws and impunity, pacts that advance narrow selfish interests, and political parties that stand for little more than controlling power. All of this has bred cynicism among our people -- which can hardly come as a surprise to our politicians.

We believe that what the region needs is more democracy, not less. More transparency. More access to civil society. More accountability. And zero tolerance for corruption. There are not short-cuts around these measures to make democracy work.

The United States and its key allies advanced those ideas at the recent OAS General Assembly in June, but to our surprise, many delegations fought us on measures to make the OAS more effective in the defense of democracy and more open to civil society. That may come as a surprise to the citizens of countries who want democracy to work. We have to press forward with these ideas, because politicians and governments are supposed to serve the interests of the people in a democracy, not the other way around.

Alejandro from Argentina: Most countries of Latin America have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights and accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights sitting in San Jose, Costa Rica. The United States, however, stands conspicuously absent from this effort to respect and ensure human rights in the Western Hemisphere. Is your administration willing to support the US ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights? How is your administration ready to show in deeds its support to the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court on Human Rights?

Roger Noriega: I hope that the measure of our defense of human rights will not be measured by how many treaties we sign (or don't) but what we actually do to advance human rights in the real world. (Our inability to ratify the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights is related to federalism and death penalty issues. We are not alone in this regard.) On the other hand, the United States respectfully responds to the Commission's request for information, and we abide by our commitments under the American Convention on the Rights and Duties of Man. We also are the largest single contributor to the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Grace from Ecuador: Mr. Noriega: Ecuador is experiencing a difficult period of instability. The actions of former president Lucio Gutierrez are still healing among common people and even among the political establishment. In despite of this, U.S. Embassy in Quito is forcing (probably the right word is pressuring) the signature of "Article 98". Besides the question of principle, the problem is how much instability the U.S. is eager to cause in order to achieve its foreign policy objectives?

Roger Noriega: I doubt very much that the recent instability in Ecuador was caused or complicated by our request for an Article 98 agreement. You may think otherwise, and I accept that.

As a matter of fact, Ambassador Kristie Kenney (who just departed Quito this morning) played an indispensable role in helping to preserve the democratic order in Ecuador without interfering in your internal affairs. Our defense of democratic order and our interest in seeing Ecuador prosper in stability are our highest objectives.

The fact remains that if we had an Article 98 agreement with Ecuador, as we have with 100 other countries in the world, we would be able to do more to help security forces in the country.

Karen from Honduras: The educational field is a paradigm for cultural changes. It is said that education can mark a developing change for any country. But who has the power to decide what it is that schools are teaching. Where does the civil society reside if we have no choice of action over political and educational issues?

Roger Noriega: Here in the United States, curricula and education policy and school financing are the province of State (provincial) and community officials. That is something unique about our country, perhaps; while elected State authorities set some general standards, local school boards make decisions on textbooks and curricula. The Federal government has a very narrow role to play in this area, although it does augment funding. In this way, local parent associations play a very direct role in determining what is taught in public schools.

I agree that education is absolutely crucial. The Summit of the Americas process is taking on this issue by encouraging every country to develop "education report cards" to measure whether school systems are producing educated students effectively. Latin American countries have some of the highest drop out rates and repetition rates in the world, which is an obstacle to our competitiveness in the world economy. Governments have to be held accountable for how they are performing in this crucial area. That starts with accountability by local and provincial authorities and legislators.

Gladys from Haiti: It seems that the U.S. is well aware of the bad things former Haitian President Aristide has done to his country. Why has the U.S. not taken a clearer position on this matter? Basically, why has the U.S. not gone public with all the bad things he has done since most of the people who have been working closely with him are now in jail in the States.

Roger Noriega: I have been very outspoken personally about the very unhelpful role that former President Aristide still plays in Haiti today. Now, he and his followers are determined to use political violence and criminality to undermine progress toward elections in Haiti in October and November. You may be aware that many of his former security aides are now in U.S. jails awaiting trial for their misdeeds. As that story gets out -- and as evidence of his use of political violence to terrorize his political rivals becomes known -- we hope that the world will recognize that he is part of Haiti's misfortunate past. We have high hopes for Haiti's future, because we know her people to be talented and productive -- what they need is the good government and honest leadership that they have not had for many, many years.

Elaine from Peru: El reciente Informe de la Oficina de las Naciones Unidas Contra la Droga y el Delito (ONUDD) muestra que mientras en Colombia ha disminuido la extensión de cultivos ilícitos, en Bolivia y el Perú ha aumentado considerablemente. Una vez más tenemos el efecto globo y el problema persiste e, incluso, se estaría agudizando. Ante ello, en qué va a consistir la política antidrogas de los Estados Unidos hacia los países de la región andina. Cómo se piensa enfrentar este problema a futuro para revertir esta tendencia.

(Translation) The recent report from the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime shows that while the spread of illicit cultivation has decreased in Colombia, it has increased considerably in Bolivia and Peru. One more time we have the balloon effect and the problem persists and, in fact, is heightened. In view of this, what will the United States antidrug policy consists of towards the countries of the Andean region? How do you think this problem can be confronted in the future to reverse this tendency?

Roger Noriega: You have identified a very serious question that we have to confront: Our response to the threat of illicit narcotics trafficking must have a regional focus and help Colombia's neighbors ensure that drug cartels do not migrate to nearby countries. This requires determined and effective law enforcement as well as governments that are committed to fighting this problem. We also have to help provide alternative means for people to make a living so that they do not have to resort to the illicit drug trade.

We are currently reviewing our policy in the Andes and will address this concern so that Bolivia, Ecuador, or Peru do not suffer because of the successes we're having in Colombia.

Errol from Jamaica: Dear Assistant Secretary of State, How does the State Department view the proposed CSME (Caribbean Single Market & Economy) and its implications for the FTAA. Do you see them as conflicting or facilitative? What is the long-term view of the State Department for the FTAA?

Roger Noriega: We hope the Caribbean countries will make much more progress integrating their economies and maximizing trade under a CSME regime. We see such sub regional arrangements as positive inasmuch as they break down barriers to economic integration and trade. We have been a strong advocate of ensuring that anything that we do in a regional FTAA context not "swamp" the relatively small economies of the Caribbean.

On the FTAA, we continue to believe that the region will be best served through a regional accord that breaks down barriers among all of our economies. I understand that this will only be possible as we reassure one another that we will address the pressing issue of agricultural subsidies, which can only be achieved through the Doha WTO round which is under way. In the mean time we will press forward with bilateral accords and hope that Brazil and our other partners will see the benefits of the rules-based trade and investment accord encompassing all of the Americas.

Back to the Caribbean, we are planning now a series of diplomatic meetings and seminars over the next months to deepen our understanding of where the Caribbean countries want to be in 15 years and how their key partners (the US, Canada, the EU) can help them to realize their objectives. Stay tuned for the idea of an international conference on the future of the Caribbean, which is an idea about which we are consulting with our neighbors.

Aaron from Canada: How have issues such as BSE and security of energy supplies affected the present Administration's interest in greater integration of North America? For example, is there interest in more consistent energy regulations/ security or agricultural production standards between Canada and the U.S.? Also, if a move in that direction were initiated, would it be made truly North American with the inclusion of Mexico?Thank you, Aaron

Roger Noriega: In March of this year, PM Martin, President Fox, and President Bush recently launched a Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America designed to identify and break down barriers to commerce among our three countries so that we are better able to compete as a community with the rest of the world. The agenda is extraordinarily diverse and detailed -- ranging from travel among our countries, cargo handling, border security issues to harmonization of rules of origin, etc. The process already has produced literally hundreds of tasks for our respective bureaucracies, which we are on the spot to address in the months ahead and report back to our heads of government. You can find more about this issue by going to

BSE is a very tough issue; those of us who recognize how integrated our livestock and feed industry is with Canada knows that we are damaged by this impasse as well. In the meantime, it is being addressed in our regulatory regime and in the courts. The U.S. Executive branch agencies have done everything possible to have this matter redressed sooner rather than later.

Mario from Dominican Republic: Mr. Noriega: After the approval of CAFTA by the House of Representatives, do you foresee a US push to multilateral trade talks such as the FTAA and/or the WTO? Or will the U.S. follow a piecemeal approach to trade liberalization in our hemisphere and around the world? Best regards.

Roger Noriega: As I have alluded to in several previous answers, we will press forward with willing partners on "bilateral agreements." Talks with Panama, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador are continuing, for example. But we remain committed to a regional agreement because most agree that breaking down barriers among neighboring countries is just as important to economic growth as the sort of "hub and spoke" approach of bilateral accords. But, frankly, we have to work with partners that see it in their interest to work with us to expand the reach of free trade.

Roger Noriega: Many thanks for your excellent questions. I look forward to staying in touch. In the meantime, I encourage each of you to go to our web page to subscribe to our electronic newsletter. Have a great day. Roger Noriega.

Moderator: Thank you to all our alumni who participated and submitted questions. We received an overwhelming amount of questions, and we apologize that all could not be answered within our timeframe. A big thank you is in order to Assistant Secretary Noriega for responding with great detail and enthusiasm.

We appreciate everyone's interest in this month's State Alumni Q&A Live!

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Read Assistant Secretary Noriega's biography.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State administers a number of exchange and training programs that help promote knowledge about the United States and mutual international understanding. As part of it activities, ECA maintains connections with its exchange participants, or "alumni," after they complete their programs. As part of a broad range of incentives that help keep alumni in touch with ECA, the Bureau administers the State Alumni website (, an online community by and for alumni of U.S. Government exchange programs.

Released on July 12, 2005


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