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Thomas Shannon Remarks at the Council of Americas

Remarks at the Council of Americas

Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs

New York, New York
December 12, 2006

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Good morning. Thank you very much, Susan. Thank you for that introduction. I'm delighted to be here and I thank all of you for taking the time this morning to be with us. It's always a little daunting to stand in front of so many people who share my passion for the Americas but also to have such great colleagues participating in the talks today such as Ignacio Walker, with whom we worked so closely when he was Chile's Foreign Minister, with Peter Boehm, with whom I share a long history from the OAS onward, and of course with Representative Delahunt, again, with whom we've worked very closely on issues throughout the region, and then all the other speakers and panelists who are going to be participating today. So it's a real pleasure and an honor for me to be here.

The theme of the conference is about as important and topical as you can get because, as Susan noted, this has been an incredible year in terms of elections. I lost count somewhere in the course of the year, but I think we've had something like 13 presidential and head of government elections. And when you count legislative elections or parliamentary elections, I believe that number bumps up to 16. I think the last election, in Saint Lucia, is taking place this week.

So we're closing a cycle which is really amazing. Nearly half of the democracies in the region have had some kind of important election. And as we begin the new year, we're going to be looking across a hemisphere with a new and distinct leadership structure, and this, offers us a great opportunity to engage afresh with new governments and new legislatures and to carry on work which is vitally important for the United States but also vitally important for the Americas.

I thought I'd discuss three themes today. First, to take a look at the elections, how we view them, how we see the outcomes, and then talk about what we think it means for us. As I just indicated, what I think it means for us is that we have a great opportunity to engage with new governments and reengage with partners that we've already been working with to advance not only our agenda as the United States in the region, but also an agenda that is a common one, and largely shared by the 34 democracies in the Western Hemisphere.

Then I want to close by talking about the spirit of pan-Americanism and seeing if we can interpret and understand not only events in the hemisphere but also our engagement in the hemisphere as a way to reinforce a spirit of pan-Americanism that I think is absolutely essential to the future and the well-being of the hemisphere.

In regard to the year that we've just passed, (there are) profound expectations about what democracy can deliver. (There is) an abiding belief that for democracy to be successful it has to have social content. In other words, democratic government has to deliver the goods—it has to show that it's capable of facing up to the social agenda that this region faces, especially in terms of battling poverty, battling inequality and batting social exclusion.

I think to a certain extent what we've seen in the region is a race to the electorate by leaders and by political parties, and the winners in each of these elections are those politicians who get to the electorate first. It's no coincidence that all politicians, whether they are the right, or the center, or the left, have a social agenda today. In fact, I was just in Central America and had the opportunity to go to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama. Of course in Nicaragua we met with Daniel Ortega and I'm happy to talk about that during the question period.

In El Salvador, in a conversation I had with President Tony Saca, he talked about the importance of a social agenda, and about the importance of right-of-center politicians making sure that they had a strong social agenda and couldn't be outdone by the political parties (inaudible). The success or failure of political leaders, the success or failure of political parties, and the growth of left-of-center politics or right-of-center politics in the individual countries is going to be determined by results. It's going to be determined by which leader shows that they can reform the state, inflame the bureaucracy and identify the resources and the polity tools necessary to address the huge social agenda the region faces.

In this regard not only do we have now an electorate which has been coalescing around a center which is really committed to democracy, but to a certain degree, with a few exceptions, (is) committed to finding some kind of national political consensus and avoiding social confrontation and conflict. I also think that in the elites there is now an understanding that they need to make a new offer; that they understand that the well-being of their countries, the well-being of their economies, and their own well-being depends on a new social compact in the Americas. To a certain extent, both electorates and elites are looking for political leaders who can articulate this moment and who can find the political tools to link voters and elites in a common national project.

This is an amazing moment and a hopeful one, and one which, if we engage intelligently and in common, not by ourselves but in common with our partners in the region, we can have a significant impact. And this leads me to the second theme, which is what this year of election means for the United States.

From my own point of view and those of my principals at the Department of State, having worked through this year of elections we're now looking at what we will call a year of engagement. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns talked a bit about this in Washington several weeks ago at a Council of the Americas event in which he underscored that now that we're going to have this new cadre of leadership throughout the region, now is the time to engage afresh with this group but reengage with our existing partners in the region and really begin to focus on how we can play a meaningful role in helping these governments be successful.

I believe that if you look at what happened in the voting, with a couple exceptions, for the most part there's a recognition among electorates, among elites and among political leadership that a good relationship with the United States is important. It's important for governments to have the tools, the market access, and the assistance in multilateral development banks and other institutions to be successful. It is important that they have access to the resources necessary to meet the tremendous social agenda that they face.

This is incredibly positive because it gives us a space to engage. It also underscores something that we've been talking a lot about, which is partnership in the region and the necessity of working with others on a common agenda& mdash;again, not an agenda that's wholly our own but an agenda that is seen and understood by all partners as a shared agenda. There might be one or two exceptions to this understanding and I'm happy to talk about them later. The most obvious one is Venezuela. (Inaudible) that's certainly our project and we hope it's the project of the Venezuelan Government. But this is something we're working on. And again, I'm happy to talk about this during questions.

But as we reach out in the region and as we build partnerships, what we're going focus on is our willingness to work with anybody who wants to work with us. Because at the end of the day, as Secretary Rice has noted, from our point of view, whether you're left, right or center is immaterial; what matters is whether or not you're committed to democracy, whether you're committed to the kinds of economic reforms necessary to create prosperity, and more importantly whether you're committed to investing in your own people and creating the capacity necessary to take advantage of economic opportunity.

In this sense we really have to a significant degree, washed the rhetoric and the ideology out of our diplomacy. We really are at a point in which we are engaging directly in the region face-to-face in a very clear-eyed fashion for the first time in a long, long time. Through multilateral processes, through the Summit of the Americas process, through the Organization of American States and the different components of the inter-American system, we really have constructed, we believe, the framework for a common agenda. That all indicates our continued engagement and good intentions.

But one thing we've learned over the last several years is that as we deepen our engagement in the region we have to communicate better. Communication is a two-way street obviously and we can improve our communication, but if people aren't prepared to receive it, they won't. But we think that we've worked hard to prepare the terrain and we think in the results of these elections we detect a receptiveness to our message, and so now we have to focus on what that message is.

In this regard, as we communicate in the region, we need to make clear to people or to explain to people, how our actions affect the daily lives of people in the hemisphere, and how it really does help them get a better job, how it really does improve educational opportunities for their children, how it really does enhance healthcare, how it really does have an impact on personal security and the security of their democratic institutions.

We believe that our assistance in the region, our political engagement in the region and the way we work with people on policy issues does have that impact. We are looking for political leaders to be those connectors. We need to find ways in our dialogue in the region to use existing institutions and (inaudible) help (inaudible). And I think we will. Secretary Rice, when she went to Santiago for the inauguration of President Bachelet, had an opportunity to speak to lots of heads of state in the region (inaudible). She asked Karen Hughes and I to (inaudible) to go to Brazil and then slowly to work our way north and talk to political leaders, talk to opinion makers, talk to university students and businessmen to get a better feel and understanding for how the region understands us, how it understands our message.

And following that trip, it became evident to us that our message wasn't getting through and so we've been working hard to give a new vocabulary to our message and to find new ways to underscore what it is we're doing in the region.

But more importantly, and I think this is a really crucial point, ultimately our bilateral relationships in the region are a very pale reflection of the relationships between societies and relationships between markets and private sectors and universities and NGOs and faith-based institutions. And one of the things we hope to do in the coming year as we engage politically and diplomatically in the region is to look for ways to highlight the engagement that is taking place right now. Because as Secretary Rice noted last year at the Washington Conference of the Council of the Americas, we are building in the Americas today an alliance of peoples. Integration is taking place and it's taking place at a fundamental level and it’s taking place in a way in which governments can play a role as facilitators but they cannot control or stop it.

This is a positive thing and it's a thing that we need to highlight, because ultimately what happens in the United States does have an impact on the daily lives of people living in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. And what happens in those areas of the Americas has an impact on the daily lives of us living in the United States. The degree to which we can build this common understanding of integration, this common understanding of connectedness, it will actually facilitate our government's ability to engage.

I'd like to just take a moment to talk about what I call recapturing pan-Americanism. This might be considered a slightly odd topic because there are lots of people in the region today who talk about the differences in the region, who talk about the fracture that has taken place in the region; some people talk about Monrovian countries and the Bolivarian countries, some people talk about the Pacific countries and the Atlantic countries, some people talk about the free-trading countries and the non-free-trading countries. So there seems to be many ways to describe differences.

And if you look at what happened in New York in the General Assembly during the Grupo Latino Americano Caribeños efforts to select a single representative and the trials and travails that they went through as the countries first couldn't come to terms between Guatemala and Venezuela, and then seemed to be lost as they looked for some way to find a consensus candidate, you might say, well, maybe there's some reason here, when people talk about a region, that has allowed a lot of little problems to accumulate and somehow prevent a more regional approach to issues.

There's a certain degree of truth to that. But at the same time, these really are smaller problems. They are the kinds of problems that can be overcome with concerted effort and dialogue. And I think it's worth noting -- and forgive me for doing this—but you know, 2006 is the 100-year anniversary of Secretary of State Elihu Root's trip to South America. I'm sure all of you remember that trip. But actually, historically it's a very important trip because it was the first time a sitting Secretary of State had ever traveled to South America. And Secretary Root traveled to Rio de Janeiro for the Third Pan-American Conference. Again, I'm sure all of you will remember that the First Pan-American Conference took place in 1889 in Washington and the Second Pan-American Conference took place in 1901-1902 in Mexico. They were taking place at odd intervals at that period of time.

But in 1906 it took place in Rio and Secretary Root traveled to Rio, and then following that he visited a variety of republics whose capitals he could access by sea. After Rio he went to Uruguay, Argentina, Peru, Panama and Colombia; later in 1906 he visited Mexico.

This was a trip that was significant for a variety of reasons. Not only was it the first trip that a Secretary of State had made to the region, but also (inaudible) dispute resolution mechanisms and creating a basis for kind of international law in search of peace. And he won the Nobel Peace Prize for this. He was the first Secretary of State to win the Nobel Peace Price. If I remember right, that prize was awarded in 1912.

He postponed The Hague Conference in order to go to Latin America. But more importantly, in postponing the conference he also insisted that all the republics of the Americas be invited to The Hague Peace Conference that took place in 1907. In the previous Hague Peace Conferences of the American republics, only the United States, Mexico and Brazil had been invited. Root, by insisting that all the American republics be invited, sent a strong signal to the region that the United States considered all these republics to be valid interlocutors in the international realm and to be important players in a larger search for international peace.

This was a profound message at the time and it was received very, very well in the region. Root brought with him on his trip to Latin America, a message that I would describe as one of solidarity, purpose and hope. Solidarity in terms of a recognition that the Americas is a special place and that American republics had a special project, which he called the Project of Popular Government, but also a special purpose in the world in attempting to create institutions that would resolve difficulty through dialogue, which would focus on cooperation and which would understand all countries, no matter how strong or how weak, as equal partners in a project.

I think (it was) a message of hope because he understood and recognized that in democracies, especially new democracies, failure is the norm, that problems are the norm and that we need not become downcast because of these problems, that we need to expect them to a certain extent, but more importantly that we need to engage and grow closer to the countries that find themselves in moments of democratic crisis.

This is a great message for today, and to a certain extent this is a message that the Bush Administration has tried very, very hard to articulate through its engagement in the Summit of the Americas processes, through its engagement in the OAS, through its engagement in all aspects of the inter-American system: that we're committed to this region; that we're committed to a common project for the region; that we believe that common project is about democracy and about not just democratic government but democratic states; (it is) about creating understandings of citizenship that are not just political but also economic and social; and that we're prepared to commit our resources, our political capital and our policy time to building that.

I would like to just read a quote from a speech that Root gave in Rio de Janeiro, his opening speech at the Third Pan-American Conference in which he described the intent and purpose of the United States in the region. He said, "We wish no victories but those of peace, for no territory except our own, for no sovereignty except sovereignty over ourselves. We deem the independence and equal rights of the smallest and weakest member of the family of nations entitled to as much respect as those of the greatest empire, and we deem the observance of that respect the chief guarantee of the weak against the oppression of the strong. We neither claim nor desire any rights or privileges or powers that we do not freely concede to every American republic. We wish to increase our prosperity, to expand our trade, to grow in wealth and wisdom and in spirit. But our conception of the true way to accomplish this is not to pull down others and profit by their ruin, but to help all friends to common prosperity and growth that we may all become greater and stronger together."

I think that's a statement that could today describe the policy of President Bush and Secretary Rice and it is a policy that I'm committed to. And thank you very much for your time. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Good morning. Thank you very much, Susan. Thank you for that introduction. I'm delighted to be here and I thank all of you for taking the time this morning to be with us. It's always a little daunting to stand in front of so many people who share my passion for the Americas but also to have such great colleagues participating in the talks today such as Ignacio Walker, with whom we worked so closely when he was Chile's Foreign Minister, with Peter Boehm, with whom I share a long history of crime from the OAS onward, and of course with Representative Delahunt, again, with whom we've worked very closely with on issues throughout the region, and then all the other speakers and panelists who are going to be participating today. So it's a real pleasure and an honor for me to be here.

I think the theme of the conference is about as important and topical as you can get because, as Susan noted, this has been an incredible year in terms of elections. I lost count somewhere in the course of the year, but I think we've had something like 13 presidential and head of government elections. And when you count legislative elections or parliamentary elections, I think that number bumps up to 16. And I think the last election in Saint Lucia is taking place this week.

So we're closing a cycle which is really amazing. You know, nearly half of the democracies in the region have had some kind of important election. And as we begin the new year, we're going to be looking across a hemisphere with a new and distinct leadership structure, and this, you know, offers us a great opportunity to engage afresh with new governments and new legislatures and carry on a work which, from our point of view, is vitally important for the United States but also vitally important for the Americas.

I thought I'd discuss three themes today. First, to take a look at the elections, how we view the elections, how we see the outcomes, and then talk about what we think it means for us. And as I just indicated, what I think it means for us is that we have a great opportunity to engage with new governments and reengage with partners that we've already been working with in order to advance not only our agenda as the United States in the region but also an agenda that I think is a common one, and largely shared by the 34 democracies in the Western Hemisphere.

And then I want to close by talking a bit about the spirit of pan-Americanism and seeing if we can interpret and understand not only events in the hemisphere but also our engagement in the hemisphere as a way to reinforce a spirit of pan-Americanism that I think is absolutely essential to the future and the well-being of the hemisphere.

In regard to the year that we've just passed, as we look out (inaudible) profound expectations about what democracy can deliver. But third, an abiding belief that for democracy to be successful it has to have social content. In other words, democratic government has to deliver the goods—it has to show that it's capable of facing up to the social agenda that this region faces, especially in terms of battling poverty, battling inequality and batting social exclusion.

I think to a certain extent what we've seen in the region is a race to the electorate by leaders and by political parties, and the winners in each of these elections are those politicians who get to the electorate first. And I think it's no coincidence that all politicians, whether they are the right or the center or the left, have a social agenda today. In fact, I was just in Central America, had the opportunity to go to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama, and of course in Nicaragua we met with Daniel Ortega and I'm happy to talk about that during the question period.

But in El Salvador, in a conversation I had with President Tony Saca, he talked about the importance of a social agenda and he talked about the importance of right-of-center politicians making sure that they had a strong social agenda and couldn't be outdone by the political parties (inaudible) and success or failure of political leaders, the success or failure of political parties, and the growth of left-of-center politics or right-of-center politics in the individual countries is going to be determined by results. It's going to be determined by which leader shows that they can reform the state, inflame the bureaucracy and identify the resources and the polity tools necessary to address the huge social agenda the region faces.

And in this regard not only do we have now an electorate which has been coalescing around a center which is really committed to democracy, and I think to a certain degree, with a few exceptions, committed to finding some kind of national political consensus and avoiding social confrontation and conflict. But I also think that in the elites there is now an understanding that they need to make a new offer; that they understand that the well-being of their countries, the well-being of their economies, and the well-being of themselves depends on a new social compact in the Americas. And to a certain extent, both electorates and elites are looking for political leaders who can articulate this moment and who can find the political tools to link voters and elites in a common national project.

And again, from my point of view, this is an amazing moment and a hopeful one, and one which if we engage intelligently and if we engage in common, not by ourselves but in common with our partners in the region, we can have a significant impact. And this leads me to the second theme, which is what this year of election means for the United States.

From my own point of view and those of my principals at the Department of State, having worked through this year of elections we're now looking at what we will call a year of engagement. The Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns talked a bit about this in Washington several weeks ago at a Council of the Americas event in which he underscored that now that we're going to have this new cadre of leadership throughout the region, now is the time to reengage—well, to engage afresh with this group but reengage with our existing partners in the region and really begin to focus on how we can play a meaningful role in helping these governments be successful.

And I believe that again, if you look at what happened in the voting, with a couple exceptions, for the most part there's a recognition among electorates, among elites and among political leadership that a good relationship with the United States is important. It's important for governments to have the tools, to have the market access, to have the assistance in multilateral development banks and other institutions to be successful, to have access to the resources necessary to meet the tremendous social agenda that they face.

And from our point of view, this is incredibly positive because it gives us a space to engage. And it also, I think, underscores something that we've been talking a lot about, which is partnership in the region and the necessity of working with others on a common agenda—again, not an agenda that's wholly our own but an agenda that is seen and understood by all partners as a shared agenda. And again, you know, there might be one or two exceptions to this understanding and I'm happy to talk about them later. The most obvious one is Venezuela. (Inaudible) that's certainly our project and we hope it's the project of the Venezuelan Government. But this is something we're working on. And again, I'm happy to talk about this during questions.

But as we reach out in the region and as we build our partnerships, what we're going to be focusing on is a highlight—what we're going to be focusing on is our willingness to work with anybody who wants to work with us. Because at the end of the line, at the end of the day, as Secretary Rice has noted, from our point of view, whether you're left, right or center is immaterial; what matters is whether or not you're committed to democracy, whether you're committed to the kinds of economic reforms necessary to create prosperity, and then more importantly whether you're committed to investing in your own people and creating the capacity necessary to take advantage of economic opportunity.

And in this sense we really have, I think to a significant degree, washed the rhetoric and the ideology out of our diplomacy. We really are at a point in which we are engaging directly in the region face-to-face in a very clear-eyed fashion for the first time in a long, long time. And that, you know, through multilateral processes, through the Summit of the Americas process, through the Organization of American States and the different components of the inter-American system, we really have constructed, we believe, the framework for a common agenda and that, you know, all indicates from our point of view seem to point in terms of continued engagement and good intentions.

But one thing we've learned over the last several years is that as we deepen our engagement in the region we have to communicate better. Communication is a two-way street obviously and we can improve our communication, but if it's not& mdash;if people aren't prepared to receive it, they won't. But we think that we've worked hard to prepare the terrain and we think in the results of these elections we detect a receptiveness to our message, and so now we have to focus on what that message is.

And in this regard, we need as we communicate in the region to make clear to people or to explain to people how our actions affect the daily lives of people in the hemisphere, how it really does help them get a better job, how it really does improve educational opportunities for their children, how it really does enhance healthcare, how it really does have an impact on personal security and the security of their democratic institutions.

And we believe that our assistance in the region, our political engagement in the region and the way we work with people on policy issues does have that (inaudible) are looking for political leaders to be those connectors. We need to find ways in our dialogue in the region to use existing institutions and (inaudible) help (inaudible). And I think we will. Secretary Rice, when she went to Santiago for the inauguration of President Bachelet, had an opportunity to speak to lots of heads of state in the region (inaudible). She asked Karen Hughes and I to (inaudible) to go to Brazil and then slowly to work our way north and talk to political leaders, talk to opinion makers, talk to university students and businessmen to get a better feel and understanding for how the region understands us, how it understands our message.

And following that trip, it became evident to us, you know, that our message wasn't getting through and so we've been working hard, as I mentioned, to give a new vocabulary to our message and to find new ways to underscore what it is we're doing in the region.

But more importantly, and I think this is a really crucial point, is that ultimately our bilateral relationships in the region are a very pale reflection of the relationships between societies and relationships between markets and private sectors and universities and NGOs and faith-based institutions. And one of the things we hope to do in the coming year as we engage politically and diplomatically in the region is also to look for ways to highlight the engagement that is taking place right now. Because as Secretary Rice noted last year at the Washington Conference of the Council of the Americas, we are building in the Americas today an alliance of peoples. Integration is taking place and it's taking place at a fundamental level and it’s taking place in a way in which governments can play a role as facilitators but they cannot control or stop it.

And this is a positive thing and it's a thing that we need to highlight, because ultimately what happens in the United States does have an impact on the daily lives of people living in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. And what happens in those areas of the Americas has an impact on the daily lives of us living in the United States. And the degree to which we can build this common understanding of integration, this common understanding of connectedness, it will actually facilitate our government's ability to engage.

And in this regard, I'd like to just take a moment to talk about what I call recapturing pan-Americanism. This might be considered a slightly odd topic because there's lots of people in the region today who talk about the differences in the region, who talk about the fracture that has taken place in the region, you know, some people talk about Monrovian countries and the Bolivarian countries, some people talk about the Pacific countries and the Atlantic countries, some people talk about the free trading countries and the non free trading countries. So there seems to be all kinds of different ways to describe differences.

And if you look at what happened in New York in the General Assembly during the Grupo Latino Americano Caribeños efforts to select a single representative and the trials and travails that that went through as the countries first couldn't come to terms between Guatemala and Venezuela, and then seemed to be lost as they looked for some way to find a consensus candidate, you might say, well, maybe there's some reason here when people talk about a region that has allowed a lot of little problems to accumulate and somehow prevent a more regional approach to issues.

And there's a certain degree of truth to that. But at the same time, as I mentioned before, these really are smaller problems. They really are the kinds of problems that can be overcome with concerted effort and dialogue. And I think it's worth noting -- and forgive me for doing this—but you know, 2006 is the 100-year anniversary of Secretary of State Elihu Root's trip to South America. I'm sure all of you remember that trip. But actually, historically it's a very important trip because it was the first time a sitting Secretary of State had ever traveled to South America. And Secretary Root traveled to Rio de Janeiro for the Third Pan-American Conference. Again, I'm sure all of you will remember that the First Pan-American Conference took place in 1889 in Washington and the Second Pan-American Conference took place in 1901-1902 in Mexico. They were taking place at odd intervals at that period of time.

But in 1906 it took place in Rio and Secretary Root traveled to Rio, and then following that he visited a variety of republics whose capitals he could access by sea. And he traveled -- after Rio he went to Uruguay, to Argentina, to Peru, to Panama and Colombia, and then later in 1906 he visited Mexico.

And this was a trip that was significant for a variety of reasons. Not only was it the first trip that a Secretary of State had made to the region, but also (inaudible) dispute resolution mechanisms and creating a basis for kind of international law in search of peace. And he won the Nobel Peace Prize for this. He was the first Secretary of State to win the Nobel Peace Price. If I remember right, that prize was awarded in 1912.

But he postponed The Hague Conference in order to go to Latin America. But more importantly, in postponing the conference he also insisted that all the republics of the Americas be invited to The Hague Peace Conference that took place in 1907. In the previous Hague Peace Conferences of the American republics, only the United States, Mexico and Brazil had been invited. But Root, by insisting that all the American republics be invited, really sent a strong signal to the region that the United States considered all these republics to be valid interlocutors in the international realm and to be important players in a larger search for international peace.

And I think this is—it was a profound message at the time and it was received very, very well in the region. And he brought with him in his trip to Latin America a message that I would describe as a message of solidarity, purpose and hope. Solidarity in terms of a recognition that the Americas is a special place and that American republics had a special project, which he called the Project of Popular Government, but also a special purpose in the world in attempting to create institutions that would resolve difficulty through dialogue, which would focus on cooperation and which would understand all countries, no matter how strong or how weak, as equal partners in a project.

And then finally I think a message of hope because he understood and recognized that in democracies, especially new democracies, failure is the norm, that problems are the norm and that we need not to become downcast because of these problems, that we need to expect them to a certain extent, but more importantly that we need to engage and grow closer to the countries that find themselves in moments of democratic crisis.

And I think this is a great message for today, and I think to a certain extent this is a message that the Bush Administration has tried very, very hard to articulate through its engagement in the Summit of the Americas processes, through its engagement in the OAS, through its engagement in all aspects of the inter-American system, that we're committed to this region; that we're committed to a common project for the region; that we believe that common project is about democracy and about not just democratic government but democratic states, about creating understandings of citizenship that are not just political but also economic and social; and that we're prepared to commit our resources, we're prepared to commit our political capital and our policy time to building that.

And in that regard, I would like to just read a quote from a speech that Root gave in Rio de Janeiro, his opening speech at the Third Pan-American Conference in which he described the intent and purpose of the United States in the region. And he said, "We wish no victories but those of peace, for no territory except our own, for no sovereignty except sovereignty over ourselves. We deem the independence and equal rights of the smallest and weakest member of the family of nations entitled to as much respect as those of the greatest empire, and we deem the observance of that respect the chief guarantee of the weak against the oppression of the strong. We neither claim nor desire any rights or privileges or powers that we do not freely concede to every American republic. We wish to increase our prosperity, to expand our trade, to grow in wealth and wisdom and in spirit. But our conception of the true way to accomplish this is not to pull down others and profit by their ruin, but to help all friends to common prosperity and growth that we may all become greater and stronger together."

I think that's a statement that could today describe the policy of President Bush and Secretary Rice and it is a policy that I'm committed to. And thank you very much for your time. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: (Inaudible) agreed to answer some questions, but before we open it up to questions I want to thank you for such a wonderful speech. One more time you have shown that your straightforward, pensive and pragmatic approach to foreign policy and to U.S.-Latin American hemispheric relations is a real asset. So thank you for your presentation and most of all thank you for being you. We'll now open it up for questions.

QUESTION: Hi, I'm John McAuliff from the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, a nongovernmental organization. I want to press you on the engagement question a little bit as it regards one our closest neighbors, Cuba, and two events that happened in Miami last week. One, the Secretary General of the OAS called for Cuba and the United States—this is reading from a Nuevo Herald story—called for Cuba and the United States to sit down to talk about their relationship without conditions and without making the talks dependent on the death of Fidel Castro.

Second, that the mainstream Cuban American organizations, the Cuban American National Foundation and many others, called for an end of the very onerous restrictions on travel by Cuban Americans and remittances on Cuban Americans, and there continue to be a lot of efforts by universities and foreign affairs groups and many different people-to-people organizations to restore the freedom that we had even five years ago to organize visits that ought to be a high priority for the U.S. at this point if we're interested in influencing the transition that's underway in Cuba.

So how does engagement and how does the response to the overwhelming sentiment that all of the countries of Latin America fit into the picture of our relations with Cuba?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: It's an excellent question and obviously this is an issue that we're all working through, both inside the government, you know, in the U.S. Congress and more broadly in our society, as we try to find a way to move Cuba towards the future that I think all of us want for Cuba, which is a democratic Cuba and a Cuba that, through democracy can be reintegrated into the inter-American system. That's certainly our purpose and what it is we hope to achieve.

At the same time, if there's anything in the United States that can be described as a state policy, as a policy that has endured over decades and across administrations, it's been our Cuba policy. And although it has been tweaked in one way or another at different times, it has in its general alignment been fairly constant. And the constancy of it is really about the freedom of the Cuban people. It's an unusual relationship in the sense that if our purpose in our engagement with Cuba were to improve the bilateral relationship, we could have done it a long time ago. But our purpose has been to look for ways to open spaces of free activity, political activity, economic activity, social and cultural activity within Cuba and look for ways to really diminish the overpowering role of the state.

We are approaching an important moment—the passing of Fidel Castro and the movement of Cuba to a new moment in its history. Quite frankly, we have heard the offers made by Raul Castro and others to sit down and talk. And as I've said before, we're always happy when people want to sit down and talk with us. But we've made it clear that, as important as that dialogue might seem to many people, what's really important is the dialogue between the regime and the Cuban people. Ultimately, Cubans are going to determine their future. And for a transition to be peaceful, for a transition to be coherent, that dialogue must take place. (We will look for ways to help that dialogue take place.) We want to make sure that when we engage with Cuba, we engage with them in a way that facilitates a transition process. And we don't see that moment (inaudible) but obviously at the end of the day our focus is going to be on democratic transition. It's going to be on looking for ways to facilitate that transition so that Cuba can regain its place in the Americas and I think have the kinds (inaudible).

QUESTION: Hi. Shawn Gallagher with AIG. I was interested to know if you've identified specific areas and policies where you can help countries in the region advance their social agenda and also if you see a role for the U.S. business community.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: As I have said, our bilateral relationship is a pale reflection of the reality of the relationship between peoples. Our foreign direct assistance program is a pale reflection of the actual resources that flow through the region. Business communities and the private sector can play an enormous role in this, and not only through their normal economic activity.

The Secretary just hosted a series of Awards for Corporate Excellence, or ACE awards. Susan was present, and this year was really remarkable because all three awards went to companies working in the Western Hemisphere. The first was a startup company bringing fruits and juices out of the Amazon it in a way that creates economic space for the people of the Amazon. The second company was General Motors, awarded for their work in Colombia in helping the state reintegrate paramilitary fighters who are being demobilized through the peace talks. Finally, the third winner was Goldman Sachs for partnering with the Chilean government to convert an enormous tract of land in Tierra del Fuego into a national park.

The fact that three U.S. companies working in the Western Hemisphere won this award was striking because it showed just how active companies are. One of the things we hope to do in the next year is talk with companies and other private sector organizations about how we can use public diplomacy to highlight what they are doing. In addition, we want to look for ways to share information so that companies know what others are doing and can coordinate and collaborate, because the resources available to the private sector are huge.

As our economies become more complex, but also more connected, we are finding that companies can really have a catalytic impact on key social issues, whether it is training of workers, providing certain benefits, or using the workplace to promote social inclusion. One of the most important ways you bring people into societies is through the workforce.

Through the Summit of the Americas process, we've identified key areas where we need to focus our resources and work multilaterally to create jobs, improve healthcare, improve education and increase human capital.

For the most part, our policy in the region has been bipartisan. That has been very positive and will reflect well as we move into the new Congress. But one of the areas in which we're obviously going to have a sustained conversation is our trade agenda. We believe that the trade agenda we've fashioned has been vitally important in opening markets and creating economic growth and opportunity. At the same time, we recognize that as we create opportunity, it can't be opportunity that is captured by elites or economic oligarchies. Quite the contrary, we have to look for ways to make sure that any growth or opportunity that presents itself doesn’t just trickle down, but courses through a society.

One of the ways you do this is by opening entrepreneurial space and giving people access to financial markets. We've been looking for ways to reduce the amount of time it takes to start a business, the cost of starting a business, and the amount of time it takes to close a business—which sometimes is even longer than the amount of time to start one. Through the Inter-American Development Bank, we’re looking for ways to triple the amount of credit available to small and medium size enterprises.

We're also looking for ways to improve property rights regimes so that people can claim ownership to property and use that to get access to capital markets. In many societies, the only collateral many poor people have is the home they live in.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Professor Vanessa Noiman (ph) from (inaudible) college. I had a question. You talked about that you said that the U.S. tends to speak in terms of solutions and you mentioned, for instance, the primacy of security, particularly drug trafficking and narco -- battling narcoterrorism (inaudible). Given that, how would you respond to criticism by -- made -- well, within Colombia, for instance, and in the UN and also by Senator Leahy that given, for instance, Plan Colombia construes security too narrowly, that if you really want to battle narcoterrorism, for instance, which, you know, I'm mentioning because you brought it up, what you need to do is have a broader economic and social program for development, not just spray the crops but improve local -- what you were just talking about just now, economic development that courses through a society and not just at the top. How would you combine those two comments that you just made and how -- what would the policy be going forward now, for instance, with the new Congress, et cetera?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I would agree with what you just said. In fact, I would say that what you just said defines Plan Colombia. Plan Colombia has a very important eradication component which, because of helicopters and aircraft, because of the training of military personnel necessary to secure areas that are being sprayed, is an expensive part of it. This was well understood when President Clinton and his team put Plan Colombia together. And it was also well understood under President Bush when he worked with the Congress to expand the authorities that allowed Plan Colombia equipment and money not just for fighting drug trafficking but also fighting terrorist organizations that are linked to drug trafficking, like the FARC.

At the same time, there has always been an important social component to Plan Colombia, in terms of alternative development and looking for ways to move coca farmers into other kinds of products, building access to markets, and strengthening institutions. We recognize that as the state recaptures national territory it cannot only have a military face, but it must also have a social face. There must be judges, there must be mayors, there must be police, there must be teachers and there must be healthcare workers.

I would caution, however, that in the kind of struggle Colombia is facing right now, you can't beat the FARC through social programs. The FARC is not a political organization anymore—it is a terrorist drug-trafficking organization which has a small, if negligible, political agenda. What must be understood is that social programs and institutions must fill the space that the state recaptures, but if these institutions try to precede the state they'll be collapsed because they'll be seen as dangerous. Therefore, I think we're at an interesting point in the larger drug war in Colombia, in which security creates a basis for development, not the other way around.

QUESTION: Nancy Truitt, the Tinker Foundation. I'd like to follow up on your remarks about security. If you look at the polls in Latin America, most of them show that people are most concerned about either economic development or security, and security is coming higher and higher.

I know there are some restraints on what the U.S. can do with regard to police in particular, but I wondered what our policy is with regards to trying to deal with that because, as you so rightly said, without security you can't do much of anything else.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: That's actually one of the toughest issues we're facing right now. First, because we have restrictions on the kind of assistance we can provide; but second, the problem is so huge that we can't buy it. These are huge cities: Mexico City, São Paulo, Rio, Caracas, Bogotá& hellip; Even cities that have historically been fairly benign, like Buenos Aires and Santiago, today have issues of security that must be addressed. It's a modern phenomenon. We're seeing the problem in even starker terms in Central America and the Caribbean, where the movement of drugs and weapons has facilitated the growth of organized crime and gangs. Again, this is not a problem we can buy or solve ourselves, but it's certainly a problem to which we can bring a degree of expertise. We need to work harder at multilateral fora and with other countries in the region to set the parameters for the kinds of assistance that we can provide.

Ultimately, the degree to which the state can show that it's in charge, as opposed to organized crime, is going to be a big challenge for some countries in the region. Organized crime is like a very intelligent virus that enters the system and tries to replicate itself inside existing cells. Organized crime tries to replicate itself inside institutions, weakening and undermining them. This really highlights a challenge the region faces across the board: many of the macro numbers are right; it's the micro stuff that needs to get done, whether it's rule of law, the fight against corruption, or provision of services. And that requires national political will and political capability. We can't provide the will, but we can help provide the capability.

QUESTION: Good morning. My name is Tom (inaudible) Colombia (inaudible). Mr. Shannon, I wonder if you might comment on the interesting figure the new President of Ecuador Rafael Correa and U.S.-Ecuadorian relations in the light of his campaign, and maybe expanding from that on the future of the three pending free trade agreements with the Andean countries.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I think Rafael Correa's election represented a very clear sign from the Ecuadorian people that they believe their political system needs significant changes to address what most Ecuadorians see as pretty obvious problems. There's a degree of exasperation with the way in which political parties and institutions have been addressing those problems. I think Mr. Correa has a huge challenge not only in terms of the expectations that his election has created, but also in terms of his ability to manage the institutions of government and the bureaucracy to face those problems.

We think this is a moment in which showing solidarity for Ecuador, showing solidarity for the Ecuadorian people, is going to be very, very important. We've tried to underscore our willingness to do that first through President Bush's call to Mr. Correa congratulating him on the election, then through our intent to win an extension of the Andean Trade Preferences Act to all four of the Andean countries: Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. During the deliberations last week in both the House and the Senate, Secretary Rice sent a letter to the Hill urging that this preferential access program be extended to all four countries. At one point, ther was thought that the preferential access program would only be extended for those countries who already had concluded free trade agreements, which are Colombia and Peru. But the fact that the Administration asked for an extension for all four countries, and the fact that the Congress granted that, was an important and significant show of support for Ecuador and Bolivia.

In terms of what's next on the free trade agreements, of course we have Representative Delahunt here who can help us with that one. We've signed the Peru and the Colombia agreements and we hope to be able to conclude an agreement with Panama in the near future. These are issues that our Congress is going to take up in all deliberative speed.

I think the discussion we're going to have in the Congress is going to be a very important one because it will, in many ways, define the limit of possibilities on free trade agreements. We're hopeful simply because we think that these are important agreements. The Peru and Colombia agreements, from our point of view, are vital to the larger free trade agenda in the region. At the end of the day, the free trade agenda is about expanding integration and expanding possibilities and we consider this to be vital not only to our policy in the region but also to the well-being of the region.

QUESTION: Thank you. In terms of some of the other countries outside the Andean region --

MODERATOR: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Yes. Oh, sorry. Vladimir Werning from JP Morgan. In terms of some of the other countries, the big countries like Brazil and Argentina, it seems that one hears oftentimes that in trying to promote trade integration there's always sort of a backlash in terms of the agricultural issues and how they perceive themselves to be sort of at a disadvantage in terms of accessing U.S. markets in some of the products that they're very competitive. So how does the U.S. engage in that given that it has its own disputes on this issue with Europe and Japan and that seems to always seem to put a gridlock in any initiative that could surface just on the U.S. part?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: And it still gridlocked. At one point we had hoped that through a successful Doha Round we would resolve the agricultural subsidy issues and use an international agreement to move forward on our broader FTAA agenda. That hasn't happened and we haven't found a magic way to resolve that.

In fact, what's striking is that this emerged in an interesting way during the Mar del Plata Summit, which was largely misunderstood by the press and others. When we went in to that summit we recognized the difficulty we were going to be facing, because of the problems we were having with the Doha Round and our inability to resolve the larger agricultural subsidy issue. Therefore we were quite prepared to have language in the declaration which kept everybody focused on the importance of the free trade agenda but also managed expectations and realistically stated the challenges that we faced.

What happened in the plenary session at Mar del Plata was effectively a revolt of the free traders, a revolt of the Central Americans, the Caribbeans and the Andeans who were intent on having a very strong statement about free trade and the importance of concluding a free trade agreement for the entire region as quickly as possible. Faced with this, there was a backlash from the Mercosur countries who, for all the reasons we've just identified, were unable to commit to this process because of the agriculture issue. So although the press pitched Mar del Plata as “everybody against the Americans,” it was really an internal Central America-Caribbean-South American clash about the direction of free trade, with everyone with the exception of Venezuela committing themselves to free trade, just at different timetables.

I think we're at an interesting moment in that there still is a large preponderance of countries who believe that free trade is absolutely essential to their economic advancement, and who recognize that free trade can't only be with the United States, but that it has to be with each other. In fact, some of the greatest economic advances will be gained by tearing down barriers among themselves, not only having access to the U.S. market. We're already beginning to see some initiatives to pull free trading countries together and look at ways that they can begin either politically or economically to link some of their activities and actually begin to build off the existing network of free trade agreements. And again, not only free trade agreements with the United States, but free trade agreements within the region, to create some kind of structure that would allow these countries to articulate their free trade agenda more coherently or more specifically. Ultimately, we still have a ways to go with the Mercosur countries because from our point of view, market access is a huge issue, and from their point of view, agricultural subsidies are a huge issue. I don't see an easy solution right now.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible) one last question (inaudible).

QUESTION: Hi. Bill Ferries (ph) with Bloomberg News. You hinted at efforts to improve the relationship between the United States and Venezuela, and I was hoping you might be able to flesh those out a little bit more specifically.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: We've been interested in improving the tone, texture and substance of the relationship for quite some time. We believe that there are specific areas where, if we had an opportunity to sit down with the Venezuelans, we could actually accomplish something: on the counter drug side, on the counterterrorism side, on the commercial side and on the energy side. That's four sides. We have to sit down, and up to this point Venezuela has been reluctant to do that, we think largely for political reasons. We've indicated that when they're ready, we're ready. We think looking for a way to establish a degree of normalcy and a regular dialogue would be helpful for us, would be helpful for Venezuela, and would be helpful for the region.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

Released on December 14, 2006

ENDS


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