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Noriega: Remarks at the Miami Americas Conference

Remarks at the Miami Herald Americas Conference

Ambassador Roger F. Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

Coral Gables, Florida
September 30, 2004

At the outset, let me extend condolences and express my solidarity to all of those--some of whom are with us today--who have been affected by the terrible storms that have passed through Florida and the Caribbean in recent weeks. We stand by our friends in Florida and our other neighbors as they struggle to rebuild and look to the future with hope.

Our federal government is responding to deliver the relief that our people deserve. And, for our friends in the Caribbean, the United States already is providing $12 million in immediate assistance. And, President Bush has asked Congress for an additional $50 million in relief funds. This support will assist the Caribbean with their initial relief and recovery. And we realize that a number of countries--chief among them, Grenada, will be rebuilding for years to come. As they do so, they can count on our help.

As many of you know, I have been Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs for just over a year now. I lead a terrific team of professionals whose privilege it is to strengthen the partnership with our neighbors in the Americas--a partnership that is extraordinarily important to our security and our prosperity.

It's a tough job, but one we love. And, we don't have to do it alone. We can count on help from all of you.

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President Bush has made clear--through his coherent strategy and steady engagement--that he considers the security and prosperity of this Hemisphere to be of utmost importance to the national security interests of the United States.

U.S. leadership is indeed at work in the region. We are acting creatively and vigorously--engaging bilaterally and operating multilaterally--to forge a comprehensive policy and, then, to carry it out alongside our neighbors.

Is there any wonder why we take this region so seriously? This Hemisphere represents $14 trillion in GDP and includes 800 million market-oriented consumers.

Three of our top four foreign energy suppliers are in this neighborhood.

Over half of the global portfolio of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation is in Latin America--representing the sort of market-based deals that produce prosperity for us and our partners.

The partnership is mutually-beneficial:

Latin America is the fastest growing market for U.S.-made goods, sustaining higher-paying jobs here at home. The Hemisphere boasts our largest and second-largest trading partners, Canada and Mexico.

Last year, the United States purchased about $217 billion in products from Latin America and the Caribbean--that's more than twice what it was ($86 billion) just 10 years ago. On top of that, last year our direct investment in the region totaled $304 billion. Remittances flowing from the United States to the region amount to another $32 billion.

All told, that's more than $550 billion in income and investment that fuels the economies of our Latin and Caribbean partners.

And, more importantly, over the next decade U.S. trade and investment with those countries--not including Canada--are projected to exceed that with either Europe or Japan.

So, quite plainly, if our economic relationships were all that we had at stake in the region, it would demand our careful attention. But, as I said, our political and security interests in the Americas are vital, as well.

Given the threats to our national security and well-being posed by economic instability, terrorism, and organized crime, it is imperative that we work with our neighbors to defend our mutual interests, protect our common borders, and advance our shared values. Simply put, we must be able to count on one another in an essential way.

Still, we do not make excuses for being preoccupied with events elsewhere in the world since the devastating events of September 11, 2001. It is clear that we needed to respond to those terrorist networks and other gathering threats to protect our homeland and to promote a safer world.

Also, just as our neighbors were hurt by the economic disruptions caused by September 11, 2001, they have a tremendous stake in our efforts to prevent a repeat of that terrible day. So, only the most myopic observer would describe our emphasis on matters outside of Latin America since September 11 as a "distraction."

And although there may some question whether our anti-terror campaign has impacted our popular image in some countries, those people most affected by terrorism are the ones most likely to understand and support our efforts. And, even in those countries where the majority does not support our policy, solid majorities still describe our bilateral relations as "good" or "very good." And in the region as a whole, more than 70% have a "good" or "very good" opinion of the United States.

But, let's be clear: I believe that we have not missed a beat in advancing a very ambitious agenda here in the Americas. That is true because of the abiding, genuine, personal engagement of President Bush. On trade, on democracy, and in the hands-on personal diplomacy that is a prerequisite in this region, the President has delivered.

Let's review the record: President Bush's first foreign trip, his first summit, and his first state visitor to Washington all involved this Hemisphere. The President has traveled to the region three times during his first term in office. And when my boss, Secretary Powell, returns from his scheduled visit to Brazil next week, he will have traveled to the region almost as many times in just 4 years as his two predecessors did, combined, in 8.

Demonstrating President Bush's commitment to multilateralism that works, he has participated actively in two regional Summits, including the gathering early this year in Monterrey. The President has visited the OAS twice, once to announce his Central America free trade initiative. And, we will even host the OAS General Assembly next May in Fort Lauderdale--the first time the United States has played host to that regional encounter in 30 years.

Strengthening Democracy It is clear that the President recognizes the United States' indispensable leadership role to make democratic government nearly universal in the Americas--with Cuba the sole, lamentable exception. And we have continued this tradition by consistently championing efforts to promote, protect, and perfect democracy throughout the Americas.

At the Quebec Summit in April 2001, President Bush offered decisive support for a regional commitment to representative democracy. Negotiated in record time and signed that fateful day of September 11, 2001, the Inter-American Democratic Charter is an historic document that explicitly makes the practice of democracy a precondition for participation in the Western Hemisphere community of nations. Equally important, it makes clear that even elected governments cannot violate democratic principles with impunity.

At the Organization of American States and along with friendly nations, we have played an active leadership role to fortify democracy in countries where its institutions are being sorely tested.

In Venezuela, Bolivia, and Haiti, we have contributed to a search for peaceful, democratic solutions to political crises. In all of these cases we have used subtle, deft diplomacy to fashion practical formulas for preserving constitutional order and defending democracy. In none of these cases did we go it alone: virtually every government in this Hemisphere--and more than a few in Europe and Asia--can point with pride to its contribution to helping address these political crises as an active partner with the United States. And, God bless them for their help.

Some of these tasks are harder than others, but we have shown leadership there, too. After four decades of silence on the subject of Cuba in the halls of the OAS, we raised the issue of the brutal crackdown against dissidents in April 2001. While all but one of the Caribbean countries opted not discuss the issue in Cuba's absence, 14 of Cuba's Latin American neighbors joined Canada, the Bahamas, and us in issuing a declaration deploring the crackdown and calling for Cuba to respect the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Since then, we have actively consulted our OAS partners in an informal dialogue on what we can do together to advance democracy in Cuba. Because we have dared to raise the subject, my expectation is that our Hemisphere will be more ready and able to aid a transition to genuine democracy on the island.

And the United States will be better prepared in its own right. This past May, President Bush released the first comprehensive U.S. Government strategy to assist the Cuban people in hastening the day of freedom in Cuba and to ensure that our support for a transition is sufficiently agile and decisive so that we can help the Cuban people sweep away every bit of the twisted wreckage of the Castro regime.

Our democratic vocation also has meant providing significant resources to help local societies protect themselves and their democratic institutions from violent, criminal gangs--as in the case of Colombia, where President Uribe's efforts are producing dramatic, tangible results.

We have also taken a leading role in promoting recognition of the need for second-generation political reforms--beyond free electoral processes--to ensure greater civic participation and more transparency, effectiveness, and accountability in regional governments.

I am convinced that when people profess a loss of confidence in democracy it reflects a failure of democratic institutions as they are--not as they should be. Making democracy work is not easy, but it is not complicated either. We all know the corruption, inefficiency, and weakness that plague too many governments in the region. The challenge of our time is to fix these things, because you cannot build a 21st century economy with 19th century institutions. To build modern economies, governments must have the will and a way to apply the rules of the game without fear or favor.

So, government must do its part, but so must our people. And, if we expect the 40% of our people who live in poverty to help themselves, we have a moral obligation to make sure they have the levers, such as access to political power and education, to lift themselves up.

To this end, we have been most active in promoting the development of civil societies capable of demanding their rights and reaching constructive solutions. This year, among many other initiatives, we are sponsoring a civil society capacity building project in Paraguay; a regional youth democracy conference in Ecuador; a training program for democratic leaders in Lima; a youth leadership campaign and indigenous outreach program in Bolivia; a women's leadership initiative in Caracas; and a Houston series conference on Colombia's peace process. These are the building blocks of peace, prosperity, and progress.

Expanding Opportunity Democracy can help distribute economic opportunity, but we have to help generate those opportunities in the first place. This President in particular believes that you do that in part by breaking down trade barriers to help create jobs and benefit consumers.

When this Administration took power, Trade Promotion Authority had lapsed for 6 years while the rest of our key trading partners hammered out deals with our competitors. Within a year and a half of taking office--after September 11, 2001, incidentally--President Bush won TPA from Congress and went to work on a robust trade agenda.

A free trade agreement with Chile--which had been shelved during the previous Administration--was negotiated, signed, ratified, and brought into force. In the first six months of that accord, U.S. exports to Chile were up by 30%, and Chilean exports to the United States rose by 10%.

A similar accord was subsequently negotiated with the nations of Central America and the Dominican Republic, and an accord with Panama is nearly complete. Negotiations toward an Andean accord are underway with Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru (with Bolivia observing).

We are committed to the ideal of a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), despite the forces of economic isolationism, both at home and abroad.

In this regard, it bears noting that we recently reached a crucial breakthrough in ongoing negotiations in the Doha Round of the WTO. After 3 years of difficult talks, a compromise was reached on ending protective subsidies on agricultural products in developed countries.

This breakthrough could bring enormous benefits to developing countries--and could serve to pave the way for further economic integration in the Hemisphere.

Moreover, the Bush Administration has been a stalwart supporter of economies in this Hemisphere before the international financial institutions--especially when those economies have found themselves in periods of great difficulty.

One significant example was an exceptionally large IMF package for Brazil in 2002--under which Brazil's political leaders committed themselves to continuing sound and solid economic policies, thereby helping that country ride out a turbulent period.

Uruguay received an important bridge loan directly from the United States that gave it the time necessary to reach an IMF accord to help that country restructure its debt.

Argentina's efforts to stabilize its financial situation have enjoyed unstinting backing from Washington, even in the face of skepticism from some of our European partners.

There are many other such examples where the United States has made it our business to rally international support--including in Colombia, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic.

We have also developed a historic new program to help reward sound policies and prevent crises. At the 2002 sustainable development summit in Monterrey, President Bush unveiled his Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) proposal, which will increase U.S. development assistance by $1 billion this year, leading up to a $5 billion annual increase over existing aid programs by 2006.

To be eligible for this new money, nations must govern justly and honestly, uphold the rule of law, and fight corruption. They must invest in their people--for example, by improving education and health care. And they must unleash the energy and creativity necessary for economic growth by opening up their markets, removing barriers to entrepreneurship, and reducing excessive bureaucracy and regulation.

Three countries from our own hemisphere were among the first 16 to be declared eligible for MCA assistance: Bolivia, Honduras, and Nicaragua. These countries still have many challenges to overcome, but they have demonstrated a commitment to helping themselves achieve greater prosperity.

By placing a premium on good governance and effective social investment, the MCA approach should help countries attract investment, compete for trade opportunities, and maximize the benefits of economic assistance funds. MCA also challenges national leaders to assess the fundamental obstacles to their own development, to engage civil society and the private sector in fashioning solutions, and to shoulder responsibility for success or failure. This is a strategy that we are pursing in earnest today--and one we are also encouraging the major international financial institutions to adopt as well.

The President also has led the global effort to encourage debt relief--not simply to drop the debt but to stop the debt, making more funds available to the most responsible governments in the form of grants, rather than loans.

In addition, the $15 billion of additional monies sponsored by President Bush under terms of his Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief will be of particular benefit to a number of our Caribbean neighbors.

The President has also created new public-private partnerships to harness the energy and vitality of our countries' private sectors to promote sound economic policies, resist corruption, and stimulate sustainable economic growth.

The Partnership for Prosperity with Mexico, which our two presidents launched in 2001, has sparked dramatic reductions in the cost of remittances, focused attention on developing housing and mortgage markets, and paved the way for a historic agreement to enable OPIC to operate fully in Mexico.

Throughout the region, our policy is aimed not merely at generating economic opportunity through trade and investment, but also advocating political and institutional reforms that will extend that opportunity to people of all walks of life. Only if the very poorest among us have access to the tools they need to improve their own lives will economic growth be sustainable and just.

Closing the gap between rich and poor leads to stability and allows all citizens to achieve their full potential. Absent the rule of law, corruption, sweetheart deals, and arbitrary policies will choke off economic growth and undermine confidence in the marketplace. That may be a mere setback for the wealthy, but it is a disaster for the poor.

Perhaps no more important an objective in this regard is combating the scourge of corruption--which not only drains away resources needed to meet desperate social needs, but also undermines public confidence in democracy itself.

The Unites States has promoted compliance with the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. And, President Bush has issued an executive order to deny visas to corrupt individuals; at the Monterrey summit, we led the charge to have governments agree to deny safe haven to corrupt persons and to freeze their ill-gotten assets.

For example, federal prosecutors are actively working to repatriate financial assets laundered in the United States by members of the former Aleman administration in Nicaragua. I was on hand last month when our Justice Department delivered a check for more than $20 million to the Government of Peru from seized Fujimori/Montesino era assets.

I believe that any disinterested observer will agree that this Administration is getting it right and making a difference.

But let us also recognize that no amount of external aid will substitute for governments making the tough decisions for themselves to open up their economies, to make their governments more effective and accountable, to make themselves more competitive in a global economy, and to extend the most basic services and opportunities equitably.

To their immense credit, most of the leaders of this region recognize these obligations and are working hard to fulfill them. And as they do so, they have found in the Bush Administration a creative partner, reinforcing the forces of reform.

Enhancing Security Enhancing security in the Americas, of course, is one of our highest priorities. This has been highlighted by the Declaration on Security in the Americas adopted by all parties at the Special Conference on this theme held in Mexico City last year. In line with its principles, we are working more closely and effectively than ever before with our hemispheric neighbors to address the multidimensional threats of the 21st century.

We are working through the OAS, as well as bilaterally, to strengthen border security throughout the hemisphere to protect us against organized crime and terrorists who know no bounds. These include programs to stem the cultivation and trafficking of drugs, enhance port and land border security and immigration control, prevent travel document fraud, dismantle gangs, stop human smuggling, fight money laundering, and bring criminals to justice.

Finally, on a topic a bit closer to home: immigration. The President has presented to Congress a framework for reform that recognizes the vital contribution that immigrants make to our economy by allowing immigrants to work here temporarily and legally.

The plan, which is not an amnesty, seeks to match willing employer with willing worker. Once adopted, such a plan will go a long way to providing dignity and security to millions of temporary workers who are here now illegally, and to improve our own security by bringing these people out of the shadows.

This list of the Bush administration's efforts and accomplishments is a long one. But those things would not amount to much without the tough, ground-level, nuts-and-bolts work that we are doing to build strong democracies, competitive economies, and ever-expanding opportunity in a globalized world.

Certainly there will be further challenges in the days ahead, as the Hemisphere continues to experience its revolution of political and economic freedom. Our neighbors and we will treat these challenges as opportunities--opportunities to retool our institutions and sharpen our policies to give our people the means to build a secure and prosperous future.

In short, we have done much, but we can do more. We have done well, but we can do better. In the months ahead, we will redouble our efforts to help governments meet their key commitments to adopt the second-generation reforms that are a prerequisite for sustained growth.

We must animate our regional commitment to democracy and the rule of law, helping countries build stronger institutions that will help head off crises and stronger foundations for more just and equitable societies.

We will press forward with our trade agenda, which will prime the pump of prosperity and pay big dividends for American workers and consumers. Indeed, we will look for ways to expand opportunities for U.S. private sector partnerships in the region, which produce mutual benefits.

We will promote energy security, building on existing supply relationships and tapping new resources in a way that helps our neighbors make the most of precious reserves.

We must follow through on our commitments to our Caribbean neighbors--implementing our existing Third Border strategy and thinking about the special needs of these nearest neighbors.

We will stay the course in Haiti, giving the people there the good government that they have always deserved but rarely had.

We will help the people of Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, Central America, and others that are impacted by the illicit drug trade to defend their institutions and defeat criminal gangs.

We will find continue to find common ground with Brazil and the Southern Cone, bringing our markets and our societies closer than ever through practical cooperation and mutual respect.

And we will build on the success of NAFTA to strengthen a North America that is as safe and prosperous as we can be.

As I stated at my swearing-in ceremony just over a year ago, I hope that our success is not measured by whether we made life a little better for the very rich, but whether we made it a lot better for the very poor, freer for those who are oppressed, and more hopeful for those who are desperate.

Much remains to be done. In no small measure because of President Bush's careful scrutiny of our work, we realize that there is a long way between where we are and where we want to be, in terms of fully functioning democracies that protect the humblest and the weakest among us. But there is no doubt where we are headed and why.

Thank you very much for your kind attention, and I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have.


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