Remarks by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

"U.S. Foreign Policy in the Western Hemisphere"

March 12, 2002

Otto J. Reich, Assistant Secretary of State


It is good to be back at CSIS. As John Hamre said, I go back quite a ways at CSIS -- actually, 1971. I was getting my Master's at Georgetown University, and the late Jim Theberge was Director of the Latin American program at CSIS, which was, at that time, still associated with Georgetown. There was a contest or request for proposals, or whatever you want to call it, for two Ph. D. theses and one Master's thesis. And not being a scholar, frankly, I didn't think I had much of a chance. But somebody said, "Look, you might as well apply. Submit a Master's thesis proposal and you get a fellowship if you are selected."

Well, I was selected. And, frankly, I think that changed my career considerably, because I did spend a little bit more time studying than I had been. I had to give up a little tennis in the process. But as a result of that and many other very fortunate turns in the road, I am now in this position and I get to speak to a group of people who know more about this subject than I do. I'm grateful to CSIS for that important moment in my career and for this invitation today.

I also want to thank a number of people who have already been singled out, like George Fauriol, who had the position of Director of the Latin American Studies program at CSIS for a very long time and who did such a good job. I think the kind of audience here today is an indication of George's work. I want to thank Mike Zarin who helped me with these remarks. If you like what I am going to say, you can thank Mike. If you don't, it's his fault. He helped me put my thoughts together, frankly, much more coherently and cohesively than I could have. I do want to leave some time for questions and answers because, with an audience like this, I think it would be, frankly, not a good use of my time to just talk to you - or not a good use of your time. I want to try to engage in a conversation; to the extent we have time.

Let me just tell you briefly how the Bush Administration feels about this region. From the very first days of this administration, President Bush and Secretary Powell have given a high priority to Latin America and the Caribbean, and Canada -- the entire Western Hemisphere. The President truly believes that our future is inextricably tied to that of our hemispheric neighbors, having been a governor of a border state, having a sister-in-law from Mexico. His brother, Jeb, is the governor of another border state, a sea border, and has lived for two years in Venezuela and speaks Spanish fluently.

President Bush's first foreign trip was to Mexico. In the first eight months of his administration, the President met with some half-dozen hemispheric counter-parts. His second trip was to Canada. He energetically led the U.S. participation in the April 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, where he affirmed his belief that this will be the Century of the Americas. President Bush hosted President Fox at this White House's first and only State Dinner so far, because it happened five days before September 11.

This is a president who feels at home in this hemisphere; who feels comfortable with its leaders; who is knowledgeable of its people, its challenges, and its opportunities.

And Secretary [of State] Powell shares that priority. The President and Secretary have given me the mandate and responsibility to boldly and creatively pursue this administration's highest priorities in the region. It is an honor for me to be a part of this grand endeavor, to serve this president and secretary in the noble pursuit of freedom in our home hemisphere.

As he has often said himself, Secretary Powell forged an enduring relationship with many of his foreign-minister colleagues first in Quebec, and then again most dramatically in that extremely difficult and uncertain time after the terrorists struck our great country on September 11.

The Secretary was in Lima that day to sign the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter. He often speaks of the incredible outpourings of grief and sympathy; of the pledges of support and solidarity; of the concrete steps that have resulted from those pledges, both bilaterally and collectively via the Rio Treaty or any number of special OAS commissions.

In the aftermath of September 11, however, we began to hear some rumblings from various corners, both here at home and in the region, that the administration's commitment to the hemisphere was little more than rhetorical. There were those who expressed great uncertainty about when or even if the administration would turn its attention back to the region, and if so, how.

Let me assure you that critique of waning interest was wide of the mark. In the months immediately following that tragic day in September, this administration from the most senior levels on down quite rightly focused its attention and energies on the most immediate task: the safety and security of our people and our homeland. It was as inevitable as it was appropriate that prosecuting the war on terrorism would take center stage.

On top of all that, of course, there was the calamity of the President and Secretary not having their nominee for the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs in place. That added another challenge to boldly and creatively pursuing the President's and Secretary's goals for the region.

But, early in this new year, as the first phase of the war on terrorism was well underway and yours truly finally arrived in office, the administration began looking for ways to reinvigorate our Latin American agenda; looking for ways to regain the momentum that was slowed as a result of September 11.

And why? Precisely because this administration believes our future and those of our neighbors are bound together and that only through sustained and collaborative engagement can we together strengthen freedom, create and spread prosperity, and ensure every citizen of the Americas has a chance to live in peace and security.

It is hard to exaggerate all that we have at stake here. Democratic political and economic stability in our home region reduces the scale of illegal migration, drug trafficking, terrorism, and economic turmoil, and allows us to concentrate greater efforts and resources on exploiting positive opportunities, both closer to home and farther afield.

It also promotes expanded trade and investment. We already sell more to Latin America and the Caribbean than to the European Union. Our trade within NAFTA is greater than that with the EU and Japan combined. We sell more to MERCOSUR than to China. Latin America and the Caribbean is our fastest-growing export market.

But ours is also a troubled region, one that is experiencing an array of challenges. It is a region that is hurting economically, suffering the effects of the U.S. and global economic slow-down; a sharp drop in coffee and other commodity prices; natural disasters; and the post-September 11 decline in tourism and remittances.

It is a region in which many citizens and some leaders are beginning to question the wisdom of the political and economic reforms on which they have embarked during the past 10-15 years.

At a more fundamental level, however, it is a region that is experiencing the consequences of poor governance and incomplete reforms.

Latin Americans in growing numbers are expressing discontent not so much with democracy or the economic model their countries are pursuing, but rather with the quality of their democracy and the perceived inability of freer markets to deliver economic growth and higher standards of living.

Although the region broadly is experiencing multiple challenges, there are bright spots too. After a decade of reforms, the hemisphere has become increasingly integrated into the world economy. The need to trade and attract foreign investment and capital helps dissuade those tempted to pursue anti-liberal policies.

Those countries -- Chile and EL Salvador, just to name two -- that have stayed the course on reforms -- maintaining fiscal discipline, liberalizing trade regimes, privatizing inefficient state industries, deregulating internal markets, and investing in their own people -- are weathering the economic downturn better than most. For their parts, Uruguay and Costa Rica are islands of relative political, social, and economic stability.

Although many challenges to market economics and representative democracy will persist and could get more difficult as the global economy continues to sputter, there are no credible alternative models on the horizon. Our challenge is to work with Latin American leaders and their citizens to improve the quality of their democracy and the ability of freer markets to deliver on reforms' promise.

The President's trip to Mexico, Peru, and El Salvador later this month is a concrete manifestation of the administration's commitment to the region. It will be a great opportunity for the President to highlight our multi-layered approach to addressing the region's challenges and opportunities. More on that in a few moments, but first, let me tell you a little about the President's trip.

In Monterrey, Mexico, the President will participate in a United Nations "Financing for Development" conference, hosted by the government of Mexico. There, the President will emphasize the imperative of market-oriented and creative strategies to promote and sustain economic development and prosperity.

In Peru and El Salvador, the President will have trade and development, democracy and security very much on his mind. In Lima, the President will have a chance to highlight Peru's democratic success story and to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to political and economic freedom in the region.

Although bilateral issues are the main theme, President will also have an invaluable opportunity to meet collectively with the Presidents of Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador -- the ATPA countries. Trade will certainly be on everyone's mind, but so will security, counterterrorism, counternarcotics and the growing challenges Colombia and her neighbors face.

In San Salvador, the President will draw attention to El Salvador's success in fully implementing the peace accords signed 10 years ago; in creating a market-oriented political system in which competition not only is tolerated, but encouraged; and in aggressively pursuing free-market economic policies and reforms that have allowed that country to weather simultaneous multiple storms of natural disasters, depressed commodity prices, and a slumping world economy.

As in Lima, bilateral issues will predominate, but regional trade will also feature prominently. President Bush will meet together with his counterparts from El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua to discuss -- and Panama, I should add -- their shared commitment to pursue a U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement.

This visit to the region provides just the kind of opportunity we need right now for the President and Secretary to highlight the broad vision that infuses our policy and philosophy toward Latin America.

Our policy is based on the four pillars of democracy, development, governmental integrity and security. Freedom underscores and bolsters these pillars, all of which are inter-related and mutually reinforcing.

Freedom -- in politics, economics, and trade -- is the thread woven throughout the fabric of our hemispheric policy. Representative democracy and free markets are the paths to follow. Governing well, ending corruption, and fully implementing necessary reforms are the checkpoints along the way. Education is the essential building-block for a solid, longer-term foundation. Security is the umbrella under which everything else becomes possible.

We get to freedom through democracy; to prosperity through trade; and to security through a concerted, multiple-layered effort to combat the scourges of terrorism, narcotics trafficking, criminality and lawlessness, and other trans-national threats.

Responsible government stewardship is essential to achieving each of these goals. The United States needs to highlight and promote policies that are crucial to reform's success, such as investing in primary education, health care, basic sanitation, and productive infrastructure; reducing corruption; strengthening the rule of law; and developing modern tax, pension, and regulatory regimes, as well as labor and property-rights laws. Such reform is essential if publics are not to turn on their governments and embrace the siren song of populism during the inevitable periods of economic downturn.

I'd like to turn my attention now to several of the higher-profile current challenges confronting the hemisphere. I can't deal with all of them, but let me just mention four: Colombia, Argentina, Haiti, and Cuba.

In Colombia, the democratically elected government faces a threat to its survival. Three well-armed, independently financed, extremely violent terrorist organizations are chipping away at the foundations of the state. We have a solemn obligation to assist our brothers and sisters in Colombia in their efforts to protect and defend their democracy and to create the conditions in which they can effectively address the myriad challenges that country faces.

Security is a pre-condition that makes possible every subsidiary objective we share: ending the armed and illicit narcotics production and trafficking; strengthening the rule of law, respect for human rights, and the government's ability to exercise its legitimate authority; reducing corruption, environmental degradation, lawlessness, and criminality; and further developing the economy.

Heretofore, our policy has primarily focused on a counter-narcotics mission. That mission remains as important today as ever. But we are closely reviewing that policy with an eye toward other forms of support that we can usefully provide to the government of Colombia.

Argentina: A close friend and ally, it is experiencing an economic and financial crisis. The social upheaval is painful and difficult. And the risk of political and economic contagion, while diminished in recent months, is not fully under control. The United States stands ready to assist Argentina through international financial institutions in facilitating the implementation of a sound economic recovery plan.

But let me emphasize, as Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman did last week in Buenos Aires, that our relations with Argentina continue to be based on shared values and commitments to freedom and democracy. As we have for several years now, we will continue collaborating with our Argentine friends on a broad spectrum of issues of mutual concern that include the situation in Colombia, terrorism and other security concerns, peacekeeping operations, free trade, democracy, and host of other issues.

Haiti: In many ways, this is the most vexing challenge in the hemisphere. It is a country that is suffering the cumulative effects of 200 years of bad leadership commanding a predatory state. The current regime in power is only the most recent manifestation of that 200-year history. Breaking this cycle is Haiti's biggest challenge. Our policy in the short- to medium-run is focused on supporting the Organization of American States' efforts to help the government and the opposition reach an accord to break the most recent political impasse, which is now almost two years old. We are constantly seeking ways to encourage both sides to negotiate seriously and in good faith. Reaching an agreement is only part of the answer, though. Ensuring compliance with any arrangement the parties arrive at will be essential. It will be a major determinant of success.

Mitigating humanitarian distress is another immediate priority. We will continue providing generous amounts of humanitarian assistance through non-governmental organizations. In the longer run, we hope to help the Haitian people create a democratically competitive political environment, in which human and civil rights are respected and in which economic growth becomes possible.

Cuba: You knew I couldn't give a speech on Latin America without talking about Cuba. In so many ways, Cuba is a special case. It is the only non-democratic government in hemisphere. It is ruled by a regime that makes a mockery of freedom; that imposes tyranny on its people; that imprisons its own citizens for the "crime" of independent thought.

Cuba is not exempt from our fundamental commitment to freedom. The Cuban people are no different than anyone else in Latin America -- and indeed the world over. They just want to be free.

President Bush and Secretary Powell have a positive vision for the future of Cuba. It includes one in which Cuba's people share in the opportunities that freedom offers; one in which the people of Cuba can freely choose their leaders, can freely speak their minds, can freely practice their faith and obtain an education not twisted by a failed ideology; one in which the people of Cuba -- like free people everywhere -- can pursue their hopes and dreams for a better life. It is a vision of a free Cuba that respects the civil and human rights of its people, and is a good neighbor to the other countries of our hemisphere.

We have made -- and will stand by -- a moral, political, and legal commitment to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba. We will vigorously use the tools available to us, including assisting the growing pro-freedom movement in Cuba, to lay the foundations for their future freedom.

There are a lot of other challenges facing the United States in Latin America. I just want to conclude by saying I am extremely grateful for the opportunity the President and the Secretary of State have given me to have this job. The President sent my nomination again for a third time to the Senate two weeks ago. And as Secretary of State Powell said yesterday, "We await the action of the Senate." We believe that our constitution provides the power of each senator to speak his or her mind on a nomination, and they should be given that right.

In the meantime, I have been sworn in -- a couple of times, now -- and I intend to continue doing this job as long as the President and the Secretary want me to do the job. We have great challenges in the hemisphere, but I have to tell you, I know I'm with a team -- a foreign-policy team -- the Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, Vice President Cheney, President Bush, the Defense Department, other agencies of the government -- headed by people who have incredible experience. They are calm. They're strong. And, as I said yesterday in the State Department, if you all sat in on a meeting, as I have, with the President or the Secretary of State and foreign Heads of State, or Foreign Ministers, and saw them operate, you would sleep well at night. I don't sleep well at night because I get interrupted by the State Department because of one crisis or another, but I hope that you do.

Thank you very much.

 	
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