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Latin America, Western Hemisphere, "obviously extremely critical to our agenda"

Ms. Rice outlines progress of democracy and economic development among key priorities

Posted: January 18, 2005

Questioned by Senator Christopher J. Dodd on U.S. policies in Latin America, Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice stated, on day one of her confirmation hearings, that the Bush Administration is "trying to work relationships, key relationships, in this region in a very aggressive way".

SEN. DODD: (...) I want to thank my colleagues for raising some of the issues they have. Obviously, Iraq is a major current foreign policy question and rightfully would dominate our conversation here today. As Senator Chafee mentioned, Senator Chafee and Senator Nelson and I just completed an eight-day trip to Latin America, visiting Venezuela, Paraguay, Argentina, Peru and Ecuador coming back. And I want to focus some attention on that in this first round. There are other questions I have.

There are roughly 600 million people in this hemisphere, excluding ourselves, who look to the United States for leadership. Two of our most important trading partners, Mexico and Canada, of course, in this hemisphere. The issues that Senator Sarbanes has raised about economic policy are absolutely on target and ones that we should be paying much more attention to, in my view, because as we found over the last eight days traveling in South America, these issues are the ones they care the most about, in many ways, and they're the ones the absence of our attention to these questions over the last number of years, for reasons they understand -- certainly 9/11 diverted our attention elsewhere, the events in the Middle East have certainly dominated our attention, but I want you to know at least my observations over the last week or so is we're in trouble in his hemisphere, Dr. Rice. We're in deep trouble in this hemisphere. And others may know other parts of the world well, and certainly there have been great changes in China, India, Russia, the Middle East, certainly in Africa, but we need to get back on track in this hemisphere.

And I'm going to ask you a broader question about what direction we're going to take. Let me tell you just briefly some of the things that we found over the last seven or eight days. And my colleagues, Senator Nelson, Senator Chafee, can add or detract from these conclusions.

We found these governments facing major demands from their citizens, with inadequate resources to meet those demands. In fact, the budget indications coming out of the administration are significantly -- going to provide significantly less resources in terms of aid to this part of the world than has been the case in previous years.

You mentioned the important years of 1947, '48, '49 and thereafter in terms of our efforts to grapple with the great challenge of the second half of the 20th century. Certainly one of the great speeches given that set the tone for that was Harry Truman's only inaugural address, in which point four, which set up the U.S. aid missions that made a huge difference in the 1950s and '60s, the Alliance for Progress that Senator Kennedy initiated, these ideas had strong economic components to them as we grappled with the great challenges facing choices in those days between what the Soviet Union offered and what we offered.

So we found great demands on the part of the citizens of these countries. We found government institutions that have been weakened and co-opted by unsolved internal political disputes. We found government officials interested in concluding bilateral free trade agreements not only because it would improve access to our markets but because they know it can be a means of institutionalizing reforms that would mean more jobs and incomes to their citizens.

We found government leaders concerned about the decline in U.S. resources available to assist them in the fight against narcoterrorists, terrorists ready to take advantage of the lawlessness created by the systemic corruption that exists generally throughout the region and especially in the tri-border area of Paraguay and Brazil and Argentina, where Muslim organizations are reportedly raising and laundering monies to support their international ambitions.

We found government leaders frustrated by the suspension of U.S. military assistance and training to their military services because of our fixation with the International Criminal Court, as codified by the American Servicemen's Protection Act, which links continued assistance to these areas to the signing of the so-called Article 98 agreements of the United States. And I heard this from American military personnel, Dr. Rice, not from foreigners, but our own personnel worried that we're placing so much emphasis on that point we're stopping the training so necessary to build those relationships in this century with people in that part of the world.

We found government leaders desirous of positive relationships with the United States and disappointed that our government hasn't made relations with them a higher national priority. Even President Chavez expressed an interest in improved relations with the United States. Putting aside the obvious issue that's going on of the last several days, it's going to be critically important that we try and do something new with Venezuela than the continued policies of isolation, in my view.

So I'd like to get from you, if I could, as these opening comments, are we going to have a new direction here in this critical part of the world?

Senator Hagel mentioned immigration. No other issue -- Vicente Fox, the one issue that he was hoping he'd get some resolution from over the last four years was on immigration. And nothing was done. One speech that I'm aware of. No legislation introduced. No effort up here to make a difference. It's a crippling economic problem here at home and a source of continuing contention between one of our very, very important allies around the globe and the closest neighbor to us with some of the most important issues.

What are we going to do about that? And are we going to change some direction here, or are we going to stick with the policies of the past that are creating some serious, serious problems in this part of the world for us?


MS. RICE: Well thank you, Senator Dodd. And thank you also for the time that you did spend. And I look forward to talking to you more about the future of Latin America, Western Hemisphere. It's obviously extremely critical to our agenda.


We also have been very active in Central America. And I would agree with you, there are very grave challenges now to some of these regimes.

And we don't want to repeat what has tended to be a cycle in Latin America of democratic developments followed by authoritarian ones, and I don't think that we have to.

In Central America and in Latin America, we have to recognize that while there are in many of these place growth rates that are very, very high for these regions, that the ability for these countries to actually deal with the problems and demands of their people are -- that's really the next step.

And we had at Monterrey a number of discussions about developing the human potential of these countries, worrying about education and worrying about literacy and worrying about economic opportunity for people. These are, in many ways, very highly stratified societies, and we need in the United States to associate ourselves, I think, with the struggle of those who are trying to overcome that stratification. We can't just associate ourselves with an old order. We have to be concerned about the indigenous peoples that are trying to find their rightful place in a political and economic system. Our own history should tell us that that's an extremely important task ahead.

So it is a very big agenda to do what the president has been trying to do, which is to promote democratic development and democratic institutions, to begin to marry those democratic institutions with economic progress for the peoples of the region.

Certainly one of the ways that we can contribute to the twin progress of democracy and economic development is through trade, and we have had a number of successful free trade agreements. We've -- we had the free trade agreement with Chile. We are -- you in the Senate will contemplating at some point a free trade agreement, the CAFTA agreement. We continue to work with Brazil, as our co-chair, to try and push forward on the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement. So trade is a big part of this agenda.

If I might just take one other moment to say that we also are trying to work relationships, key relationships, in this region in a very aggressive way. And I would focus for just a moment on the relationship with Brazil, which I think is extremely critical to the region. There are others as well, but the president and President Lula have met on a couple of occasions. We had in the earliest stage a meeting of both cabinets to try and have an agenda going forward, because if we think about the real challenges -- those are economic, social mobility, education and literacy for people -- and how that can be done within democratic institutions, so that the challenges don't have to come from outside of democratic institutions, we need partners in that.

Brazil is such a partner, but so are others. And I would hope to really spend some time with the Organization of American States making certain that the agenda of promoting democratic development, holding accountable leaders who do not govern democratically, even if they are democratically elected -- that that would be an agenda that we could mobilize around.


SEN. DODD: Well, I thank you for your broad answer.

My time is up here. Let me -- just a couple of points. One, this underscores the point Senator Sarbanes was making, in my view; that I too was a bit disappointed, reading your opening statements, about the parcity of -- paucity, rather, of comments about economics and the importance issue -- you've highlighted this exactly, and you're correct; this is part of the issue. But I think it's critically important that we pursue these issues without expressing yet, until we see them, these final agreements on these trade agreements.

But I would hope -- and if you want to quickly answer -- are we going to have these trade agreements up here in short order? You and I both know that if you wait, even good trade agreements, if coming up at the wrong time up here, under circumstances, can fail.

And if they fail, I think the implications could be serious for the region. So quickly, are we going to see CAFTA and the DR trade agreement coming up, the Andean agreement, which they're working on right now? Are we going to see those sooner rather than later, as an administration priority?


MS. RICE: Well, we will certainly work with the Congress on this, but we obviously would like to see these agreements sooner rather than later.


SEN. DODD: And let me just comment briefly. I think Senator Chafee and Nelson and I would tell you as well we were very impressed, Mr. Chairman, with the competency and quality of the State Department personnel we ran into in these countries. I would hope, as you're making choices about the senior positions, there's some wonderfully talented, knowledgeable people about this part of the world, and my hope would be that you put a team together that would reflect the very things you're suggesting in response to my questions because I think you will agree with me: for reasons we may understand, we really got to pay more attention to this part of the world.


MS. RICE: Thank you. Senator, may I just have one moment? You mentioned Venezuela, and I'd like to just address it quickly, if I may.

We have a long and good history with Venezuela, long ties. I think it's extremely unfortunate that the Chavez government has not been constructive. And we do have to be vigilant and to demonstrate that we know the difficulties that that government is causing for its neighbors, its close association with Fidel Castro in Cuba. Still the only empty chair at the OAS is that of Cuba because it's not democratically elected government. And those relationships are deeply concerning to us and to me. And we are very concerned about a democratically elected leader who governs in an illiberal way, and some of the steps that have been taken against the media, against opposition I think are really very deeply troubling. And we're going to have to, as a hemisphere that signed a democracy charter, be devoted to making sure that those who signed that charter live up to it.


SEN. DODD: Well, I appreciate what you're saying, but that's a two-way street, Dr. Rice. It requires we work on it as well. It's not the 1960s or '70s, and there are people down there -- you mentioned President Lula. I can go back and show you statements that President Lula made that would compete with anything President Chavez has said, yet we found a way to work with this new president. My strong suggestion is find ways to do this. Going back and repeating these statements over and over again only digs the hole deeper and deeper. And that's an important relationship. It's important in the hemisphere. We need to work at it. My hope is you will.

Thank you.


SEN. LUGAR: Thank you very much, Senator Dodd. I congratulate you and Senator Chafee and Senator Nelson on the trip. I know Senator Coleman has been very active in the area, too, and I would underline a request that we really have people in the department who are on top of the situation. I think Senator Dodd makes a good point, a group of people really interested in the area and forwarding these difficult situations.

Related item: Western Hemisphere Important to U.S. Agenda, Rice Says



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