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Noriega outlines priorities for Western Hemisphere

United States aims to enhance democracy, prosperity, security, he says

Posted: March 2, 2005 Related item: Noriega: U.S. policy in the Americas based on four "Strategic Pillars"  

The United States' policy priorities for the Western Hemisphere center on strengthening democracy, promoting prosperity, bolstering security, and investing in the health and education of the region's citizens, according to Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega.

In March 2 testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Noriega outlined the United States' policy and foreign assistance priorities for Latin America.

"We want to help our partners to strengthen their democratic institutions and retool their economies to extend political power and economic opportunity to everyone, especially the very poor," he said.

Noriega said that the success of U.S. policy will be shaped by efforts to promote "four interdependent pillars" of the policy: strengthening democracy, promoting a prosperous hemisphere, investing in people and bolstering security.

Because many political crises in the region are a direct result of weak democratic institutions, he explained, the United States is advancing an ambitious reform agenda to help extend political power, promote the rule of law, ensure accountability and transparency, guarantee basic rights and resolve disputes.

He noted that much of the U.S. assistance to Haiti will support reforming and training the Haitian National Police and judiciary, bolstering anti-corruption programs, promoting human rights and laying the foundation for economic growth.

Noriega told lawmakers that the United States is focused on ensuring political stability and constitutional democracy in Bolivia, and will also support preparations for national elections in 2006 in Nicaragua. He said that the United States also will continue to support democratic elements in Venezuela, and will implement the recommendations of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba to hasten a democratic transition there.

To bolster Latin American prosperity, the Bush administration will encourage regional governments to remove impediments to business creation, improve access to capital, strengthen property rights and revise labor laws, Noriega said.

He indicated that the United States will also pursue an ambitious trade agenda in the region, and said that securing passage of the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA-DR, is one of the White House's highest priorities.

To help the region's citizens to better capitalize on economic opportunity, Noriega said the United States will encourage Latin governments to invest in their people, particularly in their health and education.

He added that the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) will be a crucial component of these efforts, and noted that the United States is currently discussing MCA with Bolivia, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Noriega said that the goals of strengthening democracy, promoting prosperity and investing in people cannot be accomplished without bolstering security. He indicated that U.S. security assistance will focus on helping countries to re-establish control of their national territory, improve interdiction capabilities, and train defense forces so they can better participate in peacekeeping and counterterrorism operations.

"The nations of the hemisphere recognize that we all share responsibility to protect ourselves from terrorism and the illegal trafficking of arms, people, and drugs," Noriega said.

Efforts to these ends, he pointed out, include border cooperation with Canada and Mexico and the Third Border Initiative with the nations of the Caribbean.

The Caribbean Third Border Initiative is a targeted package of programs launched in April 2001 that is designed to enhance diplomatic, economic, health, education and law enforcement cooperation and collaboration. It seeks to focus new funding and assistance on those areas where the Bush administration sees the greatest increased need.

Noriega said that U.S. assistance to Colombia has already made a "crucial difference" in that nation's fight against narcotics and terrorism, and he indicated that the Bush administration is committed to sustaining support for this assistance.

Overall, as the Bush administration embarks on its second term, its goals for the region remain unchanged.

"Our objectives are the same: a safer, more prosperous neighborhood -- where dictators, traffickers, and terrorists cannot thrive," he said. "The hemisphere can be optimistic because we know these goals are within our reach."

Following is the text of Noriega's prepared testimony:

(begin text)

Testimony of
Roger F. Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State,
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), Department Of State
The Committee on Foreign Relations
United States Senate
March 2, 2005

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the administration's foreign assistance priorities for the Western Hemisphere.

In his second inaugural address, President Bush proclaimed, "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world ... Our goal ... is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way."

Putting the president's words into action in the Western Hemisphere, our policy is to help countries consolidate and extend the democratic gains of the past two decades. We aim to build an Inter-American community where all governments are not only democratic, but their people are truly free.

U.S. trade with the region is growing faster than with the rest of the world. At the same time, while the region grew at its fastest rate in 25 years, the challenge remains to sustain this faster rate of growth in order to reduce chronic poverty. Income distribution in the hemisphere continues to be among the most skewed in the world; and competitiveness lags behind other developing regions. Some citizens are losing faith in the benefits of democracy.

In this environment, we have fine-tuned our programs and assistance to help governments in the region deliver those benefits. We want to help our partners to strengthen their democratic institutions and retool their economies to extend political power and economic opportunity to everyone, especially the very poor.

Our policy rests on four interdependent pillars: strengthening democratic institutions, promoting a prosperous hemisphere, investing in people and bolstering security. Our policy is both a lens for analyzing the needs of the hemisphere and a roadmap to guide our actions.

Strengthening Democratic Institutions

Democracy is our priority. All citizens in the hemisphere deserve a voice in how their lives are governed. Moreover, many political crises in the region are a direct result of weak democratic institutions. In response, we are advancing ambitious reform agendas to help extend political power, promote the rule of law, ensure accountability and transparency, guarantee basic rights, and resolve disputes.

In Haiti, for example, we have an exceptional opportunity to help the Haitian people develop the good government they have always deserved, but rarely had. We are encouraged that the interim government has set an elections timetable and that the UN and OAS are working to make that timetable a reality.

Much of the U.S. foreign assistance in Haiti will improve the prospects for the new government that will be elected in late 2005, continuing the reform and training of the Haitian National Police and judiciary, boosting anti-corruption programs, laying the groundwork for economic growth, and promoting human rights.

In Bolivia, we are focused on ensuring political stability and maintaining constitutional democracy. A significant portion of U.S. aid to Bolivia will shore up democratic institutions there, through training for political parties, technical assistance to local governments, programs on human rights, judicial reform and anti-corruption, and efforts to help the majority indigenous population play its rightful role within the democratic process.

And in Nicaragua, U.S. funding will support national elections in 2006 by assisting with preparations and oversight. President Bolaños and the two major opposition parties that control the National Assembly are seeking agreement on a broad range of governability issues through a national dialogue process sponsored by the United Nations. We are also engaged in high-level talks with the Government of Nicaragua on a joint plan to secure and destroy man-portable air defense missiles (MANPADS) left over from the internal conflict that pose a threat to civil aviation in the region and beyond. Should the Bolaños government successfully compete for support through the MCC, these funds will spread the benefits of his development plan and help sustain his government.

Venezuela has the resources it needs for its own development, but we are concerned that President Hugo Chavez's very personal agenda may undermine democratic institutions at home and among his neighbors. Despite our efforts to establish a normal working relationship with his government, Hugo Chavez continues to define himself in opposition to the United States. His efforts to concentrate power at home, his suspect relationship with destabilizing forces in the region, and his plans for arms purchases are causes of major concern to the Bush administration. We will support democratic elements in Venezuela so that they can continue to maintain the political space to which they are entitled, and we will increase awareness among Venezuela's neighbors of Chavez's destabilizing acts with the expectation that they will join us in defending regional stability, security, and prosperity.

In Cuba, the president's message to democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile is clear: "When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." We are implementing the recommendations of the President's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba designed to hasten a democratic transition, and the regime is being pressured as never before. We will continue to prepare to support a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy. And, we will assist Cuba's democratic opposition and civil society as it seeks to organize itself for the coming transition.

Second Pillar: Promoting a Prosperous Hemisphere

Because U.S. purchases, investment, and remittances to the hemisphere dwarf U.S. aid, the key to sustained economic growth in the Western Hemisphere is a reform agenda that further opens economies, encourages investment, and expands free trade. We are urging our partners, therefore, to remove impediments to business creation, improve access to capital, strengthen property rights, and revise their labor laws. In this way, we can create opportunity and reduce poverty by expanding the ability of individuals to profit from their labor and creativity.

In conjunction with this effort, we will pursue an ambitious trade agenda in the next four years. In many respects, this free trade agenda takes its inspiration from the success of the North American Free Trade Agreement; in the case of Mexico, our trade has increased 135 percent since NAFTA inception in 1994. We also have in place a new free trade agreement with Chile. In the next several months, we will be working with Congress to approve a Central America -- Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement; and we are concluding similar pacts with Panama and our Andean partners. We remain committed to a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, with our Brazilian co-chair as a key player.

In Brazil, the personal relationship between President Bush and President Lula has yielded the most positive and open relations with Brazil in recent memory. We have a strategy for building even closer ties. We will reach out to engage industry and the media in support of the FTAA and free trade. In addition, we will orient our development assistance programs in Brazil to help develop small and medium-sized enterprises to boost trade-led growth. And we will continue to welcome Brazil's cooperation on our shared regional responsibilities.

The trade agreements we are signing don't simply create economic opportunity, they transform societies by encouraging the good governance needed to attract investment. Trade accords also require that countries enforce their own workers rights and environmental legislation.

With your permission, I will return to the subject of approval of the approval of the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA-DR, which is one of the administration's highest priorities. This free-trade agreement represents another significant step in the remarkable transformation that Central America has undertaken toward democratic governance and free market economies. We can make no greater contribution to this process at this time than to secure the approval of this historic accord. CAFTA-DR not only will allow all parties in the agreement, including the U.S., to increase prosperity through the opening of markets and increased investment flows, but it will also strengthen democracy in the region, encourage critical second generation economic reforms, and contribute to anti-corruption and poverty alleviation efforts.

Along these lines, trade capacity building (TCB) for CAFTA-DR countries is integral to our implementation of the accord. In a first for any free trade agreement, the CAFTA-DR includes a Committee on Trade Capacity Building, in recognition of the importance of such assistance in promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, and adjusting to liberalized trade. We support such important work. We are working through environmental and labor cooperative mechanisms in CAFTA-DR, and in the other free trade agreements under negotiation, to channel assistance to improve environmental and labor conditions in our trading partners. In FY 05, Congress appropriated nearly $20 million in funds for labor and environmental cooperation for CAFTA-DR countries. We are now working to identify the best way to utilize these resources. We'll also gain synergy with ongoing TCB efforts and our bilateral assistance in the region, which supports democratic institutions and anti-corruption programs.

Third Pillar: Investing in People

Citizens are better able to claim their fair share of economic opportunity, when their government invests in people - specifically, in health and education.

This is a crucial component of President Bush's Millennium Challenge Account. As you know, to be eligible for MCA funds -- amounting to $2.5 billion for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 -- nations must govern justly, uphold the rule of law, fight corruption, open their markets, remove barriers to entrepreneurship, and invest in their people. 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. The MCC is currently negotiating full MCA agreements with three WHA countries -- Bolivia, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, two WHA countries, Guyana and Paraguay, are eligible to receive "threshold" funding to help them qualify for full MCA programs.

Our other assistance programs likewise stress investment in people. We are providing the people of the Caribbean with more than $68 million from the president's HIV/AIDS initiative, destined to assist Haiti and Guyana, to dramatically expand prevention and treatment and have reduced significantly the prevalence of HIV in Haiti.

We are also making quite substantial investments of Development Assistance and Child Survival and Health funds in several nations -- more than $25 million per country in Bolivia, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru -- in an effort to improve education, health care, and food security.

Fourth Pillar: Bolstering Security

We cannot strengthen democratic institutions, promote a prosperous hemisphere, and invest in people without bolstering security. The focus of our security assistance is to help countries re-establish control of their national territory; improve the interdiction capabilities of countries on the southern approaches to the U.S.; and help modernize partner countries so that their defense forces can participate in peacekeeping, coalition and counterterrorism operations.

The nations of the hemisphere recognize that we all share responsibility to protect ourselves from terrorism and the illegal trafficking of arms, people, and drugs. For the United States, this means working with Mexico to strengthen our respective borders through the Border Partnership Action Plan, and with Canada via the Smart Border Accord. In the Caribbean, we are strengthening regional security and protecting the southern approaches by implementing our Third Border Initiative as well as supporting the Enduring Friendship program. In both the Caribbean and Central America, we are boosting drug interdiction programs, advancing the establishment of entry exit systems at ports of entry, conducting port and airport assessments, providing airport and port security and crisis training. These programs are funded through the Department of State and other USG [U.S. government] agencies, and the OAS Counter Terrorism Committee, of which the U.S. is the largest supporter. We need to strengthen local law enforcement capabilities to address transnational threats.

In Colombia, U.S. assistance has made a crucial difference in President Uribe's fight against terrorism and narcotrafficking; he is transforming Colombia in dramatic fashion. While the various terrorist organizations are still serious adversaries, as shown in several recent attacks, President Uribe's democratic security policy has the guerrillas in retreat and the overall number of terrorist attacks has dropped dramatically as the armed forces have expanded their level of operations. Eradication of illicit crops is at record levels as are interdictions and extraditions. Our policy is a solid success story, with a 33 percent reduction in coca cultivation from 2001 to 2003. In 2004, more than 178 metric tons of coca were seized, a 23 percent increase over 2003. We are committed to sustaining bipartisan support in Congress for our program to help President Uribe win the peace by defeating the narcoterrorists and demobilizing illegal groups.

By combining eradication, interdiction, alternative development, and strengthening government institutions in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, we have also helped those governments limit the spillover of drug cultivation. Overall, Andean regional coca cultivation declined by 16 perdent in 2003, compared to 2002. However, much still needs to be done to eradicate illegal coca in Bolivia and Peru, especially in the face of organized cocalero opposition. With Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, we are strengthening cooperation in the Tri-Border region in the 3+1 Counter-Terrorism Dialogue.

The Department's requested Western Hemisphere Regional Security Fund will be used to help resolve territorial disputes and promote conflict resolution, train security forces to respond to 21st century threats, expand security cooperation, and reduce arms trafficking.

Finally, we are attacking crime by fighting corruption. Our regional anti-corruption funds will train law enforcement personnel and support legal reform, and mobilize the private sector through "ethics pacts." Bilateral assistance in Mexico, Central America and the Andean region will increase government transparency and accountability.

As we work to implement our strategy in the hemisphere, we will retain our commitment to multilateralism. Our neighbors share our values and interests, so we can get results through multilateral organizations.

In 2005, two key multilateral events will help the hemisphere advance common interests. In June, the United States will host the OAS General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That gathering will advance our agenda of delivering the benefits of democracy to ordinary citizens.

In November 2005, Argentina will host the Fourth Summit of the Americas, where the focus will be on creating sustainable jobs through policies that promote more competitive economies, attract investment, and foster private sector-led growth -- through small and medium-sized enterprises in particular. We will again push for concrete commitments, including simplifying and expanding access to credit, so we can empower individuals to benefit from their own efforts.

We have witnessed great advances of freedom and opportunity in the region, but we need to accelerate our progress or risk being left behind in the global competition for capital and trade. The Bush administration will be a creative partner to our neighbors seeking to reinforce freedom and opportunity. We already have many good-intentioned and hard-working partners in the region.

For the second Bush term, our objectives are the same: a safer, more prosperous neighborhood -- where dictators, traffickers, and terrorists cannot thrive. The hemisphere can be optimistic because we know these goals are within our reach, and we work together in a spirit of mutual respect and partnership.

Thank you very much, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

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