The most successful democratic leaders
in the Americas are those who reach out to the political
opposition, civil society, and minority groups, says U.S.
State Department official Roger Noriega.
In March 9 U.S. congressional testimony,
Noriega said dialogue builds trust, and "trust is the
key element in encouraging real political participation
and keeping the political pot from boiling over."
The challenges to democracy in Latin America
and the Caribbean are daunting, but a reform agenda that
extends political power to everyone can do much to build
confidence in government, said Noriega, assistant secretary
of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.
Noriega told the U.S. House of Representatives'
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere that strong leadership,
a willingness to make tough decisions, the forging of a
national consensus, and carrying out a reform agenda are
all important to building democracy.
U.S. assistance to the region is helping
build support for democracy through programs that range
from legal code reform and judicial training to anti-corruption
projects and conflict resolution, said Noriega.
But U.S. aid, in and of itself, cannot guarantee
the deepening of the Western Hemisphere's "democratic
roots," he warned.
The official argued that "there is
simply no substitute for strong local leadership willing
to make tough decisions and embrace civil society as a key
contributor to policy debates."
In that regard, Noriega said that while
the United States supports the administration of President
Carlos Mesa in Bolivia, it is the Bolivian people and Bolivian
democratic institutions themselves that "must reach
a consensus on how to exploit the country's vast natural
gas resources in a way that best supports the common good."
He added that Bolivians must work to include the aspirations
of indigenous people within the country's democracy, and
decide on how to address regional calls in Bolivia for autonomy.
Noriega offered an analysis of the political
situation in other countries of the region, as well, such
as Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, Ecuador, Peru, and especially
Venezuela. That latter country, said Noriega, "does
not present a promising picture."
The United States has no quarrel with the
Venezuelan people, said Noriega. But he added that despite
U.S. efforts to establish a normal working relationship
with the government of President Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan
leader "continues to define himself in opposition"
to the United States.
As to why Chavez thinks he needs an adversarial
relationship with the United States, "we can only speculate,"
The efforts of Chavez 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," Noriega said.
U.S. policy toward Venezuela is very clear,
said Noriega. "We want to strengthen our ties to the
Venezuelan people," and support democratic elements
in that country so they can occupy the "political space
to which they are entitled." In addition, Noriega said
the United States wants to maintain positive economic relations
with Venezuela, and urges Venezuela to "pull its weight
to protect regional security against drug and terrorist
Noriega said the "good news" for
the Western Hemisphere is that it has many leaders with
ambitious social agendas who are adopting sound economic
policies and seeking mutually beneficial relations with
their neighbors, including the United States.
"There is a solid consensus" in
the hemisphere "in favor of representative democracy
and respect for human rights," concluded Noriega.
Following is the text of Noriega's prepared
Testimony of Roger F. Noriega, Assistant
Secretary of State,
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs,
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere,
Committee on International Relations,
U.S. House of Representatives
March 9, 2005
"The State of Democracy in Latin America"
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
It has been fashionable of late to cite
recent polls that suggest the people of the Western Hemisphere
have lost faith in democracy as an ideal. I believe that
while the concerns are real, they need to be tempered by
The struggle for democracy in the region
that characterized the 1980s is thankfully now a mutual
effort to deliver the benefits of freedom to every individual
in every country. The vast majority of Latin Americans and
their Caribbean neighbors live under leaders of their own
choosing. Today, free elections and peaceful transfers of
power are the norm and former adversaries compete not on
the battlefield, but in the democratic arena of electoral
Political progress in the region has gone
hand in hand with economic reform. Many of the old demons
are gone: inflation is largely tamed; countries are increasingly
open to foreign trade and investment; economic setbacks
still occur, but no longer do they lead inevitably to crises
affecting the entire hemisphere.
Most of the region's leaders recognize that
democracy and the free market must be part of any sustainable
plan for development. The paradigm that has been so successful
in guiding the expansion of freedom and economic growth
to Latin America over the past twenty years remains firmly
in place. Indeed, most recently elected leaders, even those
characterized by some as "populist," are in fact
governing their nations responsibly within that framework.
In fact, during this coming June, a key
multilateral event will take place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida,
when the United States will host the OAS General Assembly
for the first time in 30 years. That gathering will advance
our agenda of delivering the benefits of democracy to ordinary
citizens by making governments more effective, transparent,
There is little doubt, however, that many
individuals in the hemisphere are frustrated by the perceived
inability of democracies to deliver benefits to all citizens
in equal measure. Some, in their frustration, are turning
in increasing numbers to politicians who promise populist
solutions to the region's persistent problems or else entertain
thoughts of a return to authoritarianism.
That is to say, we continue to confront
challenges in the workings of democracy in the region.
What the polls show is that Latin Americans
by and large don't trust their governments and their institutions.
The survey numbers suggest that overwhelming majorities
in virtually all countries of the region have "little"
or "no" confidence in their executive, judiciary,
legislature, political parties, armed forces or police.
I believe this can be attributed to the
fact that, in many cases, political elites in the region
often are perceived to exhibit an aloofness from the people
they are supposed to represent and serve. That gulf is often
reinforced by legal immunity granted legislators and the
de facto impunity afforded many other governmental and political
That resultant mutual mistrust between voters
and the government encourages corruption, as citizens resort
to one of the few ways available to persuade government
officials to actually work on their behalf -- pay them directly.
Many formal democratic institutions in Latin
America are weak and overly politicized. In some countries
there is not one single body -- not a Supreme Court, not
an Electoral Commission, not a Regulatory Board -- that
can be relied upon to routinely make impartial, apolitical
decisions in accordance with the law.
Many political parties in the region are
not doing their job well -- they are often bereft of new
ideas, too focused on patronage, and too dependent on the
skills of one charismatic leader.
That spoils mentality is too often reinforced
by electoral systems which favor legislative candidacy via
party slate and over-represent rural areas -- politicians
owe too much allegiance to the party structure and not enough
to constituents; entrenched anti-reform opponents are granted
too large a voice in policymaking.
Poverty and the inequality of income and
wealth which characterize much of the region make it difficult
for democracy to thrive. Under-funded states lack the resources
to apply the rules of the game fairly -- even if leaders
have the political will to try.
That unfairness is sharpened by some governments'
tendency to overlook minority rights -- the rights of indigenous
peoples, ethnic minorities, women, children, and the disabled.
High crime levels, present in many nations
of the hemisphere, dampen voters' enthusiasm for democratic
These challenges to democracy are daunting
-- but I am convinced they can be overcome by strong leadership,
a willingness to make tough decisions, the forging of a
national consensus, and the active implementation of a reform
The hemisphere's democratic agenda cannot
be advanced solely by the poetry of verbal commitment to
its principles, it must be advanced by the daily toil of
Sustainable economic growth and political
stability are only possible if governments consciously extend
political power and economic opportunity to everyone, especially
Taken together -- trust, transparency, effectiveness,
inclusiveness, public safety, political consensus on the
need to have decision-making framed by the national welfare,
and cooperative civil-military relations -- are what enable
vibrant democracies to withstand political and economic
shocks to the system.
They are the cornerstones of viable states.
The hemisphere's most successful democratic
leaders understand what is needed to make democracy work.
They reach out to the opposition, civil
society, and minority groups. Dialogue builds trust, and
trust is the key element in encouraging real political participation
and keeping the political pot from boiling over.
They understand that public relations matter.
Citizens need to know when their government is effective
-- when new schools are inaugurated or inoculation programs
Good leaders recognize the importance of
working with and cultivating responsible media.
Good governments in the region are vigorously
prosecuting corruption cases and institutionalizing procedures
that promote public transparency -- including electronic
procurement, freedom of information legislation, and the
establishment of ombudsman offices to monitor allegations
Successful leaders are promoting legal or
constitutional reforms that better link elected officials
to their constituents. Politicians will never behave if
they cannot easily be held accountable by the voters from
a defined district or are officially shielded from prosecution.
Successful democracies are closing the gap
between politicians and voters by decentralizing political
power and revenue collection -- granting municipal governments
both real responsibility and revenue can tamp down corruption
and give people a greater sense of direct participation
in the political system.
Responsible leaders are spearheading legal
or constitutional reforms that foster impartial, professional,
and apolitical judiciaries. Some countries in the region
have enjoyed great success in judicial reform by streamlining
civil code procedures; introducing computerized case tracking
systems; staggering the appointment of Supreme Court justices;
and naming judicial councils that oversee hiring, firing,
and disciplining judicial employees.
Successful leaders understand the link between
democracy and individual economic opportunity. The path
to prosperity is built upon affording individuals the chance
to pull their own weight and create personal wealth -- by
reducing the red tape of business registration, encouraging
the broader provision of bank credit, harnessing remittances
for productive purposes, providing wider access to education,
and accelerating property titling.
Good governments must have good police forces.
Not only is public safety a crucial function of government,
but police officers are often the most visible personification
for most citizens of the power of any administration --
so they must act with efficiency and respect.
Successful leaders in the region also value
multilateral engagement as a tool to shore up the hemisphere's
democratic institutions. The work of the Bolivia Donor Support
Group, OAS election observation in Venezuela, and regional
contributions to MINUSTAH in Haiti are but three recent
examples of how multilateral engagement can help speed the
progress of democracy.
Our assistance programs are also lending
a hand. We are providing democracy building support in the
hemisphere ranging from legal code reform and judicial training
to anti-corruption projects and conflict resolution.
But our assistance, in and of itself, cannot
guarantee the deepening of the hemisphere's democratic roots.
There is simply no substitute for strong
local leadership willing to make tough decisions and embrace
civil society as a key contributor to policy debates.
We support the Mesa administration in Bolivia.
But it is the Bolivian people and Bolivian democratic institutions
who must reach a consensus on how to exploit the country's
vast natural gas resources in a way that best supports the
common good; on how to include the aspirations of indigenous
people within the country's democratic framework; and on
how to address regional calls for autonomy.
We support the presidency of Enrique Bolaños
in Nicaragua and are pleased that his government has made
significant efforts to combat corruption -- to the point
that Nicaragua and the Millennium Challenge Corporation
may conclude a compact in the near future. Challenges remain,
especially the dramatic politicization of that country's
judiciary and the damage done to both the presidency and
the National Assembly by the tug of war between two political
caudillos (strongmen) -- one of whom remains enamored with
the obsolete politics of the 1940s and another with a bankrupt
leftist ideology from the 1970s.
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.
Supporting Haiti's slow ascent from a decade
as a predatory state is an enormous challenge, but we are
determined to stay the course as long as the Haitians themselves
remain engaged in fashioning the truly democratic government
they so deserve.
In Ecuador, we have been vocal in our support
for constitutional democracy and its institutions. We have
good relations with the Gutiérrez administration,
on issues from the environment to fighting global terror,
and laying the groundwork towards an FTA. But it is the
Ecuadorians who must work to strengthen and safeguard their
fragile democracy against political self-interest that threatens
to weaken and fracture it and paralyze any attempt at much
In Peru, we were enormously encouraged that,
during last New Year's Eve uprising, citizens from all political
stripes stood firm and rejected any place for violence in
the country's political discourse. That is the kind of political
maturity that will be needed as they tackle poverty, elections
in 2006, and fight off the encroachment of narcotraffickers
in the nation's economy and political institutions.
Venezuela, frankly, does not present a promising
picture. We have no quarrel with the Venezuelan people,
but despite the United States' efforts to establish a normal
working relationship with his government, Hugo Chavez continues
to define himself in opposition to us.
President Chavez claims his mandate is to
help the poor and end discrimination and inequality in Venezuela.
As to why he thinks that necessitates an adversarial relationship
with the United States, we can only speculate.
The United States works with leaders from
across the political spectrum in a respectful and mutually
beneficial way to strengthen our democratic institutions,
build stronger economies, and promote more equitable and
just societies. Our neighbors know that we are good partners
in fighting poverty and defending democracy. We do more
than respect each others' sovereignty: we work together
to defend it by promoting democratic ideals and by fighting
terrorism, drugs and corruption.
But President Chavez has chosen a different
course, and he has a six-year track record that tells us
a thing or two about him. 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.
Our policy is very clear: We want to strengthen
our ties to the Venezuelan people. We will support democratic
elements in Venezuela so they can fill the political space
to which they are entitled. We want to maintain economic
relations on a positive footing. And we want Venezuela to
pull its weight to protect regional security against drug
and terrorist groups.
We also want Venezuela's neighbors and others
in the region to understand the stakes involved and the
implications of President Chavez's professed desire to spread
his "Bolivarian" revolution.
Many of them are fragile states without
the oil wealth of Venezuela to paper over their problems.
They are striving hard to strengthen their democratic institutions
and promote economic prosperity for all.
Should the United States and Venezuela's
neighbors ignore President Chavez's questionable affinity
for democratic principles we could soon wind up with a poorer,
less free, and hopeless Venezuela that seeks to export its
failed model to other countries in the region.
Mr. Chairman, before concluding, I want
to address one other point that has somehow become part
of the conventional wisdom: that the United States is "ignoring"
the Western Hemisphere.
I think that what people have to understand
is that the world has changed dramatically in the past two
decades, and U.S. policy has changed with it.
During the Cold War, strategic considerations
dominated our policy and U.S.-Soviet tensions turned the
region into a giant chessboard whereby forestalling the
creep of totalitarianism necessarily trumped all other considerations.
That approach was not always appreciated. In those days,
we were not accused of ignoring the hemisphere, but were
accused of being too heavy-handed, further enforcing the
historic perception of a "paternalistic" United
States approach to the region.
Today, that has changed.
History has proven to be a most reliable
guide as to how nations can best expand prosperity and better
lives for their citizens. Open economies and political systems,
outward looking trade regimes, and respect for human rights
are the indisputable requirements for a 21st-century nation-state.
So those who would inveigh against U.S.
"paternalism" in the Western Hemisphere have lost
their essential talking point, because we seek to impose
this model on no one. But for those countries seeking to
follow this path, we are committed to helping. If not, then
no amount of assistance or moral support can stop them from
This is the basis of President Bush's Millennium
Challenge Account, his historic new assistance program that
rewards countries making the tough decisions to help themselves.
To be eligible for MCA funds -- amounting
to $1.5 billion for fiscal year 2005 -- nations must govern
justly, uphold the rule of law, fight corruption, open their
markets, remove barriers to entrepreneurship, and invest
in their people.
Three countries from our own hemisphere
were among the first 16 to be declared eligible for MCA
assistance: Bolivia, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Two additional
countries were recently selected as "MCA threshold
countries" for FY05 -- Guyana and Paraguay. These countries
will receive assistance aimed at helping them achieve full
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.
But let us recognize, again, 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
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.
The good news is that this hemisphere has
many leaders with ambitious social agendas who are adopting
sound economic policies and seeking mutually beneficial
relations with their neighbors, including the United States.
There is a solid consensus in favor of representative democracy
and respect for human rights in this hemisphere.
To conclude, this administration believes
strongly that hemispheric progress requires continues American
engagement in trade, in security, in support for democracy,
and across the board we are deeply involved in expanding
peace, prosperity, and freedom in this hemisphere. Democracy
is indeed an essential element of our foreign policy agenda.
Thank you very much, and I look forward
to answering any questions you may have.