Latin American leaders are undertaking legal
reforms to make democracy and market economies work better
and, although progress has been made, much more work remains,
according to Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere
Affairs Roger Noriega.
In April 13 remarks before the American
Bar Association's Latin America and Caribbean Law Initiative
Council, Noriega pointed out that many individuals in the
hemisphere are frustrated by the perceived inability of
democracies to deliver benefits equitably to all citizens.
The State Department official noted that
polls reflect a lack of trust in regional governments and
institutions that are too often politicized, centralized
and bureaucratized. He said that hemispheric legal systems
too often reinforce the status quo and that the great majority
of populations lack access to the legal process.
Noriega said that opportunities, property
and power are distributed unevenly and that in some countries
there is no single legal body that can be relied upon to
make impartial, apolitical decisions. Other flaws he outlined
included the legal immunity granted to legislators and the
absence of legal reforms to accompany macro-economic reforms
so that all can share the benefits of globalization.
Given these myriad problems, the State Department
official said, the task before Latin American governments
is to make the law relevant to how most people in the region
live and work.
"The law has to change from being a
means to protect and preserve an antiquated order to being
a powerful tool for creating a new one," he said.
The U.S. official said that regional leaders
are pushing legal or constitutional reforms to foster impartial,
professional and apolitical judiciaries and to better link
elected officials to their constituents.
Noriega pointed out that the United States
is supporting the region's legal reforms by funding and
managing projects to strengthen the rule of law.
U.S. assistance, Noriega said, has resulted
in advances including reforms toward oral and adversarial
court systems with better case-tracking and more efficient,
fair and transparent court procedures.
Noriega said that the United States is committed
to the continuing process of legal reform in the Americas,
and he added that these efforts will be reinforced by the
Bush administration's Millennium Challenge Account (MCA)
initiative. The MCA, he said, rewards governments that govern
justly, uphold the rule of law and fight corruption.
Noriega concluded that despite recent progress
in promoting legal reforms in the Americas, much work remains.
Following is the text of Noriega's remarks,
as prepared for delivery:
Roger F. Noriega, Assistant Secretary of
State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Remarks Before the American Bar Association's
Latin America & Caribbean Law Initiative Council
April 13, 2005
Rule of Law in Latin America
Looking at Latin America today, it is, quite
frankly, astonishing to consider how far the region has
come in just two decades. The struggle for democracy that
characterized the 1980s is thankfully now a mutual effort
to deliver the benefits of freedom to every individual in
The vast majority of Latin Americans and
their Caribbean neighbors live under leaders of their own
choosing. 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 politics.
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.
Still, while the region has come far, we
all know the journey continues. That is to say, we continue
to confront many challenges in the workings of democracy
in the region.
There is little doubt that many individuals
in the hemisphere are frustrated by the perceived inability
of democracies to deliver benefits to all citizens in equal
What the polls show is that Latin Americans
by and large lack trust in 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.
It is not difficult to understand why.
These institutions too often are overly
politicized, centralized, and bureaucratized which can be
attributed to the fact that many Latin American societies
are being hobbled by outdated legal systems that have failed
to keep pace with the rapid changes of a 21st-century globalized
Rather than a means to facilitate people's
needs and ambitions, the legal systems merely reinforce
the status quo, resulting in widespread popular discouragement,
uncertainty, corruption, and social unrest.
The great majority of populations lack access
to the legal process; opportunities, property, and power
are distributed unevenly; and obstructive bureaucracies
force millions to live and work outside legal frameworks.
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
In other cases, the legal immunity granted
legislators and the de facto impunity afforded many other
governmental and political actors has opened up a chasm
between them and the people they are supposed to represent
and serve. At the same time, the oversight capabilities
of legislatures or anti-corruption bodies are often undeveloped.
Unfortunately, the macro-economic reforms
being undertaken in the region the opening up of once protected
economies, the pursuit of free trade and private investment,
and the stabilization of currencies have not been accompanied
by the necessary legal reforms that would allow all to partake
in globalization's benefits.
Without clear, impartial, predictable rules
applied equally to all without the integration of all sectors
of society into the legal system without giving the have-nots
equal opportunity to compete with the haves then such macro-economic
reforms are more likely to exacerbate societal tensions
than eradicate them.
With globalization's information and communications
revolution, the long-marginalized sectors of populations
are better informed of what they do not have and are being
denied. Anger and resentment are increasing. In some cases,
that discontent is being exploited by political opportunists
pursuing narrow agendas, creating dangerous and volatile
No healthy society, government, or even
entire state can long survive with a culture marked by such
distrust, cynicism, and division.
In short, according to a study by the Center
for Strategic and International Studies, a corrupt or inefficient
justice sector can slow economic development, undermine
the strength and credibility of democratic institutions,
and erode the social capital necessary for development.
As all of you are well aware, effective
legal institutions allow for vibrant civil societies, stable
polities, and efficient economies. They provide the means
for private individuals from all walks of life to join in
political, economic, and social activity and compete on
an equal footing. It allows them to decide how they want
to live their lives and what opportunities they want to
pursue. The rule of law enables people to fulfill their
dreams and aspirations.
A modern market economy is absolutely dependent
on such structures. A legal system that gives all citizens
ready access to the law will lower the cost of producing
and obtaining wealth; encourage people to innovate and specialize;
and facilitate transactions between people enabling human
and material resources to be used in the most efficient
Establishing the rule of law also helps
to fight crime more effectively, and in the process improve
security in those countries and throughout the region. Obviously,
in the new environment of security concerns and the War
on Terror, the stability of the hemisphere is a high priority
for the United States.
The task before Latin American governments
is thus to make the law relevant to how most people live
and work. The law has to change from being a means to protect
and preserve an antiquated order to being a powerful tool
for creating a new one.
The good news is the hemisphere's most successful
democratic leaders understand the need to make democracy
and market economies work and are spearheading legal reform
They are pushing 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
They 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.
Some 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.
And some are 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 of corruption.
United States assistance programs are also
lending a hand. We are funding and managing projects to
strengthen the rule of law through partner organizations
that are working for change in the region. By helping countries
to establish just and effective legal systems, the United
States is able to strengthen democracies in the region,
increase their legitimacy in the eyes of citizens, and bolster
support for their democratic institutions.
We are providing democracy building support
in the hemisphere ranging from legal code reform and judicial
training to law enforcement assistance to anti-corruption
The latter is particularly important to
U.S. policy because of corruption's pervasiveness and its
corrosive effect on public confidence in democratic institutions.
There is also perhaps no better indicator of the illegitimacy
of the current legal order in Latin America.
Our assistance has resulted in many significant
-- Reforms toward oral and adversarial court
systems with better case tracking and professional administrative
procedures have made court procedures more efficient, fair,
-- Today, judges and prosecutors demonstrate
greater independence, and are more willing to challenge
wrongdoing by the powerful.
-- It is less likely that the poor will
have to languish in jail for years before a trial date or
be sentenced prior to trial.
-- Disadvantaged groups have gained greater
access to legal remedies and assistance.
-- There are more personnel working in justice
systems, and more of them receive specialized training.
Judges and staff are better qualified, and more are selected
based on merit systems. In most countries, justice budgets
are larger, productivity is higher, and backlogs are smaller.
-- Improvements in legal education and the
use of merit selection systems for judges, prosecutors,
and defenders, have resulted in long-lasting improvements
of the justice sector.
Real achievements have also been made in
the changing attitudes of the public in those countries.
Corruption and impunity are no longer considered acceptable
or inevitable by many citizens, and politicians and military
officials can no longer be confident of being above the
Civil society has become more concerned
and involved with justice reform, and collaborative efforts
have developed across borders to formulate regional approaches
to justice reform. Networks of national and regional civil
society organizations are monitoring progress, informing
the public, and engaging in ongoing policy dialogue.
Let me be clear: we are committed to this
continuing process, and in many of the countries that have
recently reformed their judicial systems, much work remains
to equip and strengthen a new system through continued training
and sharing of technical expertise.
Where governments are still resistant to
judicial reform, we can continue to work through civil society
actors to advocate for reform and increase public demand
for equitable, efficient, and transparent justice systems.
These initiatives have been reinforced by
President Bush's Millennium Challenge Account, his groundbreaking
aid program that rewards sound policies and seeks to prevent
crises. The MCC was funded by Congress at $1 billion for
fiscal year 2004 and $1.5 billion for fiscal year 2005.
The White House has requested $3 billion in funding for
FY 2006, with an eventual goal of $5 billion annually.
To be eligible for this new money, nations
must govern justly and honestly, uphold the rule of law,
fight corruption, and invest in their people. 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
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
could receive assistance aimed at helping them achieve full
eligibility if they continue to demonstrate their commitment
to the program's principles.
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.
In short, much has been done, much is being
done, but more must be done, if the fruits of the last 20
years of democratic, economic, and legal reforms are to
be enjoyed by all citizens of the hemisphere. We are heartened
by the facts that speaking about corruption in international
fora is no longer taboo, and that people throughout the
region are increasingly aware of, and impatient with, bearing
the costs of corruption.
Ladies and gentlemen, the challenges to
democracy in the region continue to be 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 agenda of the
kind we have been speaking about today.
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 establish the
requisite legal institutions that consciously extend political
power and economic opportunity to everyone, especially the
poor. That is the cornerstone of a viable state.
The United States will continue to work
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.
But let us 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.
In short, their challenge today is to re-direct
the popular energy squandered on resentment and destruction
towards economic and social progress.
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.
Thank you very much, and I look forward
to answering any questions you may have.