Washington -- Roger
Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere
affairs, underscored the United States’ commitment
to advance international understanding in a July 6 online
discussion of Western Hemisphere issues and U.S. policy
in the region with alumni of several prominent U.S.-sponsored
For decades, the U.S. government has sponsored
a number of international exchange and training programs
"that help promote knowledge about the United States
and mutual international understanding," says the U.S.
State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
One program, in particular, has become known
as the United States' "flagship international educational
exchange program," according to ECA. Established in
1946, the Fulbright Program was named for then-Senator J.
William Fulbright, who introduced the legislation that launched
An estimated 267,500 "Fulbrighters"
(as its participants are known) have taken part in the program
since its inception nearly 60 years ago: roughly 100,900
from the United States, and 166,600 from other countries.
The Fulbright Program currently operates in more than 150
Ever since the United States renewed its
emphasis on public diplomacy efforts following the September
11, 2001, attacks against New York and Washington, the mission
of these exchange programs -- to enhance international understanding
through extended contact between academic and professional
colleagues from around the globe -- has assumed a higher
Noriega began by responding to a query on
the proposed U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR),
which would eliminate or severely reduce trade barriers
between the United States, five Central American nations
(Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua)
and the Dominican Republic. Passage and implementation of
CAFTA-DR is "crucial," Noriega said, because the
trade pact "will advance our policy of economic engagement"
with Central America by helping to "build more open
economies and more just political systems," thereby
producing "stability and growth that will benefit all
of our people."
CAFTA-DR serves the essential purpose of
consolidating democratic gains in many countries where democracy
remains vulnerable, he said. By expanding economic opportunities
to traditionally disadvantaged segments of the regional
population, Noriega said, CAFTA-DR will be a force for stable,
transparent governance -- and a powerful antidote to corruption.
"One obvious benefit is that the agreement will apply
'rules of the game' without discrimination," he said.
"Therefore, entrenched interests will be broken down,
allowing people from all walks of life to take advantage
of what the accord has to offer."
While "there will be some growing pains
associated with the accord, ... we predict that the benefits
in terms of prosperity and stability will be profound for
all of the parties in the agreement," he added.
SUPPORT FOR DEMOCRACY
Asked to comment on the recent political
turmoil in such countries as Bolivia and Ecuador, and the
erosion of certain democratic safeguards in Venezuela, Noriega
reiterated his belief in the democratic system.
"It is not time to rethink democracy;
it is time to get democracy right," he said. "In
some of the countries in the Americas," politicians
have concluded "that it is too hard to solve the people's
problems, so they've settled on solving politicians' problems
-- that results in immunity laws and impunity [from legal
prosecution], pacts that advance narrow selfish interests,
and political parties that stand for little more than controlling
power. All of this has bred cynicism among our people, which
can hardly come as a surprise to our politicians."
But "we believe that what the region
needs is more democracy, not less: more transparency, more
access to civil society, more accountability -- and zero
tolerance for corruption," he said. "There are
not short-cuts around these measures to make democracy work."
Noriega expressed dismay that some countries
in the region have resisted a larger role for the Organization
of American States (OAS) in defending democratic principles
throughout the hemisphere. He recalled that "the United
States and its key allies" advanced the idea of strengthening
the OAS's mandate at the OAS General Assembly in June, "but
to our surprise, many delegations fought us on measures
to make the OAS more effective in the defense of democracy
and [on becoming] more open to civil society."
One interlocutor wanted to know whether
the Bush administration is willing to support U.S. ratification
of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, which
already has been ratified by many countries in Latin America.
"I hope that ... our defense of human rights will not
be measured by how many treaties we sign (or don't), but
what we actually do to advance human rights in the real
world," Noriega replied. "Our inability to ratify
the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights is related
to federalism and death-penalty issues. We are not alone
in this regard."
At the same time, "the United States
respectfully responds to the commission's request for information,
and we abide by our commitments under the American Convention
on the Rights and Duties of Man," he pointed out. "We
are also the largest single contributor to the work of the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights."
Noriega also addressed the subject of how
the region is educating its children, and emphasized the
hemisphere's need for an educated work force. Education
"is absolutely critical," he said. "The Summit
of the Americas process is taking on this issue by encouraging
every country to develop 'education report cards' to measure
whether school systems are producing educated students effectively."
He said "Latin American countries have some of the
highest [school] drop-out rates and repetition rates in
the world, which is an obstacle to our competitiveness in
the world economy."
Ultimately, "governments have to be
held accountable for how they are performing in this crucial
area," he added. "That starts with accountability
by local and provincial authorities and legislators."
In response to a question about the ongoing
violence in Haiti, much of it attributed to partisans of
former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Noriega
said: "I have been very outspoken personally about
the very unhelpful role that former president Aristide still
plays in Haiti today. Now, he and his followers are determined
to use political violence and criminality to undermine progress
toward elections in Haiti in October and November."
Yet despite severe security and economic
problems in Haiti, "we have high hopes for Haiti's
future, because we know her people to be talented and productive,"
he said. "What they need is the good government and
honest leadership that they have not had for many, many
FREE TRADE AREA OF THE AMERICAS
On the topic of trade and regional economic
integration, Noriega reiterated the United States' support
for the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA),
which would create a free-trade zone encompassing all the
democratic nations of the Western Hemisphere.
"On the FTAA, we continue to believe
that the region will be best served through a regional accord
that breaks down barriers among all of our economies,"
he said. "I understand that this will only be possible
as we reassure one another that we will address the pressing
issue of agricultural subsidies, ... [but] in the meantime,
we will press forward with bilateral accords" with
individual countries in the region, "and hope that
Brazil and our other partners will see the benefits of the
rules-based trade and investment accord encompassing all
of the Americas."
Finally, Noriega thanked the participants
for their questions and urged them to stay in touch through
the ECA's Web site for exchange program alumni. The site
also offers information on the full range of international
exchange programs sponsored by the U.S. State Department.
The July 6 online discussion attracted participants
from Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, Honduras,
Haiti, Jamaica, Canada and the Dominican Republic.
All were alumni of four ECA-administered
exchange programs: the Educational Partnership Program,
which enables U.S. and foreign post-secondary institutions
to pursue educational objectives related to mutual understanding
and scholarly cooperation on subjects of enduring common
interest to the United States, to other countries, and to
participating institutions; the Fulbright Graduate Student
Program, which offers fellowships to U.S. and foreign graduate
students for study and research abroad; the Fulbright Scholar
Program, which awards grants to foreign and U.S. scholars
to lecture and/or conduct post-doctoral research at institutions
worldwide; and the International Visitor Leadership Program,
which brings participants to the United States from all
over the world each year to meet and confer with their professional
counterparts and to experience the United States.
Many alumni of U.S. government-sponsored
exchange programs have gone on to establish successful careers
in government, academia, the business world, jurisprudence
and other fields, says the State Department. Meanwhile,
the exchange programs are perpetuating the United States'
long tradition of outreach to scholars, educators and professionals
from every corner of the world -- and continue to serve
as a symbol of the U.S. commitment to global understanding
Washington File Staff Writer