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Statement by Nominee to Assistant Secretary of State (WHA) Thomas A. Shannon

Official says U.S. can defend regional democracy, open markets

Posted: September 22, 2005

On August 16, 2005, President George W. Bush announced his intention to nominate Thomas A. Shannon Jr. to be Assistant Secretary of State (Western Hemisphere Affairs), as current Secretary Roger Noriega prepares to leave the State Department to rejoin the private sector. Shannon's nomination was sent to the Senate on September 6.

A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Mr. Shannon currently serves as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council. He previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State. Prior to that, he was Director of Andean Affairs and as U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS). Mr. Shannon received his bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary. He later received his M. Phil and D. Phil from Oxford University.

In his September 21 confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Shannon submitted a prepared statement that outlined U.S. hemispheric policy priorities and the challenges confronting Latin America.

Shannon said the Bush administration is committed to crafting a "fully democratic Western Hemisphere bound together by good will and free trade."

To these ends, Shannon said, the United States has won a hemispheric commitment to democracy, dedicated more resources to enhance economic opportunity and prosperity, revitalized hemispheric security, attacked the illicit drug trade and terrorism and stood up to tyranny in Cuba.

He explained that the United States has helped win hemispheric respect for democracy as a "right" of all the region's citizens, through the Inter-American Democratic Charter and a "Democracy Clause" in the Summit of the Americas process. (See related material.)

To increase prosperity and economic opportunity, he added, the United States has helped craft the Monterrey Consensus, committed new resources to economic development and concluded free-trade agreements with Chile and also with the Dominican Republic and the nations of Central America.

He cited several U.S. efforts to bolster hemispheric security, such as support for "The Declaration on Security in the Americas," the crafting of a Security and Prosperity Partnership with Canada and Mexico and initiatives to attack terrorism and illicit narcotics in Colombia.

The U.S. official told legislators that the Bush administration's efforts to stand up to tyranny in Cuba include the "most comprehensive Cuba policy review in 40 years." This review, he said, has yielded a series of recommendations that have been implemented to hasten Cuba's transition to democracy.

These accomplishments not withstanding, Shannon said, the United States also faces challenges in the region as hemispheric governments attempt to meet the high expectations that democracy has generated.

He said democratic institutions are being tested in some countries, and that the inability of some governments to deliver the benefits of democracy and rule of law "has allowed some to challenge the larger hemispheric consensus around democracy, free markets, and economic integration."

Shannon said that more must be done to protect the collective prosperity and democracy of the Americas, and that these challenges can be met.

"The United States was the catalyst in forging the unique consensus that defined the Americas as democratic countries committed to open societies and free economies," he said. "We can play an equally catalytic role in defending that consensus and helping our partners in the region take the vital step from consensus to achievement."

Following is the text of Shannon's remarks, as prepared for delivery:

(begin text)

SEPTEMBER 21, 2005

Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for your kind introduction and this opportunity to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I am deeply honored to be here today, as the President’s nominee to be the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Please allow me to express my deep gratitude to the President and the Secretary of State for the trust and confidence they have shown in me. Also, please allow me to express my gratitude to you and your distinguished colleagues as this Committee undertakes the vitally important constitutional role of advice and consent.

I would like to acknowledge the presence here today of family and friends. I would especially like to acknowledge my wife Guisela, and my sons, Thomas and John. Our family has been shaped and tested by our many years in the Foreign Service. Each knows the joys and the sacrifices of public life, and I am grateful for their love and companionship. I would also like to acknowledge my parents, who raised their children within public life, instilled in us the virtue of service, and taught us that we would be measured by our devotion to duty, our compassion, and our willingness to understand others.

Mr. Chairman, to assist you and your colleagues in this confirmation process, I would like to comment briefly on my career and its relevance to my nomination, on United States policy in the Americas, which I have had some role in shaping, and the challenges facing that policy.

In regard to my professional experience, I would like to highlight the following:

First, my twenty-one years in the United States Foreign Service have been spent in Latin America and Africa. I am what is called a “dusty roads diplomat.” I have spent my years working in countries in transition. I know what democracy means to the disenfranchised; I know what economic opportunity means to the poor and excluded; and I know what freedom means to peoples attempting to gain control of their own destinies. I have experienced first hand the dramatic, transformational role the United States can play during such transitions.

Second, I have worked at nearly every level within the Department of State and our missions overseas. From a vice-consul doing visa work in Guatemala to Deputy Assistant Secretary with responsibility for the Andes and the Caribbean, I have had broad program, policy, and personnel management experience. This is vitally important in a position that oversees the management and security of 50 posts and 29 consular agencies, nearly 8,000 employees ranging from Foreign Service, Civil Service, and Locally Engaged Staff, and an operating budget of more than $200 million. I am committed to finding the best officers, civil servants, and local employees for the Bureau and our missions; and shaping new cadres of leaders through strong recruiting and mentoring, promoting diversity, and career training.

Third, during my time working within the Organization of American States and during two Summits of the Americas, I have helped make manifest this hemisphere’s commitment to democracy, free markets, and economic integration. I was the United States’ principal negotiator of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. I have seen the positive impact of multilateralism when instilled with common purpose, common action, and common values. I understand that solidarity among like-minded governments offers important support to countries in crisis, and that the OAS, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other components of the inter-American system are unique institutions that can advance our policy agenda in the hemisphere.

Finally, my years at the National Security Council have put me at the center of policy making and coordination. I understand the inter-agency process, I know the nooks and crannies of our government, and I have learned how to move from problem to decision to action. I also understand the creative, problem solving capability of the United States when the executive and legislative branches establish a shared understanding and approach to issues.

Mr. Chairman, this is a unique moment in the Americas, defined by opportunity and challenge. At one level, the United States has successfully shaped the political and economic agenda of the hemisphere.

When President Bush traveled to the Quebec City Summit of the Americas in 2001, he laid out a vision of a “fully democratic Western Hemisphere bound together by good will and free trade.” The President has pursued this bold vision by winning a hemispheric commitment to democracy, creating a policy framework and providing additional resources to increase economic opportunity and prosperity in the region, standing up to tyranny in Cuba, revitalizing the hemisphere’s security agenda, protecting the homeland, and attacking terrorism and the drug trafficking that finances it.

Let me expand on this briefly.

Winning a hemispheric commitment to democracy. The President came into office determined to consolidate the hard fought democratization of South and Central America and improve the ability of the United States and its hemispheric partners to protect democratic institutions and fundamental freedoms. Through the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and the Summit’s “Democracy Clause,” the President helped win hemispheric acknowledgement of democracy as a “right” that belongs to all the peoples of the Americas. In so doing, the Americas defined itself as democratic and made a commitment to promote and protect democracy.

Increasing prosperity and opportunity. Bringing the benefits of democracy to the people by reducing poverty and hunger and increasing economic opportunity is central to the President’s vision. To achieve this, the President created a new development dynamic through the Monterrey Consensus, committed new resources to economic development, identified trade as the engine of economic growth and concluded free trade agreements with Chile, the Dominican Republic, and the Central American countries, provided financial assistance to economies in crisis, and challenged hemispheric leaders to take specific, measurable actions to create jobs, promote entrepreneurship, provide quality health care and education, and fight corruption.

Standing up to tyranny in Cuba. The President made rapid, peaceful transition to democracy the focus of his Cuba policy. Unwilling to accept the political repression of 11 million Cubans only 90 miles from our shores, the President undertook the most comprehensive Cuba policy review in forty years. The result was a series of policy recommendations, all implemented, that have helped limit the flow of capital to the regime, provided significant additional funding to support Cuban civil society and pro-democracy movements, and opened a breach in Cuba’s information blockade through airborne transmission of Radio and TV Marti. This review has also created a new basis for us to engage with our hemispheric partners and others as we look for common approaches to facilitate Cuba’s transition to democracy.

Protecting the homeland, fighting terrorism, and revitalizing the hemispheric security agenda. In the aftermath of September 11, the President took immediate steps to protect our borders through new, innovative cooperation with Mexico and Canada, build strong hemispheric support for the war on terror, attack terrorism in Colombia and the drug trafficking that finances it, and combat trafficking in human beings that enslaves too many of our hemisphere’s women and children. He also helped reshape the hemispheric security agenda through “The Declaration on Security in the Americas.” This document, negotiated at the OAS’s 2002 Special Conference on Security, recognized the diverse threats we face in this hemisphere and created a regional, cooperative response to these threats. Finally the President also fashioned a new understanding of our North American community through the “Security and Prosperity Partnership” with Mexico and Canada. He made explicit the linkage between security, expanding trade, and the well-being of our democratic institutions. He also created a trilateral work plan that will deepen cooperation between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and make our open societies and economies more resilient.

The opportunity defined by these accomplishments is balanced by the challenges that our policy faces in the hemisphere. As we look forward, we recognize that our achievements are being tested on several key fronts and that more needs to be done.

First, democracy is being tested by the expectations that it has generated. The peoples of the Americas want more democracy, not less. They want accountability and responsiveness. They expect to be heard by their governments and to share in the benefits of reform and the prosperity of their economies. These expectations have produced strain and ferment in countries historically beset by corruption, extreme income inequality, and political marginalization.

Second, the capacity of democratic institutions and constitutional procedures to manage conflict is being tested in some countries. Our success in winning hemispheric commitment to democracy has channeled much social, economic, and political conflict through democratic institutions. Ultimately, this is a good thing. However, those countries with fragile institutions, weak political party structures, nascent civil societies, and limited civic traditions find themselves vulnerable.

Third, the inability of some governments to deliver the benefits of democracy and the rule of law to the people has allowed some to challenge the larger hemispheric consensus around democracy, free markets, and economic integration. The opponents of this consensus offer alternative political and economic models that have already failed in the world, but which still find some resonance in the frustrations of the poor and marginalized.

Finally, the events of September 11, 2001, underscore the vulnerabilities of open societies and economies. National security remains a vital component of each government’s shared commitment to its citizens, and we will need to do more to protect the collective prosperity and democracy of the Americas.

The challenges facing United States policy in the region can be met. The United States was the catalyst in forging the unique consensus that defined the Americas as democratic countries committed to open societies and free economies. We can play an equally catalytic role in defending that consensus and helping our partners in the region take the vital step from consensus to achievement. We have the policy tools, the resources, the hemispheric institutions, and the partners necessary to achieve our goals. And we will do so through sustained engagement, clear purpose, forceful articulation of our values and principles, and predictable actions.

Mr. Chairman, if confirmed, I look forward to working with you, your distinguished colleagues, and your staffs to achieve the goals of United States policy and to help make this century the Century of the Americas.

(end text)




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