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Last Updated:10/24/03
Testimony of Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Hearing of the House International Relaions Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, October 21, 2003

Ambassador Roger F. Noriega
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

October 21, 2003

House International Relations Committee, Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere

I thank Chairmen Hyde and Ballenger and the members of the Committee for this opportunity to discuss the Bush Administration’s Western Hemisphere strategy.

U.S. National Interest and Bush Administration Engagement in the Western Hemisphere

President Bush believes that the Americas are critically important to our security and to our well being as a nation. Our national interest in the Western Hemisphere is informed by the simple fact that it is our home. We have vital economic, political and security relationships with our neighbors. The President has demonstrated his commitment to the region from his first days in office, and he has articulated a clear vision for us to pursue.

Our goal is to build an inter-American community, bound together by the common value of freedom, fortified by the rule of law, and prospering through free trade.

A Shared Economic Destiny

The geography we share creates natural economic relationships. Three of our top four foreign energy suppliers are in this Hemisphere. U.S. exports to Latin America have increased by almost 100 percent over the past decade, while our exports to the rest of the world have seen gains of less than 50 percent. Canada and Mexico are our first- and second-largest trading partners. The envisioned "Free Trade Area of the Americas" will further strengthen and expand these partnerships.

The Administration has concluded a free trade agreement with Chile that had been sought for a decade. We are pleased that Congress acted quickly to approve that agreement. The President has initiated other trade agreements in the region. We are negotiating an FTA with Central America, and we have notified Congress of our intention to do the same with the Dominican Republic. In the meantime, we are working with all our partners in the region on the Free Trade Area of the Americas process.

When Uruguay faced the prospect of financial crisis, President Bush promptly provided a crucial billion-and-a-half dollar bridge loan. The U.S. also provided vital support to an IMF package for Brazil and the agreement between Argentina and the IMF, which, if fully implemented, will provide the conditions for robust, sustainable economic growth in that country.

Our economic relationships in the Western Hemisphere are vital, and if they were all that we had at stake here, the region would demand our careful attention. But our political and security interests in the Americas are vital as well. As we fight the Global War on Terror, it is imperative that we have strong, democratic neighbors working with us to secure our borders and defend our shared interests and values at home and aboard.

A Mutual Commitment to Democracy and Security

On September 11, 2001, the member states of the OAS signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a historic step that uniquely defines this region by its commitment to democratic principles. The Democratic Charter opens with a profound pledge – a pledge that we have made to our people and to one another: "The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy, and the governments have an obligation to promote and defend it."

Today, cooperation on border security and law enforcement with Mexico and Canada has never been more comprehensive or successful. A new Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism entered into force recently. Soldiers from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic are with us in Iraq, working with our Armed Forces to secure that country and provide a better future and a democratic government for the long-suffering Iraqi people. We are very grateful for their help. Likewise in Colombia, we stand shoulder to shoulder with President Uribe and the democratic government against the combined forces of terrorist thugs and drug barons.

In the Americas, our shared values and essential commitment to democracy draw us together and move us to act in concert. It is clearly in our national interest that we strengthen our relationships with our neighbors and that we grow and prosper together. In the past twenty years, most of the countries in the region have made great progress in building democratic systems of government, but it must be said that, today, the Hemisphere is troubled.


Elected leaders in many countries are grappling with persistent political, economic, social, and, in some cases, ethnic problems. Several countries are confronting costly threats to security – either in terms of narco-terrorism or violent crime – that undermine the rule of law.

We are not seeing a recovery from the poor economic performance in the region in 2002. Current economic growth rates are inadequate to generate sufficient jobs for growing populations, let alone address chronic poverty. Corruption and inefficiency have stunted economic development and spawned disenchantment with "free market" prescriptions.

All these factors have combined to stir popular dissatisfaction and, in some cases, violent outbursts, which relatively weak institutions of government are hard-pressed to control. Five years ago, we could speak of improving governance and consolidating free markets; today, we must confront questions of "governability" and resist economic reversals.

The recent events in Bolivia underscore the challenges that we face in the region. As you know, President Sanchez de Lozada resigned last Friday. We commend him for his commitment to democracy and to the welfare of Bolivia during his tenure. In conformity with Bolivia’s constitution, Vice-President Carlos Mesa was sworn in as President.

The United States deeply regrets the loss of life resulting from the violence of the past week in Bolivia. The people of Bolivia and their leaders share a responsibility to end the strife and guarantee respect for human life and the rule of law. The United States stands ready, along with the members of the Organization of American States and other democracies, to assist the Bolivian people and their government as they undertake the essential task of repairing their national institutions.

U.S. Objectives and Strategy

Our objectives for the Western Hemisphere are clear. We want thriving economic partners that are democratic, stable, and prosperous. We want secure borders and cooperative neighbors. And we want a community of nations working together to advance common political and economic values in the world. President Bush’s policy is to work with our partners in the region to make democracy better serve every citizen; to generate economic growth through free trade, sound macroeconomic policies that encourage economic freedom; and to invest in the well-being of people from all walks of life.

We will strengthen the roots and promote the benefits of democracy so that it serves the interests of all people. Resilient and genuine democracy requires not just credible electoral systems, but also administrations that govern effectively and defend the rights of all citizens. Real democracy requires effective legislatures, independent judiciaries, professional media, principled political parties, and militaries that respect their role in a democratic society. These institutions – as well as checks and balances among branches of government – help prevent abuses of power and popular dissatisfaction before they escalate into a crisis. I hasten to note that this democratic model, far from being imposed by any country, is enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter that was signed by all active OAS member states.

We will help generate sustained economic growth by promoting trade, investment, and sound fiscal and monetary policies, investments in people, and policies that promote economic freedom. President Bush put it emphatically when he said, "Open trade is not just an economic opportunity, it is a moral imperative¼ . Open trade helps us all adhere to values that we share." Our economic engagement through trade and investment is a crucial tool in helping our friends, and we are putting it to work.

The Bush Administration helped launch the Doha Round in the World Trade Organization, secured Trade Promotion Authority from Congress, completed negotiations with Chile on a free trade accord, began trade talks with Central America and campaigned for the expanded Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. We hope all our region’s leaders see trade as an indispensable tool for their own nations’ economic and social development. We remain committed to the FTAA process. We will also explore opportunities for other Free Trade Agreements, beginning with the Dominican Republic.

Where market policies have fallen short of expectations, it is primarily due to man-made distortions, incomplete reform measures, corruption, over-regulation, or discrimination. A thriving, sturdy economy must be built on the bedrock of respect for the rule of law and property rights, coherent macroeconomic policies -- including fiscally responsible public budgets, fair tax codes, and other economic reforms that will provide a basis for growth.

We will encourage countries to "invest in people" so they can claim their fair share of economic opportunity and improve their quality of life. Hand-in-hand with our commitments to govern better and to retool our economies, we must pursue, as President Bush has called it, "prosperity with a purpose" – where people are above the bottom line.

Statist or corrupt economic models that hoard opportunity or dole out state-sponsored privileges to a chosen few cannot keep up in the 21st century. Experience the world over has shown that economic growth is the sina qua non of poverty reduction. In turn, the resources generated by growth must be used to make sustained social investments in quality education, adequate health and nutritional care, basic sanitation, and personal security.

Such social programs are more than altruistic: investing in human capital is good business… because economies cannot begin to grow fast enough to generate needed jobs – let alone to defeat extreme poverty – unless all our people have the tools and the opportunity to pull their own weight. Above all, our social policies must demonstrate that we are committed, not to short-term, unsustainable handouts, but to growth with equity in which every citizen can become a stakeholder in their economy.

Policy Tools

What tools will we use to pursue our objectives in the Americas?

Strong U.S. leadership and engagement are essential to pursuing this strategy. We must continue to demonstrate energy and idealism to reassure our neighbors – including skeptics and critics – that the United States is a principled and trustworthy partner and that we want to grow together in every sense. To do this, we must make our policies clear and consistent, and we must treat our neighbors with respect.

U.S. development and security assistance can be decisive, if it is used well. The ideal role for U.S. assistance is to help governments improve their own ability to meet basic social needs, deal with acute threats to security, and retool their economies so that their people can take full advantage of economic growth. Current USG programs in the region include promoting economic growth and trade capacity, strengthening democracy and the rule of law, improving the quality and ensuring access to education and health services.

President Bush has proposed the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) to direct new resources to governments that are committed to governing justly, investing in their people, and promoting economic freedom. This infusion of new assistance to reform-minded governments tackling systemic poverty is a wise and potentially decisive investment of U.S. aid, and the Bush Administration urges Congress to approve a robust MCA program.

International lenders must play a constructive role. Governments in the Americas need to pursue sound macroeconomic policies essential for maintaining access to private capital markets. We will continue to encourage the international financial institutions to support reform-oriented governments committed to implementing sound economic policies and delivering lasting results to their people.

We will work directly with the countries in the region to strengthen their economic policies so that they can reap the benefits of macroeconomic stability and faster economic growth. This year, our Treasury Department and the Brazilian Finance Ministry launched the U.S.-Brazil Group for Growth, a bilateral forum that brings together high-level economic officials from both our countries with the goal of developing economic strategies to raise economic growth in both countries. We have also made great strides through the U.S.-Mexico Partnership for Prosperity to lower the costs of remittances sent to Mexico and strengthen Mexico’s financial sector.

Finally, Multilateralism works in the Americas. The Summit of the Americas meetings have been used by heads of government to consult with one another and to put their political weight behind a visionary and comprehensive agenda of initiatives advancing common interests. We support enthusiastically plans for a special summit of leaders early next year to maintain momentum behind our shared agenda. The OAS mechanisms to promote democracy, address terrorism, the problem of drugs in the hemisphere, and political crises have been important foreign policy tools.

Several Key Concerns

In addition to our strategic goals, there are several emergent issues that require our immediate attention.

Working with our neighbors to secure our borders has never been more important. The United States is truly blessed with good neighbors – Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean – and strengthening these partnerships is a high priority. Since September 11, 2001, the necessity of securing our common borders with Canada and Mexico has commanded much greater attention and resources. As we work to tighten our security, we must take care to accommodate the dynamic commercial relationship with these countries that is essential to our economic well-being.

In tending to security close to home, we should recall that the Caribbean forms our "third border." If we are going to forge a genuine community in the Americas, then we cannot neglect more than a dozen island states simply because their economies and populations are small. Moreover – despite their democratic traditions and institutions – they remain especially vulnerable and present inviting targets for smugglers of illegal drugs and migrants, money launderers, and other criminal elements that mean to do us harm.

Attacking every link in the chain of illegal narcotics trafficking is crucial, beginning with driving down drug consumption here at home. We must remember that the profits from illegal drug sales support violent criminal gangs and terrorist groups.

The Bush Administration has made a robust new commitment to attacking the cocaine and heroin trade at one of its most important sources, in Colombia and the rest of the Andes. President Uribe of Colombia has requested our help with training, equipment and intelligence support. We have responded, providing Colombia with almost $3 billion in assistance since 2000. The Colombians have matched our assistance by redoubling their efforts. President Uribe has boosted security spending, increased the number of military and police, and mounted a concerted effort to re-establish state presence throughout Colombia’s territory.

Our support for the Colombian government’s efforts is showing results. The drug eradication campaign produced the first drop in Colombian coca cultivation in a decade, some 15 percent. "Carabinero" teams have begun policing close to 150 municipalities that previously lacked a police presence. At the same time, Colombia’s armed forces have stepped up the campaign to take back key national territory from the control of terrorist groups. The FARC and ELN are now on the defensive, and Uribe has successfully pressured paramilitary forces to come to the table to discuss disarmament and demobilization.

We remain confident that President Uribe shares our fundamental commitment to protecting human rights. I would note that during the past year we have seen a sharp drop in Colombia’s murder rate, including political killings, a significant decline in kidnappings, a marked drop in violence against labor leaders and a decline in the number of new internal displacements.

We must continue our support for Colombia and its neighbors. We cannot allow the terrorists and narcotics traffickers fleeing Colombia to regroup and restart their nefarious enterprises next door, the so-called "balloon effect." We must pop that balloon. We will continue to work with Peru and Bolivia to ensure they have the tools to prevent a resurgence of coca cultivation in their territory. Eradication must be complemented by intelligence-driven law enforcement that dismantles criminal gangs, dries up money laundering, seizes assets, and interdicts contraband headed for our shores. We will continue our alternative development activities to discourage campesinos from returning to illicit crops, mindful that the reach of these programs also depends on the security climate. Moreover, our experience has taught us that fighting drugs and terrorism is not only compatible with respecting human rights, the two goals are mutually reinforcing.

Promoting democracy in Venezuela, Haiti, and Cuba is a task that we share with our neighbors. The regional consensus in favor of representative democracy has produced a strong framework for defending our democratic values. The Inter-American Democratic Charter defines the essential elements of democracy and commits all nations to promote and defend it. We have an opportunity to do so in Venezuela, Haiti, and Cuba.

We are committed to working with the OAS and others to achieve a "peaceful, democratic, constitutional and electoral solution" to Venezuela’s political impasse as called for in OAS resolution 833. It is critical that the government of Venezuela and the opposition honor their commitments under the May 29 accord. In particular, the government of Venezuela has a special responsibility to ensure that all Venezuelans are able to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of association and expression.

We will continue to support the OAS, the Carter Center and the UN’s Democracy Program’s efforts both individually and as a member of the Group of Friends of the OAS Secretary General. We are also committed to providing technical support to Venezuela’s electoral authorities, if they so request.

With regard to Haiti, we have worked with our partners in the OAS to create a means by which confidence can be restored in the political process. OAS Resolution 822 is the result that effort, and the United States encourages all sides in Haiti to follow the road-map it has outlined. President Aristide, as the leader of his country, has a unique responsibility to provide the secure environment necessary for free and fair elections, to uphold the law and maintain public safety. Violence has no place in settling political disputes in a democracy.

It is my fervent hope that the good people of Cuba are studying the Democratic Charter, because it represents a path to their reintegration into a free Hemisphere. President Bush has made it clear that the United States will not make any concessions to the Castro dictatorship in Cuba. Just as important, he is committed to supporting the democratic struggle on the island with new creativity and vigor. To that end, we must redouble our bilateral and multilateral efforts to bring an end to the dictatorship and to encourage broad and deep economic reform that will sweep away the vestiges of the regime.

The recent ruthless crackdown on dissidents and independent journalists demonstrates that the Castro regime is threatened by the growing internal opposition groups and by their expanding network of international support. The inter-American community should do more than wish for Cuba’s freedom, we should work together like never before to make it a reality.

To enhance the energy security of the United States, and of the Hemisphere as a whole, we should increase the accessibility of energy supplies from sources closer to home. President Bush’s National Energy Policy calls for greater integration with our NAFTA partners, bolstering investment in Venezuela and Brazil, and invigorating the Hemispheric Energy Initiative. We should treat this initiative as one of our highest priorities.

Our approach should focus on reliable, environmentally balanced, and affordable access to energy. Vast oil and gas reserves exist in the Americas. For example, Trinidad and Tobago already is a small but strategically significant supplier of liquefied natural gas to the United States and is poised to increase its exports substantially in the next few years. New technologies to exploit oil sands will boost Canada’s already significant petroleum reserves. An increased supply of energy in the Americas not only will contribute significantly to the economic growth of the United States, but it will also improve the standard of living of people in the region and bolster economic and political stability.


Although we must be realistic about the challenges in the Americas today, it is just as important to consider the tremendous progress that the people of the region have made in just the last 10-15 years, building governments that are more accountable and just and economies that are more open in every respect. This progress is not irreversible. In many countries today, dynamic, democratic leaders recognize that free-market led policies are the formula for success. But, in too many cases, there are others trying to take their countries down a very different path. For decades, the United States has supported political and economic reform, and we must respond urgently to consolidate and build on these hard-won gains before they slip away.

To seize this opportunity, our policy must be forward-looking, constructive, and optimistic. The steps we take in the next few months and years to defend democracy and to bolster broad-based economic growth in the Americas will be decisive in shoring-up our key partners at a critical hour. It is essential to our economic and political interests to do this.

The strategy I have outlined today is one that enjoys considerable support in the region. It also enjoys strong bipartisan backing here at home, which is reflected in this Congress. As someone who has spent a decade working directly for Members of Congress, I recognize that your active engagement in these issues is not merely helpful; it is indispensable.

As President George W. Bush has stated, "This hemisphere is on the path of reform, and our nations travel it together. We share a vision – a partnership of strong and equal and prosperous countries, living and trading in freedom¼ . We'll maintain our vision, because it unleashes the possibilities of every society and recognizes the dignity of every person." In pursuit of this vision, our goals are clear, our strategy is sound, and our policy tools are at work.

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