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Testimony of Stephen Johnson, Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America, Heritage FoundationHearing of the House International Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, March 9, 2005

Democracy’s Precarious Balance in Latin America

Testimony of
Stephen C. Johnson
Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies
The Heritage Foundation

Before the
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.

March 9, 2005

Chairman Burton, ranking member Menendez, distinguished members of the Committee:

Thank you for inviting me to testify on this important subject—the state of democracy in Latin America. I commend you for undertaking this inquiry at a propitious time when democratic advances in the hemisphere seem to be—if not at a standstill—in danger of sliding backwards. While that may not be clearly evident in all countries, fledgling democratic institutions are now seriously challenged by a number of factors. It is only right that we consider whether to make course corrections in our efforts to protect and nurture them.

When candidate George Bush promised to revitalize U.S. engagement in the western hemisphere making this the “Century of the Americas,” it was in recognition of some of the work left undone since the end of the Reagan Administration when the majority of the hemisphere’s citizens began electing their leaders. Then, the United States vigorously promoted democratic governance in Central America as an alternative to dictatorship and an antidote to Soviet-backed insurgencies. Yet, once Central America adopted electoral democracy and civil conflicts were mended with peace accords, our government began shifting money for democracy promotion to the former Soviet republics. Since September 11, the United States has understandably concentrated its focus on defeating global terror and bringing democracy to the Middle East.

Yet while we have been engaged elsewhere, some would say smoldering embers have caught fire again in our own neighborhood. Mexico’s hopes for greater democracy have made slow progress during the Fox Administration, stymied by a recalcitrant congress and the reticence of political dinosaurs that still dominate its political parties. Central America is being ravaged by crime. Wobbly democracies in South America have taken a decided turn to the populist left. Colombia has made steps in the right direction, but those are now threatened by an emerging dictatorship in Venezuela that has designs beyond its borders.

Globalization, which has occurred since humans began trodding the earth, has shrunk the distance between formerly isolated populations allowing people to communicate instantaneously and migrate at will. What happens in the prisons of Los Angeles affects the police in San Salvador and vice versa. While globalization enables cultural exchange and trade, it also facilitates drug and arms trafficking as well as terrorism. Globalization cannot be stopped, anymore than we can turn back the clock on progress in the way we live. But our governments must learn to cooperate in a more globalized way to keep up with criminals and terrorists who see national borders as little more than inconvenient lines in the sand.

Let us not misunderstand. In 1980, six out of 23 Latin American nations could be described as democracies. By 1992, 21 out of 23 countries had elected leaders in competitive contests. But since then, progress has gone flat. Few people want to return to authoritarian regimes of the past, yet public disappointment with the current manifestation of democracy is palpable. In partnership with our neighbors, we must address incomplete reforms that mask continuing autocratic and feudal era practices. In general, U.S. support for democracy in Latin America should:
Encourage more direct representation. Political parties in many countries are dominated by autocratic founders and senior operators, not rank and file members. In many instances, leaders choose candidates to run in general elections. In some cases, legislators are elected at-large from national lists and do not represent local districts, again lacking incentives to act accountably.

Promote greater separation of powers. Often, courts are subservient to powerful presidents. Legislatures may be subservient to powerful party leaders that may include the president or be allied with him. Weak district and local governments fail to provide an additional check on impunity.

Strengthen local governance. Powerful presidents and centralized, bottleneck bureaucracies often make poorly informed decisions, function at a snail’s pace, and funnel money to favored local politicians. They provide almost all operating revenues for local governments and often take charge of programs local officials could handle more effectively from filling potholes to running schools.

Enhance rule of law and property rights. The region’s governments consider property rights a concession of the state, blocking working classes from obtaining title to land or important possessions through excessive red tape. Moreover, almost all Latin American constitutions claim state ownership of subsurface minerals and hydrocarbons—placing these resources in the hands of corrupt politicians.

Promote citizenship. Work trumps education as a survival priority in many poorer countries of the region. As a consequence, many citizens never get far enough in school to learn about civic responsibilities as well as expectations they should have for the performance of public officials.

Regarding trouble spots, the United States should more actively:
Help stabilize the northern Andean countries. The United States must maintain security assistance and support for democratic institutions in Colombia as it continues to make gains in its fight against drug trafficking and terrorism. Elsewhere, we must redouble efforts to help strengthen democratic governance and civil society. Democratic institutions are under assault in Ecuador by an incumbent president and in Bolivia by a populist agitators.

Contain Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s hegemonic designs. Although the United States should not enter a shouting match with President Chávez, our government should firmly point out where Venezuela’s democracy has gone off its rails. Moreover, U.S. officials must more actively engage regional allies, listening as opposed to lecturing, quietly strengthening trade and security relations to ward off temptations for them to accommodate to a despot.

Strengthen relations with Southern Cone nations. While they may be tilting toward nationalism and populism, they haven’t abandoned democracy or their fledgling market economies. For the moment, we should set aside differences to help them solidify democratic and free market gains.

Encourage and participate in cooperative civilian and military security arrangements. The United States has bilateral customs, law enforcement, and military agreements, but grudgingly shares databases on criminals and has yet to establish routine coordination with Latin American governments on countering emerging threats such as transnational crime, terrorism, or natural disasters.

Deny credit and resources to Fidel Castro. The United States should maintain trade sanctions against the Castro regime. However, U.S. officials should promote contact with Cuban democrats who represent the future of the island as well as develop familiarity with regime figures likely to play a role in a transition government.

Provide enhanced leadership to restore Haiti’s democracy. Haiti’s interim government has not received all the money pledged by international donors to rebuild damaged institutions, coordination among donors is lacking, and public order has not been established. The United States should help create a donor’s oversight commission to guide Haiti’s recovery.

Twenty years ago, the United States began encouraging the adoption of democracy and free markets as political and economic models for the Americas and as an alternative both to communist subversion advanced by the Soviet Union and Cuba and to military dictatorship—the prevailing system. This policy helped to defeat insurgencies and return the militaries to their barracks. Now all of the countries in the hemisphere celebrate competitive elections except Cuba and Haiti, and most have adopted market economies in principle. Yet, according to the 2004 Latinobarómetro poll, only 29 percent of citizens in the 18 Latin American countries say that they are satisfied with democracy—even though they still prefer democracy to authoritarianism 53 percent to 15 percent. As few as 19 percent have positive feelings about market economies, although they still prefer markets to state-run economies by more than 50 percent in every country polled.[1]

One factor is that political parties are not wholly open to citizen participation. In most countries, party leaders—not voters—choose candidates for many elected offices such as town councilman and a portion, if not all, of the seats in congress. These candidates are “elected” from party lists in proportion to votes for their respective parties. Once in office, they owe loyalty to party bosses, not constituents. Cuba, of course, offers the most notorious example of candidate lists selected by communist party leaders and presented to citizens for simple approval. But party leaders in Mexico also choose and filter their slates. Fortunately, outside of Cuba, each of the region’s countries has more than one party.

Legislators don’t always represent districts and are thus not directly linked to constituents. In Colombia and Paraguay, senators are elected at-large on a national ballot and are not bound to represent any particular jurisdiction. Mexican legislators serve only one term, so citizens from their states cannot re-elect them if they do well or punish them with defeat if they stray from promises. A constitutional amendment to permit re-election was recently defeated in the Mexican senate at the urging of Institutional Revolutionary Party leaders who felt it would dilute their control over congressmen.

In Nicaragua, a unicameral legislature is elected from a national list. In 2000, sitting president Arnoldo Alemán and former Sandinista president Daniel Ortega pacted with representatives to alter the constitution 2000 so they could take seats in the National Assembly to obtain immunity from prosecution for any crimes they may have committed. The maneuver was highly unpopular with the public. To their credit, Nicaragua’s assemblymen lifted the immunity of Alemán after he left the presidency so he could be tried on charges of diverting some $100 million in public funds. However, sensing the current president’s weakness, many parliamentarians are now seeking Alemán’s exhoneration—against the tide of public opinion.

Inadequate separation of powers sometimes fails to check executive excesses so that public institutions can be easily manipulated. In Ecuador, the judiciary names its own replacements. Yet it is so weak, that beginning in November 2004, President Lucio Gutierrez dismissed the Constitutional Court and threw out the Supreme Court replacing magistrates with cronies—many with marginal qualifications. At the same time, he created a new body of plainclothes secret political police to harass and intimidate political opponents. Ecuador’s fragmented congress has little power to stop him.

Last year in Venezuela, Chávez loyalists in the National Assembly voted to expand the Supreme Justice Tribunal from 20 to 32 members, allowing the president to pack the court with cronies.[2] So-called provisional judges preside over many lower courts, allowing them to be manipulated for political purposes. The National Electoral Commission resides in the president’s hands as well. A recall process initiated by Chávez loyalists is now directed at eliminating opponents in the National Assembly. Soon, it could easily become an elected version of the rubber stamp communist assembly that exists in Cuba.

Powerful presidencies and bottleneck bureaucracies concentrate decision-making in the hands of too few people making government sluggish and unresponsive. Ministries in national capitals sit far from sources of fresh information in specific localities, but generally make most of the decisions and provide the money for local services and programs. Weak local governments with limited taxation power exist only to carry out their directives. Powerful presidents tend to upset institutional continuity. As former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga points out, they often “make immense changes in government institutions, to be followed by the next politician who makes his own sweeping changes.”[3] The most obvious example is again Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. To paraphrase Ambassador Robert Zoellick in his recent confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate, ‘he won an election, did away with his opponents, muzzled the press, limited the rule of law, and packed the courts and national commissions with his cronies.’

Weak rule of law. The World Bank estimates that weak judiciaries and corruption reduce annual growth by 15 percent in Latin America. In colonial times, courts and police existed to protect wealthy elites in poorly integrated societies. Although mixed races, pure ethnic groups, and the working classes are more accepted in today’s societies, law enforcement is only now beginning to provide for their public safety. Still, courts and police barely function in Haiti. In Venezuela they have been manipulated to serve a budding dictator. In Nicaragua, judgeships have been handed out to mostly Sandinista party members. Courts are only gaining political independence in Mexico with adversarial trials being tested in the state of Nuevo León. Napoleonic codes and written trials still clog courts with cases that last years. Thanks to local will and U.S. administration of justice programs, case law and public, adversarial trials in criminal courts are beginning to clean up the backlog in 15 out of 23 Latin American countries.

Elsewhere, recently formed civilian police forces are no match for delinquent bands and youth gangs. Some ex-guerrillas and former soldiers in El Salvador and Guatemala opted to become kidnappers and drug traffickers in the 1990s. Youth gangs that proliferated in Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s now have fraternal links with some 130,000 to 300,000 members in Mexico and Central America. Police in southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have insufficient numbers and resources to deal with them. In 1998, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the hemisphere with 154 per 100,000 inhabitants—two times greater than Colombia and five times greater than El Salvador. By contrast, Honduras has about 6,200 police—one per 1,100 inhabitants compared to El Salvador with 17,000 or one per 383 citizens. Freedom House reported in its 2004 Freedom in the World survey, that Honduran police were “underfunded, ill-trained, understaffed, and highly corrupt.”

Weak property rights deny citizens the ability to make choices in their own lives. According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, 14 out of 23 countries in the region have either overly bureaucratic registration requirements, inadequate protections, or they maintain laws that permit the government to confiscate private property. In Venezuela, the government is expropriating the country’s largest and most productive private cattle ranch, purportedly to divide it into parcels to distribute to landless farm workers. Wherever this has been tried, it often results in lost efficiency and abandonment by intended custodians. In almost all Latin American countries, constitutions give the state exclusive rights over all subsurface minerals and hydrocarbons. State petroleum monopolies keep private individuals from owning an oil well, while corrupt politicians pocket profits and, in Hugo Chávez’s case, sell or deny petroleum to whomever they want.
Regional Hot Spots

The Northern Andes. Colombia is the linchpin of democracy in this region. Not only is it one of the longest continuous democracies in South America, but it is making step-by-step progress against such threats as drug trafficking and rural terror groups.[4] Although its six-year development plan known as Plan Colombia ends this year, the administration of President Alvaro Uribe has made strides in revitalizing the economy, eradicating drug crops, strengthening the judiciary, improving human rights practices, and bringing about a negotiated peace.

Compared to a contraction of 4.3 percent in 1999, Colombia experienced 3.7 percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003.[5] Last year, a record 178 metric tons of cocaine were captured by Colombia’s police and military forces while the Anti-Narcotics Police Directorate sprayed a record 136,555 hectares of coca and 3,060 hectares of opium poppy.[6] Kidnappings have declined 60 percent from levels recorded in 2000. Some 10,000 prosecutors, judges and criminal investigators have been trained in the new oral adversarial trial system. A new human rights early warning system is taking shape. Desertions and demobilizations from Colombia’s three bandit armies have increased by 29 percent over last year. However, further progress is threatened by Colombia’s neighbor to the east.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is a former coup plotter who has manipulated his country’s laws and constitution to concentrate power in his own hands. Now in control of the state’s single most important industry—oil—he has embarked on a quest to destabilize neighbors like Colombia and assert his influence over them. With access to more financial resources than Fidel Castro ever had, he controls petroleum exports to Central America and the Caribbean and can withhold shipments at whim as he did to the Dominican Republic last year. Chávez could also cut off overland commerce with Colombia, one of Venezuela’s most important trade partners. By strangling Venezuela’s private sector with draconian laws and exchange controls, he makes the future of bilateral trade bleak anyway. More troubling are his close relations with an allied insurgent army inside Colombia—the Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia, or FARC, which shares Chávez’s socialist authoritarian ideology seeking to overthrow the elected government.[7]

In Ecuador, Colombian FARC financiers are said to be buying up real estate in suburban Quito, while combatants resupply and relax at camps near Lago Agrio in northern Sucumbíos Department. Meanwhile, Venezuelan diplomats are reportedly advising the state oil monopoly PetroEcuador. Like Chávez, President Gutierrez is packing courts with crony judges and sending plainclothes policemen to harass political opponents. In December he presented a new media law to congress similar to the Ley Mordaza in Venezuela that, if approved, will punish outlets that disseminate information the presidency deems contrary to its interests. A poll released March 3, 2005 in the newspaper El Comercio showed President Gutierrez with a 37 percent approval rating while Ecuador’s congress hovers at 10 percent.

In 1985, Bolivia began an unprecedented era of democratic reform, supported by free-markets and a 4 percent average annual economic growth rate during the 1990s. Since 2000, however, successful elimination of 90 percent of the country's illicit coca cultivation caused the economy to contract. Excessive bureaucracy, weak rule of law, and inadequate property rights blocked a rebound for citizens living on less than $2 per day—60 percent of Bolivia’s population. Moreover, democratic reforms have not joined a fragmented polity whose various constituencies hoped change would mainly benefit their group. These include a majority indigenous population that is poorly educated, a minority mixed class of political and economic elites, the armed forces, and labor unions. Riots and road blockades instigated by radical indigenous leaders over foreign gas sales forced President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada to resign in October 2003. His replacement Carlos Mesa had to move to the populist left, holding a referendum on whether to take partial control of the gas industry.

Now, self-serving coca union leader and congressman Evo Morales and community activist Abel Mamani of El Alto on the outskirts of La Paz, have threatened to summon mobs and block roads if Bolivia’s congress does not raise royalties on foreign gas companies to 50 percent. March 6, 2005, President Carlos Mesa submitted his resignation to congress to rally support for his government and turn Bolivians against destructive the mob tactics favored by Morales and fellow radicals.

Southern Cone. In the past 20 years or so, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay have replaced military regimes with elected governments. Within the last 5 years, these democracies have largely moved from the center right to moderate socialism. Among them, Chile is the democratic linchpin and most open economically. Both Chile and Brazil have strong industrial bases. By contrast, tiny agrarian Paraguay is under threat from corrupt politicians, transnational drug traffickers, local insurgents, and undocumented migrants believed to support Middle Eastern terror groups. Colombia’s FARC guerrillas are known to use Paraguay as a site for exchanging drugs for guns. Recently captured FARC leader Rodrigo Granda allegedly advised Paraguayan terrorist Osmar Martínez in kidnapping and killing the daughter of former President Raúl Cubas last year. Granda and Martínez reportedly met in Venezuela in July 2004.

Argentina and Uruguay have demonstrated the greatest leftward swing since the 2003 election of President Néstor Kirschner and the March 1 inauguration of President Tabaré Vázquez, respectively. In both countries misguided economic policies could lead to unrest. Kirschner clings to populist rhetoric and an anti-industrial economic model that taxes exports. A recent debt swap might keep Argentina afloat temporarily along with commodity sales to China. But Argentina is non-competitive and may have trouble obtaining further credit after defaulting on $81 billion in bonds in 2001 (its fifth default since independence) and writing down its debt to 35 cents on the dollar in 2005.

In Uruguay, President Vázquez’s proposed $100 million spending measure to alleviate poverty could herald a return to the welfare state. Although pressure from political opponents and moderates in Vázquez’s own Frente Amplio coalition could keep him from adopting a more radical internal course, hardline leftists are pushing for a realignment away from the United States. Vázquez has renewed diplomatic ties to Cuba and struck agreements with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez to buy oil and establish a regional state-run TV channel in Uruguay to disseminate populist, anti-U.S. propaganda.

Central America. Weak institutions, rising transnational crime and gang violence, and high underemployment are taxing these fledgling democracies. The eye of this storm is Nicaragua. But not all is calm. President Enrique Bolaños is in trouble for attempting to curb endemic corruption. At play is the Liberal Party’s desire to free former president, convicted embezzler, and current Liberal Party leader Arnoldo Alemán. Fellow Liberal deputies have colluded with Sandinista opponents in the National Assembly to weaken his powers and force him from office. The real winner is the Sandinista National Liberation Front which has played along in exchange for judgeships and control over important national commissions. Poised for a comeback in the 2006 presidential elections is former Sandinista comandante Daniel Ortega, whose campaign will likely attract financial support from Venezuelan president Chávez.

Cuba and Haiti. Fidel Castro’s 45-year-old dictatorship in Cuba blocks the realization of the dreams and aspirations of 11 million citizens. Though no longer a direct threat to the United States, Cuba remains hostile, sharing electronic espionage and warfare capability with China and offering support for and solidarity with international terrorist groups. Tighter U.S. sanctions have caused Castro to make erratic decisions such as withdrawing circulation of U.S. dollars on the island and prohibiting citizens from talking with American visitors. Venezuela’s agreement to supply cheap oil in exchange for intelligence officers and doctors has helped Cuba’s command economy to the point that he has been able to reverse grudgingly approved market reforms, such as limited self-employment. Yet it seems likely that Castro sees his revolution surviving mainly outside of Cuba, in countries like Venezuela and poorer nations where he has sent legions of doctors and intelligence agents.

In Haiti, interim Prime Minister Gérard Latortue, his coalition cabinet, and multinational peacekeeping forces from such countries as Chile and Brazil, are helping Haiti recover from years of despotic rule under former president Jean Bertrand-Aristide. However, the pace of reconstruction is far too slow. Previous corruption has emptied the treasury and broken public institutions. Aristide still has access to millions of dollars he took from the government and could be a lingering threat to stability. Current levels of technical assistance by donor nations are inadequate and reconstruction of public institutions has stalled. Haiti’s meager 4,000-member police force—about 1 officer for every 2,000 citizens—cannot address mounting violence and unrest. Other governments in the Caribbean that misunderstood the U.S. role in Aristide’s departure will be even less forgiving if rebuilding efforts collapse and there is a refugee exodus.
What Is at Stake

Except for Mexico, the United States probably could survive without Latin American markets, which account for less than 6 percent of U.S–world trade. American refiners can buy oil from other suppliers besides Venezuela, which provides roughly 7 percent of U.S. consumption.[8] But U.S. peace and security depend on a stable neighborhood and on more prosperous neighbors. Unfortunately as Latin America’s population has expanded, its economy has recently fallen behind. From 1999 to 2003, the region’s population grew from 503.1 million inhabitants to 534.2 million. Its aggregate economy declined slightly from $1.8 trillion in to $1.7 trillion.[9] Nearly 44 percent of the region’s citizens live below the $2 a day poverty line. Such factors impact the United States in lost potential trade, states that teeter on the edge of instability, and migrants who illegally enter the U.S. seeking safety and economic opportunity.[10]

Except for Europe and some Asian countries such as India, Japan, and the Philippines, no region should be as favorably disposed toward democracy and open markets. Latin American leaders have generally aspired to Western-style democracy and markets, exemplified by numerous constitutions and laws that mirror the U.S. system. Yet, individual rights, free choice, and equal opportunity clash with colonial traditions of imposed rule and corporatist segregation of economic classes and ethnic groups. Without adequate support for reforms that go beyond elections and free trade, the region’s democratic progress could backslide.
What the United States Should Do

To be sure, Latin America needs to be the author of its own success. And thanks to the struggles of courageous, insightful Latin American democrats, it largely is. But interested parties like the U.S. government should provide long-term, focused engagement. Above all, U.S. policymakers and lawmakers should consider reversing two overarching trends in assistance programs and foreign communications.

Although the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) says that its two top regional priorities are to improve governance and promote economic growth, U.S. Congressional appropriations reflect such priorities as food aid, health, and environmental protection. Gains in these areas are easily wasted by bad governance. The new Millennium Challenge grants totaling $2.5 billion for FY 2004 and 2005 seek to reward nations that govern justly, fight corruption, and open their markets. Yet one grantee, Nicaragua, is one the verge of ousting a president because he is fighting corruption, while another, Bolivia, is closing its energy markets and scaling back counter-narcotics cooperation with the United States.

Public diplomacy programs that used to provide scholarships help Central American students study in the United States in the 1980s and fund subject matter exchanges in the early 1990s have been drastically cut. The Broadcasting Board of Governors has curtailed much of our Voice of America programming toward Latin America. The public affairs and science programming that is left does not complement U.S. development goals. Meanwhile, Cuban doctors distributing free medicine in Venezuela and Honduras are reportedly ramping up propaganda efforts, playing videos that extol the triumphs of Cuba’s revolution to patients waiting in their clinics.

Finally, policies to strengthen democracy in Latin America must be accompanied by those that also reinforce economic freedom and collective security, since democracy cannot thrive without markets or state control over national territory. However, with regard to the region’s democratic challenges, U.S. policy should:
Encourage more direct representation. Democracy must go beyond elections to put authority in its proper place—at the service of all free citizens. USAID democracy programs, International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute projects should highlight the responsibility of legislators to represent specific districts and individuals. Seminars and subject matter exchanges should include discussions of constituent service. Consultations with parties should urge party leaders to allow voters to choose candidates for general elections. Voice of America radio and TV programming should include discussions and documentaries on this topic.

Promote greater separation of powers. Robust legislatures and judiciaries should balance presidential power. U.S. democracy programs should advocate constitutional models that insulate these branches from presidential meddling—from electing parliamentarians at the same time the president is chosen to raising the level of congressional approval necessary to seat or remove judges. Reforms may vary from country to country, but models should be kept in a best practices list supported and maintained by the Organization of American States (OAS).

Strengthen local governance. Governments should be decentralized so that officials at local, district, and national levels handle just those matters that logically correspond to their jurisdiction. U.S.-funded studies should investigate ways to devolve some tax collection to municipalities to give them budgetary independence from the national government. Such research should also address how national bureaucracies such as education ministries can function more efficiently under local control.

Enhance rule of law and property rights. Continued support for judicial reforms should help modernize criminal codes, separate judicial and prosecutorial functions, and establish public defender offices to represent the poor. Congress should amend Section 660 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to allow more flexible support for training foreign police and collateral law enforcement agencies to enable closer collaboration on curbing transnational threats. USAID governance programs could promote the adoption of cadastres and simple land titling systems. They could also cover how individual claims to subsurface rights have helped America develop resources and create individual wealth instead of feeding corrupt state monopolies.

Promote citizenship through public diplomacy and civic education programs to inform citizens of their rights and responsibilities in marginally democratic societies where such concepts are not well understood. Moreover, Congress and USAID should reallocate money it spends on health and environmental projects to enhance basic education so citizens can read, write, and understand political concepts in countries like Bolivia and Haiti.

Regarding trouble spots, the United States should more actively:
Help stabilize the northern Andean countries. Since the inception of Plan Colombia, U.S. assistance and Congressional oversight has helped turn the tide against local drug production and rural terrorism, as well as strengthen public institutions in a country willing to undertake those reforms. Failure to stay that course could destabilize neighboring Panama, Ecuador, and Peru. Ecuador’s democracy is now at risk with a president willing to bend laws to suit his objectives. The United States should maintain solidarity with Ecuadoran democrats by urging President Gutierrez to use legal and consensual means to carry out his programs. In Bolivia, U.S. officials should urge all parties to abide by Bolivian law and reject mob coercion. Public diplomacy outreaches should be redoubled to indigenous communities to kindle moderate voices within.

Contain Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s hegemonic designs. U.S. officials should continue to refrain from war of words with Venezuela’s volatile president who likes to call his adversaries vulgar names. Yet, they should use every opportunity to advocate a retreat from authoritarian policies that curtail civil liberties and support for terrorists like the FARC guerrillas in Colombia. The United States should also promote continued international scrutiny of human rights and of Venezuela’s battered democratic institutions so that Venezuelan democrats will not lose hope. Most of all, U.S. contact with the leaders and peoples of neighboring countries must be more frequent and collaborative to avoid a vacuum Mr. Chávez desperately wants to fill. U.S. Congressional approval of free trade agreements with Central America, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and the Andean nations will be crucial toward that end.

Improve relations with Southern Cone nations. Despite their leftward tilt, the United States should move forward with trade negotiations, including a bilateral investment treaty with Uruguay. Commercial sectors in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay will have moderating influences on populist policies. Enhanced trade relations with the United States will help ensure open markets for U.S. products, and also help maintain the influence of this vital sector of society.

Encourage and participate in cooperative civilian and military security arrangements. To counter transnational crime and terrorism that threatens American democracies, the United States should encourage regional partnerships based on day-to-day military-to-military and civilian-to-civilian cooperation to promote common standards and protocols. Already, Colombia’s attorney general has come up with a concept to share databases among the region’s prosecutors. U.S. Southern Command, the Department of Justice, the State Department, and the OAS Commission on Hemispheric Security should seek opportunities to work with the region’s military and law enforcement agencies to promote interoperability of forces.

Deny credit and resources to Cuba’s Castro but build contacts outside and within the regime. While maintaining its principled trade sanctions policy, the United States should promote purposeful contact with Cuban human rights and democracy activists who represent the long-term future government of the island. Current public diplomacy efforts to inform ordinary citizens must continue and be enhanced. U.S. officials should become more familiar with armed forces leaders and local governing officials likely to influence a future transition from Castroite rule through third-country contacts and opportunities to meet.

Provide enhanced leadership to restore Haiti’s democracy. The Bush Administration should urge fellow international donors to be timely and forthcoming with promised aid. Haiti needs a larger, de-politicized police force to establish public order and allow its interim government to operate. For the long-term, it needs a donor supervisory commission to work with follow on governments and non-governmental organizations to assure accountability and coordinated efforts until democracy becomes self-sustaining. Under no circumstances should the United States pursue a premature exit strategy as it did in the Clinton Administration.

Finally, the United States should help strengthen the democratic orientation of the Organization of American States by:
Enlisting regional allies to revitalize its democracy promotion functions and human rights commission. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez is already urging members to abandon support for democracy and civil liberties for a model that embraces a powerful state and welfare rights—his proposed “Social Charter of the Americas.” The United States should be actively engaged in the OAS to keep authoritarianism from replacing the democratic trajectory member nations have nourished over the past half century.

The United States is a powerful and benevolent nation. As its strength has evolved, so have its policies toward other nations. As we all know, our government is not always consistent. It cannot be. Policies rightly obey political currents of the day and budgetary realities. In the last 20 years, we have come from pragmatic alliances with regimes we did not like to nurturing their adoption of democracy and open markets. However, sustained commitment is essential to help deeper and more complete democracies and markets evolve from elections and free trade.

Societies based on free choice, not dictatorships, make good neighbors. Open markets, not command economies, provide opportunities for ordinary citizens to become prosperous. Sustained, consistent policies undergird these reforms. They are the only way the United States and its neighbors in the Americas can be partners in creating jobs, self-fulfillment, and peace in hometowns throughout the hemisphere.

[1] “Informe–Resumen, Latinobarómetro 2004, Una Década de Mediciones,” Corporación Latinobarómetro, Santiago de Chile, August 13, 2004, pp. 4, 23, 38, 40.

[2] In addition, five more judges were appointed to fill vacancies and 32 persons were named as reserve judges. See “Venezuela: Chávez Allies Pack Supreme Court,” Human Rights Watch, December 14, 2004 at (March 3, 2005).

[3] Remarks at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton Business School’s 4th Latin American Regional Alumni Meeting, Miami, Florida, July 10–12, 2003, at (July 31, 2003).

[4] The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the United Self-Defense Force (AUC).

[5] Sources: Embassy of Colombia at (March 3, 2005) and the Inter-American Development Bank at (March 3, 2005).

[6] 2005 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, U.S. Department of State, March 2005 at (March 3, 2005).

[7] Both Chávez’s Fifth Republic Movement party and the FARC are members of the Brazil-based Foro de São Paulo—a global organization that includes leftist parties and guerrilla groups from 16 countries in the western hemisphere. Videos and documents revealed by dissident Venezuelan military officers suggest official promises of supplies and refuge as well as the existence of several FARC fronts operating from the Venezuelan side of the Colombia-Venezuela border. See Javier Ignacio Mayorca, “740 de las FARC en Venezuela,” Venezuela Analítica, March 11, 2002, at (April 1, 2002).

[8] Mexico is America’s second largest trade partner behind Canada with $220.2 billion in merchandise trade in 2002. Brazil ranked 15th with $26.8 billion. In 2002, most bilateral trade between Latin American countries and the United States ranged between $3 billion and $9 billion. See U.S. International Trade Commission, “Interactive Tariff and Trade DataWeb,” at (August 29, 2003).

[9] While the population of Latin America and the Caribbean has increased from 503.1 billion to 534.2 billion from 1999 to 2003, Gross National Income has declined from $1.8 trillion to $1.7 trillion according to the Latin America & Caribbean Data Profile, World Bank at (March 5, 2005).

[10] According to the National Intelligence Council’s new study, Mapping the Global Future, ineffective governance and the backwardness of ruling elites could decrease Latin America’s influence in world affairs and bar many of its countries from participating in the global economy. See “Mapping the Global Future,” Report of the National Intelligence Council’s 2020 Project, National Intelligence Council, Washington, DC, December 2004 at (March 3, 2004).

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Washington, DC 20036
(202) 232-3317 / fax (202) 232-3440