Remarks: Ambassador James Jones

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First of all, let me congratulate Georgetown Law Center's LawCasa and the OAS for sponsoring this conference. For many Americans, what is happening in Latin America is not fully comprehended. Latin America is a place I think many Americans--including many if not most of our policy-makers have known existed, but they really did not understand until very recently the magnitude of change that is taking place there.

To me--and I have had a little over three decades of experiences in the region--what has taken place in the last decade is truly a revolution, and it is a dramatic revolution in many respects, and I do not think that is fully recognized here.

That came home to me at the Summit of the Americas in Miami. At that particular summit I think I was the only official member of the U.S. delegation who had also been an official member of the delegation from the United States to the previous summit in Punta del Este in 1967, when I was then a young White House assistant to President Johnson. The change was truly dramatic in at least two respects.

Number one, in 1967 there were 18 member countries attending, 10 of which I believe were led by military dictators, in essence. In 1994 there were 34 member countries attending whose leaders all were democratically elected. In 1967, essentially the United States wrote the agenda, and it centered around foreign aid and how to contain communism from expanding in the hemisphere. In 1994 the Latin leaders themselves dictated the agenda, and it was centered around trade and investment. There was a very dramatic difference between those two summits.

As I spent my four years in Mexico as ambassador, and subsequent to that, back in business in other parts of Latin America, I saw such dramatic change taking place. And what you sense as an American is an insatiable appetite among most of these Latin leaders to help their countries become fully respected and recognized first world countries. To do that, there is the recognition that three major reforms must take place: economic reforms, political reforms, and legal reforms.

What I think is evident and what you are going to be discussing at this conference is that those reforms can take place, but for them to have any durability there have to be the institutions developed that let those reforms mature and continue in place.

For example, if you look back twelve years, Mexico was one of the most closed economies in the world. You could not get world-class goods into Mexico because of the import substitution rules, et cetera. You had to smuggle them in. Even the rich and the powerful had to break the laws to get world-class goods into Mexico.

Mexico joined GATT, and now the World Trade Organization, about a dozen years ago and then concluded subsequent trade agreements. Today, Mexico is one of the most open economic systems in the world. It has surpassed Japan as the second largest trading partner of the United States behind Canada, which is truly a dramatic change--a dramatic difference.

Those economic openings have also led to a great demand for political openings. Five years ago, Mexico, although it was considered a democracy technically, was truly a closed political system. Today it is a very open, competitive political system. For the first time in its history, the opposition parties are in control of the Federal Congress. These parties are governing at the state and local municipal levels in roughly half--forty percent or so--of Mexico, and, as you look to the presidential elections in the year 2000, it truly is a competitive system. The opposition parties go into those elections with at least an even chance of being elected to govern for the first time in modern Mexican history.

Both of those openings have been fostered and helped by the development of institutions. NAFTA, for example, is a new legal institution that has been a dramatic success in Mexico. …