Remarks Presented to the United States Chamber of Commerce and Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America

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[The following are excerpts of the remarks presented to the United States Chamber of Commerce and Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America Luncheon, Miami, Florida, January 30, 2004.]


I would like to share my thoughts on where we are in the Americas, where we want to be, and how we are going to get there. Specifically, I would like to talk to you about the opportunities for the region in light of President Bush's meeting with his democratically elected counterparts at the Special Summit of the Americas.

It is important to remember that twenty years ago, most Latin Americans lived under the oppressive rule of caudillos, military juntas, or communist dictatorships. Central America was a battlefield; states were torn by civil war. In several countries, dictators in Havana and Moscow stoked the fires of armed conflict. Elites and their interests dominated economic life.

Then as now, the United States and its allies and partners in the Americas stood for freedom. At the 20th anniversary celebration of the National Endowment for Democracy last November, President Bush recalled the struggles of that time and the leadership of his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan's foreign policy was predicated on the simple proposition that democracy, not communism, was on the right side of human history. That was not settled question when President Reagan made that assertion, but I think it is fair to say that it has stood up pretty well over time. President Reagan urged us to have the courage of our convictions, to champion the cause of democracy and freedom around the world. Many believed that to be a simple take on a complicated world--that Central American campesinos and Eastern European workers cared little for and knew less about democracy.

Then as now, the cynics were wrong. The people of the Americas, with our support, broke the grip of the caudillos and the dictators, and they are undeniably better off for it. Today, all the countries of the Americas are governed by elected leaders except for Castro's Cuba. In the vast majority of countries today, chaos, unrest and war have given way to democracy and the rule of law. As President Bush has said, "Freedom honors and unleashes human creativity and creativity determines the strength and wealth of nations. Liberty is both the plan of Heaven for humanity, and the best hope for progress here on Earth."

What is remarkable about the progress we have made in this Hemisphere is that these values are hardly imposed by any one country on another. Instead, our entire inter-American community has committed to defend these values for all the peoples of the region. The same strategy for freedom that we are pursuing globally is at work close to home. We have important political, economic, and national security relationships with our neighbors, and they are and have been a priority for this Administration from day one. 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 United States is a leading trading partner of every nation in the Western Hemisphere save Castro's Cuba.

Our economic relationships in the Western Hemisphere are important, 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 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 common interests and shared values.

The idea of convening a Special Summit arose in response to emerging challenges confronting governments throughout the region. …