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Remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at COA's 38th Washington Conference

May 07, 2008

Remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
at the COA's annual 38th Washington Conference on the Americas,
on May 7, 2008.
***As Prepared for Delivery***
Thank you, Bill Rhodes, for that kind introduction. And thank you for your leadership of this great organization.

To President Torrijos: It is an honor for me to welcome you here today, sir. You represent the future of leadership in the Americas, and because of you, the future of Panama has never been brighter.

Members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: It is a real pleasure to welcome the Council of the Americas back to the State Department, and I want to thank you for advancing the common interests and values of the people of our hemisphere.

I want to thank you for strengthening the ties between our peoples - our NGOs, our teachers and students, and our business communities.

I want to thank you for your tireless efforts to educate our people about the importance of free and fair trade, and to mobilize support for all of our trade agreements.

I also want to commend you, because I hear that since I last spoke with this group, you have started a policy journal: Americas Quarterly. In a few months, I might start sending you unsolicited ideas for articles.

You know, it struck me this morning that this would be my last time speaking to the Council of the Americas as secretary of state. Thank you for realizing that was not an applause line.

Seriously though, it is the temptation of every administration in its last year to look to the past, to consider its legacy. I do not want to dwell on this too much, because I do not think there has ever been a time in modern history when our country's relationship with the hemisphere, our sense of our place in the hemisphere, has been more oriented toward the future.

But it is useful to look back a little bit - for there are still many people who miss the point about just how engaged our administration has been in the region. I am referring, of course, to the fashionable talking point that the Bush administration has been "missing in action" in the Americas.

This is an urban legend, and the facts tell a different story.

They speak of a relationship between nations that is very different from what it was ten or twenty years ago. They speak of our hemisphere beginning to transcend old stereotypes of mistrust, and ideology, and paternalism. And they speak of new ties of respect among democracies in the Americas at a time of new challenges and unprecedented change.

How do we describe what has happened in the Americas since 2001?

I would submit to you that we have witnessed nothing less than a social revolution in most of our hemisphere, and its cause has been democracy. Democracy has opened up old, elite-dominated political orders to millions who had always been on the margins of their societies: the poor and the disadvantaged, indigenous peoples and minorities. These men and women have at last become active democratic citizens, and they are demanding that their governments work for them - that they address long-standing problems of poverty, inequality, and social exclusion that are still ever so real and tragic in our hemisphere. If I could sum up this process of change in a word, it would be inclusion - the opportunity for people to feel at home and participate more broadly in the larger destiny of their nations.

This social revolution has realigned the politics of the Americas in just a few years. New leaders have emerged, from both the left and the right -responsible democratic leaders who are rejecting old ideological shibboleths . and working pragmatically to expand opportunity, to reduce poverty, and to ensure security for all of their citizens. They are showing that, with good governance and the rule of law, democracy and markets can deliver on all people's rightfully high expectations for social justice.

This belief was reflected in the outcomes of nearly all of the 17 elections held in 2006. And it has been the real story of recent years: Not some "Left Turn." Not some populist rejection of markets and trade - but the creation of a new hemispheric consensus that, as our Inter-American Democratic Charter states, "democracy is essential for the social, political, and economic development of the people of the Americas."

This underscores something important - that by democracy, people in this hemisphere do not just mean a political mechanism for transferring power. They mean democracy in broader social and economic terms - a system in which all have access to opportunity and the mobility it brings.

To be sure, there have been a few exceptions to this broader positive trend - a few places where rulers have exploited peoples' legitimate fears, and needs, and longings in order to expand their own autocratic power. These are heartbreaking setbacks. But though some rulers may clamor to draw attention to themselves, it does not alter the fact that they are on the wrong side of history in the Americas, and that history is passing them by.

The main idea is this: Democracy is literally changing the character of countries in the Americas. It is producing popular governments that are redefining their national interests, engaging with one another in new ways, striving for advantage, and adapting their societies to be competitive in the global economy - all in ways that would have been unthinkable in the not so distant past. In short, there is a political and diplomatic ferment in our hemisphere today that is palpable - and overwhelmingly positive.

The nature of leadership in the Americas is also changing. Canada is building new and far-reaching partnerships in the region, and committing its talents and its resources to advance our shared values, not just in the hemisphere, but beyond it - most of all in Afghanistan. Brazil, a regional leader and emerging global player, is looking outward as never before, and we are building a partnership together that can change the world. A relationship that was always defined by its potential is now being defined by it accomplishments. When the two largest democracies in the hemisphere cooperate to promote energy independence, the eradication of malaria in Africa, and the fight against racism and intolerance, the impact is profound.

So in this time of sweeping change, what has been the U.S. role?

I would suggest that, since 2001, we have learned to be a better partner to our democratic neighbors. We have come to see more clearly that the quest for social justice is the defining issue for most countries, that the realization of it has huge implications for our country's success, and that we must position ourselves to be part of the solution. We have sought, and built strong relationships with democratic governments of the left and the right. We have charged no ideological price for U.S. partnership.

And we have been able to do all of this because we have been actively and consistently engaged in our hemisphere. President Bush has made more trips in the Americas than any president in U.S. history. He has received more leaders here in Washington from Latin America and the Caribbean than any of his predecessors. And beyond governments, our engagement has spanned the full spectrum of our societies - our teachers and students, our NGOs and faith communities, and of course, people like you in our private sectors. We have deepened the enduring connections of culture and commerce, family and friendship, that make up our alliance of peoples in the Americas. This broad engagement was evident in last year's White House Conference on the Americas, which many of you attended.

The deepening commitment to democracy in our hemisphere, and our administration's engagement to support it, has created a unique opportunity - an opportunity to forge a consensus on the basic contours of an enduring partnership among the nations of the Americas. Too often in our region's past, our relationships with one another have been defined by the crisis of the moment or the ideology of the time. As a result, our engagement has often been subject to reversals or short-term disruptions.

No more.

In recent years, I believe a new convergence of ideals and interests has occurred. Among nations in the region, and amidst all the different traditions we embody, we agree on first principles - that the path to greater opportunity and social justice is different for every country, but its features are similar: democracy and the rule of law, responsible governance and open economies, investment in the health and education of people.

Here in this country, among our administration and the Congress, and among our public and private sectors more broadly, I believe we have also forged agreement, bipartisan agreement, on the first principles of our policy in the Americas - that the potential of our hemisphere is enormous . that the success of our neighbors is intimately linked to our own . that we can now build partnerships rooted not only in common interests but common values . and that we must support democratic leaders in tackling the challenges of poverty, inequality, and social exclusion in their countries.

Now, this is not to say that differences do not remain, both among the United States and our neighbors, and within the United States itself. They do. But because we share first principles, because we are committed to one another's success, and because we are engaging with one another, communicating with one another, our differences do not define us. Indeed, exchanged honestly and respectfully, our differences can strengthen us.

The new democratic consensus we are building in the Americas is evident in our work together to support economic and social development here in the region, and sometimes far from our own shores.

Most democratic governments in our hemisphere - left, right, and center - are doing the right things to help more of their people prosper. They are opening markets and expanding opportunity, boosting trade and attracting investment, fighting corruption and enforcing the rule of law. We respect the results they are achieving, and we are supporting them.

Under President Bush, and with the support of the Congress and our people, the United States has doubled our development assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean since 2001. We have also led multilateral efforts to forgive old debts that for too long had saddled the potential of some of the poorest in the region. And through the Millennium Challenge Account initiative, we have created new incentives to reduce poverty - through just governance, economic freedom, and investment in people.

Our consensus on development recognizes the vital importance of free and fair trade. When governments invest in their people, trade can enable countries to fuel their own economic and social transformation.

Building on NAFTA, our administration has negotiated 10 free trade agreements since 2001 with our partners in the Americas. If our Congress passes our agreements with Panama and Colombia, an issue that I will return to in a moment, we will have effectively created an unbroken chain of free-trading nations from the top of Canada to the tip of Chile. These FTAs are the strategic platform that will enable our democracies to reach across the Pacific and compete successfully with the many rising powers of Asia.

Together, these efforts represent a new approach to development -rooted in partnership and mutual responsibility. This is furthering a common hemispheric vision of a just society - one in which self-improvement and social mobility are the prospect of all citizens, not the privilege of a few.

The new democratic consensus in our hemisphere also recognizes that our economic and social development must be defended. So we have built new partnerships - again, rooted in shared first principles and mutual responsibility - to ensure our collective hemispheric security.

Canada, Mexico and the United States have created the Security and Prosperity Partnership - underscoring that the North American relationship brings enormous benefits, like jobs, energy security, and lower prices, to the citizens of all three countries. Today, the $14 trillion economic zone of North America is undisputedly the platform for our long-term success in the world. And through the Security and Prosperity Partnership, we are now building the shared capacity to defend our livelihoods from any challenge and to respond to any emergency that might threaten our success.

We are doing so in other ways too. Through the Merida Initiative, which is now before the Congress, the United States, Mexico, and the nations of Central America will cooperate to defend our societies and our economies from criminal gangs and drug traffickers. This is absolutely unprecedented. For the first time, we and our neighbors are developing regional security strategies to combat threats we can only defeat together.

We have also maintained partnerships to support two democracies in winning their struggles for sustainable security.

Through the work of a courageous government and people, and with a long-term commitment from the United States, Colombia has transformed itself from a state on the verge failure not seven years ago to a nation now on the brink of success - whose democratic government is reclaiming its country from narco-terrorists and expanding opportunity for its people.

And in Haiti, many nations in the Americas have joined together in an unprecedented partnership for democratic state-building - marrying security and peacekeeping efforts, to reconstruction and development, to support for effective institutions. The result of this regional partnership, we hope, will be that Haiti can break its tragic cycle of state failure, once and for all, and emerge as a peaceful and responsible democracy.

Taken together, our many common endeavors with our democratic neighbors represent a platform of partnerships to meet our present and future challenges. And building these partnerships has been possible because the United States has been so deeply engaged in our hemisphere since 2001. The challenge in the months and years ahead is to strengthen the practical points of consensus that define our engagement - and much of that challenge is internal to the United States.

There are a number of tough issues before us, or soon to be before us, that will test the principles of our engagement in the Americas. One is trade, specifically the agreements we have concluded with Colombia and Panama. In recent decades, administrations of both parties, along with majorities in Congress, have sustained bipartisan U.S. support for free and fair trade. Today, this consensus is under fire. Trade is absolutely vital to our nation's competitiveness, but we cannot afford to look at trade only through the lens of our own domestic economics. Trade is also essential to our foreign policy and national interests, especially in the Americas.

The majority of citizens in our hemisphere want more trade and more partnership with the United States - not less. If the leadership in Congress rejects free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, it is they who will be neglecting our hemisphere. And it will signal only one thing: retreat. Retreat from our nation's long-standing engagement and leadership in the Americas, and retreat from two democratic partners who want our support. And I assure you: Those who will benefit most from our disengagement will be those who least share our values and our vision for the Americas.

Another future challenge will be the upcoming transition in Cuba - the only country in the Americas not ruled by a government that its people have chosen. We respect the dignity and talent of the Cuban people. And we believe unequivocally that Cuba deserves, no less than any other nation in the Americas, to choose its own future freely, with no outside interference.

Any attempt to ease Cuba into the 21st century through a relatively small and highly controlled economic opening will not work in the long-term. The Cuban regime must show that it has the confidence in itself and its people to stop using the secret police to control political discourse. The regime must remove the fear factor from Cuba's political life - by releasing political prisoners and beginning a national dialogue about Cuba's future.

We are eager to support Cuba and its talented people in transforming their society. We want to engage with Cuba, but not until the Cuban regime engages with its own people as free citizens, not subjects.

Ladies and Gentlemen: When I think back over our time in office, I arrive at one basic idea: What a difference a decade can make. What a remarkable period of consolidation for market-led, socially committed democracy all across the region. The democracies of the Americas are now interacting and talking with one another as never before. They are experimenting with a wide variety of new ideas to foster greater integration. They are more active in the rest of the world and more engaged in the global economy, with increasing confidence and success.

Our different countries, representing many different traditions and different cultures, are nonetheless defining a common future, grounded in common values: freedom and equality, human dignity and social justice.

These values are our values. They link the hemisphere to us, but they also ground us firmly as part of a proud and free hemisphere. Far from being a passive bystander, our administration has been an active, responsible, and committed partner to our fellow American democracies.

As we in this country debate the future of our own engagement in our hemisphere, we must recognize that our hemisphere is not waiting for us. And that is how I would like to conclude today - with a challenge.

The people of the Americas are rightfully impatient for better lives, they are holding their democratic leaders to the highest standards, and they increasingly have options beyond just the United States. To remain influential in our hemisphere, we must remain engaged, and to remain engaged we must be present. We must continue to show our hemispheric partners that we understand their problems, that we can and want to be active in helping to solve them, and that their success is our success.

This approach is in keeping with our best national traditions. It has defined our role in the region. And I am confident that it can form the foundation of a new and enduring engagement over the years to come.

Thank you