George W. Bush's Speech on Latin America

By George W. Bush,, August 27, 2000

America has one national creed, but many accents. We are now one of the largest Spanish-speaking nations in the world. We're a major source of Latin music, journalism and culture.

Just go to Miami, or San Antonio, Los Angeles, Chicago or West New York, New Jersey and close your eyes and listen. You could just as easily be in Santo Domingo or Santiago, or San Miguel de Allende.

For years our nation has debated this change -- some have praised it and others have resented it. By nominating me, my party has made a choice to welcome the new America.

I come from a state where Hispanic culture is strong. There are over 1 million Hispanic-owned businesses in America -- and over a hundred thousand in our state of Texas. There are over 6,000 Hispanic officials elected or appointed in this country -- and more than two thousand in my state, including some appointments I have made: our Secretary of State at one time, our Insurance Commissioner, and a justice of the Supreme Court. The strong families and deep faith and durable dreams of Latinos make America more, not less, American.

Yet for all these bonds of language and family, of travel and trade, Latin America often remains an afterthought of American foreign policy.

Those who ignore Latin America do not fully understand America itself. And those who ignore our hemisphere do not fully understand American interests.

This country was right to be concerned about a country like Kosovo -- but there are more refugees of conflict in Colombia.

America is right to be concerned about Kuwait -- but more of our oil comes from Venezuela.

America is right to welcome trade with China -- but we export as much to Brazil.

Our future cannot be separated from the future of Latin America.

Some still look at Latin America through old stereotypes.

But I see a hemisphere of 500 million people, striving with the dream of a better life. A dream of free markets and free people, in a hemisphere free from war and tyranny. That dream has sometimes been frustrated -- but it must never be abandoned.

This hemisphere, united by geography, has often been divided by history. In the 19th century, many strong nations wanted weak neighbors they could dominate. But those days have passed. In the 21st century, strong nations will benefit from healthy, confident, democratic neighbors.

Weak neighbors export problems: environmental trouble, illegal immigration, even crime, drugs and violence. Strong neighbors export their goods, and buy ours -- creating jobs and good will.

We seek, not just good neighbors, but strong partners. We seek, not just progress, but shared prosperity. With persistence and courage, we shaped the last century into an American century. With leadership and commitment, this can be the century of the Americas.

In 1992 -- the 500th anniversary of Spanish contact with America - we seemed well on our way toward that vision. The United States and our friends in the region had overcome the debt crisis. We negotiated the end of cruel and bloody wars. Together, we confronted inflation and checked nuclear proliferation. Democracy was advancing. And the North American Free Trade Agreement promised to be a blueprint for free trade throughout the hemisphere.

But the promise of that moment has been squandered. The Clinton/Gore administration has had no strategy. We have seen summits without substance, and reaction instead of action. We were promised fast-track trade authority -- as every American president has had for 25 years. And yet this administration failed to get it. We were promised a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Yet it never happened. Chile was promised partnership in NAFTA. And it was "delayed."

And in spite of real, even dramatic progress in some parts of Latin America, problems have grown into crises. Narcotic traffickers seek to gain control of a government. Many free nations still struggle to show economic results for all their citizens. And we can never forget the vast urban slums where young children scramble for survival.

Should I become president, I will look South, not as an afterthought, but as a fundamental commitment of my presidency. Just as we ended the great divide between East and West, so today we can overcome the North-South divide.

This begins with a renewed commitment to democracy and freedom in this hemisphere -- because human freedom, in the long run, is our best weapon against poverty, disease and tyranny.

As I speak, we are celebrating the success of democracy in Mexico.

It is a tribute to a promising new president -- and a tribute to a visionary out-going president as well.

Later today, I will meet with the president-elect of Mexico, and begin what I hope is a strong and constant friendship.

I have a vision for our two countries. The United States is destined to have a "special relationship" with Mexico, as clear and strong as we have had with Canada and Great Britain. Historically, we have had no closer friends and allies. And with Canada, our partner in NATO and NAFTA, we share, not just a border, but a bond of good will. Our ties of history and heritage with Mexico are just as deep.

Differences are inevitable between us. But they will be differences among family, not between rivals.

To strengthen that bond, our two countries need a meeting at the highest level, shortly after the American election -- even before the new presidents of our nations are inaugurated.

Should I be elected, I will use that November summit to keep Mexican-American relations moving forward.

We must talk about the availability and cleanliness of water on both sides of the border ... about opening the promise of NAFTA to small businesses and entrepreneurs ... about economic development in areas of Mexico that send illegal immigrants to this country ... about improving health and criminal justice in both nations.

Mexico is an emerging success story. Yet elsewhere in this hemisphere, democracy is still on trial -- threatened by the false prophets of populism.

I look forward to working closely with the nations of this hemisphere but recognize that they cannot be bullied into progress. We will treat all Americans -- North, Central and South -- with dignity. I will improve our bilateral relations and work with the Organization of American States to confront the problems of our hemisphere.

My administration will strengthen the architecture of democracy in Latin America -- the institutions that make democracy real and successful. The basics of democracy should be refreshed with programs that train responsible police and judges. We will encourage professional and civilian-controlled militaries, through contact with our own. The principles of free speech should be advanced through American media exchanges. We will create a new "American Fellows" program, inviting young men and women throughout the Americas to work for a year in various agencies of our government. We will encourage party-building and help monitor elections. These are ways to treat the symptoms of corruption and discord before they turn into violence and abuse of human rights.

To all the nations of Latin America I say: As long as you are on the road toward liberty, you will not be alone. As long as you are moving toward freedom, you will have a steady friend in the United States of America.

The health of a democracy depends on real economic gains for average citizens. And this requires Latin American governments to act for themselves: to lift the barriers of bureaucracy and over-regulation that prevent the poor from creating legal small businesses. To give more priority and funding to universal education -- because no nation can afford to squander the talent of its people.

Our nation can be an ally in these efforts. The future of this hemisphere lies with the creation of millions of small businesses among the poor - the surest path out of poverty. But the poor in Latin America often have no access to small amounts of working capital -- to credit cards or bank loans -- that would help them buy something as simple as an oven to bake and sell bread. So I support what are called "microloans" -- small, no-collateral loans allowing the poor to build a business and employ their neighbors. As president, I will ask Congress for $100 million dollars to help microcredit organizations that are working in Latin America. And I will ask the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank to add to this investment. We will apply the power of markets to the needs of the poor.

We can also use the power of debt reduction to relieve poverty and protect the resources that sustain life in the Americas. We will link debt reduction and the conservation of tropical forests. These forests affect the air we breathe, the food we eat, medicines that cure disease, and are home to more than half of Earth's animal and plant species. Expanding the aims of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, I will ask Congress to provide $100 million to support the exchange of debt reduction for the protection of tropical forests.

In addition, we must recognize and promote the important role of American charities and churches and relief organizations in Latin America -- organizations which build housing, health clinics and schools. Groups like Amigos De Las Americas, which trains young people to be community health workers in the region. These are practical and effective ways for the wealth and compassion of America to help all the Americas -- and introduce many of our own people to their nation's neighborhood.

I recently proposed extending the charitable tax deduction to every American, which will encourage both giving and outreach. And we can be charitable beyond our borders, so I will encourage American churches and congregations to adopt Latin American churches -- meeting their people and helping in their work. I will challenge American businesses to do their part -- for example, by having their employees volunteer their help with development projects. And I will instruct our embassies to serve and help these non-profits, as they now help businesses, with a counselor appointed specifically for that purpose. Good relations among governments are strengthened by millions of friendships among our people.

Our country is sometimes impatient with the progress of democracy in Latin America. We forget that democracy is a long march. In our country, democracy grew to maturity over time, and only with great work and sacrifice. It is no different today throughout the Americas.

America must recognize that not only can our neighbors learn from us, but we can learn from them.

Let me give you one example. Back in 1980, Chile faced problems with its retirement system. They decided to convert the pay-as-you-go system into a system of personal retirement accounts -- in which contributions are invested in a safe portfolio of bonds and shares. The idea was to empower the common man -- with something to own and pass along to their children. And the reforms didn't just benefit individuals, but the Chilean economy as a whole.

The Chilean economists who originally designed these reforms studied here in the United States -- at Harvard and the University of Chicago. They learned here and now it is time for us to learn from them. No question, our solutions for Social Security will be different, but we can learn from their experience with reform.

Listening to our neighbors -- treating them with dignity -- is what I mean by respect. But respect is not unconditional. It must be earned. We will respect those who respect the rights of their citizens. In our hemisphere, there is one clear example where this does not happen. The leadership of Cuba has not even begun the journey to that goal. So I challenge the Castro regime to surprise the world and adopt the ways of democracy. Until it frees political prisoners, and holds free elections and allows free speech, I will keep the sanctions in place.

I will support the forces of democracy, and revive the voice of Radio and TV Marti.

Our inspiration is Jose Marti himself ... "Man loves liberty," he said, "even if he does not know that he loves it. He is driven by it and flees from where it does not exist. La libertad no es negociable." Freedom is not negotiable.

Mr. Castro, let your people live in freedom.

The first goal in our hemisphere is democracy.

Our second goal is free trade in the all the Americas, which will be a step toward free trade in all the world.

We know the power of trade in Texas, because of rising commerce under NAFTA. Thanks to NAFTA, America now trades $200 billion worth of goods with Mexico, and half of it crosses the Texas border.

The economic case for NAFTA is strong, and the moral case is just as powerful. As barriers fall and markets open, people in Mexico are finding good jobs in their own country. Thousands are able to start businesses for the first time.

Standards for conducting business become more regular. Standards for education rise to meet the demands of the economy. That economy demands literacy, and skilled labor, and expertise in accounting and engineering and technology. It is a gradual change, and not always easy. But it can uplift a country and uplift a life.

In the United States, our Constitution calls these benefits "the blessings of liberty."

People throughout the Americas now seek the same for themselves and their posterity.

We can help, but in the end that opportunity is not ours to grant or deny. If the United States cannot offer new trade with the nations of Latin America, they will find it elsewhere -- as they are doing already in new agreements with the European Union. In the last few years, Mexico signed a trade agreement with the Europeans, while Canada has a new trade pact with Chile.

All of this while, in Washington, time has been lost. European businesses and consumers are benefiting -- ours are not.

I don't fault our European friends for making these deals. We dropped the ball, and they're running with it. But we must get back into the game, and here is how I propose to do it...

First, I will secure fast-track authority -- the ability to pass or reject trade agreements without amendment.

Without it, as we have seen, America is slow to move, and other nations are unwilling to negotiate with us seriously. When the next president sits at the Americas Summit in Quebec next April, other nations must know that fast-track trade authority is on the way.

Our goal will be free trade agreements with all the nations of Latin America. We can do so in cooperation with our NAFTA partners. We should do so with Chile, and Brazil and Argentina, the anchor states of Mercosur. Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America, with such vast economic potential, and our relations must reflect this.

We will also work toward free trade with the smaller nations of Central America and the Caribbean. We must be flexible because one-size-fits-all negotiations are not always the answer.

But the ultimate goal will remain constant ... free trade from northernmost Canada to the tip of Cape Horn.

In the near term, we will renew trade preferences with the Andean nations -- enacted in 1991, and set to expire next year. It is essential to support these economies in a time of challenge.

My administration will foster democracy and level barriers to trade. But we have a third great goal. We must defend the security and stability of our hemisphere against the grave threats of organized crime, narcotics traffickers, and terrorist groups. Forces that work together to subvert economies, corrupt governments and destroy lives.

America cannot blame others for the narcotics trade. After all, we are the market that sustains it. And we have a responsibility to confront this problem, with a balanced policy of education, and treatment and law enforcement. I will support character education in our schools, effective drug prevention programs in our communities and faith-based drug treatment programs that transform lives.

On the supply side, we can help countries like Bolivia and Peru in promoting crop substitutes.

We can work with banks to prevent money laundering. With better intelligence and surveillance, we can track and catch drug smugglers before they reach our borders. And we will continue to work with Mexico to cooperate more closely on interdiction. With expanded patrols, we can make our borders something more than lines on a map. Right now the number of American border enforcement officers is less than the law requires. We'll hire more agents, and focus a reformed INS on the job of defending our border.

One country particularly ravaged by narco-trafficking is Colombia.

Until recently, Colombia was not given the priority and attention it needs. That nation now faces a large, armed insurgency, funding a vision of Marxist-Leninism with the profits of drugs.

These terrorists plague Colombia with killing and kidnapping. They have been found in Panama and are feared by Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.

Colombia's President, Andres Pastrana, has begun the fight against drugs, corruption and poverty. But the Colombian government must operate from a position of strength. That is why I support the $1.3 billion in aid the Congress has passed and the President has signed. This money should help build up the capabilities of Colombia's armed forces. Even though I do not advocate the use of American troops in battle, our forces can help train the Colombian military. Our aid will help the Colombian government protect its people, fight the drug trade, halt the momentum of the guerillas and bring about a sensible and peaceful resolution to this conflict.

The success of Colombia is not just the urgent concern of America, it is a test for our hemisphere.

This test, and many others, we will meet together.

By trading freely we will share with one another and learn from one another. By diplomacy and common enterprise, we will gain a deeper understanding and respect for one another. By defending each other against present dangers, we will secure for ourselves a peaceful future.

Nearly 40 years ago, a visitor returned from a trip to Latin America, convinced it was poised for change. It would be, said Robert Kennedy, "peaceful if we are wise enough ... compassionate if we care enough... successful if we are fortunate enough." That change, he believed, was coming if we willed it or not. We could "affect its character," but we could not "alter its inevitability."

That change has come, and it is a revolution of freedom, of trade, and democracy, and the rule of law. If we are wise and committed, a new generation of leaders can affect its character.

We can make it peaceful and compassionate and lasting. We can bring new hope to the new world --building an age of prosperity, in a hemisphere of liberty.

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