U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began a four-country tour of Latin America April 25 and shared her agenda for the trip with reporters while en route to Brazil.
Rice said Latin America is a remarkable region that has undergone tremendous change in the last decade and a half. Despite recent strong economic growth, she added, the region's governments are still struggling to ensure that the benefits of this growth are shared more equitably.
The secretary lauded Brazil as a regional power and an emerging presence globally. She said Brazil is taking on responsibilities in Haiti, and also working with the United States on trade, both in the World Trade Organization and as a co-chair of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
Rice will also visit Colombia. She told reporters that the United States has been a partner with Colombia in its efforts to confront narcotics and terrorism. The secretary applauded the great strides Colombia has made in these areas.
"President [Alvaro] Uribe is to be congratulated for the work that he's done," she said. "The challenge that he made to the Colombian people when he was elected was that if they wanted a safer and more secure Colombia, difficult choices were going to have to be made and he was prepared to make them."
After her stop in Colombia, Rice will visit Chile, a nation she said represents a "very fine example of democracy and economic growth."
The secretary of state will conclude her trip with a stop in El Salvador. Rice said that El Salvador has done a "remarkable job" of providing greater prosperity and opportunity for its people and has been a "very good friend" to the United States, in part by deploying forces to Iraq.
Among the issues Rice will discuss during her trip to the region is the selection of a new secretary-general for the Organization of American States (OAS). Earlier in April, regional officials failed to agree on a new OAS leader after several rounds of balloting.
"We need to look for a way that we can get a secretary-general who will have the full support of the members of the OAS, where there will not be a sense of division and in which the OAS can emerge in unity," she said.
Rice said that the OAS is an important organization that is necessary to address regional crises.
"We need a strong OAS," Rice said. "A strong OAS that can shore up democratic processes is extremely important to the region."
She cited the recent upheaval in Ecuador as an example of the type of crisis the OAS can address. In the aftermath of the April 20 ouster of President Lucio Gutierrez, Rice said, the United States is working with other interested parties to ensure that constitutional processes are restored and respected.
"At this point, the key is to make certain that the Ecuadorian people understand that the OAS, the United States, all of the members of the OAS, support a constitutional path," she said.
Rice said that the situation in Venezuela will be one of the other issues she will discuss during her trip, but she pointed out that it is only one of many issues.
"Our commitment to democracy, our commitment to non-interference in the affairs of neighbors, our commitment to trying to spread prosperity is a commitment that's really shared with the states of the region," she said. "That's really what I'm going there to talk about."
Following is a transcript of Rice's remarks, en route to Brazil:
SECRETARY RICE: Good evening. All right. Well, thanks for meeting me in Waco so that we could go from there. I'm looking forward very much to this trip to Latin America. In many ways Latin America is a remarkable continent, a remarkable place, given the tremendous changes that have taken place there over the last decade or decade and a half.
It's a region that is in some ways leading this democratic development. When you think about what Latin America was like in the 1980s, it's an extraordinary set of developments that you could have in the OAS at this point: 34 democracies and really only one that cannot take a seat at the OAS, and that is Cuba.
It's also a region that faces its challenges. While economic growth [has] obviously been remarkable over the last couple of years and while we are pressing for free trade, and economic reform continues, it's also a place that is working hard and in some sense struggling to make sure that the benefits of economic growth and development can reach down into the population, particularly the marginalized populations, and that's one of the real challenges of democracy.
That was recognized at Monterrey when the leaders at Monterrey committed themselves not just to economic growth, but to concern for health care, concern for education.
I'm especially looking forward to the four countries that we'll visit: Brazil, which is, of course, a remarkable and emerging power in the region, as well as globally.
And Brazil is taking on responsibilities in places like Haiti. We have been working together toward free trade, for instance, the WTO. We are co-chairs of the FTAA.
And so I'm looking forward to that meeting. We've had a couple of meetings with President Lula. He, himself, is a remarkable figure, having risen as he has from the ranks of the labor movement, someone who I think once apparently said that the first diploma that he got was when he was named president of a country.
And so, he is someone who has been committed to education, to social mobility. I look very much forward to meeting him.
And, of course, Brazil is a great multiethnic democracy, like the United States, with many of the same roots that you find in the United States: roots that are Latin, roots that are African, roots that are European, that mix together to form a culturally diverse and extremely interesting population.
I'm looking very much forward to going to Colombia, where President Uribe has made great strides in its fight against terrorism, being able now to extend the authority of the government into parts of the country where it could not be extended just a little while ago. Of course, the United States has been a partner with Colombia through Plan Colombia to fight narco-trafficking, but also has been a partner in the fight against terrorism.
And Colombia has made great progress there, and President Uribe is to be congratulated for the work that he's done, the challenge that he made to the Colombian people when he was elected that if they wanted a safer and more secure Colombia, difficult choices were going to have to be made and he was prepared to make them.
We'll go to Chile, where not only is there a very fine example of democracy and economic growth, but also a country that will host now the democracies of the world toward our common vision of a world in which democracy and liberty and the aspirations of people are met. Chile has been a good friend and I look forward to being there.
And then finally to El Salvador, and again, just a place that has been through a remarkable transition. When you think of the civil war in El Salvador, the violence that was rampant in that country just a short time ago, El Salvador has not only done a remarkable job through successive presidencies of providing greater prosperity and greater opportunity to its people, but, of course, it's been a very good friend of the United States and has done so even in deploying its forces to Iraq to try and help others to gain the same benefits of democracy that are there in El Salvador.
So, I think this will be a wonderful trip. I'm glad you're all along and I'll be happy to take a few questions.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, one of the most topical themes in Latin America at the moment is the election of a new head of the OAS. Given the fact that the two candidates have been deadlocked for so long trying to get support, do you think it's now the right time to look for a third compromise candidate?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm looking forward to consultations with my colleagues about this issue. Obviously, it is important that we get a president - or a secretary general for the OAS. This is an important organization. It has a Democracy Charter that has been brought into play to help when democratic countries have run into difficulty. It has been a source of expertise and support for some of the difficult problems that a number of countries have faced. And it's obviously very much needed when you're facing the kind of crisis, for instance, that we have just faced in Ecuador. We need a strong OAS.
And so, I'm looking forward to consultations. We think that - we've obviously supported the candidacy of Mexican Foreign Secretary Derbez but, of course, we think that Foreign Minister Insulza is a fine man. But we do need to look for a solution now. We need to look for a way that we can get a secretary general who will have the full support of the members of the OAS, where there will not be a sense of division and in which the OAS can emerge in unity.
QUESTION: You mentioned the progress that's been made in democratization in the region, yet in recent years we've seen sort of ad hoc democracy, seemingly democratic systems that are fraying around the edges: Bolivia; now we saw Ecuador. Is that a trend that troubles you? And second of all, do we recognize the new regime in Ecuador?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, on - I would not call this a trend. I would say that there are developments that are certainly troubling. But these are in some cases, obviously, fragile democracies, and fragile democracies are subject to being buffeted by difficulties of the kind that have been experienced. It's one of the reasons that, for instance, a strong OAS that can shore up democratic processes is extremely important to the region.
I would just note that one should not be concerned when there are changes of government. We can work with governments across the political spectrum. That isn't the issue. We are concerned that constitutional processes be preserved. And we and others are looking to discussions with and, in fact, are having consultations with many in Ecuador to try and establish - to make certain that a constitutional path is, in fact, established and we will see what proceeds from that. But at this point, the key is to make certain that the Ecuadorian people understand that the OAS, the United States, all of the members of the OAS, support a constitutional path.
QUESTION: Do we recognize the new regime?
SECRETARY RICE: We have not yet taken that step.
QUESTION: In the past several years Brazil has asserted itself as a regional leader and countries from overseas - the Chinese notably - are becoming more important in South America. Do you feel any concern that the U.S. in the past few years, when American leadership has been concerned with the aftermath of 9/11, has lost any leadership in South America that it should have?
SECRETARY RICE: First of all, I think it is a fact that Brazil is a regional power and, in fact, Brazil is a growing global presence, and we think that's a good thing. The emergence of these great multiethnic democracies like Brazil, like India, like South Africa - this is a positive development for the world and no one has anything to fear from that.
We want to have good relations with Brazil. We want to work with them on common problems. I think you would find that President Lula and President Bush have established a very good personal working relationship.
I can remember not very long ago we had, in effect, a joint cabinet meeting with Brazil in which we looked at the whole range of issues between us. We respect Brazil's role and welcome it.
In terms of other states, like for instance China, there's no reason that China shouldn't be involved economically in Latin America. You know, we don't have this view of the international economy that one's gain is another's loss. In fact, the more investment, the more trade, the more economic relations that you have between different parts of a country, the more free-trade agreements, all the better.
What we need is to work together through the WTO to make sure that all of these are in the context of a worldwide level playing field so that the rules of the game are clear to everyone. And that is an issue that we have been working very closely with Brazil. They were - they are obviously very influential in the WTO.
I think the United States will always have particularly close and special relations with the states of Latin America. It's a matter of geography, it's a matter of history, it's a matter of cultural ties. Those relations have changed over the years.
As Latin America has democratized and its politics become - its political leaders become important voices for democracy in the world, these relationships have matured in important ways. And so while these relationships are changing, I think in no way are they diminishing.
QUESTION: You were talking earlier today with your Saudi counterpart about the question of oil and I think a lot of people forget that there are countries in Latin America that are also members of OPEC. What is the U.S.'s message to these countries about helping the U.S. and other Western countries deal with the price shocks from the current oil situation?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the message, I think, to all oil suppliers is that the international economy needs to keep growing and it is not good for anyone to have an international economy that cannot find reliable supplies of oil at a reasonable price.
And so, you know, we've encouraged production, we've encouraged activity in that regard. And I think that's the message to all OPEC states as well as to all oil-producing states, OPEC or not.
It's also important that we begin to look at the longer-term issues. There obviously are a lot of issues of supply and demand that come from a growing international economy, from the rise of some fairly large economies like China, like India, that in their growth are making more demand on the product.
It's one reason that the President has taken a longer-term view of this as well. I mean, it was almost three years ago - in fact, three, four years ago - that the President put forward an energy plan to the Congress that was aimed at increasing our capacity to use alternative fuels, that looked to technology like, for instance, the hybrid car, to reduce our dependence on hydrocarbons, that looked to U.S. sources of energy supply that could be tapped, that was a comprehensive plan for energy development.
And he said at the time we're going to have a problem with energy; we need to have a long-term plan. And so, I think he looks forward to continuing that and to get the Congress to pass that.
And today with the Saudis, the Saudis came with a plan to try and increase their capacity to produce over the next half-decade or so, so that we have reliable, long-term supply.
QUESTION: I presume you will have discussions at each stop about the situation in Venezuela and the concentration of power in the executive. How do you see those conversations unfolding?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we have already had many conversations about the region, about regional stability, about challenges to democracy in the region, and I expect that we will have those discussions. This is not an issue of whether the United States wishes to have good relations with Venezuela.
We have a long history with Venezuela. We have economic ties with Venezuela. We want to have good relations with Venezuela. We've had concerns about the behavior of the Venezuelan regime in terms of its own domestic development and adherence to the OAS Democratic Charter and in terms of relations with its neighbors.
But, I think that will come as no surprise to anyone and it's one issue that we will discuss, but we have a lot of issues to discuss. And our commitment to democracy, our commitment to non-interference in the affairs of neighbors, our commitment to trying to spread prosperity is a commitment that's really shared with the states of the region and that's really what I'm going there to talk about.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the question about Brazil; you know that there is conflict about Brazil, you know that this country is willing to get a permanent seat at Security Council of the U.N. What are you going to tell the Brazilians about that?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, as you know, the United States has maintained that it is important to consider the reform of the United Nations, including of the Security Council, in the context of broad reform - that these are not separable pieces, that we have to consider the reform of the Secretariat, we have to consider the reform of U.N. organizations, of various commissions like, for instance, the Human Rights Commission.
And, obviously, we will look also at the issue of Security Council reform but it should not get separated out from broad UN reform because there is - we want this institution to be as strong as possible and you're not going to get as strong as possible institution unless you're strengthening all parts of it.
Obviously, the U.N. was founded in 1945. It's clear that it needs to reform and it's clear that a lot has happened in international politics since 1945 and the UN, like other international organizations, are going to have to - will have to start to reflect that. And that's what I'll be telling the Brazilians.
QUESTION: The New York Times had a story this morning, which raised the possibility of a Cuba-like blockade or naval action around North Korea to prevent them from proliferating, from shipping nuclear components out, and it said that you all are considering asking the Security Council to okay such a thing. What do you say about that?
SECRETARY RICE: At this point, we are committed to a course that we have described, and that is through the six-party talks to convince the North Koreans that there is really only one route to the kind of international respect that they seem to want, and that's the course that we're on.
Obviously, we reserve the right to go to the United Nations Security Council at any time concerning the North Koreans. Depending on the nature of the threat, depending on the nature of the consultations, we will go to the Security Council if necessary. But at this point we still believe that there is a lot to be done in the six-party framework.
We are, by the way, capable of dealing with proliferation issues. We have demonstrated that through the Proliferation Security Initiative, which has already had a couple of very major operations that have yielded both information and cargo that was associated with weapons of mass destruction or weapons of mass destruction technology.
So, the Proliferation Security Initiative is always there. It does not require further action, further resolutions of any kind. It's based on existing international law and existing national laws and it's a very effective tool to deal with problems of proliferation that might resort from any place in the world.
QUESTION: How long is your patience with North Korea in the six-party talks?
SECRETARY RICE: You know, I don't set timetables. As we keep consulting and discussing it, I think we've made very clear that this is a problem that needs to be resolved. And I think that the other members of the six-party talks agree completely with that.
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