According to a testimony from a senior US State Department official to the American Congress, President George W. Bush will use his visit to Brazil and Latin America to highlight his vision of building positive new partnerships in the Americas.
"Our policy of engagement, our diplomacy, and our foreign assistance is aimed at drawing the link between democracy and development, and showing that democracy can deliver the goods," said Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee March 1st.
Shannon outlined U.S. policy priorities in the region as he prepares to join the president for the trip to visit leaders in Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico from March 8-14.
The 34 democratically elected governments of the Americas successfully have transcended the dictatorships and centralized, closed economies of the past, but now face a new challenge: confronting poverty, inequality and social exclusion of its poorest and most vulnerable citizens, Shannon said.
"The United States is committed to helping our partners in the Americas successfully take the next step in this hemispheric process of transformational change," added the top Bush administration official.
Shannon said weak institutions in some countries, and the political difficulty of making the economic and national changes necessary to extend the benefits of democracy and free markets to all people has generated some impatience and frustrations in the hemisphere.
"We should not underestimate the volatility created by growing social resentment and bitterness among the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of the Americans," he said.
U.S. policy offers a positive, three-point vision for the region's future, he said.
First, the United States recognizes that wide disparities of income and wealth will threaten the health of democratic governments, and is committed to helping countries bridge these gaps by helping creating new economic opportunities through aid, trade and increased private-sector investment.
"All citizens, not just elites, should benefit from the opportunities of democracy," Shannon said.
Second, the United States is committed to helping the people of Latin America reach their full potential by increasing its foreign aid investments to help countries combat illiteracy and improve access to health care. In his fiscal year 2008 budget, Bush requested 1.7 billion US dollars for aid programs in the Americas, nearly twice the 862 million in aid delivered in 2001, Shannon said.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation, which provides aid to developing countries to reduce poverty and meet goals identified by the country's government, business and community leaders, is another source of U.S. support. Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador are among the Latin America countries that have received US$ 866 million in additional aid under this program, said Shannon.
Additional aid to the region, Shannon said, has come in the form of trade agreements negotiated with two-thirds of the states in the hemisphere, trade preferences that have created more than 1 million new jobs in Latin America, debt forgiveness granted to states through the Inter-American Development Bank and an estimated US$ 45 billion in remittances returned to the region from workers residing in the United States.
Third, the United States is committed to working closely with its partners across the Americas to confront the full spectrum of transnational security threats, from terrorism and organized crime to natural disasters and pandemics, he said.
Recognizing the link between security and prosperity, Shannon said, such strategic partnerships are essential to strengthening democracy, expanding economic opportunity and promoting social justice.
The United States also is committed to multilateralism, working through the Organization of American States and other bodies to link democracy with development to help build strong governing institutions and promote economic and political opportunity across the region, he said.
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