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John Kerry Addresses U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America

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John Kerry Addresses U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America

Today Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) delivered remarks at the Latin Economic Forum's second annual summit on competitiveness and poverty reduction in Latin America at the United Nations.

Below are remarks as prepared for delivery:

During my campaign for the presidency in 2004, by necessity I spoke frequently about Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and nuclear proliferation. However, other than the immediate challenges of the war on terror, there was only one speech I devoted to a single region. That region was Latin America and the Caribbean. I did so because I felt so strongly about the importance of the relationships between the United States and the other countries of the Americas.

The challenge I set forth then - of rebuilding a true partnership among our nations based on dialogue, consensus and cooperation - is even more pressing today. We are long overdue in acknowledging what we have understood previously - that we all have a stake in each other's future. We are long overdue in creating a new Community of the Americas where neighbors look after neighbors as we strive together towards our common goals.

Like any real community, the Community of the Americas must be built on a foundation of mutual respect. And we cannot build this foundation until, as President Franklin Roosevelt once said, we are a good neighbor "who resolutely respects … the rights of others."

Of course, President Roosevelt was speaking of Latin America, and the message he sent has influenced every administration, from Kennedy to Clinton. They understood that a strong Latin America is key to a strong America, and that we are all much stronger when we stand together.

President Kennedy knew what it meant to be a good neighbor. He realized that abject poverty, inadequate health care, poor educational and housing facilities, and high unemployment were at the root of many of the problems in Latin America. His Alliance for Progress included major multilateral initiatives to promote democracy, relieve poverty and address social inequities throughout the region. And it resulted in a high water mark for U.S. relations in the region.

President Clinton also saw the importance of working together when he convened the historic Summit of the Americas in 1994. Relations with Latin America progressed during his Administration, and there was an almost universal embrace of democracy and institutional reform in Latin America as it edged ever closer to first-world economies and shared values.

That was good for the United States as well, because what happens in this hemisphere has a profound effect on Main Street, USA. From our jobs to healthcare, from immigration to schools, it's fair to say that nearly every corner of the United States feels the effects of our relations with our neighbors. We all have a stake in each other's future.

That's why it's been such a disappointment that this Administration has forgotten Roosevelt's good advice. In fact, after 9/11 the current Administration effectively lost interest in Latin America. Just as the Alliance for Progress unraveled when we became preoccupied with Vietnam, our relationships in the region have been a casualty of our disastrous involvement in Iraq.

Instead of being a good neighbor, the President has largely ignored this critical region and a wide range of ills - including political and financial crises, runaway unemployment, and drug trafficking. And his one-note policy toward Latin America of one-size-fits all trade agreements have stripped away the respect and partnership that marked the Clinton years. As a result, relations between the United States and Latin America today are at their lowest point since the end of the cold war.

We need to get back to the spirit of cooperation fostered by President Kennedy and President Clinton. We need to build on that spirit to help forge this new and broader Community of the Americas. And for their sake and ours, its time to bring a sense of social conscience back to our relationships with Latin America.

Key to this is working with the countries of Latin America to help spur economic growth and strengthen their economies. In 2004, the region's economy grew by 5.5%. Compare that with China, which has experienced a 10% growth rate for the last 25 years, and its clear that more needs to be done to increase growth and create opportunity.

Strengthening the economies of Latin America will in turn help strengthen our economy. U.S. exports to Latin America are currently valued at more than $150 billion per year - nearly matching our exports to the European Union. But of that amount, some two-thirds goes to Mexico -- while huge potential markets like Brazil lag far behind. We can do better.

International trade enhances economic opportunity, spurs development and can serve to improve workers= rights. If it is pursued correctly, a successful trade policy will ensure that the citizens of the region experience the advantages of liberalized trade. I have long-supported open trade in the hemisphere. From the ANDEAN Trade Preference Program and Caribbean Basin Initiative to the recently enacted trade agreement with Chile, pursing open markets in the region must be a priority.

But trade without respect is not what our neighbors want. We need to lift up living standards and working conditions for all working men and women in the United States as well as in Latin America. That's why it is essential that trade agreements include basic worker protections and strong enforcement mechanisms. And our trading partners should be provided technical assistance and capacity building programs to ensure new trade opportunities are shared across all economic sectors and by all citizens.

As I made clear with my vote, the Administration missed the mark with the Central American Free Trade Agreement. They did not provide a balanced agreement that ensured economic opportunity for all. That is why I offered an amendment to CAFTA to improve enforcement of worker rights.

As we look to the future of our trade relationship with Latin America -- including the Free Trade Area of the Americas -- we must be sure to negotiate balanced agreements that provide broad economic benefits, create jobs and include strong protections for labor and the environment.

There is much more to promoting economic development than free trade. Development assistance can also play a greater role in strengthening these economies. While the Millennium Challenge Account provides some funding for development assistance, many countries in Latin America are ineligible for funds. The United States must understand that making additional resources available for development in Latin America works to all of our advantage. Because we all have a stake in each other's future.

During the campaign, I supported the Social Investment and Economic Development Fund for the Americas that a bipartisan group led by then Congressman Robert Menendez proposed. This $500 million fund was designed to strengthen democracy and combat poverty by investing in human capital in the areas of education, healthcare and economic development. It nurtured public and private partnerships and micro-enterprise by providing training and developmental credits to startup companies. And to demonstrate our shared commitment, recipient governments collectively matched the funds that were made available. I continue to support this proposal in the Senate because it's past time to make this fund a reality.

We should also ensure that U.S. policies, international lending institutions and Latin American governments direct more resources to vocational training and micro-enterprise training and funding. Beyond providing a fair economic opportunity, these strategies would make millions of poor people into "stakeholders for reform".

Finally, we should further reduce the costs of sending remittances back to Latin America and the Caribbean by workers in the U.S. We should better harness the use of these remittances for public works and education projects by encouraging charitable contributions of remittances sent back through "home town" associations for community development. And we should give serious consideration to creative initiatives that would enable recipients to better leverage these remittances with financial institutions to promote sustainable economic development.

At its core, the Community of the Americas must be based on democracy and the rule of law. Strong democratic states with transparent rules and a broad respect for the rule of law are essential to alleviating poverty and inequality in the region. That's why I believe so strongly in supporting democratic institutions, assisting democracy where it is troubled, and promoting democracy in Cuba.

The fact is that far too often, we have sent mixed messages when it comes to supporting democracy in Latin America. This Administration sat by and watched as mob violence drove presidents from office in Bolivia and in Argentina. They even encouraged a president to flee in Haiti, and immediately recognized a government named by a military junta in Venezuela. There is no question that Hugo Chavez has undermined the democratic process in his country, supported narco-terrorists in Colombia, and provided massive assistance to Castro's repressive regime in Cuba. But when we countenance mob rule or military force to oust an elected president -- even objectionable leaders like Chávez -- we lose the credibility necessary to become a true force for democracy. In fact, our policies have been so unpopular that opposition to the United States has become a rallying point for some of the very politicians we would most like to see defeated.

We must remember that this is a critical time for the future of Haiti. The election of President Preval was an encouraging step towards establishing a sustainable democracy. Now, the Haitians need unwavering support from the United States and others in the region as they undertake the difficult task of restoring the rule of law, rebuilding governmental institutions and enabling their country to become self-supporting. After the last elected leader was deposed, we did not do enough to stop the chaos and widespread suffering in Haiti. This serves as a constant reminder that we cannot sit on the sidelines and ignore our responsibilities in the region. We all have a stake in each other's future.

And as the great Cuban patriot Jose Martí wrote, ``It is not enough to come to the defense of freedom with epic and intermittent efforts when it is threatened at moments that appear critical. Every moment is critical for the defense of freedom." That's why I have advocated creating a Council for Democracy with distinguished international leaders who can work with the Organization of American States to resolve crises before order is threatened and blood is shed. And that's why we should increase funding for the National Endowment for Democracy's programs that strengthen democracy in Latin America.

Finally, we are losing the hearts and minds of a generation of leaders in Latin America by making it harder for young people to get visas to study here. We should triple the number of educational exchanges, and encourage colleges to give tuition waivers to foreign students in exchange for internships overseas for our students.

Building this Community of the Americas also means remembering that the United States is a nation of immigrants. America wouldn't be where it is today - as a country and as a people - if it weren't for immigrants. And neither would I - because I married one! My wife Teresa was raised under a dictatorship in Mozambique. She didn't get to cast a vote in America until she was 31. But I can tell you, as much as she loves her roots and loves her heritage, I have met few people who love America as much as she does. Teresa is not alone. From soldiers to students, there are millions of immigrants who have come to our shores and made America a better place.

That is why it is so important that we pass comprehensive immigration reform—and so disappointing that the Senate failed to do so before the Easter Recess. We are a country that welcomes those who play by the rules and who contribute to their communities. We are a country that provides shelter to those facing oppression and persecution. History has shown us that these are the people who make us who we are—they are part of the great nation we aspire to be. American should not become, as Congressman Tom Tancredo has suggested, "a gated community."

Don't get me wrong. I understand that there are people in this world that would cross our borders to do us harm. That's why strong enforcement of our laws and our borders is so important. But a policy of arrest and deportation is not a solution. We do not have to compromise our national security in order to continue our tradition as a nation of immigrants. We can make America stronger inside and out.

This requires providing a path to legalization for those undocumented workers who are living here, working hard and paying taxes. We need to reunite families more quickly. And as we do all this, we should improve our border security, fix our watch lists, and make other countries our real partners. Making the United States safer and more secure makes the entire region safer and more secure. We all have a stake in each other's future.

With a true Community of the Americas, the potential for our hemisphere is limitless. The stories of progress in Latin America are inspiring. In Chile, when Michelle Bachelet became the country's first woman president -- and only the 11th female elected president in the world - she shared this moving image about her inauguration: "In the streets, thousands of women and children put on presidential sashes. It meant everyone was going to La Moneda together with me." And we can learn so much from each other's successes - like the innovations we see in Brazil, where a 30-year program to invest in alternative fuels will pay off this year when Brazil becomes energy independent.

In short, our fortunes are intertwined by geography, shared values and millions of human interactions across borders every day. Now it is our job to build a true community. By treating our neighbors as partners, with dignity and respect, we can ensure that this community we call the Americas will prosper and reach its full potential so this can truly be the Century of the Americas.

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