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Public Statements - McCain: Free Trade, Democracy Key to Stability in Latin America

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Location: Palm Beach, FL - McCain: Free Trade, Democracy Key to Stability in Latin America

By Brian Skoloff

America should open its borders to free trade throughout Latin America and work harder toward establishing democracy in Cuba without the use of military force, Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Wednesday.

"Latin America today is increasingly vital to the fortunes of the United States," McCain said during a speech to the Florida Association of Broadcasters. "It is in the United States' national interest that the Cuban people live in freedom."

McCain called Cuba "a national security threat" under the rule of Fidel Castro and said he would pursue diplomatic efforts toward democracy there, but not the use of military force.

"I don't think we can move militarily against a country just because they have a government we don't like," he said.

"As president," McCain added, "I will not passively await the long overdue demise of the Castro dictatorship ... The Cuban people have waited long enough."

McCain said he would increase funding for the U.S. government's anti-Castro radio and TV stations, press for the release of all political prisoners and internationally monitored elections but would keep the trade embargo in place.

Asked why not open trade with Cuba to help its people, McCain joked, "I don't know what we'd trade besides 1950s vintage cars."

McCain said Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has breathed "new oxygen" into Castro's regime, and that the U.S. government must do more to quell dictatorships throughout Latin America.

Chavez's government has helped spur economic growth in Cuba by selling the island oil at favorable prices.

"We can and we must do better," McCain said.

The Arizona senator said anti-Americanism is on the rise in Latin America as the U.S. focuses on other places around the world, allowing "dangerous forces" and terrorists to work unfettered in the region.

Colombia, for example, needs more help fighting drug cartels, McCain said, noting that Democrats in Congress want to turn their backs on the country.

"You don't build strong alliances by turning your back on friends," he said.

The presidential hopeful said free trade is key to bringing democracy and stability to Latin American countries.

"Ours can be the first completely Democratic hemisphere," McCain said. "My administration would reduce barriers to trade ... Too many Democrats have embraced economic isolationism."

McCain was headed to Orlando for a dinner with Republicans later Wednesday as he wrapped up a two-day fundraising swing through Florida.

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