Ambassador Lino Gutierrez
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Statement before the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs
of the House International Relations Committee
Washington, DC, June 14, 2000
Current Issues in the Western Hemisphere Region
Mr. Chairman, recent events show that democracy remains vulnerable in some countries in the Western Hemisphere. It is important to remember, however, that democracy is a continuing process, not a final achievement. Despite some interruptions, we believe that, overall, democracy in this Hemisphere continues to flourish. Just last week President Zedillo from Mexico was in the United States and right now President de la Rua is here from Argentina. These two visits are illustrative of our continuing engagement with our neighbors in support of the consolidation of democracy. It is difficult to be grim when you look at the facts. Thirty-four of the 35 governments of the region came to power through the ballot box. Regional integration and interdependence are strong and continuing to increase. This means that more than in any other region of the world, events in the Western Hemisphere have a direct impact upon the lives and livelihoods of Americans on Main Street. Therefore, the Western Hemisphere and our commitments there are vitally important to the United States, vitally important to our security, to our economic well being and to the future of our children. It is essential, therefore, that the Administration and Congress actively work together to manage and resolve challenges and to take advantage of opportunities in the Hemisphere as they arise.
While democracy is more widespread than ever, recent events remind us that democratic progress in the Americas is neither immutable nor uniform. In many countries, democratic institutions are weak or corrupt. Achieving free elections is only half the battle; the harder part is creating institutions that respond to the needs of citizens. Judicial systems in the Hemisphere are often cumbersome, anachronistic, and do not provide equal access to justice for all citizens. Some legal codes date back to the 19th century and have not been reformed to take into account modern crimes like those related to narcotics, cyber crime, international property rights violations, and money laundering. In many countries, there is no tradition of sharing power or compromise -- many political parties have a win-at-all cost mentality. Corruption is an evil that dates back to colonial times, and it continues to divert public funds into the pockets of corrupt officials and undermines faith in democratic institutions. These are challenges democracies continue to face in varying degree everyday.
Perhaps the most important challenge to democracy in the Hemisphere is poverty. Abject poverty is still a way of life for over 150 million people in the Americas. About one-third of people in the hemisphere live on $2 a day or less. The income disparity in the region is worse than in any other. Until democratic leaders can show progress in attacking poverty, democracy in the Hemisphere will not be complete -- and will not be secure.
Indeed, opinion polls in some Latin American countries reveal that while publics endorse democracy as a philosophical concept, they are less than satisfied with its performance. A critical element in the success of a democracy is that it must deliver on its promises, must provide dependable public services, justice, and security, a decent living standard, and hope for the future. The public's desire for results -- and the failure to deliver them -- have led to the rise of a new generation of demagogues and populists whose democratic credentials are suspect.
Let us turn to the situations in the seven countries that the Subcommittee has asked me to address. Challenges in these countries touch on fundamental concerns such as supporting and building democracy, promoting internal peace and stability and defeating the scourge of narcotics trafficking.
Peru's experience with democracy has been checkered. The recent second round of elections illustrates my point. Despite requests from the Organization of American States, the U.S. government and the international community to postpone the May 28 presidential elections in order to verify conditions for a fair contest, President Fujimori chose to go ahead with the contest. Opposition candidate Alejandro Toledo decided not to participate in the elections and called on supporters to boycott or to cast null votes. Domestic and international observers, including the OAS, did not monitor the contest and left Peru.
President Fujimori won the May 28 elections with 51% of the votes cast. Peruvians reflected political polarization with their ballots. Almost half cast votes in favor of Toledo (17%) or deliberately spoiled ballots in protest (32%). Tens of thousand protested the contest across Peru with minimal violence.
The OAS Electoral Observation Mission called the electoral process flawed. We support their findings. The elections were not free and fair. The resolution approved at the OAS General Assembly last week reflects our concerns regarding the credibility of the electoral process. This resolution is an important building block for restoring democratic institutions in Peru. It instructs OAS Secretary General Gaviria and Canadian Foreign Minister Axworthy to go immediately to Peru to develop recommendations and an action plan to reform the judiciary and electoral systems and strengthen press freedom. They must aggressively institute a process with strict requirements, follow-up, and high level consideration of any Peruvian action. The Mission will report back to the OAS Foreign Ministers for endorsement of the plan and to ensure active OAS follow-up.
We support the OAS Mission, which carries the full weight of the hemisphere behind it. We want to give this initiative time to prove itself. However, we fully share the concerns expressed by Congress in Senate Joint Resolution 43 that our relationship with Peru be reviewed in the wake of the lack of free and fair elections. We have therefore stated publicly and privately to the Government of Peru that the U.S. reserves the right to draw its own conclusions and take its own action in response to the process made by the Government of Peru toward implementing meaningful democratic reform.
In Haiti events spiraled out of control in the early 1990s and required in 1994 the intervention of a multinational force, including some 20,000 U.S. troops, to restore order and return to office the democratically elected government.
Significant strides have been made since 1994 to alleviate hunger, build basic institutions, increase access to education and health care, combat environmental degradation, and incubate civil society and a free and active press. Still, we must acknowledge that Haiti has not fulfilled many of the heady expectations associated with the restoration of that government.
Indeed, since the January 1999 dissolution of Haiti's parliament following the government's failure to organize required local and parliamentary elections, most of the country's local and national governmental bodies have been either absent or unable to fulfill their critical role in helping Haiti progress toward addressing its most severe challenges. To end this irregular situation, the United States -- including many dedicated members of this sub-Committee -- has devoted considerable effort and expended some $20 million to bring about a free, fair, and transparent election. Our efforts have included programs to support civic education and institutions of civil society.
On May 21, the first round of the long overdue local and parliamentary elections was held. Voter turn out was high, as Haitians from all walks of life embraced this democratic exercise required to get the country back on the path of reconstruction and development. Voting took place in a peaceful manner, with the Haitian National Police working effectively to ensure the security of all participants. Many international observers -- including a Congressional delegation headed by Representative John Conyers -- were present.
The post-election period has been beset with serious problems, however. The most prominent problem thus far is the possible use by the Provisional Electoral Council of a methodology that fails to tabulate all valid votes cast in the Senate races, as prescribed in the election law. This alternative methodology would seriously distort the outcome of those races. The Organization of American States' (OAS) Electoral Observation Mission has requested a re-tabulation of votes fully consistent with the guidelines. We support the OAS position.
We urge Haitian authorities to apply, transparently and completely, their own election law. We urge all political parties and actors to stay in the process. To the extent that political parties have concerns about certain irregularities that occurred during the electoral process, they should follow the established procedures of filing "contestations" with the CEP for review.
The stakes in Haiti's electoral process are high. This process -- which anticipates a run-off election on June 25, the seating of a Parliament by mid-July, and Presidential elections in November -- is the means through which democratic and fully responsible government can be restored and empowered to address the legacies of two centuries of authoritarian regimes. With dignity and a commitment to the principles of democracy the Haitian people voted on May 21 for an end to hunger, poverty, illiteracy, disease, and corruption. Their expectations must be validated by a process that is fully credible, free, fair and transparent -- from its start on the day of the vote to its end when the votes are tabulated and the newly elected officials are installed into office. The Haitian people deserve nothing less.
Venezuela: Postponed Elections
Venezuela's lengthy political transition continues. The Supreme Tribunal, Venezuela's Supreme Court, postponed the country's presidential, legislative, state, and municipal elections scheduled for May 28. It did so in acknowledgement of continued serious technical problems in the automated voting system. It was the right decision.
The Electoral Commission had continued to accept changes in the candidate lists far beyond the announced deadline. This made it impossible to complete the programming of the computer equipment, to test the equipment, and to provide adequate information to voters in advance of the complex elections that involve over 32,000 candidates running for 6200 positions.
The Tribunal acted in response to a petition from concerned NGOs -- a positive sign, in our opinion. The engagement of civil society in highlighting the need for postponement was a sign of mature democratic process; so was the decision of the Venezuelan authorities to support their request before the Tribunal.
The election officials responsible for the problems have now been replaced by well respected, apolitical individuals nominated by a variety of non-governmental institutions and vetted by a roundtable of representatives of civil society. The improved process should add to both the fairness and the legitimacy of the elections. The Congresillo, the interim legislature, has not yet set a new date, but July elections are possible. The U.S. Government provided financial support for both an OAS election monitoring mission and a Carter Center mission, which played constructive roles during the campaign. We anticipate providing the same level of support in the up-coming elections as well.
Mexico: Upcoming Elections
Mexicans will go to the polls on July 2 to elect a new President and a new Congress. It's no exaggeration to say that these elections are a potential watershed in Mexico's democratic evolution: the campaign has been the most open in Mexico's history, and we expect the vote itself will be too. Polls suggest a close race between Vicente Fox, of the opposition "Alliance for Change," and Francisco Labastida of the governing PRI. There is the real possibility that the opposition will win, ending the PRI's 70-plus-year grasp of the presidency. However, at this point there is also a chance that the PRI will take the presidency in a fair count.
There has been public speculation in Mexico and elsewhere about the possibility of electoral fraud. But a vast and impressive array of safeguards has been created over the past 6 years to prevent systemic fraud and guarantee the integrity of the Mexican vote.
We have confidence in Mexico's independent "Federal Electoral Institute" (IFE), which is charged with organizing and managing the elections. It has done a great deal already to level the political playing field and set the stage for free and fair elections.
Since 1994, in mid-term congressional and local elections the opposition has made unprecedented inroads. Over a third of all Mexicans live in states run by opposition governors, and the PRI no longer has a majority in the Mexican House.
We expect there will be a number of international observers in Mexico for the election. The Mexican government, the IFE, and the political parties themselves have welcomed this. The U.S. is funding an electoral observation mission organized by the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, and various other U.S. NGOs are sending observers too.
Paraguay: Political Stability
Paraguay is a democracy today, even though it is a country that has little democratic tradition. After emerging from the long shadow of the Stroessner dictatorship in 1989, Paraguay introduced a new constitution in 1992 that established a democratic system of government and dramatically improved protection of fundamental rights. Yet there has been only limited progress in strengthening democratic institutions in the last decade. Difficult relations with the military and political infighting have also meant instability in the presidency.
The emergence of a coalition government last year after the tragic assassination of Vice President Argaña and the resignation of President Cubas gave Paraguayans reason for hope. However, the unsuccessful coup attempt of last May 18-19 demonstrates that Paraguayan democracy continues to face serious challenges. These include corruption, economic stagnation, rural discontent, and some antidemocratic elements among the middle and lower ranks of the military. There are significant factional divisions within both parties in the governing coalition as well as within the opposition. These challenges have complicated the government's ability to govern effectively.
It is important to note the lack of military, political, or popular support for the unsuccessful uprising, which was led by supporters of former general and convicted coup plotter Lino Oviedo. Although about 150 retired and active duty members of the military participated in the coup attempt, the military leadership and the vast majority of military units demonstrated their commitment to democracy, civilian control, and the constitutional order. Since the assassination of Vice President Argaña in March 1999, Oviedo appears to have lost much of his public support, and he remained a fugitive from Paraguayan justice until his arrest by Brazilian authorities on June 11.
Nonetheless, much of the population lacks hope, and few see the current situation as acceptable. We continue to urge Paraguay's leaders to agree on a vision for the country, take sustained action against criminal activity and corruption, and implement economic reform. These steps are necessary if Paraguay's democracy is to be secure.
Ecuador: Political Stability
While Ecuador still faces challenges to its democracy and political stability, the situation has improved dramatically since January of this year, when field-grade Ecuadorian military officers and indigenous leaders attempted to install a new government. As this revolt developed and both the military and the police declined to enforce public order, the United States, Ecuador's neighbors, and the OAS Permanent Council immediately issued strong statements rejecting any interruption in the democratic, constitutional order. In a radio interview heard throughout Ecuador and across the continent, Acting Assistant Secretary Peter Romero warned Ecuadorian listeners that an interruption of the democratic process would immediately trigger far-reaching sanctions. Facing the prospect of political and economic isolation, senior military leaders closed down the fictitious "junta" -- but only after President Mahuad had been forced to take refuge outside the presidential palace. Vice President Gustavo Noboa, next in the line of constitutional succession, assumed direction of the government. On January 22, President Mahuad urged the country to support Noboa as his constitutional successor, and congress confirmed Noboa that day.
Ecuador continues to face challenges, but it is making progress. The Noboa government has been able to pass through congress badly needed economic reforms and begin the process of implementing those changes. Members of his administration have met with indigenous communities and sought to meet some of their pressing social needs through increased government spending on social programs targeting the poor. Military leadership has been changed, removing those who did not act in support of Ecuador's constitution or its leaders. The government has announced it will raise the pay of the military rank and file. An amnesty to those involved in the failed coup attempt has created the possibility of reconciliation and has helped defuse a potentially explosive situation while allowing military authorities to impose administrative sanctions against participants.
On May 25, the Noboa administration announced fiscal reforms such as subsidy cuts on certain petroleum products, combining the cuts with salary hikes for public workers and an increase in "solidarity bonds" used as a social safety net. Protests have so far been muted. An IMF team is currently in Ecuador to examine the fiscal implications of these measures, as well as banking sector developments, and other issues in the context of its first bimonthly review of Ecuador's IMF Standby program.
The next few months will be critical to the success of Ecuador's economic reform. President Noboa has been making the right political and economic moves and appears committed to the long-term success of Ecuador's transformation. Noboa recognizes that only through these strict reforms can Ecuador improve economic conditions and opportunities for all of its citizens. For the sake of the country's political stability, he must provide the leadership to convince the majority of Ecuador's citizens of this reality.
Colombia: Counternarcotics Delay in Funding
In the Pastrana Administration, the U.S. has a full and committed partner that shares our counternarcotics goals in Colombia and is dedicated to complete cooperation on the full range of counternarcotics efforts. Delays in implementing the U.S. assistance package for Colombia, however, will not only adversely affect the counternarcotics efforts made by the Government of Colombia, but also our own efforts to upgrade the Government's ability to counter this threat. Illegal drugs cost our society 52,000 dead and nearly $110 billion dollars each year due to health costs, accidents, and lost productivity. Ninety percent of the world's supply of cocaine is grown, processed, or transported through Colombia. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency estimates that up to 75% of the heroin consumed on the East Coast of the United States comes from Colombia. Because of this direct impact on our well being we appreciate the House's rapid action in response to the Administration's supplemental request.
With the delay in funding, Colombia's drug production can be expected to continue its massive expansion. In 1999 the U.S. sprayed over 42,000 hectares of coca and over 8,000 hectares of poppy. Despite this, coca cultivation in Colombia reportedly increased by over 20,000 hectares during the same year. Yet, we have now actually had to cut back our aerial fumigation operations by 50% and lay-off spray pilots because of funding shortfalls. This means nearly 5,400 acres per month are today not being taken out of cultivation that would have been if the cutbacks were not required. We have also been unable to begin a significant planned expansion of eradication capability. Left unchecked, skyrocketing trends in Colombian production will also reverse impressive progress in Bolivia and Peru (coca cultivation down 55% and 66% since 1995).
We have also had to suspend forward deployment of the UH-1N helicopters intended to provide air mobility to the first counternarcotics battalion because of the lack of funding for additional flight hours, training, repair parts, fuel and other logistics support. Without these helicopters, the Colombian army's first counternarcotics battalion -- specifically created with U.S. funds to go after drug targets -- has not been able to complete its training to be fully prepared to conduct effective operations.
In the field of drug interdiction, the delay will result in no upgrades for detection and monitoring aircraft before January 2001, derailing a project that promises to have immediate results. It will also preclude secure communications for the Colombian Navy and Marines and eight fewer riverine groups conducting operations. Finally, the Colombian National Police will be denied critical force protection improvements to its existing forward bases, secure communications, and an additional airmobile unit.
In addition, the funding delay will allow the insurgent groups to earn greater profits from drugs, and become better armed and equipped and emboldened as a direct result. Moreover, no new alternative development programs -- offering coca growers an opportunity to develop legal crops -- have been started. Currently there are no alternative development projects underway in the prime coca-growing regions of Putumayo and Caqueta.
Other inter-related programs to be funded by the Colombia emergency supplemental package are also on hold, including those that would strengthen the justice system, local government and civil society, as well as increase our assistance to internally displaced persons. Additionally, without a firm U.S. commitment, potential European donors to Plan Colombia are more reluctant to provide assistance.
Conclusion: Strengthening Democracy
As can be seen, despite real progress over the last ten to twenty years, many democracies in the Hemisphere face serious challenges. What can we do to encourage the strengthening of these democracies? First, we have to ensure civil political dialogue remains the norm. We must all encourage the resolution of crises through peaceful and constitutional means rather than through bloodshed and military coups. We must assist leaders in their efforts to engage in mature discussions with each other and with their populations to examine and resolve problems. This means politics must be open to new voices, including those representing traditionally disenfranchised minority viewpoints. At the same time, in some countries we have seen the breakdown of traditional political party systems. The rise and fall of individual parties may be inevitable. That said, political parties remain a vital mechanism for promoting dialogue and channeling public participation. Without them avenues for legitimate expression grow narrower.
Second, we must do all that we can to strengthen regional mechanisms to meet these challenges of the 21st century. Key to realizing the full potential of democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean is to enable hemispheric leaders to recognize these strains on democracy and to work together through the OAS and the Summit of Americas process to meet the challenges head on. OAS Resolution 1080 allows member states to convoke an extraordinary meeting of the OAS foreign ministers whenever there is an interruption of democracy. We are working to further strengthen the capacity of the OAS to assist in buttressing democracy throughout the region. Toward this end, we supported an OAS resolution approved by the General Assembly in early June in Windsor, Canada. It strengthens the Secretary General's hand by giving him the resources to send special missions where internal conflicts could lead to an interruption in the democratic process.
The destabilizing threats posed by income inequality and poverty must also be addressed. Through improving basic social services, health care, and education, governments can help to broaden the reach of economic opportunity. By providing opportunities and incentives many elements of society can be pulled into the political and economic mainstream and thereby strengthen democracy.
Non-governmental organizations also play a role that has grown exponentially in the past decade and will continue to expand as civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean takes root. Civic, professional, and regional organizations reach out to their counterparts in other countries on an ever more frequent basis. "People to people" ties promote mutual understanding and are a driving force for further regional integration.
The Western Hemisphere faces tremendous challenges. The roots of democracy in our hemisphere, while widespread, are still shallow. Events in Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, and elsewhere reflect the vulnerability of democracy in some countries. The overall trend toward democracy, however, is positive. Never have as many citizens of the Hemisphere freely elected their leaders, been able to read free newspapers, join non-governmental organizations, and freely express their views without fear of persecution. Militaries no longer fuel or dominate governments throughout the region. It is absolutely critical that the general publics see that democratic governments can materially improve their lives and their futures. Nations today cooperate with each other as never before, to address threats such as narcotics and arms-trafficking, corruption, money laundering-issues which respect no borders, or deal with common social issues such as indigenous rights, the rights of women, the environment and confidence-building security measures. Moreover, those who would attempt to subvert the democratic process in the Americas will face a united hemisphere opposing them.
This is not to say that democracy in the region is home free, far from it. There will be occasional setbacks. There is no question that we must remain engaged. I am convinced, however, that the citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean will fight to preserve the freedoms that took so long to achieve. I look forward to working with you to do our best to help them. Thank you very much.
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