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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks to the Council of the Americas
Washington, D.C., May 4, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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AS DELIVERED

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, David, for that introduction; and thank you all for the welcome. I'm very glad to be here again with Mr. Mosbacher, Mr. McNamara, Ambassador Pryce, Charles Preble, and very glad that we were all able to get together this morning and that they were able to get this very impressive group together.

I have been told that the meetings have gone exceptionally well, as have the discussions, and I really look forward to getting a very full report.

I do want to say that we have done something really revolutionary in the State Department, and Acting Assistant Secretary Romero has been influential in this. We have decided that Canada belongs in the Western Hemisphere.

(Laughter.)

It is maybe the most revolutionary thing I've done at the State Department. But it did take us roughly a century and a half to have that happen; but it is official, and I thought you'd want to know.

Now, it's no secret that there is an awful lot going on in the world today. And as Mr. Rockefeller said, a little later I will leave with the President for Belgium and Germany, where we will meet with NATO leaders and visit with some of those victimized by Milosevic's reign of terror in Kosovo.

While there, we will make clear once again that the United States and NATO will not rest until the ethnic cleansing stops, Belgrade's troops leave, and the refugees are allowed to return home. I know that Kosovo is not the Council of the Americas business, but the issues at stake affect us all and the lives at risk concern all of us. So I hope we will have your backing now and in the difficult weeks to come.

Despite Kosovo and other crises scattered around the globe, I very much wanted this opportunity to speak with you. Earlier this year when I gave my annual "state of the world" testimony on Capitol Hill, I did not begin with Europe and Asia, as it is customary for Secretaries of State to do. I began, instead, with the Americas. I did so because I believe that nothing is more important to the future security, prosperity and freedom of people in the United States than our partnerships in this hemisphere.

Obviously, our countries are not without problems, which I will soon discuss; but I hope we will never let those problems cause us to lose sight of our strengths.

Today, from Canada's new territory of Nunavut to Patagonia's lighthouse at the end of the world, we are a region at peace with each other. With a single exception -- who plays baseball better than we do -- (laughter) -- we are a hemisphere of democracies, albeit in varying stages of development.

We are a community that, despite some disagreements, is working together to deal with challenges that affect us all, from crime and disease to illegal immigration and the degradation of our environment. And like in any real community, we are people who help one another.

Where democracy is in peril, we are determined to respond collectively. Where borders are in dispute, we join forces to help find a peaceful solution -- as Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the United States recently did in aiding Peru and Ecuador. And when disasters strike, such as the hurricanes in Central America and the Caribbean last fall, we do all pull together.

On that point, I want to emphasize that the President and I are doing all we can to persuade Congress to grant the additional funds we've requested for hurricane relief. The emergency in Kosovo does not justify giving short shrift to the emergency in the Americas. Precious time has already been lost in helping farms and communities prepare for the rainy season's return, and in giving families the faith they need to rebuild their lives at home.

So I hope you agree that Congress should approve the funds to help our neighbors, and it should do so in full, without unacceptable offsets, and they should do it now.

(Applause.)

We have much to be proud of in this hemisphere, but pride in the present is no guarantee of the future. Our challenge is to build on our strengths, and to move steadily closer to the objectives that our leaders have established through the Summit of the Americas process.

This is a challenge to public officials like me, but also for you. For the business community has been a driving force behind economic reform and constructive change throughout our region. This is especially true of the Council of the Americas and the Association of American Chambers of Commerce of Latin America.

You are stakeholders in the future; and you understand that, if we are to achieve the kind of hemispheric community we truly desire, we must aim high. We need real, not hollow, democracy. We must create prosperity for the hardworking many, not just the privileged few. And we must ensure a rule of law that protects everyone equally, not so-called justice that can be bought and sold.

Over the past year, economies in Latin America have been shaken by the financial crisis that rocked parts of Asia and then Russia, as investors became nervous about emerging markets. But the region is resilient because of its deep commitment to market reform. The economic fundamentals are sound. For the decade, average growth has been robust and inflation is lower than at any time in the last 50 years. This provides the basis for a strong revival in Brazil and other affected countries.

As Ambassador Barshefsky discussed this morning, negotiations for a free trade area of the Americas are underway. We have asked Congress to give the President Fast Track authority to help us complete those negotiations by the year 2005, and we're also urging Congress to approve the Caribbean Basin Trade Enhancement legislation to help promote commerce and create jobs.

Economic liberalization and free trade are essential elements in our hemisphere's economic architecture, and we are determined to keep them on the front burner. But alone, they are not sufficient to achieve our goals. Throughout the region, we must move to a higher level of democratic development. We have to do more to foster a robust civil society and a broad middle class in all our countries. And we have to have the assistance of the business sector not only in helping economies to grow, but in helping societies to become better by enabling more and more people to share in the progress.

And I'm sure that you would agree, we must work towards these objectives not simply because it is right to do so, but also because it is smart. Neither democracy nor prosperity can endure unless they are broadly-based. The policies of free markets and open investment, which are the keys to sustained growth, are vulnerable to challenge if too many people feel shut out or left behind. And as we have seen in parts of Asia, a booming economy can shift rapidly into reverse if problems of cronyism, corruption and lack of accountability are not addressed.

Complacency is the enemy of democracy, and if we do not ensure that the process of globalization goes forward with a human face, we run a grave and unnecessary risk. In some countries, we may see public confidence in democracy erode, and we may see basic institutions of society lose their legitimacy. We may see support grow for an array of failed remedies from the past, such as protectionism and giveaway social programs that cannot be funded without spurring inflation. We may even see instability and turmoil leading to the return of authoritarian leaders.

None of this needs to happen. But much of it may, unless we address the gaping inequality in our hemisphere between those who have and those who have not; between those with the access and skills to make it in the new world economy, or those denied that access or not yet equipped with those skills. As President John Kennedy said in his inaugural address almost two score years ago, "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

Last April at the Santiago Summit, our leaders endorsed a series of initiatives designed to respond to precisely this problem. Their emphasis was not on spending more, but rather on investing more wisely. There were initiatives, for example, to strengthen local governments and thereby broaden opportunities for political participation. There were strategies to formalize property rights, including the assets of the poor, such as a house or farm. There were programs to reinforce the rule of law, including creation of hemispheric justice studies centers. There was support for the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, whose ratification for the United States we are urging our Senate to approve this year. And there were proposals, in which USAID is actively participating, to increase support for micro-enterprise, which is particularly important to the economic empowerment of women.

But even with better access to credit, it is often unnecessarily difficult to start a small business. In this decade, governments have done much to privatize and decontrol large sectors such as aluminum and steel and communications and power. But in many nations, the system for licensing and regulating small business remains extremely time-consuming and complex. This makes it harder for those without a lot of money to make money and for those at the bottom of the income ladder to begin the climb up.

Among the other initiatives also, the presidents took special care -- and I particularly remember this discussion about the importance of providing better education in the primary and secondary level. I think that this fits very much into generally how we have to work together across the board. But because, I think, there is this difficulty of letting access at the lower levels, we have to really work more together. And as a result, because we have not, a bad situation grows no better.

The Americas continue to have the world's most unequal distribution of income. During the lost decade of the 1980s, that gap grew significantly wider -- including in the United States -- and it has continued to increase in most countries, even with the resumption of overall economic growth.

The Inter-American Development Bank, the IDB, estimates that in Latin America currently, the top twentieth of the population receives a fourth of the income, which is more than in Africa or Asia. The poorest 30 percent receive only eight percent of the income, a lower proportion than anywhere else.

Bank studies also show that in many countries, unsound labor, tax and financial policies perpetuate and reinforce these disparities. It's sobering and saddening that today, on the threshold of the 21st Century, one in every three people in Latin America and the Caribbean must live on less than two dollars a day. This is a human tragedy. It is also a threat to stability and political freedom. Citizens across the social spectrum need to see that democracy and the market system are improving their lives. Ensuring this will be the central challenge of America during the coming decade.

In addressing that challenge, President Clinton had it right when he said at the Santiago Summit, "There is no priority more important than giving our children an excellent education. The fate of nations in the 21st Century turns on what all citizens know and whether all citizens can quickly learn."

Unfortunately, as I said, the knowledge gap today is huge. According to recent data, one-fourth of adults in Latin America and the Caribbean have had no education at all; the majority have less than five years. The average educational level has been rising. But the annual rate of increase is low -- less than 1 percent over the past two decades. This compares to 3 percent in East Asia.

Not surprisingly, children from poor families tend to go to lower quality schools and drop out sooner. Children from wealthy families go to the best schools and graduate far more often. This is true in much of the world, and it may be unrealistic to expect we could end all disparity. But leaders in the Americas are committed to narrowing the gap by building from the bottom up. And as I said, the personal discussions among the leaders on this subject, I thought, was really most encouraging.

In Santiago, they vowed that by the year 2010 all children -- rural and urban, female and male, indigenous or other -- will have access to and be expected to complete a program of quality primary education. At least 75 percent should have access to secondary education.

To these ends, programs are now underway to improve teacher training, establish standards, and make the tools of knowledge, from textbooks to cutting edge technology, more available.

Clearly, you who are leaders in human resource management have the capacity to speed and improve the educational reform process. Your involvement can make schools more relevant to your own need for well-trained workers and to society's need for well-informed and responsible citizens. I know that many of you are already involved, and I ask you to continue and deepen your engagement.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Simon Bolivar said that he wanted the Americas to be measured by no other standard than "her freedom and glory." Today, that vision of a continent bound together by liberty and a passion for justice is closer to reality than ever before. But we are not there yet.

The Summit of the Americas process has generated an inspiring set of objectives towards which we all may work: stronger democratic institutions; respect for human rights; education for all; prosperity for the many; security for those who abide by the law and fairness for everyone under the law.

As business people, you know that it is a lot easier to establish goals than it is to achieve them. But today, I ask your help -- your continued help -- as we strive to move forward, step by step, on all the fronts. And I want to work closely with you, and I promise that our door will always be open to hear your ideas and to help if we can when problems arise.

That's what I expect from everyone in the Department of State, from all of our embassies and consulates abroad. I want more than just routine courtesies; I want a real interchange of experience among us, a true dialogue and a sustained advocacy on how to achieve our common aims. And as I travel around, I always do make a point of talking with our economic counselors. I also try to meet with representatives of the business communities and AMCHAM wherever I am, because I do believe that our work together is the only way to pursue our various interests.

This morning, at a time of turbulence and uncertainty in many parts of the world, I do pledge to you my own best efforts, and I ask your help in furthering this partnership for freedom, security and prosperity throughout the Americas. Let us achieve the goals we've set for the benefit not of some, but of all our citizens, and thereby secure the future for our own children and establish an example for friends around the world.

As I look around this room, I know that there are countless of you that are dedicated to that, and no one more so than David Rockefeller, who has just been an astounding leader in all the fields that I have mentioned. I have to say, he was a great dinner partner last night.

Thank you all very, very much.

(Applause.)

[End of Document]

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