Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at Council of Americas Annual Conference
Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, DC, May 1, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Thank you very much. Thank you. I'm very, very pleased to be here this morning. And, David, I thank you very much for your always kind words of introduction. I love being introduced by friends, and so I appreciate that. And I'm very glad to be here again with Bill Rhodes and Ted McNamara and Bill Pryce and the rest of this very impressive group.
I have -- and continue to -- care a great deal about what is happening in this hemisphere, and we have put a lot of stress on it. I've done many things that I'm proud of in the Department, and some of them are actually totally revolutionary. And some of you have heard me say this, but the most revolutionary thing I've done is to move Canada into the Western Hemisphere. For those of you that don't know, it used to be in Europe.
And so I enjoy very much talking about the solidarity of the Americas and the importance of all of us working together. And I actually learned a lot about that when I was at the United Nations, and found that we could do better when we really all worked together as a hemisphere group. So I'm very glad to have been able to continue that work here, and I will continue to do so.
I'm also pleased to see the roster of government and international figures who will be meeting with you over the next couple of days, including President Clinton and Secretary Richardson and Trade Representative Barshefsky, and as well as representatives from Congress and organized labor.
The President and I and the other Administration officials from whom you will hear share the conviction that inter-American affairs must remain in the top tier of US foreign policy priorities, because we believe that the future security, prosperity and freedom of the United States depend upon those partnerships in our hemisphere. And so, in many cases, the Council of the Americas and the Association of the American Chambers of Commerce have played an indispensable role in developing those partnerships. We want to work with you even more closely as we face the challenges and opportunities of this new century.
Much of what has happened in the region over the past decade has been encouraging. The march of democracy has continued, as indicated by the recent closely contested elections in several countries around the hemisphere. At the same time, many countries have worked hard to privatize state-owned enterprises, reformed their regulatory systems and modernize their economies. Almost across the region, tariffs are down, investments are up, dictators are out, and democrats are in. And all this is to the good.
But as this audience well knows, there is a troubling flip side. The fruits of growth in the last decade have not appeared on every table within or among countries in our region. While many people enjoy higher living standards, many others remain mired in poverty. And too often, government programs and policies serve to increase -- rather than reduce -- these inequalities.
In my remarks to you last year, I made the point that if these problems were not addressed, the democratic tide in the Americas may begin to recede. Countries may begin to be lured again down the dead end roads of protectionist policies and authoritarian rule. And, in fact, it is already starting to happen, and that's why the United States is determined to work with our partners through regional institutions to achieve two main goals. First, we must chart a path to stronger and more equitable economies so that democracy clearly enriches life for the hard-working many, not just for the privileged few. Second, we must create an even more cohesive democratic community that will strengthen free institutions where they are weak, and defend them where they are under assault.
One of the main obstacles to meeting these goals is the culture of bribery and corruption that corrodes too many institutions and transactions in this hemisphere. Corruption impedes the ability of governments to deliver basic services to their citizens; it undermines the confidence of people in democracy; and, it is all too often linked with trans-border criminal activity, including drug trafficking, organized crime and money laundering. Needless to say, it also impairs the ability of American and other international businesses to operate in a transparent and predictable environment for trade and investment.
One powerful tool in the fight to put a stop to this kind of misbehavior has been the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. Now, that Convention, modeled on our own Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, entered into force last year and is helping to ensure that other leading industrial nations will have to play by the same set of rules that we do.
But the OECD Convention applies only to those who pay the bribe, and obviously the so-called demand side needs to be addressed as well. In this hemisphere, the Organization of American States has taken the lead on this issue, and in 1996 we worked with our colleagues there to draft the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. That Convention commits our major trading partners in the hemisphere to criminalize a wide range of corrupt acts, step up enforcement and strengthen preventive measures.
Realizing the Convention's full potential will be a long and difficult process, and require sustained leadership from the United States. An essential element of that leadership is Senate ratification of the Convention, which would demonstrate that the United States takes the obligations of the Convention seriously and expects the same of others.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a hearing on the Convention for tomorrow afternoon, so I want to take this occasion to thank the Council of the Americas for supporting that ratification. The letter that Ambassador McNamara and the directors of ten other distinguished US business groups sent to Chairman Helms is extremely timely, and it will be an important part of the discussion tomorrow.
I also want to thank the Council for the excellent research you have funded on the benefits of trade with the hemisphere. As you know, we are now negotiating with our hemispheric partners to create a free trade area of the Americas by 2005. We are also working with Congress to enact a law that would lower US tariffs and quotas on products from Central America and the Caribbean. In both instances, you are helping us to make the strongest possible arguments in favor for moving forward.
And, finally, I want to acknowledge the Council's involvement with other business organizations in supporting visits to various cities in the US by senior Colombian officials in order to explain their efforts on Plan Colombia.
Three weeks ago, the Colombian police arrested the leaders of what appears to have been one of the world's largest heroin trafficking organizations, a group exporting as much as 40 pounds of heroin a month to New York, Philadelphia and other American cities. These arrests were part of a year-long joint operation with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and show both the threat that we face and the potential cooperation between our two governments.
When I was in Cartegena in January and was able to witness the work that goes on there, I think that it's very evident that we've made huge progress in trying to deal with this dreadful problem. But Colombia's problems are too complex to be solved by a series of drug busts. Two guerrilla organizations, the FARC and the ELN, are at war with the government and control significant parts of the nation's territory. These armed insurgents are opposed by right-wing paramilitary groups which, themselves, regularly abuse human rights. And both the guerrillas and the paramilitaries use the drug trade to finance their operations, and the nation's economy, long a regional star, is still in the midst of its worst recession since the 1930s.
Colombia's problems have implications for regional security and stability. Many Colombians are fleeing their country and the drug trade has a corrosive impact from one end of the hemisphere to the other. Fortunately, Colombia's President, Andres Pastrana, understands that this crisis requires a bold and comprehensive response, and his Plan Colombia is designed to provide just that.
We, in turn, have both an urgent national interest and a responsibility to assist the people of Colombia in their struggle to defend and build their democracy. And that's why the Clinton Administration, with bipartisan congressional backing, is supporting Plan Colombia.
This initiative is designed to disrupt the drug trade, create new economic opportunities, improve prospects for peace, strengthen institutions, and increase respect for human rights. And these goals are not separate but, rather, reinforcing. Progress towards one will make the others easier to achieve.
Now, unfortunately, it has been 15 weeks since I announced President Clinton's request for emergency funds to support Plan Colombia. The House of Representatives has acted, but the Senate has not. The impact of this foot-dragging is already being felt in Colombia as drug interdiction and crop replacement activities are held back.
A few weeks ago, I met with President Pastrana here in Washington to follow up on the consultations we had in Cartagena in January, and I feel more strongly than ever that he deserves our help. I think he's an outstanding leader who has invested a tremendous amount in making this work. And he needs our help. And it's in our interest to provide it -- not eventually, but now.
As business people, you know that it's a lot easier to establish goals than to achieve them. But today I ask your help, your continued help, as we strive to move forward, step by step, in Colombia and on all fronts in the region, from trade and economic development, to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Our door will always be open to hear your ideas and to help if we can when problems arise. And, once again, I pledge my own best efforts in furthering the cause of freedom, security and prosperity throughout the hemisphere.
Acting Assistant Secretary Romero will have more to say to you this morning about our regional policies and partnerships and answer questions, so let me just conclude by saying that the Council and your AmChams are partners that we rely on all the time, even more than before. And I thank you for all the work that you've done. Whenever I travel, I try to meet with American business groups and AmChams because we are partners in the same issues, which are pursuing American national interests, which means democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Thank you all very much, and have a good session.
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